Why Go to Reykjavik for New Year's Eve?

Firework Frenzy!

Reykjavik is an internationally known New Year’s Eve destination and tourists flock there each year to see the massive firework displays and take part in the celebration. Unlike here in the United States, local governments aren’t responsible for the never ending firework madness. Icelanders spend vast sums of money purchasing fireworks each year and the proceeds go to support the Icelandic Search and Rescue Teams (ICE-SAR). Thus, local Icelanders themselves are creating this jubilant spectacle each year and light fireworks anywhere and everywhere leading up to the insanity at midnight. 

Getting There

Traveling from the east coat of the United States, 2 major airlines offer direct routes from Boston, Icelandair and Play Airlines, which will easily get you to Iceland in 5 hours. If you read our other articles on Iceland, you’ll know we always recommend renting a car to get yourself to all the amazing locations Iceland has to offer. Generally speaking, airfare to Iceland is relatively affordable in the winter months. This is not surprising since you can have as little as 4 hours between sunrise and sunset so it’s not the best time to see the natural splendors! However, plan early for NYE as flights and hotels are a bit more costly and crowded.

Traditional Bonfires

Each year, Icelanders follow a fairly set schedule for the holiday. After an earlier dinner, most Icelanders will go to a local bonfire at 8 PM, head home to watch a national comedy show at 10:30 PM and then reemerge to light fireworks leading up to the stroke of midnight. As a tourist, a few important things to keep in mind for your evening. It is very busy on NYE and you really need a dinner reservation and many restaurants offer a prix fixe menu. We would also highly recommend purchasing anything you need for the evening and the next day EARLY. Most stores including grocery stores close at 4 PM and virtually everything is closed on New Year’s Day (grocery stores, bakeries, restaurants and even gas stations – though the pumps are always on). The bonfires take place throughout Iceland and you can find many in the Reykjavik area (roughly 15 or so). They start at 8 or 8:30 and last until approximately 10 PM when Icelanders leave to watch the comedy show. EVERYONE watches the comedy show. You will find nothing open during this time. The bonfires are an Icelandic tradition over 200 years old and represent burning away the previous year and welcoming the new year. Many tourists as well as locals attend and it’s a very lively gathering and technically no fireworks are allowed. However, neighbors adjacent to the bonfires often are lighting fireworks during the bonfires and sparklers are allowed so it’s quite festive. It’s toasty warm at the fringes of the large circle of people surrounding the bonfire and a welcome relief from the sure to be freezing night!

Midnight Madness!

When Icelanders head home to watch The Spoof, the national comedy show, we utilized that time to head to Perlan and stake out our firework viewing spot. There are a few well known locations for watching the never ending fireworks including 1) Perlan where it’s location hight atop a hill overlooking the city gives a wonderful view of the entire city skyline 2) Hallgrimskirkja where many Icelanders gather in front of the famous church to see fireworks up close and 3) by the Sun Voyager statue to see fireworks lighting up the sea. Two more unique ways to celebrate are a harbor cruise to take in the fireworks from the sea and spending the evening at Perlan. Perlan, a large nature museum, offers an all evening long celebration with a 6 course dinner and the privilege of viewing the fireworks from their private elevated viewing deck (at a cost of approximately $500 USD). 

Beginning around 11:30, the fireworks become more plentiful leading up to midnight where it’s utter mayhem as fireworks continuously light up the night sky. It’s a few special moments of joy watching the splendor of lights illuminate the sky. Enjoy! and Happy New Year in Icelandic is 

Gleðilegt nýtt ár!

We’ve journeyed around Iceland before (we’d love for you to read about our adventures in North and South Iceland here on TheOpenRhode!). With only 4 hours or so of daylight and a few days stay, we didn’t travel far from Reykjavik on this trip. However, here are a few small gems we’d love to mention that we think are definitely with a visit. 

1. Hrunalaug – touted on their website as a nice warm dip in the middle of nowhere. This little hidden hot spring is located just outside of Fludir and consists of 3 small bathing pools where you can take a dip in the middle of an Icelandic valley. Each pool holds only a few people so this is definitely a more intimate experience than some of the other hot springs in Iceland. There is an admission of about $15 USD and also a tiny house with a toilet and shower to use. 

2. Reykjadalur Valley – translated as Steam Valley. This is a 6 km out and back hike that took us a bit over 2 hours. You’ll traverse around bubbling mud pools, steam vents and even a waterfall before reaching your goal, a hot river in which you can bathe! It’s a beautiful journey to get there even in the winter covered in snow. We traveled with microspikes which I would highly recommend as it’s slippery in winter and you’ll want to stay on the trail as hot springs and mud pools lurk nearby if you venture off trail. The river has a long boardwalk built adjacent to it with a few small changing huts. I’ve also seen photos of this gorgeous valley in the summer and it looks equally magnificent surrounding by lush green mosses. If you are looking for a bite to eat post hike, check out The Greenhouse Hotel about 10 minutes from the parking lot. It has a lovely boutique and a dining area with multiple mini restaurants to purchase food. 

Get out there and make the most of the 4 or 5 hours of daylight you have! and use the longer night hours to try and spot the ever elusive northern lights! 

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