Temperatures in Iceland are dropping, and as the colors of summer and fall fade, the beauty of winter sets in. The snow, northern lights, glowing sunrises and sunsets are just a few ways the landscape changes. But don’t be daunted by the colder season – Iceland’s winter months have so much food, music and culture to offer! Here are the top ten reasons to visit Iceland this winter (thanks to Lisa Gail Shannen at Reykjavik.com for the suggestions):
1. The Northern Lights:
One of the most unique attractions in Iceland is the spectacularly colorful aurora borealis that appears in the night sky. In the past few years, some truly riveting tours have become available, like the Northern Lights boat tour, the Northern Lights and Lobster Jeep Tour, and an array of other specialty tours. If you want to see the lights far from the city center, try the Grótta lighthouse in Seltjarnarnes, where the lights shine brightest.
2. Iceland Airwaves
For music fans, this critically-acclaimed music festival is a must. Supported by Icelandair, Iceland Airwaves showcases hot new international bands, as well as Icelandic artists that are on the rise. The festival has a unique start as a one-time gig in an airplane hanger in 1999. Only 5 bands performed, but now it’s one of the most upscale events in the international music scene. This year there will be upwards of 237 bands, so don’t miss it!
3. Imagine Peace Tower
Around this time of year Yoko Ono lights her Imagine Peace Tower, a gorgeous outdoor art installation tribute to John Lennon on Videy Island. It’s lit every October 9th and goes out December 8th. Read more about this year’s lighting here!
Christmas is a stunning spectacle to witness in Iceland. There are so many fun traditions to take part in, like the lighting of the Oslo Christmas tree, or experiencing the Yule Lads who, according to legend, descend from the mountains in December to deliver goodies to good children and rotten potatoes to the bad ones. Of course, there’s also the rush of shopping for unique Icelandic fashion and gifts and the traditional sweets and treats that roll around during the winter months! Check out Café Babalu and Slippbarinn at Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina, which both stay open for the holidays, for some traditional seasonal dishes.
5. New Year’s Eve
Every city has their own unique way of celebrating New Year’s, and Reykjavik is no exception. Icelanders love kicking off the new year with a delicious feast. Afterwards they head to a local bonfire (brenna) where they celebrate with neighbors. There’s “Áramótaskaup” as well, the annual New Year’s Eve comedy sketch outlining the events of the year. After the show, at around 11:30, the streets explode again with light and color as locals light up over 500 tons of fireworks and head off to the clubs and bars for a colorful, wild night that lasts well into the morning!
6. Food and Fun Festival
This sizzling February festival is a great chance to taste the best dishes in Iceland, from the more traditional foods that have been cooked up for hundreds of years to plates of Icelandic heritage with surprising modern twists. The dishes here are prepared by top Icelandic and international chefs alike, all competing for the annual “Food & Fun Chef of the Year” award.
7. Reykjavik Bar Summit
The Reykjavík Bar Summit is a new event in Reykjavík, where members of the international cocktail-making community get the chance to visit Iceland, compete in exciting contests and really experience Reykjavik’s nightlife.
8. Sonar Reykjavik
The Sónar festival comes to Iceland from Spain and zeroes in on new music techniques and media art. The next event will be hosted in Reykjavik’s Harpa Concert Hall for the fourth year in a row. Icelandair has even put together a special SÓNAR REYKJAVIK 2016 package for those dedicated to the festival.
9. Winter Light Festival
The annual Winter Lights Festival celebrates the last of the long winter nights before the spring season kicks in. It features incredible light shows, music concerts and even Museum and Swimming Pool nights, where certain art galleries and swimming pools agree to stay open throughout the night to accompany the festival. It usually takes place in the beginning of February; stay tuned for more details.
10. Skiing Under the Northern Lights
It’s one thing gazing up at the northern lights in wonder- and it’s something entirely different to feel like you’re flying through them as you ski across Iceland’s snowy landscape! The Bláfjöll (Blue Mountain) Ski Resort in Reykjavík offers bus services daily and cheap hourly rates on lift passes, as well as equipment for rent.
What’s your favorite thing about visiting Iceland in the winter? Let us know in the comments.