Icelanders do not like being seen as lacking, but we understand that we cannot hold many large international music festivals. But that doesn’t stop us from holding quite a few other festivals, and most include international acts as well as Icelandic. No season is left behind; from the dark month of January to the summer months with the midnight sun, you will find a music festival for you.
This is our list of the best music festivals in Iceland.
Iceland Airwaves is an annual music festival held in Reykjavik in early November. The festival lasts four days (Wednesday through Saturday) and showcases new music from Iceland and worldwide. Icelandair and the City of Reykjavik are the festival’s primary sponsors.
The first show was held as a one-time event in an airplane hangar at Reykjavik Airport in 1999.
Iceland Airwaves is promoted and produced by Iceland Music Export, with support from its founder Icelandair and the City of Reykjavik.
This is by far the most popular music festival in Iceland and definitely one of the best music festivals in Iceland.
Bræðslan is an annual music festival held the last weekend in July in Borgarfjörður Eystri in the East Fjords. Some of Iceland’s most famous bands play there, and it usually always sells out. The festival is small, and only about 1000 tickets are sold.
However, only about 100 people live in the village, so ten times the population shows up for the festival.
It is the brainchild of singer Magni who took part in the reality show Rockstar in 2006.
Borgarfjörður Eystri is also one of the best places to see the puffin up close!
Aldrei fór ég suður – I never went south
Every Easter, the music festival Aldrei fór ég suður is held in Ísafjörður in the West Fjords. Icelandic musician Mugison and his father, Guðmundur Kristjánsson, came up with the idea after performing at a music festival in London in 2003. The name comes from a song by another famous Icelandic artist, Bubbi Morthens.
What makes this festival special is that it is entirely free. There is no admission fee, and the musicians are not compensated. The festival is also broadcasted live on Rás 2 and RÚV (the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service).
In the words of Mugison and his father:
“My father and I were drinking beer abroad in the summer of 2003, and then we started to imagine a big festival on Ísafjörður where ordinary people were the stars and the pop stars were in the absolute second place. We thought it would be great to see a poster where the biggest letters were “Dóri Hermans sings swinging the blues away,” and then there were the country’s leading musical stars in cute little letters. My father and I sat there for a few hours, and before we knew it, we had designed the biggest and coolest festival in the world.
When my father and I left, we continued to talk about this festival, which was a sign that the idea might be good. We wanted to invite some friends from the music business to the West Fjords. Show them why my father and I live on the edge of the habitable world; the reason is naturally apparent, the people.
Everyone can trace their ancestry to the West Fjords. So, they should look in the phone book, call their aunts and uncles, get a place to stay, put their toothbrush in their breast pocket, pack their bad mood in a bag, and send it to Akureyri, dress in a good mood and just have a good time.”
Myrkir Músík Dagar – Dark Music Days
Dark Music Days is an Icelandic contemporary music festival that takes place each year in Reykjavik, Iceland. It is held during the darkest days of winter. It is Iceland’s premier platform for showcasing innovative and progressive contemporary music. The festival, founded in 1980 by the Society of Icelandic Composers, focuses on premiering new and often experimental pieces reflecting contemporary music’s ever-growing diversity and creativity.
Reykjavik Arts Festival
The Ministry of Culture, the City of Reykjavik, and the Federation of Icelandic Artists founded the Reykjavik Arts Festival in 1969. It was founded by conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy, honorary president, and Ivar Eskeland, who was then the director of the Nordic House in Reykjavik. From 1970 to 2004, the festival was held biennially, then annually until 2016, when it became a biennial again. Hundreds of artists worldwide have performed or exhibited in Iceland as part of the Reykjavik Arts Festival. It is one of the Nordic countries’ oldest and most prestigious arts festivals.
The Reykjavik Arts Festival is a biennial multidisciplinary event focusing on new commissions and the creative intersection of the arts. It presents exhibitions and performances of contemporary and classical works to the broadest possible audience in major cultural venues and unconventional spaces throughout the city.
The Reykjavik Arts Festival will take place from June 1 to June 16, 2024.
Reykjavik Blues Festival
The Reykjavik Blues Society was founded on November 6, 2003, at Kaffi Reykjavík. The main people of blues music in Iceland gathered there and held Reykjavik Music Festival for the first time in a packed house of blues enthusiasts.
The Reykjavik Blues Society honors people who have worked to advance blues music in Iceland. Communication with other blues clubs and collaboration on blues festivals are also a big part of the company’s activities.
It’s held annually in April.
Eistnaflug began as a small one-day metal festival in late August 2005 in Neskaupsstaður, East Fjords. Since then, it has evolved into a four-day festival featuring metal, hardcore, punk, rock, and indie bands. Eistnaflug was taken to the next level in 2015 when it moved to a larger venue and featured over 60 bands. Since then, they have returned to their roots and held the festival in just one venue, Egilsbúð.
The name is a wordplay of another festival held the first weekend of August (during Verslunarmannahelgin) called Neistaflug. Neistaflug means Sparks Flying, while Eistnaflug means Testies Flying.
The Extreme Chill Festival – Undir Jökli (under the glacier) was held in Hellissandur on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula on the weekend of August 6-8, 2010.
The festival has taken place in Berlin and throughout Iceland, in Hellissandur village in West Iceland, Vík, a town in South Iceland, and the capital, Reykjavik. There have also been collaborations with other festivals both in Iceland and abroad.
The festival’s primary goal is to connect Icelandic and foreign musicians by combining different art forms—from electronic music to visual arts—and to draw attention to electronic Reykjavik, Iceland’s Electronic Music Capital.
The first LungA Art Festival, a small-scale festival in Seyðisfjörður, was held in 2000. It celebrates creativity, arts, and culture through workshops, lectures, and events. The festival concludes with a bang with a series of exhibitions and concerts over the final weekend.
LungA has a solid reputation, both locally and internationally, for its welcoming atmosphere, high-quality workshops, and incredible enthusiasm of its participants year after year.
Reykjavik Jazz Festival
Reykjavik Jazz Festival is an annual festival and Iceland’s second longest-running music festival, beginning in 1990.
The festival features performances ranging from contemporary jazz and avant-garde to Latin jazz, gospel, and big bands. It includes many acclaimed international jazz musicians and Iceland’s top jazz musicians.
Norðanpaunk – Nordic Punk
The first weekend of August, Verslunarmannahelgin, is Iceland’s biggest festival weekend. One of the festivals is Nordic Punk in the small village of Laugarbakki in North-West Iceland, with a population of 55.
Nordic Punk brings together Iceland’s strangest and most extreme bands and artists. They focus on bands and artists who excel at presenting and interpreting their chosen art form. This ties together the organizers, volunteers, and performing artists.
For hardcore enthusiasts, this is definitely one of the best music festivals in Iceland.
Do you like our list of the best music festivals in Iceland? Do you feel we forgot some?