Christmas Markets in Iceland 2024
Check the opening times and what to expect from Christmas markets this year!
Wandering around Christmas markets is a great way to get into the festive mood. Here are the best markets that Iceland has to offer.
As Christmas is fast approaching, we all know what that actually means: spending time with our loved ones, showering each other with attention and gifts, and of course, enjoying Christmas-themed foods and drinks. How different is Christmas cuisine in Iceland from the one we're used to?
At first glance, it might seem that there isn't much room for interpretation regarding traditions and preparation for winter festivities. But it's certainly interesting to find out what dishes and beverages people of different cultures prepare. With this in mind, we present the 15 top Icelandic Christmas foods ranging from proper meals to desserts, followed by common holiday drinks.
This traditional Icelandic Christmas dish is basically smoked lamb, boiled like ham, and served cold. It also comes with side dishes, such as peas, cabbage, and corn covered with hot béchamel style sauce. Another delicious option is to eat it on Icelandic flatbread (flatkökur).
Probably one of the quirkiest Icelandic dishes. As the name suggests, it's a skate (a kind of fish) that is fermented (or, if we put it simply, "rotten"). Even though not all Icelanders will generally agree with it being specifically a Christmas dish, an older generation likes to enjoy it the most. The younger generations will likely consider it a fun part of the tradition and share it with a company of friends.
The traditional Iceland flatbread is as beautiful as it is tasty. It is a thin, flour-based round cake decorated with various geometrical patterns that look very Christmassy. Back in the day, it was really hard to get the ingredients to make this bread, but now it's become a well-known tradition to gather with your family and participate in the bread decorating and cooking process. Seriously, can you imagine a more cozy activity than this?
Ptarmigan (Icelandic rjúpa) is a type of grouse that changes its feather color from brown to white in winter. Before, it used to be a meal for poorer people in Iceland, but in the past 50 years, it has become a very traditional dish during Christmas. It is typically served with caramelized potatoes, red cabbage, and gravy. Today, ptarmigan is a protected bird, and in most cases, it is forbidden to hunt it. But you can still find it in some restaurants for rare occasions!
One of the traditional Christmas foods in Iceland is pickled or marinated herring. Considering how popular fish is in Iceland, there are many variations of how herring could be marinated. How do you eat pickled herring? It's usually served on a piece of rye bread together with some butter.
Despite being translated as "pepper cookies," Piparkökur are gingerbread biscuits made by Icelanders during Christmas time. Why are they called "pepper cookies"? Because their recipe not only includes ginger, cinnamon, and cloves but also a little bit of pepper that helps enrich the other flavors.
One of many Icelandic sweet recipes includes meringue cookies that are easy to make since it only requires a few ingredients. The thing that differentiates it from original meringues is adding the combination of licorice and chocolate, as Icelanders are known for their admiration of licorice. Light as a cloud and a real treat for sweet tooths, these Christmas cookies are one of the most popular treats in Iceland during the holiday season.
A dish that many of us would probably choose to eat for breakfast, but Icelanders also see almond rice pudding as a dessert to which they add "cinnamon sugar" to it to make it sweet. Together with this dish follows a tradition of putting one almond into the porridge and whoever ends up with it gets a gift from the Yule Lads.
A traditional Christmas cake filled with raisins or other dried fruits is known for its rich flavor and smell that is obtained by adding cardamom. The Christmas cake goes perfectly together with some freshly brewed coffee or hot cocoa. It's a simple and great dessert with which you'll finish your Christmas dinner with a bang. Did you know that you can also eat it the next day as it only gets more delicious after a while?
Another Icelandic dessert which proves that simplicity is the key to getting the best results. The layered cake is actually made of cookie-like dough and a prune mixture. Because of its pleasant taste and easy-to-make process, Vinarterta is not only baked for Christmas but for other significant occasions too.
The Icelandic Christmas ale is made by mixing two types of soda – Malt and Appelsín. Both these beverages are consumed separately all year long but combined to create this festive drink. Malt og Appelsín is prepared by pouring the orange soda Appelsín first and then adding Malt (which contains 1% alcohol). The mix ratio might vary depending on a person's taste, but those who don't want to experiment too much can buy a can of an already prepared beverage (Icelandic jólaöl).
Although beer was banned from the country at some point in Iceland's history, there's still a great range of beers that can be tried out during the Christmas season. It won't take long to see that even when crafting this beverage, Icelanders made it in a way that can be easily recognizable as their beer. This was done by adding flavors of licorice, caramel, ginger, and even nuts. If you're interested in discovering crafty Icelandic beer, here is the list of the Top 7 Best Icelandic Christmas Beers.
Brennivín is a flavored spirit drink also known as "The Black Death." Icelanders came up with this name because of alcohol prohibition in the 20th century. After the ban was lifted, Brennivín was sold in green bottles with a black label with a skull. Later, they changed the skull and put Iceland's map instead. What does Brennivín taste like? Contrary to many strong spirit beverages, it has a flavored taste because of the caraway seeds that are added during the making process.
Iceland's love for licorice also reflects in its selection of alcoholic beverages."Opal" and "Tópas" are licorice-based spirits that perhaps every Icelander knows because they grew up consuming them in the form of candy. Even though licorice has a strong flavor that is hard to mix with anything else, "Opal" is known to taste like menthol while "Tópas" reminds of eucalyptus.
What winter celebrations go by without some spiced wine? This hot drink is known to be a must in many countries, and Iceland isn't an exception. Flavored with spices and sugar for rich flavor and pleasant aroma, it's a beverage that will certainly get you into a festive mood.
One of the ways we can learn more about other cultures, sometimes without even having to leave our homes, is through cuisine. It can be achieved by gathering the family to make Icelandic leaf bread, trying out fermented skate, or sipping good old Jólaglögg (if that isn't enough, join an Icelandic food tour!). If you wish to incorporate more Icelandic Christmas food this year, or you're just curious how their culture differs from yours, read these 13 Things that Icelanders Do Every Christmas. And who knows, perhaps it will even inspire you to celebrate your next Christmas season in Iceland?