There are several annual or biannual festivals in Reykjavik, celebrating all the art forms. Literature has its own place with the biannual Reykjavik International Literary Festival and the Reykjavik International Children’s Literature Festival, as well as newer additions such as Art in Translation. The art of the word is also featured at many other festivals with events, sometimes with events catering to non-Icelandic speaking guests. These may be literary walks, readings, exhibitions, guided tours, events of music and poetry etc.
Here is a list of some Reykjavik festivals in all the art forms, listed by time of year.
The annual contemporary music festival Dark Music Days is becoming an increasingly popular music event. The festival is held by the Iceland Composer Society in collaboration with most of Iceland’s finest performers.
Reykjavik Fashion Festival seeks to provide the opportunity to channel Iceland’s creative energy into a single event, both for the local Icelandic audience as well as an international audience. United by a common passion for Iceland and it’s unique take on fashion, design and music, Iceland’s foremost creative business leaders seek to champion the talent that makes the country so unique. This annual festival sees an exciting mixture of fashion, design and music at venues around the city.
The annual Winter Lights Festival is designed to be an annual event to stimulate and enliven city life in the midwinter. The Festival celebrates both the winter and the growing light after a long period of darkness. The program is a mixture of art and industry, environment and history, sports and culture; the events provide entertainment for both the inhabitants and visitors to Reykjavík. The programme reflects the many faces of Reykjavík and its inhabitants. All the major cultural and educational institutions participate in the Festival and sports clubs, galleries, artists, shops, restaurants and many more join in the fun. The entire city is alive during the festival, both the centre with all its cultural institutions as well as the many parks and sport centres in Reykjavík.
Reykjavik’s museums stay open until midnight and offer special events, including theatre, street performances, dance, visual arts and much more. A special Museum Night bus travels between the museums and all entrance is free. The Museum Night is part of the annual Winter Lights Festival.
One of the steady events on Museum Night is the Reykjavik Poetry Slam, hosted by the Reykjavik City Library and Reykjavik City of Literature. The participants are young people between 15 and 25.
The annual Food and Fun mixes outstanding culinary skills, fresh natural ingredients, Icelandic outdoor adventure and the world-famous Reykjavik nightlife to create the ultimate recipe for fun. The core element of the festival involves world-acclaimed chefs collaborating with Reykjavik’s finest restaurants. Each chef is assigned to one of the participating restaurants, where they prepare a special menu crafted from Icelandic ingredients only, commonly held to be the best in the world by Icelanders. The menus are presented at all the restaurants for an entire week. In addition, the chefs themselves are on site for three nights during the festival week. The second element of the festival is the chef competition, which takes place on the last day of the festival. The chefs compete by making three courses, made out of only Icelandic ingredients.
Featuring Iceland’s internationally renowned veterans in the field as well as fledgling upcoming designers, the program of DesignMarch includes a wide range of exciting events, exhibitions and lectures. This annual festival presents design playing a fundamental role in these times of great change.
DesignMarch brings the awakening of spring and the growth in Icelandic design.
The programme at this annual festival consists of various events ranging from breeding shows to saddle making. The events take place at breeding ranches and horse club locations in and around Reykajvík.
Icelandic and international artists perform at this annual festival.
Children’s culture, culture for children and culture with children. These are the three main aspects of this annual festival that reaches all corners of Reykjavik city from the slopes of Mt. Esja to the bottom of the swimming pools.
List án landamæra (Art Without Boundaries) is an annual art festival in Iceland. It aims to promote the art of people with disabilities and to facilitate co-operation between people with and without disabilities. Different parties work together on various art projects and to say the least, with great results in the past. This has led to greater understanding between people for the greater good for the whole community.
The participants, give a good picture of the variety and the powerful art life in Iceland. We have many talented people who are disabled but sometimes they lack the opportunities. People with disabilities are not obvious in the common cultural environment. List án landamæra wants to change that and believes that opening between different groups and individuals in the society has an important role.
Reykjavik Music Mess is an international alternative music festival held in downtown Reykjavik in May.
Established in 1970, this is Iceland’s premier cultural festival, bringing together the best in local and international theatre, dance, music, literature and visual art. The programme offers a variety of curated exhibitions, concerts, dance, theatre and opera performances. Along with its focus on Icelandic culture past and present, this annual festival hosts many outstanding international artists and performers. In the past few years, Icelandic writers have invited guests into their homes for readings, mostly in Icelandic, but this has also been done in German.
The first Sunday in June is a very special day in Iceland. It reminds us of how important the sea and its sailors are to our history, our economy and our people. The Festival of the Sea is an annual event with a diverse programme of events that take place from 10am on Saturday morning until Sunday afternoon, at Reykjavík´s West Harbour; Grandagarður.
In olden times Vikings divided the year into summer and winter halves, marking the beginning of each new season. Summer solstice, celebrated on June 21st, marked the longest day of the year. Solstice celebrations have grown in popularity recently with various gatherings, song, dance and midnight walks on offer. The Viking Village in Hafnarfjordur town in the greater Reykjavik area hosts a Solstice Festival with Viking clothing, instruments, jewellery, crafts, and of course food and drink.
The National Day of Iceland has been celebrated on June 17th since 1944. The festivities in Reykjavik include colourful parades, street theatre and music, side shows and dancing.
Innipúkinn is an annual music festival, held in Reykjavík on the August bank holiday weekend. Past guests include Cat Power, Blonde Redhead, Mugison, Raveonnettes, Hjálmar, Trabant, Seabear, Jonathan Ritchman, Mínus, Dikta,FM Belfast, Televison + many more.
This colourful event brings tens of thousands of people into the city centre every year to show solidarity and have fun with the gay community in Reykjavik. Gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people, friends, relatives, a fast growing number of tourists and the general public all come together to celebrate and support human rights for all.
The annual Reykjavik Jazz Festival is an increasingly prestigious event on the international jazz scene. It features many acclaimed international Jazz players as well as Iceland’s leading Jazz musicians.
Reykjavik Culture Night has become an essential part of cultural life in Iceland with thousands of people strolling the streets of the city on this exciting and eventful night. Culture Night offers the chance to enjoy a variety of activities featuring all the art forms, ranging from traditional shows and exhibitions to more unusual happenings.
Lókal is Reykjavík’s only international professional theatre festival. It aims at introducing new and original theatre productions to the Icelandic audience, using the opportunity to connect local theatre artists with the international theatre scene.
The Reykjavík International Literary Festival is a biannual festival, first held in 1985. The festival is the most prestigious book festival in Iceland, and has earned respect both at home and abroad. It can boast a remarkable guest list, counting authors such as Herta Müller, Kurt Vonnegut, Günter Grass, J.M. Coetzee, Paul Auster, A.S. Byatt, Isabel Allende, Haruki Murakami, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Seamus Heaney and Taslima Nasrin, just to name a few. In addition to these fine international writers, most of Iceland’s greatest writers have taken part in the festival. All the events are free of charge and attendance is high. The venues are the Nordic House and Idno Theatre, both located in the heart of Reykjavík.
Reykjavik Reads – October
Reykjavik Reads is a new festival, first held in October 2012. This month long festival is hosted by Reykjavik UNESCO City of Literature, and it celebrates reading with events and programs for people of all ages, children, teenagers and adults. The first festival was dedicated to one book, a classic Reykjavik novel, in the fashion of One City, One Book festivals. This festival mostly caters to the local population with events and programs in Icelandic, but individual events may be suitable for a vider audience. The program for each festival is introduced on this website.
The festival was founded in 2004 by a group of film enthusiasts and professionals with the goal of creating an annual international film festival in Reykjavík. The aim was to establish a major film event to enrich and enliven the local film culture, but moreover, to become an international attraction. RIFF’s reputation has spread considerably and the number of international guests has multiplied making the festival one of the best-kept secrets of the film festival circuit.
The Imagine Peace Tower is a work of art by Yoko Ono dedicated to the memory of John Lennon and the yearning for peace on earth. It is situated on Videy Island, just off the Reykjavik coast. The boat trips take only minutes. The Peace Tower is a wishing well from which a strong and tall tower of light emerges. The words Imagine Peace are inscribed on the well in 24 world languages. The strength, intensity and brilliance of the tower of light continually change as the particles in the air fluctuate with prevailing weather. Every year the Imagine Peace Tower emerges between Lennon’s birthday and the day of his death.
What started as a showcase for local DJs has evolved into a full-blown, international music festival that presents the hottest new bands from the USA, Europe and Iceland. The festival attracts thousands of international visitors annually to sample the freshest sounds, foreign and domestic – some in the search of fresh talent, others for inspiration and yet others seeking adventure on the arctic circle.
Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and marks the official start of the Christmas season in Iceland. It is when things start getting magical: lights shining through the winter darkness, concerts and celebrations, markets and festive spirits. Although not a festival in its own right, the Christmas season in Reykjavik is celebrated in various ways, and the native Christmas Creatures feature prominently in downtown Reykjavik. They include the thirteen Yule Lads, their troll parents, the Christmas Cat and more.
Literature and books are an important part of this season in Iceland. Iceland sells more books per capita than most other nations, and the vast majority are sold in the lead-up to Christmas. In Iceland this is known as the Christmas Book Flood. The tradition is that everyone must receive at least one book for Christmas to take to bed on Christmas Eve. And so, beginning in November, hundreds of books are released onto the market and the talk is all about books – in the media, in the workplace, among family and friends, and at Christmas parties. Readings and literary happenings are all over town at this time of year, most of them in Icelandic, but the literary traveler should keep an eye on our event caldendar on this site to follow what’s on for the international crowd.