When you’re looking for a place to see in the New Year, then a city with a passion for partying is a good bet. New Year’s Eve is a big deal in Reykjavik – as it is all over Iceland – and if you travel to the capital in late December, you’re almost guaranteed a good time. The weather will be cold, the nights long and dark, but none of that matters as the year draws to a close and the next looms large on the horizon.
One of the best places to see fireworks lighting up the night sky is Perlans’s Observation Deck. Our 360° viewing experience offers you a panoramic perspective over the city of Reykjavík and several neighbourhood areas. If you would like to join our New Year’s Party, included in your experience will be our Northern Lights Planetarium Show, a DJ playing party tunes on the deck, a glass of bubbly to toast for 2020 and transport back to downtown.
Icelanders follow tradition at this time of year, so embrace it and tag along for the ride. The first thing you’ll need to do is grab an early dinner. Reykjavik has many restaurants, but to ensure you dine at your first choice, it’s best to make a reservation. Once you’ve eaten, it’s time to wrap up snugly and head outside.
Keeping warm won’t be a problem, as one of the locals’ favourite things to do is to join friends and neighbours around a bonfire. Around ten bonfires are usually lit at various locations across the city. Most are lit around 8.30 pm, but a few are a little earlier or later. Try heading to Ægisíða, Skerjafjörður, Suðurhlíðar, west of Laugarásvegur, Geirsnef, Suðurfell, and Rauðavatn. Check locally before setting out to confirm the precise time the bonfire will be lit. There are still more in the suburbs, and also in towns and villages across the country. You can wish others a Happy New Year and enjoy the sight of the flames licking the wood as they burn brightly against the night sky.
Just before 10.30 pm, the crowds disperse. That has nothing to do with the weather. Instead, it’s all to do with a television special that’s as popular now as it was when it was first broadcast in 1966. A topical sketch show in the vein of America’s Saturday Night Live or the UK’s Have I Got News For You, it looks back over the past year in a decidedly tongue in cheek way. The show is called Áramótaskaup – and an estimated 90% of Icelanders watch it. It’s in Icelandic, but from time to time, sketches in English pop up on YouTube if you’re keen to take a look. Good news: RÚV is broadcasting the show at the same time on RÚV 2 with English subtitles.
After the show’s gone off air, a little after 11.30 pm, it’s time for the main event. No, I don’t mean the clock is striking midnight – Icelanders can’t wait for that moment before they start to set off their fireworks. There are no organised, municipal displays. Instead, everyone lets off their own, or at least lights a sparkler or two.
There are several places in Reykjavik where the displays across the city will be particularly easy to see or are especially photogenic. A crowd gathers beside the distinctive Hallgrimmskirkja in the downtown Reykjavik area. The extra height you can achieve if you climb Öskjuhlíð hill also provides an excellent vantage point with its view over the city and bay. That’s the hill on which Perlan stands; this glass-domed structure on top of giant water tanks is easy to find – every taxi driver in the city will know where you mean.
Elsewhere in the city, many people like to see fireworks reflected in the water. Standing on the waterfront beside the Sun Voyager statue is always popular, as is the nearby Harpa Concert Hall. Others head for Tjörnin, the lake on the edge of the city centre. Wherever you go you’ll see something – but be careful not to get too close.
Round off the night with a party. Reykjavik’s many bars open their doors and stay awake until the morning. There’s plenty of drinking, singing, and dancing, and the party will be one you’ll remember long into the New Year. Now isn’t that the way to face the future?
Links to help planning your night:
Watch Áramótaskaup 2018 at RUV 2 with English subtitles
Warm-up at Bonfires in Reykjavík in 2019