Reykjavík is a wonderful place to celebrate the festive season and we couldn’t imagine spending it anywhere else. Apart from fabulous winter activities like having fun in the snow and gazing at the northern lights, there are countless Christmas traditions, events and activities you can enjoy. For those planning on joining us here in world’s most northerly capital city this December, we’ve made a quick round-up of all our favourite places to visit and things to do.
From December 1-23
Ice-skating rink & Christmas market
Once again Reykjavík’s Ingólfstorg Square will be transformed into a winter wonderland complete with ice-skating ring trimmed for the occasion with a festive Christmas market. Free access for those who bring their own skates.
Opening hours: The rink opens on December 1st at 19:00 with daily opening hours, until December 23rd, from 12 noon until 22:00.
990 ISK/hour (￡7/$9.50)
December 3, 10 & 17
Christmas at the Árbær Open Air Museum
This delightful collection of vintage houses, complete with turf farm and church, is a lovely destination and absolutely gorgeous this time of year. During Advent, visitors can enjoy a fabulous programme of events (on 3,10 & 17 December, between 13:00 & 17:00) with all sorts of traditional activities and festive entertainment on offer.
Getting there: Take bus number 12 from the Hlemmur bus terminal in the city centre.
Lighting of the Oslo Christmas Tree
This event is one of the longest standing traditions of the festive season in Reykjavík and has been an important part of the Christmas celebrations in the city since the year 1952. This year’s illumination ceremony, which marks the official start of the Advent period is set to take place (weather permitting) on December 3 in Austurvöllur Square, with entertainment from 15:30 in the afternoon.
Mozart at Midnight
There are many Christmas concerts coming up this season, but none compare to the Mozart Requiem at Midnight – performed annually by the Óperukórinn in Reykjavík (Opera Choir of Reykjavík) together with the Reykjavík Symphony Orchestra. Taking place at Langholtskirkja church and conducted by Iceland’s legendary opera singer, Garðar Cortes, the performance is arranged to coincide with the anniversary of Mozart’s passing at 1am on December 5th with the exact moment dramatically symbolised during the goose-bump-inducing Lacrimosa.
For tickets call (+354) 552-7366. Doors open at 23.50 on Sunday 4th December.
Vintage Christmas tree exhibition
For an unusual festive treat, head down to Reykjavík’s beautiful Culture House on Hverfisgata, where from December 1st, you’ll find a curious exhibition of vintage Icelandic Christmas trees, the oldest of which dates back to 1927.
The Christmas Creatures
Iceland’s curious Christmas Creatures, which include the famous family of Yule Lads, come down from the mountains every December to deliver a few tasty treats to all the good children (or rotten potatoes to the naughty ones). But with names like Sausage Swiper and Door Slammer you can expect a little mischief from them too. Look out for them popping up around town during December.
Christmas buffets & menus
Many local restaurants offer special Christmas buffets and menus with lots of festive food throughout the holiday season, but make sure you book well in advance. Here are some of our favourites:
Satt Restaurant offers superb Christmas dinners with buffets on Fridays and Saturdays and a special festival brunch on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve.
Slippbarinn at Icelandair Hotel Reykjavík Marina offer Christmas lunch and brunch with special holiday menus on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve.
Shops in Reykjavik usually extend their opening hours until December 23rd, most staying open until 10pm. Even without buying anything, it’s a lovely time of year to wander around downtown soaking up the festive atmosphere. But if you do plan on shopping, apart from exploring the main shopping streets and Christmas markets, step off into the side streets and check out the many great little shops and boutiques.
St Thorlakur’s Day
St.Thorlakur’s Day (Thorláksmessa) is celebrated annually on the 23rd December in Iceland with a bizarre feast of putrid skate fish. You might have already heard of this crazy Icelandic dish, but getting your other senses involved takes more than a bit of courage. If you’re brave enough to partake in this tradition then head to Restaurant Reykjavik which is simply the best at preparing this challenging culinary adventure! Book well in advance.
New Year’s Eve
On New Year’s Eve, the capital city explodes with dazzling colour and light in one of the most impressive firework shows you’ll ever see, and the best thing is that it’s created entirely by the residents themselves. For the best views head to either Hallgrímskirkja Church (featured in the image above) the Pearl or Arnarhóll Hill.