Iceland is open for travel: check volcano updates here

Overview: Icelanders generally don’t need an excuse to celebrate - they are famously good at making regular days a celebration. Whether it’s an ordinary Friday or Bolludagur (Cream Bun Day), you’ll see signs of festivity throughout everyday life.


In the early days of tourism in Iceland, visiting during National Holidays could be difficult as Icelanders would simply close everything down with little to no warning. However, now that tourism booms year-round, you’ll find this is no longer the case. There is a stricter schedule of play, with only dedicated National Holidays stopping service - and the occasional sunny day when locals flock to the countryside.

Famous attractions in Iceland tend to stay open year-round, perhaps with modified opening hours on National Holidays. You will find that Icelanders still take Christmas and Easter quite seriously. But if you are looking to visit a touristy place, for example, the Blue Lagoon, it will be open all year round, just for a shorter time on the holiest of days.

Are you ready to discover how the holidays may impact your vacation? You will also discover some of the most interesting days Icelanders celebrate.

The National Holiday Calendar in Iceland

1. Nýársdagur or New Year’s Day – 1st of January

If you find yourself in Iceland on the 1st of the New Year, you won’t be overly surprised by the celebrations and general atmosphere on the day. In previous years, shops and restaurants would be closed for business. However, with the influx of tourists, many businesses choose to remain open and take advantage of the additional footfall on this National Holiday. 

As is common in other European countries, some Icelanders choose to go for a cold sea swim on the 1st of January - the culture of Iceland supports this tradition, with swimming pools being a huge part of everyday life for locals. This is a great way to start the year refreshed, particularly after an evening enjoying the Reykjavík nightlife.

2. Skírdagur or Maundy Thursday – the last Thursday before Easter

Easter as a National Holiday is arguably one of the most important events in the Icelandic calendar, as far as Icelanders are concerned. While most of the population do not consider themselves religious, the history of this Nordic country has always valued Easter as an important celebration in their year.

Maundy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter Sunday, was the day that marked the last supper that Jesus enjoyed with his disciples. This is a National Holiday in Iceland starting a 5-day weekend, and most offices and businesses will close to allow locals to enjoy time off. Bars in Reykjavík might be open later than usual, sometimes as late as 3 am, as people take advantage of the long weekend. Be aware that if you visit on this day services may be more limited than expected.

3. Föstudagurinn Langi or Good Friday – the last Friday before Easter

As in other countries, Good Friday is traditionally a day spent in solemn contemplation. This means that sinful acts like gambling and drinking were once illegal, and may still be avoided by more religious families. While this is not the case in modern Iceland, most bars across the country will remain closed until Good Friday has passed. Shops will also be closed on this National Holiday, so make sure you have everything you might need before the long Easter weekend!

4. Páskar or Easter – March or April (changes annually)

Easter Sunday is celebrated just as in most other countries as a highly religious day. However, modern Iceland also celebrates with chocolate easter eggs! These tasty treats are given as gifts on this day, with Icelandic eggs known for their high-quality chocolate. Easter egg hunts are also common, whether this is among families at home or public events.

Easter Sunday is also a popular time for a family meal. This is typically a lamb roast with plenty of vegetables for families to enjoy while spending time with their loved ones. Again, stores are shut, so make sure to use the day before (Saturday) to grab those necessities!

Early summer morning in the National Park Landmannalaugar, Iceland.

Early summer morning in the National Park Landmannalaugar, Iceland.

5. Sumardagurinn Fyrsti or First Day of Summer – The third Thursday in April

While the first day of summer is not an exact science, the Icelandic calendar marks the third Thursday of April as the exact start of the season. This is reminiscent of ancient Norse calendars that would separate the year into just two seasons; winter and summer. While you shouldn’t expect brilliant sunshine (it’s still Iceland!), you’ll find celebrations in major population centers, including parades through the streets.

6. Verkalýðadagurinn or May Day – 1st of May

May Day, also called Labor Day, celebrates previous efforts of labor movements. Historically, this day was marked by protests in the street against a number of international movements and injustices. You might find parades or protests taking place on this day on the main shopping street of the capital, Laugavegur, which can be a powerful experience.

7. Uppstigningardagur or Ascension Day – May or June (changes annually)

Ascension Day is marked 40 days after Easter Sunday in Iceland as the day that Jesus ascended into heaven. This religious day has been a part of the Icelandic calendar for thousands of years. Religious Icelanders will spend this day in church, whereas for others it is another public holiday to spend with family or relaxing with other leisure activities.

8. Hvítasunnudagur or Whit Sunday and Annar í Hvítasunnu or Whit Monday – May or June (changes annually)

For the majority of the Icelandic population, Whit Sunday is simply another public holiday to enjoy. It is yet another Christian celebration in the Icelandic calendar, exactly 10 days after Ascension Day. Whit Sunday (or Whit Monday) is traditionally to celebrate the Holy Spirit being revealed to the followers of Jesus after his ascension to heaven. Businesses and schools will be closed on this day, so it’s important to note if you’re visiting during this time.

9. Þjóðhátíðardagur Íslendinga or Iceland’s National Day – 17th of June

Iceland’s National Day, or Independence Day as it is sometimes known, is an incredibly important day for Icelandic people. June 17th marks the day that Iceland declared independence from Denmark back in 1944. This is also the birthday of a significant member of the fight for Icelandic independence, Jón Sigurdsson. There is a statue in Austurvöllur Square in downtown Reykjavík of Sigurdsson, at which a wreath is placed on this National Holiday. In fact, downtown Reykjavík is the place to be on Independence Day, with celebrations of all kinds taking place here. You’ll find parades, live music, vintage cars, and more lining the streets - this is a great day out for the whole family, for locals and visitors alike.

10. Frídagur Verslunarmanna or Commerce Day or Shopkeeper’s Day – the first Monday in August

This public holiday in August is designed to provide respite for Iceland’s shopkeepers and merchants. The long weekend is a popular time for locals to head out of cities and towns into the countryside to camp or stay in family cabins. More importantly, if you’re keen on sampling the nightlife in the capital, this weekend is a big party weekend in Reykjavík. You’ll also find lots of fun activities and parties on the Westman Islands this weekend, so make sure to plan accordingly!

People going down the street in downtown Reykjavík.

People going down the street in downtown Reykjavík.

11. Aðfangadagur or Christmas Eve – 24th of December

Similarly to other European nations, Christmas Eve is when the festivities of Christmas begin, with gift-giving and a sit-down meal at home. Icelandic Christmas Eve traditions take place in the evenings, but public transport and most stores will cease service in the early afternoon. The bells of Hallgrímskirkja Church chime at 6:00 PM on the evening of the 24th, which is when yuletide begins and families will sit down to a traditional Icelandic Christmas feast. After dinner, children will be presented with gifts from their family members.

12. Jóladagur or Christmas Day – 25th of December

Christmas in Iceland is typically spent with family. This can involve playing board games, baking, watching films, or heading outside to burn off that Christmas Eve meal. Some bars and restaurants are open on this day, but you’ll need to make reservations in advance.

13. Annar í jólum or Boxing Day – 26th of December

Boxing Day, or the second day of Christmas, is celebrated similarly to the 25th. Stores and supermarkets will remain closed to the public, but restaurants and bars will resume mostly usual opening hours.

14. Gamlárskvöld or New Year’s Eve – 31st of December

The final event in the Icelandic calendar is, of course, New Year’s Eve. The capital of Reykjavík is renowned for being a great place to spend this evening. Similarly to December 24th, stores and public transport services will cease around 4:00 PM. Restaurants and bars are open late, however, you’ll definitely need to make a reservation if you wish to bring in the New Year with drinks in downtown establishments. 

In Icelandic family homes, bonfires are common to bring in the New Year with loved ones. In the capital, it is legal for anyone to set off fireworks, resulting in a non-traditional but fascinating display of lights in the sky. At 10:30 PM, you might find that silence descends during the annual showing of Áramótaskaup (or 'skaupið'). This is a comedy show that makes commentary on local and worldwide events of the previous year and an astounding percentage of the population tune in each year. Some bars will not open until midnight on New Year’s Eve and the celebrations can continue until the early hours.

Typical Icelandic houses with Christmas decorations near Akureyri, Iceland.

Typical Icelandic houses with Christmas decorations near Akureyri, Iceland.

Other Interesting Days in the Icelandic Calendar

Janúar – January

  • 6th – Þrettándinn, the day Christmas officially ends.
  • 19-25th – Þorri, when Icelanders host a Þorra-blót (the old Viking word for a party) and eat all the food from the settlement times such as fermented shark, ram testicles in jello, dry fish, rye bread, sour whale, and so on.
  • 19-26th – Bóndadagur e. Farmer’s Day or Husband’s Day, where Icelanders celebrate the men in their lives. It is a single day celebrated in between these dates and is always the Friday of the 13th week of Winter (according to the Viking way of counting the months). In 2024, this event fell on January 26th.

Febrúar – February

  • 7 weeks before Easter Icelanders have a 3-day food feast:
    1. Bolludagur – Cream Bun Day!
    2. Sprengidagur – where salted meat and bean soup are eaten in abundance until one could explode! Hence the name Sprengidagur e. Explosion Day.
    3. Öskudagur – the Icelandic version of Halloween.
  • 18-25th  – Konudagur e. Women’s Day where we celebrate the women in our lives. It is a single day celebrated in between these dates. In 2024, this event fell on February 25th.

Maí – May

  • 8-14th  – Mæðradagur e. Mother’s Day - the second Sunday in May offers the opportunity to celebrate mothers and maternal bonds. In 2024, Mother’s Day will be held on May 12th.

Júní – June

  • 1st Sunday in June – Sjómannadagurinn e. Sailor’s Day is celebrated all around the country with parades, musical performances, and games. In 2024, Sjómannadagurinn will be celebrated on June 2nd.

Ágúst – August

  • 6-11thPride Week in Reykjavík brings together the whole nation for a week of festivities that ends on a high with a parade on Sunday.
  • 3rd or 4th weekend in August – Menningarnótt or Cultural Night in Reykjavík - also known as Reykjavík’s birthday party! In 2024, Menningarnótt will be celebrated on August 24th.

Nóvember – November

  • 2nd Sunday in November – Feðradagur e. Father’s Day where Icelanders celebrate the fathers in their lives. Father’s Day 2024 falls on November 10th.
  • 16th – Dagur Íslenskrar Tungu e. The Day of the Icelandic Language.

Desember – December

1st – Fullveldisdagurinn Íslendinga e. The Day of Iceland’s Sovereignty.