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What to Do on New Year in Iceland 2024

Guide to Traditional New Year’s Eve in Iceland: Where to Go & What to See

|November 7, 2023
Loves writing, food, runes, Reykjavík life, traveling in Iceland and being out in nature. Born in England but fell in love with Iceland in 2010 and moved here, been here since.

Wondering how Iceland will celebrate New Year's Eve in 2024? In this guide, uncover the unique traditions, experience the local festivities, and pinpoint the top places to welcome the new year.


WHAT TO DO IN ICELAND ON NEW YEAR'S EVE

Decided to spend the New Years in Iceland? You’re in luck! The enchanting city of Reykjavík, nestled on the Arctic's edge, comes alive with grand celebrations. Witness the sky illuminate with a dazzling firework display as you call in the New Year. During the day, traverse the mesmerizing winter landscapes and embark on thrilling adventures. Choose between the fireworks' brilliance and the Northern Lights' ethereal dance as night falls.

So, if you find yourself in Iceland during this time, eat early, wrap up warm, and prepare to participate in a celebration like no other!

HOW ICELANDERS CELEBRATE NEW YEAR'S EVE

New Year celebration in Iceland is a deeply cherished tradition rooted in family and community celebrations. The essence of the festivities revolves around togetherness, warmth, and a reflection on the year gone by.

At its core, New Year in Iceland is all about family. Homes come alive with the sounds of laughter, chatter, and the aroma of traditional Icelandic dishes. Families gather to celebrate, eat, and immerse themselves in the cozy ambiance of the evening. An integral part of this gathering is the sharing of local and family stories, with elders recounting tales of yesteryears, ensuring that the younger generation remains connected to their roots.

The celebrations typically begin with an early dinner, setting the tone for the evening's events. As the clock strikes 20:30, many Icelanders head out to participate in the communal New Year bonfires, known as "Áramótabrennur." These bonfires symbolize the burning away of the old year and the welcoming of the new. The atmosphere is easy and friendly, with strangers and new friends coming together, celebrating as the fire's glow envelops them in its warmth. The only rule during these bonfires? No fireworks allowed!

After the bonfire, families return home in anticipation of the much-awaited Áramótaskaup, which starts at 22:30. This satirical end-of-year show, broadcasted by RÚV, the state broadcaster, is a highlight of the evening. The entire nation tunes in to watch as the past year's news stories and events are humorously ridiculed. While the show is in Icelandic, its humor transcends language barriers, ensuring that even those unfamiliar with the language catch some of its wit.

 

 

As 22:35 approaches, Icelanders prepare for what can only be described as a sensational fireworks show. The sky is set ablaze with bright colors, outshining even the most magnificent northern lights. As the fireworks light up the night, many raise a glass to the New Year, toasting new beginnings and memories yet to be made.  As the clock strikes midnight, join the locals in exclaiming, "Gleðilegt nýtt ár!" which means “Happy New Year!” in Icelandic. The celebrations continue well into the night, with parties, gatherings, and festivities.

The lively and vibrant celebrations of New Year's Eve in Iceland give way to a calm New Year's Day. Icelandic communities are notably quiet, with most residents sleeping in late. The day is marked by relaxation and recovery, with no elaborate meals being prepared. Leftovers from the previous night's feast are often the order of the day. 

New Year celebrations take on a local flavor in smaller towns across the country, like Akureyri. These towns organize their firework displays and bonfires, ensuring that the spirit of the New Year is felt throughout the country.

ICELAND NEW YEAR FACTS

Brilliant fireworks display over illuminated Perlan Museum with Reykjavik cityscape in background.

Fireworks above Perlan museum in Reykjavik on the New Years Eve. Source: Visit Reykjavik

  • The fireworks display is provided by the people of Reykjavík, not funded by the city.

  • Most fireworks are sold by ICE-SAR, the search and rescue service; this is a magnificent fundraiser for them.

  • Áramótabrennur is New Year Bonfires, held in Reykjavík for over 200 years.

  • An older Nordic tradition is to burn the old year in the fire, making way for the new. Visualizing the dross of the old year turning to ash in the flames of the fire is a fabulous way to let go of anything you want to release.

  • This is the wildest night of the year in Reykjavík.

  • A typical New Year’s dinner will be a shrimp cocktail or lobster starter, a main course of roast turkey and caramelized potatoes with Waldorf or other salads, followed by a light dessert such as homemade ice cream.

  • Icelanders toast the New Year with champagne or sparkling white wine.

  • When you raise a glass with Icelanders, remember to say Skál!

NEW YEARS EVE IN REYKJAVIK, ICELAND

Many travelers and locals consider Reykjavik the best place in Iceland for New Years Eve, offering a unique blend of traditional festivities and modern celebrations. To truly immerse yourself in the festive spirit of Reykjavik, consider joining the Festive Reykjavik Walk, a guided tour that showcases the city's holiday highlights and traditions.

 

Iceland New Year Fireworks

BONFIRES AND FIREWORKS

Celebrating New Year's Eve in Reykjavik is an experience like no other. The city comes alive with vibrant festivities, and the sky is painted with a spectacular light show of fireworks on December 31, New Year’s Eve. One of the prime spots to witness this dazzling display is the Hallgrímskirkja Church. However, if you're looking for a more panoramic view, the hill at Öskjuhlið by Perlan offers a grandstand view of the entire city. 

Reykjavik lights up with numerous bonfires for those seeking a more traditional experience. These are not just ordinary fires but a symbol of the city's rich history and culture. While there are 10 main bonfires scattered around the city, some of the notable ones are near Ægisíða by the ocean and the Valbjarnarvöllur sports area. As the New Year approaches, you can find a detailed map and list of all bonfire locations with a quick online search.

TRANSPORTATION

On New Year's Eve, bus services in Reykjavik wrap up by 15:00, resuming with a Sunday service pattern the next day. Check more information about the bus schedule on their official website.

Street view in Reykjavik, Iceland

SHOPS

Most shops and supermarkets in the city close early on New Year's Eve, around 14:00, with many remaining closed on New Year's Day. For those planning to indulge in festive spirits, it's essential to note that alcohol is exclusively available at state-run liquor stores - Vínbúðin. These outlets will be closed on New Year's Eve and Day, so ensure you get your supplies in advance. For specific opening times of Vínbúðin stores, it's best to check their official website.

RESTAURANTS

Traditionally, Icelanders celebrated New Year with close friends and family at home, so few restaurants were open. However, with the influx of winter tourists, this trend has shifted. Nowadays, many restaurants are open, though some close early or remain shut all day. Due to the high demand, making reservations ahead of time is highly recommended. 

It's worth noting that some restaurants also close on New Year's Day, but several operate on both days. Apart from these, there are alternative dining options available. Many larger hotels offer special events or menus, and their vibrant hotel bars provide a festive atmosphere to ring in the new year, even until the early hours.

MUSEUMS

For those interested in cultural experiences, some museums in Reykjavik adjust their opening hours, with a few remaining open on New Year's Day. It's always a good idea to check directly with the museums for the most up-to-date information, as schedules can vary from year to year.

  • The Settlement Museum: Dec. 31, 10 AM – 2 PM; Jan. 1, 12 PM – 5 PM
  • Reykjavík Museum of Photography: Dec. 31: Closed; Jan. 1: Closed
  • Maritime Museum: Dec. 31, 10 AM – 2 PM; Jan. 1, 12 PM – 5 PM
  • Árbær Open Air Museum: Dec. 31: Closed; Jan. 1: Closed
  • Icelandic Phallological Museum: Dec. 31: 10 AM – 4 PM; Jan. 1: Closed
  • Aurora Reykjavík: Dec. 31, 9 AM – 4 PM; Jan. 1, 9 AM – 9 PM
  • Whales of Iceland: Dec. 31, 10 AM – 5 PM; Jan. 1, 10 AM – 5 PM
  • National Museum: Dec. 31, 10 AM – 2 PM; Jan. 1: Closed
  • Saga Museum: Dec. 31, 10 AM – 5 PM; Jan. 1, 12 PM – 5 PM
  • Hafnarhús: Dec. 31, 10 AM – 2 PM; Jan. 1, 1 PM – 5 PM
  • Perlan: Dec. 31, 9 AM – 4 PM; Jan. 1, 12 PM – 6 PM

SWIMMING POOLS

Lastly, for those looking to relax and rejuvenate, taking a dip in one of Reykjavik's outdoor swimming pools is a must. Despite the chilly weather, these pools, like the popular Laugardalslaug, remain open, offering a unique way to ring in the New Year. Swimming amidst the steam and snow is an experience that encapsulates the magic of winter in Iceland. 

Most pools around the capital are open on New Year's Eve in the morning. For specific opening times during the holiday season, you can check the official website of the pools or contact them directly. The Reykjavík pools will be open from 9 AM to 1 PM on December 31st and from 12 PM to 6 PM on January 1st, with Laugardalslaug and Sundhöllin starting their operations an hour earlier at 8 AM.

If you want to explore more rejuvenating experiences in the country, discover more places to swim in Iceland.

Twilight view of illuminated geothermal pool complex in snowy Reykjavik with city and ocean in background.

Geothermal pool facility lit up in snowy Reykjavik. Source: Iceland Review

2024 NEW YEAR TOURS IN ICELAND

Experience the magic of the season with our New Year's tours in Iceland, designed to offer you a memorable celebration amidst the breathtaking landscapes of this winter wonderland. Dive into adventures like small-group snowmobiling trips, snorkeling in the pristine Silfra Fissure at Thingvellir, or exploring glaciers, volcanoes, and waterfalls. These day tours are perfect for those looking to pack their New Year's celebrations with a variety of experiences in a short span of time.

A special highlight during the winter season is the opportunity to explore the mesmerizing ice caves, like the Blue Ice Cave (newly discovered!) and the famous Crystal Ice Cave. These caves are winter's special treat, giving you a magical peek into Iceland's frozen heart. Trust us, this is a winter adventure you won't want to miss, making your holiday truly one for the books.

Northern Lights dance above Kirkjufell mountain and waterfalls in Iceland.

Northern Lights watching at Snaefellsnes Peninsula.

For those looking to immerse themselves deeper into Iceland's beauty, our multi-day packages offer a more extensive exploration. Experience the mesmerizing Jokulsarlon Ice Lagoon, the enchanting Northern Lights at Snaefellsnes Peninsula, and the famous South Coast and Golden Circle. These packages are designed to give you a comprehensive experience of Iceland's natural wonders over a few days, making your New Year's celebration truly unforgettable.

And if you're keen on greeting the first day of the year with an adventure, our New Year’s Day tours range from the iconic Golden Circle to the ethereal Northern Lights. With tours selling out quickly due to high demand, it's not just about the destination but the unique experiences, unparalleled views, and the advantage of expert guidance that make our tours stand out. 

So, whether you're an early riser or a night owl, we have the perfect New Year's adventure waiting for you. Check out our full selection and book your spot here.

NEW YEAR ROAD TRIP?

You can create some New Year magic with the flexibility to set your own agenda. Demand for accommodation is high, and some small guest houses take a well-earned break themselves. Therefore, planning ahead is good, although last-minute booking can create some incredible opportunities, too.

White Christmases and New Year's are common in Iceland, imbuing everything with a very special Arctic winter magic. Plan an itinerary, but stay flexible. The winter weather is part of your adventure; slow down whenever the road is icy or challenging, and your tour will be amazing. Always check out road conditions and weather alerts frequently and weather forecastsIf you are an inexperienced driver unused to ice, snow, and poor visibility, there are better options than winter driving in Iceland. Stay safe!

Glacial icebergs bathed in warm glow of sunrise in Icelandic lagoon.

Blue iceberg floating in Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon in Iceland.

IN CONCLUSION

There's a saying that how you greet the New Year sets the tone for the months ahead. If that's the case, celebrating New Year's Eve in Iceland promises a year of wonder and adventure. From the heartwarming traditions of Icelandic families to the vibrant festivities in Reykjavik and the adventurous tours across the country's breathtaking landscapes, there's no place quite like it to usher in a new chapter. If you've ever considered making the journey, let this be the year you immerse yourself in Iceland's winter magic.

Skál to new beginnings and a prosperous year ahead!

QUESTIONS ABOUT NEW YEARS IN ICELAND

Couple in Santa hats sharing a toast with wine glasses in a snowy landscape.

Ringing in the New Year with a cozy toast in winter landscape.

IS ICELAND GOOD FOR NEW YEAR'S?

Iceland is a fantastic destination for New Year's with its unique celebrations, fireworks, and winter landscapes.

HOW DO THEY CELEBRATE NEW YEAR'S IN ICELAND?

Icelanders celebrate with family gatherings, bonfires, fireworks, and watching the Áramótaskaup comedy show.

IS REYKJAVIK GOOD FOR NEW YEAR'S?

Absolutely, Reykjavik is known for its grand fireworks displays and numerous bonfires.

WHERE TO SPEND NEW YEAR'S EVE IN REYKJAVIK?

Popular spots include Hallgrímskirkja Church and the various bonfire locations around the city.

WHERE TO BUY FIREWORKS IN ICELAND FOR NEW YEAR?

ICE-SAR sells most fireworks, and the search and rescue service as a fundraiser.

ARE SWIMMING POOLS IN ICELAND OPEN DURING NEW YEAR'S?

Some pools are open with restricted holiday hours, such as Laugardalslaug in Reykjavík.

ARE RESTAURANTS IN ICELAND OPEN DURING NEW YEAR'S?

Many restaurants are open, but it's recommended to book in advance.

IS DECEMBER A GOOD TIME TO GO TO ICELAND?

Yes, December offers winter landscapes, Northern Lights, and festive celebrations. Learn more about December in Iceland.

WHICH COUNTRY IS BEST FOR NEW YEAR’S EVE?

This is subjective, but Iceland is certainly one of the top destinations with its unique celebrations!

WHAT TO WEAR DURING NEW YEAR’S IN ICELAND?

Warm clothing, including thermal layers, waterproof outer layers, gloves, scarves, and hats, is essential due to the cold Arctic weather.

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