New Year’s Eve in Reykjavík: How to Celebrate

5 minute read

ITo Author Bio Max Transparent BG.png

By Max Naylor

7 October 2022

Fireworks in Reykjavik for New Year's

In Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík, New Year’s a big deal. Wander the city’s streets on 31 December and you’ll sense the undeniable magic in the air. But what exactly does celebrating New Year’s Eve mean to Icelanders, and how can you join in?

There’s a full evening of festivities to enjoy across the Reykjavík area. You’ll notice family-friendly bonfires in local neighborhoods, before the evening gives way to fireworks and partying!

5 Icelandic New Year’s Eve traditions

If you find yourself in Reykjavík, Iceland on New Year’s Eve, what can you expect? Read on and you’ll get the insider scoop on these top 5 New Year traditions in Iceland.

1. New Year’s dinner

Ptarmigan, Icelandic Christmas food. Credit: Gotterí og gersemar/Berglind Hreiðarsdóttir

Traditionally Icelanders kick off the evening’s festivities at 6 p.m. with an indulgent dinner. You’ll find that there’s no one set meal on this day, but some kind of roast meat is often involved. Leg of lamb, roast beef, turkey, duck, and ptarmigan are all popular options.

You can join in by going to a New Year’s Eve buffet at a local restaurant or hotel. All of the New Year’s packages that Iceland Tours offers include a New Year’s dinner experience. So you don’t need to worry about making your own restaurant reservation.

2. Bonfires

Another Icelandic New Year’s tradition is the neighborhood bonfire. This traces its roots back to the late 18th century. Back then some schoolboys from Reykjavík kindled scraps of wood at the top of a local hill.

New Year's bonfire in Iceland

There are bonfires dotted about Reykjavík city center on New Year’s Eve, lit at various times throughout the evening. You might even see locals dressed up as elves, dancing and singing álfasöngvar, or elf songs, around the fire.

The most famous of them, Álfadansinn or ‘Dance of the Elves’, is one that all Icelandic people know. It goes like this:

Máninn hátt á himni skínhrímfölur og grár.Líf og tími líðurog liðið er nú ár.

(In chorus)Bregðum blysum á loft,bleika lýsum grund.Glottir tungl, en hrín við hrönnog hratt flýr stund.

High above shines the moon,pale as ice and gray.Life and time ebbs away,and another year is gone.

Let us hold our sparklers aloft,and light up the dull earth.The moon smiles, but squeals at crowds,as time flies by.

Why not join in by visiting a neighborhood bonfire for yourself? You can light sparklers, listen to the songs, and soak up the merry atmosphere. 

You’ll see people gathering around bonfires from as early as 3 p.m., but check local listings for exact times and locations.

show of fireworks in the dark sky reflecting in the sea

3. New Year’s addresses

In the Nordic countries, it’s traditional for the leaders of the nation to give an address on New Year’s Eve. This is instead of a Christmas Day speech as in some other countries. 

Iceland follows this Nordic tradition. In the early evening, both the prime minister and president of Iceland will address the people in separate speeches. 

This is a chance for them to reflect on the events of the past year, and offer messages of hope and inspiration for the year ahead. 

4. Áramótaskaupið

Áramótaskaupið, or the ‘New Year’s Skit’, is a comedy show put on by RÚV, the main TV channel in Iceland. First broadcast in 1966, the show is an hour-long piece of satire on everything that’s happened over the past year. It’s known as Skaupið for short.

The show parodies people and events of the year from both Iceland and abroad, and is a great example of Icelandic humor. They definitely don’t take themselves too seriously!

These days, you can watch Skaupið with English subtitles, so you can get in on the jokes too. This is the show from 2020, full of Covid references of course.

Áramótaskaupið is shown live on TV at 10:30 p.m. You’ll notice Icelanders flocking home to watch the show before getting ready to ring in the New Year at midnight. 

Another thing you can be sure of is that Icelanders will be talking non-stop for the next few weeks about whether this year’s Skaupið was better than the last!

New Year’s fireworks above the Tjörnin pond in Reykjavík © Yiqun Zheng

5. Firework shows

As in other countries, New Year’s Eve in Iceland is the night for breathtaking firework displays. You’ll find them all over the country, but the biggest by far is in Reykjavík. Altogether, Icelanders set off about 500 tons of fireworks on this night of celebration!

Fireworks in Iceland are normally sold by Björgunarsveitir, the local search and rescue teams. The proceeds from the sales go towards funding their vital services, which are run entirely by volunteers.

Shortly before midnight, people head down to the old harbor area to secure a good spot to watch the impressive firework display. Here you can even join a boat cruise for a unique view of them from the water.

You’ll also find smaller firework shows dotted around the city. A popular spot is the square in front of the iconic Hallgrímskirkja church. Other places that are great for seeing the colorful displays are Perlan, which has views over the whole city, and Tjörnin, the main pond.

Beyond Reykjavík, you’ll find firework shows in towns and villages around the countryside. One of the most famous takes place at Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. Just imagine how the colorful streams of light look reflecting off the glistening icebergs and mirror-like water.

Reykjavik and Mount Esja covered in snow

Visiting Reykjavík at New Year’s

If you’ve got your heart set on being in Reykjavík for New Year’s Eve, you’re probably wondering how to make that happen.

It’s a good idea to combine a New Year’s trip with other winter activities, like hunting the Northern Lights or exploring an ice cave. With Iceland Tours, you have a range of New Year’s vacations to choose from.

These packages all include accommodation, local transport, a festive meal, and day trips. This means you’ll get to take part in the celebrations and see Iceland’s jaw-dropping natural wonders for yourself.

All it takes to secure your booking is a 5% deposit. The only thing left to do? Learn how to pronounce Gleðilegt nýtt ár ‘Happy New Year’ in Icelandic!


ITo Author Bio Max Transparent BG.png

About the author

Max has been back and forth from Iceland since 2009. He lived and worked there for several years, and although he’s moved away, he left a piece of his heart there. When he’s in Iceland, he loves to relax in the ‘hot pot’, chow down on some local food, and catch up with friends. He speaks Icelandic fluently, so if you need to know how to pronounce ‘Fagradalsfjall’, he’s your guy.

View more posts by Max

Related articles

Read more from our Fire and Ice blog.
Snow falling over Reykjavík

All About Iceland Christmas Traditions

Just how do Icelanders celebrate ‘jól’?

Read article
A Christmas tree in Austurvöllur square in Reykjavík

Iceland in December: Things to See & Do

All the best things to see and do in the month of December.

Read article

Iceland in January: Things to See & Do

All the best things to see and do in the month of January.

Read article