Iceland is known for its beautiful landscapes, noteworthy museums, and superb hiking trails. For many Icelandophiles, however, the music and art scene remains the most alluring attraction. In recent years, Iceland has produced artists such as Of Monsters and Men, Kaleo, Sigur Rós, and Björk. To showcase the best Iceland has to offer – and to exhibit the work of up-and-coming artists – there are several music festivals in Iceland each year. From intimate one-venue festivals to incredible multi-venue extravaganzas, there is, undoubtedly, something for everyone. There are too many great festivals to list, especially considering that new and exciting musical extravaganzas seem to be popping up every year, but here are a few Icelandic music festivals you shouldn’t miss in 2020.
Dark Music Days
(25 January – 1 February)
They say that living through the long winter nights in the north can take its toll on one’s mood. To counteract the effects of the constant darkness, The Society of Icelandic Composers established Dark Music Days, a festival of contemporary music, with the aim of lifting the citizenry’s spirit during that most depressing time of year. The festival was held for the first time in 1980, making it one of the oldest music festivals in Iceland. It takes place in the impressive Harpa Music and Concert Hall and affords listeners the opportunity to enjoy the works of the Iceland Composer Society’s finest composers. If that doesn’t brighten up your winter, we don’t know what will.
Aldrei fór ég suður (I Never Went South)
(10 April – 11 April)
The festival’s name traces its origins to a song by Icelandic music legend Bubbi Morthens. “Going south” in Iceland usually means going to Reykjavík, and implies a betrayal of one’s rural roots; Aldrei fór ég suður, proudly rooted in Ísafjörður, a town in the north part of the Westfjords, celebrates bucolic loyalists. The festival is held in an old fishing warehouse every Easter and it emphasises local talent, along with popular bands “from the south.” The program is commonly a chaotic mix of folk, rock, funk, punk, and electronic music. The atmosphere is inclusive. The audience includes most of the people in town and hordes of people that travel north specifically for the festival. There are a few rules. Each band gets 20 minutes. There are no sound checks. And there are no headliners. Perhaps the most attractive aspect of the festival is the unique atmosphere created in this town of 2,500 people; it’s all about equality, encouragement, and support for everyone and anyone that steps on stage. The entire experience has been described as surreal, adventurous, and incredibly entertaining. Oh, did we mention that it is free? There are no commercials, no queues, no tickets, just pure fun!
(26 June – 28 June)
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like spending three days of uninterrupted sunlight listening to music from all over the world, while surrounded by awe-inspiring landscape, we applaud your oddly specific imagination. Speaking from experience, however, we recommend it. Secret Solstice will be held for the seventh time this year, at the time of the summer solstice. The midnight sun alone is enough to set the stage for a memorable event, but coupled with geothermal pool parties, a glacier gig incredible artists – whether Icelandic and international – this festival is usually quite unforgettable. Secret Solstice takes place in the Laugardalur valley in Reykjavík.
The 2020 line-up includes Cypress Hill, Lil Pump, TLC, Primal Scream, among others. If you are lucky to snag the Super-VIP Óðinn pass, you will be supplied with meals and alcohol, included in-staff and artist after-parties and a boat party, along with other treats. A limited number of Óðinn passes are available. Click here for info on the last Solstice.
(9 July – 12 July)
Every second weekend of July, thousands of people gather in the small town of Neskaupstaður for the metal festival Eistnaflug. The 30 to 40 participating bands commonly account for Iceland’s top artists in the genre, along with well-known foreign groups. The festival is not limited to metal, with everything from rock, punk, and black metal being welcomed with open arms at this incredible event. If you are into rock, metal, and Vikings, don’t miss Eistnaflug. The people are incredible, the camping is fun, and the setting, in the remote East Fjords with imposing black mountains all around, couldn’t be a better fit.
LungA Art Festival is held in Seyðisfjörður, a small town on the east coast of Iceland surrounded by breathtaking landscapes. At Lunga, art and music fuse together to create a unique creative experience. The festival consists of a week of art and music workshops that culminate in a “harvest weekend” with concerts, art exhibitions, and events. The festival was founded by a group of local young people who wanted to bring something new to their town. In the last few years, it has grown from a humble 20-participant event to a sold-out festival and one of the most interesting festivals in Iceland. In these seven days, you will not only experience music, art, and various workshops but forge friendships and experience the festival’s unforgettable feeling of unity.
(Last weekend of July)
Bræðslan is known for its intimate atmosphere and awesome music. It’s held in an old herring plant on the third weekend of July. Not only does it afford patrons a chance to hear some great music, it’s also a perfect chance to visit the small fishing village of Borgarfjörður eystri. The lineup consists mainly of folk, country, and indie-rock musicians, and tickets usually sell out in the blink of an eye. If you miss the chance to get a ticket, we recommend going anyway. During the week leading up the festival, there are off-venue concerts and the village is bustling with life. There is camping, incredible music, beautiful landscape, and it’s all organised by a group of locals with the purpose of providing fun and entertainment for visitors and locals alike. If you decide to visit the Bræðslan festival, prepare yourself for a stunning display of local hospitality as well as great music.
Þjóðhátíð í Eyjum (The National Festival of the Westman Islands)
(31 July – 2 August)
“Go to a tiny island off the south coast, which has a volcano that’s been known to erupt without warning, and which once partially covered the town in mountains of lava.” It’s not the answer you’d expect when inquiring about the best place to party. During the first weekend of August in Iceland, however, that’s exactly what you get. A camping festival to end all others, Þjóðhátíð is an incredible experience. The festival took place for the first time in Herjólfsdalur valley in 1874 when Icelanders celebrated the 1,000th anniversary of Iceland’s settlement. It’s since taken place in the same location every year, except for a few years in the ‘70s when the valley was covered in pumice from the volcanic eruption that almost destroyed the town. Expect music from some of Iceland’s most popular artists that will keep you dancing all night long, along with heavy drinking and debauchery. Warm clothes, good boots, and a sturdy tent are a must-have, as the weather in Iceland is notoriously fickle, even in summer. In fact, fishermen’s suits of water-resistant material are popular attire for this Viking party.
(4 November – 7 November)
This is the big one. If you only have time for one of these fantastic Icelandic music festivals, make Iceland Airwaves the one. Not only does it feel like an autumnal harvest festival, which showcases the best music the vibrant Icelandic music scene has to offer, but every year the line-up features some of the most exciting artists from around the world. Iceland Airwaves is a huge festival with venues ranging from intimate to football stadiums. More than 200 artists will perform over the course of four days, offering a unique chance to experience a year’s worth of concerts in just a few days. The festival is usually sold out, but even if you don’t have a ticket, do not despair. The off-venue schedule alone is enough to keep you busy all week. This is a festival you will remember in decades to come. Artists to be announced soon.