Christmas in Reykjavík – everything you need to know about your December visit

Reykjavík in December is oh so lovely. We go all out with our Christmas decorations and the city is flooded with fun events, yummy food and delicious Christmas beverages. Until recently though it’s been a fairly local affair, meaning that we haven’t really considered all the visitors that want to experience this with us, but this year things are much better.

December is a month you spend with your family, friends and workmates eating great food, drinking and being merry. The actual Christmas holiday is a family holiday in Iceland and most people eat at home which is why most of the restaurants in town are closed. You go to Christmas parties with the extended family, play board games with your friends and snuggle up under a blanket watching your favorite Christmas movies (Hello Elf and Love Actually!) With the darkness, the often insane weather, the snow (Reykjavík has NEVER had as much snow in December as we have right now) and all the warm and fuzzy feelings Christmas coziness is the word that best describes this time.

Figuring what to do, see and eat during your visit can be a little daunting (judging by the number of e-mails I get from people asking me what to do at least) which is why I thought I should write this post.

I’ve written a lot about Christmas in Iceland before but this post is more about how to spend your time in the city during this fantastic season.

But before we start: Jóló (pronounced: yolo)

Last year I made this podcast to teach you a few words that are good to know in December in Iceland and because I’m a rambler, especially when I do things unscripted, I ended up just talking a lot about things around the words I was trying to teach you. So maybe you should give it a listen if you want to learn more about Christmas in Iceland.

The words and phrases covered:

Christmas dinners and the holidays

If you are visiting Reykjavík in December you have to check out the Christmas menus that are on offer all over town. Many of them offer traditional Icelandic Christmas food but others take a more modern approach and offer a more festive version of their normal menus.

Without having tasted any of these myself I’m particularly interested in the Snaps Christmas lunch and dinner, which unfortunately is only available on the Icelandic part of their website but looks like a good mix of everything we love this time of year. Matur og Drykkur is another place I would be very interested in checking out, especially their Christmas brunches on the weekends. Their evening menu also looks pretty good. Instead of going to a more traditional Christmas buffet this year, Ásta and I (and our spouses) are going to Videy island for their Christmas festival. I can tell you after tomorrow night whether it’s any good or not. I’m super excited and my mouth waters just thinking about it.

If you book our Christmas Walking tour Kopar Restaurant is also offering my guests a special version of their Christmas dinner for a very special price too if you book it with the walking tour. It’s a great option of you want to do our Christmas tour and take a northern lights tour straight after it.

Reykjavík culinary and bar scene is buzzing in December but if you are visiting over the actual holidays your options become a bit more limited. Many of the more popular restaurants in town are closed for the 24th and the 25th but Visit Reykjavík puts together a list every year with all the places that are open over Christmas and new years in Reykjavík which they update regularly. You should probably book something right away if you haven’t already.

Christmas markets and the Ingólfstorg ice rink

Although Reykjavík doesn’t have Christmas markets like you know from Germany and many other places we’re trying our best to capture the Christmas market spirit. There’s a pop up design and art market at the Reykjavík art museum on December 5th and on the same day the whole Old Harbor area will turn into a little Christmas village with offers an happenings taking places the whole day (from 10:00 to 21:00).

For the month of December a local phone company is also sponsoring an ice rink at Ingólfstorg square which is open every day and you can rent the ice skates there in case you forgot yours (I’m guessing most of you did). Around the ice rink there will be a little mini Christmas market that will stretch into the neighboring Fógetagarður park on the weekends.

Finally, one of the more established Christmas markets that is accessible by bus is the Christmas Village in Hafnarfjörður. It’s open every weekend till Christmas and there’s a lot of stuff happening there worth checking out. You should especially check out Íshús Hafnarfjarðar which is one of the more exciting things happening in downtown Hafnarfjörður lately but it’s a co-op type place where a lot of local artists and designers have their workshops. They even offer a bus to take you there for free so you don’t have to walk from the Christmas Village.

Santa’s little helper’s ultimate list of interesting Christmas concerts and events to check out in Reykjavík in December

OK, so calling it the ultimate list is maybe reaching a bit but there are just so many things going on in Reykjavík in December that it’s literally impossible to list them all. But at least with this compilation you have some options.

Please note that many of these concerts are close to selling out so make sure you secure your ticket ASAP if you find something that sounds interesting to you. Because I’m so busy with the tours this month I’m not attending many of these myself but I do have a ticket to Something Beautiful in Fríkirkjan which I’m very much looking forward to. Both because I like Svavar Knútur and also because I think that particular church has something extra special about it which makes it great for small concerts.

The Nordic House Christmas Calendar - drawing by Lóa Hlín Hjálmtýrsdóttir

The Nordic House Christmas Calendar – drawing by Lóa Hlín Hjálmtýrsdóttir

New Years Eve

Reykjavík has this reputation for being a crazy party city on New Years Eve but in my experience that is just not true. I feel most people spend their time in house parties and with their families because it’s too much of a hassle to get downtown (not enough taxis and they cost double in this night) and for a long time the bars weren’t even open. That’s changing a little bit with more and more tourists visiting Reykjavík but I feel most people my age at least are still in the house party/family mode.

I wrote this post about about what to do on New Years Eve in Reykjavík which can be summarized with the following:

Good food, bonfires, strange satirical show that everyone watches, fireworks, fireworks, fireworks.

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2 thoughts on “Christmas in Reykjavík – everything you need to know about your December visit”

  1. Kristin says:

    Hello!

    My family will be visiting Reykjavik this Christmas. I have been reading up, including your blog and I think I have some idea what to expect. I made a reservation for dinner and know not to expect shops to be open. We arrive on the 24th very early in the morning and hope to head straight to a grocery store to stock up. Do you have a recommendation for where it would be best to go? And maybe some thoughts about how we could spend Christmas day if we wanted to get out and explore?

    Thanks so much.

    1. mm Ásta - I Heart Reykjavík says:

      Hi Kristin,

      you can check out this post on grocery shopping, and that way find a place close to here you are staying: http://iheartreykjavik.net/2013/07/the-ultimate-guide-to-food-shopping-in-iceland/
      And for what to do on Christmas, day, it depends entirely on how long you are here, what you would like to see and do, and if you are renting a car or doing tours. If you are renting a car, you can check out these posts: http://iheartreykjavik.net/?s=drive+it+yourself

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