Iceland has got more official holidays than most countries. Some make sense, like Christmas and Easter, while others seem a bit more outlandish, like the First Day of Summer and the Thirteenth Day of Christmas. One such holiday is the Verslunarmannahelgi (Merchant’s Weekend for non-Icelandic speakers), a three-day weekend in the beginning of August. It’s the biggest travelling weekend in Iceland and in many places it’s celebrated with what is known as útihátíð (outdoor festival). A steady stream of people flows out of the city with tents, guitars and Icelandic sweaters in the cars to set up camp at various festivals around the country. People of all ages flock to the festivals, which usually have family centred activities during the day and concerts and dances at night. It’s a great way to experience Icelandic nature, get to know Icelandic people, and most importantly, have some fun! Here are some of the most popular festivals around Iceland:
The ultimate Útihátíð is also the oldest one, Þjóðhátíð í eyjum. It’s taken place every year since 1874 in the Vestmannaeyjar islands, just off the south coast of Iceland. It’s got everything an Icelandic festival needs, camping, bonfires, fireworks, people of all generations getting together and Iceland’s most popular musicians keeping the crowd dancing. It’s also steeped in traditions; a festival song has been commissioned for the festival every year since 1933 and on the last night of the festival, all the people on the island, young and old get together for a sing-along.
The sporty one
You can actually take your pick, depending on how seriously you take your sports. The Euro cup of swamp soccer takes place in Ísafjörður, and while the muddy football competition is the main event, the focus of the festival is to have fun, so there’s going to be plenty of music and partying as well. If you prefer your sports competitive and mud-free, there’s also the Iceland Summer Games in Akureyri, where all sort of extreme sports, endurance tests, and recreational games will take place, for people of all ages.
The hipster one
For some people, a festival outside in nature sounds super fun. For others, the camping aspect of it sort of ruins it. The solution? A festival in the Reykjavík city centre! Innipúkinn (literally “the indoor imp”, an Icelandic term for a couch potato) is where the coolest people of Reykjavík will be spending their long weekend, far from any sort of rural setting. You can hear some great music, have fun and still be in your own bed and your own shower by morning. It may not be the ultimate camping festival experience, but you’re going to be clean, dry, and most likely have a lot of fun while you’re at it.
The historical one
During the early part of the 20th century, there was a silver rush around the shores of Iceland, especially in a little town up north called Siglufjörður. There wasn’t any mining for metal, instead, the silver consisted of herring scales, ultimately transforming into gold, lining the pockets of fishing magnates and, to a lesser extent, the workers that flocked to the herring fishing location for seasonal work. The town went through a boom, followed, unfortunately, by a crash when the herring vanished after years of overfishing. Siglufjörður went back to being a small, unremarkable fishing village but they haven’t forgotten the past. The town now has a herring era museum and hosts Síldarævintýri every Merchant’s weekend, a festival dedicated to herring fishing, the sea and history.