Festivals & Concerts in Iceland

By Michael Chapman

Festivals & Concerts in Iceland

By Michael Chapman

What are the biggest music and film festivals in Iceland, and when are they held? What other smaller events take place each year? Read on to find out all you need to know about Iceland festivals taking place throughout the year.

Typically, thoughts of Iceland go hand-in-hand with peaceful solitude, open landscapes and natural tranquillity. However, every month or so, pockets of this sub-arctic island come alive with party-goers eager to hear the latest bands, see the newest films, or participate in events that demonstrate pride in Icelandic history and culture.

Festivals in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Anthony Delanoix)

Iceland has long boasted a reputation for being an artistically tuned-in nation. The talent and drive to create incredible, experimental sounds is alive and well here, with live performances being part-and-parcel of daily life. However, with that said, well-known bands and artists like Bjork, Of Monsters & Men and Sigur Ros are just the tip of the iceberg. Who knows? Maybe you’ll discover your new favourite musician after taking a trip to Iceland?

In times of COVID-19, Iceland’s festival circuit took a hit, with many events cancelled due to health concerns and limitations on crowd sizes. As restrictions lift here, event organisers, performers and festival-goers are eager to make up for lost time.

The Biggest Festivals in Iceland

Ready to party in Iceland?
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As we move into a post-pandemic world, Icelanders will slowly be returning to the festival circuit they know so well. So, without further ado, let us look into what festivals and events are considered the big favourites every year.


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Secret Solstice

Secret Solstice is very much an open secret, it must be said. It is among the biggest music festivals in Iceland annually, attracting local and international artists to the stage and thousands of happy music fans. If you’re looking for an authentic party atmosphere, then Secret Solstice is most definitely your best bet!

The festival takes place in Laugardalur, a large green park found on the outskirts of Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik. This recreation area is the perfect place to picnic and relax with loved ones in more typical circumstances, but the month of June is a different story altogether. It is cordoned off with chain-link fences, and ticket-holders queue up eagerly outside. As with all great festivals, guests are patted down and have their bags checked before entry to avoid an influx of alcohol and party drugs.

Previous years have seen some of the biggest international names in pop, rock and hip-hop. Famous acts such as The Sugarhill Gang, Anderson Cooper, Bonnie Tyler, The Black-Eyed Peas and Pussy Riot have graced the stage. Given such headliners, it is little wonder the festival gets more significant year after year after year.

Iceland Airwaves

Iceland has many music festivals throughout the year
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Marcela Laskoski)

Iceland Airwaves is another enormous music festival in Reykjavik, though the focus is far more on local, upcoming acts. Instead of the massive outdoor stages at Secret Solstice, concert-goers’ focus on smaller venues; bars and cafes, libraries and art museums, where guests can have a more intimate experience with the music.

Iceland Airwaves started in an empty hangar at Reykjavik Domestic Airport, all the way back in 1999. Only five bands were scheduled to perform but proved to be such a hit that the festival was quickly organised into a revolving event. Given Iceland’s geographical position on our planet, many festival-goers travel here solely for Iceland Airwaves to claim they’ve partied as close as one can to the Arctic Circle. Iceland music festivals don’t get more exciting than this!

Reykjavik Film Festival

Shooting a video in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Christian Smith)

Popcorn at the ready! For more visually-oriented guests, several film festivals take place in Iceland throughout the year. The Reykjavik Film Festival is the biggest of these, organised by the prestigious Icelandic Film Institute.

The Reykjavik Film Festival attracts famous guest-speakers such as the well-known director Baltasar Kormakur, famous for blockbuster productions like Everest (2015) and the original Netflix series Katla (2021).

The Icelandic film industry is much smaller than those found elsewhere. This status has little to do with the quality of the movies produced here but the sheer lack of people working on films at any given time. Nevertheless, previous Icelandic movies that have attracted international attention from the festival include Rams (2015) and Jar City (2006).

Reykjavik Pride Festival

A rainbow street in Reykjavik
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Ludovic Charlet)

Iceland’s progressive approach to LGBTQ+ rights is celebrated in August with the Reykjavik Pride Festival. Expect an abundance of rainbow flags and vibrant floats as the main parade travels down the city’s major shopping street, Laugavegur, as well as a wide array of events such as drag shows and queer-themed comedy.

2021 marked the 21st Pride Festival in the country. Like previous years, a 10-metre rainbow flag sewn by American gay activist Gilbert Baker leads the city’s parade. There are many ways to get involved; volunteering to be a flag-bearer or simply enjoying the festivities as a spectator.

Smaller Festivals in Iceland

Dancing at an Iceland concert
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Stephen Arnold)

Not every event or festival in Iceland is globally known, but those beloved locally are just as exciting for guests looking for a unique experience. Smaller festivals in Iceland are a great way to know Icelandic culture and history better and discover performers and artists on their way to stardom.

Frostbiter Horror Film Festival

Despite being held in the small town of Akranes, the Frostbiter Horror Film Festival has remained a staple event annually thanks to its focus on spooky cinema and annual prizes for the best contributions. In addition, filmmakers from around the globe submit their films for viewing, which adds a unique, international flavour to this event.

Perfect for devotees of horror, this festival showcases well-known hair-raisers, cult classics and informative documentaries. For instance, a documentary detailing ghosts in Icelandic folklore was showcased only this year, revealing a supernatural side to this culture that guests often overlook.

Dark Days Music Festival

Since its founding in 1980, Dark Days Music Festival focuses its lens on contemporary and progressive local sounds, transcending normal Iceland concerts for something entirely different.

Showcasing more new projects than any other event in Iceland, musicians and composers have long found inspiration at this Reykjavik-based festival. Given the amount of new work premiering, Dark Days is considered far more bold and daring than similar festivals and is sure to leave you with a lasting impression of this island’s musical capabilities.

Unfortunately, Dark Days Music Festival was cancelled in 2021 due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic. The next Dark Days Music Festival is scheduled for January 2022.

Winter Lights Festival

To close off the season in style, Iceland’s Winter Lights Festival takes place annually each February. Reykjavik city centre is decked out with fantastic light installations, extending the festive Christmas period well into the new year.

Festival guests are invited to participate in the Winter Lights walk, which begins at the city landmark church, Hallgrimskirkja and ends at City Hall, on the banks of Lake Tjornin. As if that’s not enough, there is also an interesting art walk that showcases Icelandic cultural talent.

Cultural Events in Iceland

Inside of Iceland's Harpa Concert Hall
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Andrea De Santis)

Icelandic culture goes well beyond music and film. This island has a long history of birthing fabulous artists, from landscape painters to innovative sculptors, all of which are best found at various cultural events around the country.

Danish Days

Iceland and Denmark have a long relationship in so much as the two nations were united under the Danish Crown, right up until the latter’s invasion from Nazi Germany in 1940. There are still reminders of this connection; take the castle-like Danish Embassy in Reykjavik, which remains one of the more impressive buildings in the city.

Such history is celebrated with the Danish Days festival in the small town of Stykkishólmur on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Stykkishólmur was an important port for Danish and Icelandic traders in prior centuries, acting as one of the foundational pillars for the controversial Danish Trade Monopoly.

Reykjavik Fringe Festival

A firebreather in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Darius Soodmand)

Creativity is at the heart of the Reykjavik Fringe Festival, which takes a casual, grassroots approach to what shows it hosts under its banner. Stand-up comics, drag queens, singers, beat-poets, musicians; all have the chance to book themselves a spot at any one of the many venues available city-wide.

The Reykjavik Fringe Festival is part of the Nordic Fringe Network, a regulatory body that oversees counterpart festivals in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Lithuania and Finland. Like these, the festival’s acts are only half the story; there is a fantastic opening and closing party, as well as a prestigious awards ceremony.

It is one of the newest festivals on the circuit, having only started in 2017. Thankfully, the event is held at the height of summer, transforming the city with its bohemian atmosphere. The Midnight Sun provides plenty of time to enjoy countless acts throughout the capital, with ticket-holders able to move from show to show at their leisure.

LungA Arts Festival 

A girl in Seydisfjordur, Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Dave Herring)

Held annually in the East Iceland town of Seyðisfjörður, the LungA Arts Festival is a must-do for culture lovers. Not only will guests discover a wealth of art exhibitions and concerts, but they can also participate in various informative courses and lectures.

LungA first began in 2000 and has gone from strength to strength each year. One example of this growth is the opening of LungA School, an educational institute dedicated to artists and their processes. Previous instructors at the school have included the hilarious Icelandic cartoonist Hugleikur Dagsson, American Rapper Princess Nokia and the renowned local author, Andri Snær Magnason.

Imagine Peace Tower

In the depths of winter, you might look outside your hotel window in the city and witness a glowing beam of white light shooting towards the stars. In tribute to the late-Beatles member, John Lennon, the Imagine Peace Tower illuminates the October skies from the island of Videy, just off Reykjavik’s coast.

Created and attended each year by his wife and multimedia artist Yoko Ono, the Imagine Peace Tower symbolises hope and light, a direct response to the conflicts and tragedies occurring globally each year. The tower was unveiled on October 9th 2007, which would have been John Lennon’s 67th birthday, and remains lit until the anniversary of his death on December 8th.

Reykjavik Culture Night

Fireworks over Reykjavik, Iceland.
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Mike Swigunski)

For one night each year, venues across Reykjavik dedicate themselves to showcasing the city’s cultural heritage. Both guests and residents have the chance to delve into the city’s history, from the moment early settlers arrived from Norway, to the western republic we know and love today.

The date, August 21st, marks the beginning of the calendar for many museums and art galleries, who launch their programme of events from then. Thankfully, all events taking place between 1pm – 11pm are entirely free to partake in. In addition, there are many museums and other cultural establishments you can visit; The National Museum, The Settlement Museum and Perlan Museum and Observation Deck, to name just a handful.

To top off the evening, a glorious firework display takes place above the iconic Lutheran church, Hallgrimskirkja. Watching the colourful explosions erupt above you, you’ll realise there’s no better time to enjoy the city than on Culture Night.


Travelling to Iceland?

Check our overnight tours with a driver guide that includes a one night stay in a bubble.
See Guided Tours

*Starting from ISK 74.900 per person

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