5 x Music Festivals in Reykjavík Worth Attenting

While Iceland´s breathtaking landscapes and natural wonders often are the reason people visit, the capital city of Reykjavík is a dynamic hub with vibrant cultural and artsy energy. Iceland´s music industry is one of the main cultural scenes, with numerous artists having achieved international acclaim, like Björk, Laufey, Of Monsters and Men, Sigur Rós and more.

With the music scene in Iceland undeniably flourishing, Reykjavík city hosts over a dozen music festivals annually with even more festivals taking place around the country. These festivals are a great place for both established and emerging artists, whether local or international, to showcase their art to enthusiastic audiences.

Here are 5 music festivals in Reykjavík city worth attending. 


1. Iceland Airwaves

This festival is without a doubt one of the most iconic festivals in Reykjavík. Iceland Airwaves was established in 1999 as a one-time event in an aeroplane hangar. Since then it has evolved into one of Iceland’s biggest and most established festivals. Held in November each year, Iceland Airwaves transforms the whole city into a musical haven with its immersive, multi-genre music festival. The performances spread across various venues, from intimate bars and stores to grand concert halls and showcases a range of unheard-of-up-and-comers to local rising stars and established (international) talent. 


2. Innipúkinn

In Iceland, the first Monday of August is celebrated as a national holiday known as the ´tradesman’s holiday´. The weekend before is the Verslunarmannahelgi weekend, which has become the biggest festival and travel weekend in Iceland, marked by numerous festivities across the country and leaving Reykjavík almost empty for an entire weekend. 

To inject some energy into the city during this bustling travel period, Innipúkinn festival was established in 2001. Translating to ´someone who prefers being inside´, Innipúkinn is an alternative celebration for those who opt to stay within the city confines rather than venture to outdoor concerts and camping sites.

This three-day music festival features performances by various musicians at venues scattered throughout the city. Single-night tickets are available, and attendees may even have the chance to snag a ticket at the door.


3. Secret Solstice festival

Embracing the spirit of the iconic lyrics of Led Zeppelin, “From the midnight sun where the hot springs flow….,” the Secret Solstice festival is perfect for those seeking a more distinctive experience. Held during the summer solstice, the Secret Solstice festival makes use of Iceland’s long and bright summer nights with performances under the beautiful glow of the midnight sun. 

The festival was established to create unique music experiences and to push boundaries. Whether they ́re hosting a rave in a glacier or orchestrating performances in 5000 year old lava tunnels, the organisers are dedicated to offer memorable and unconventional experiences to their attendees. Their main goal is to combine music with outdoor adventure as well as having stage events in the city. 

It’s truly an immersive experience that celebrates both the music and natural wonders of Iceland.


4. Reykjavík Jazz festival

Established in 1990, the Reykjavík Jazz Festival stands as one of Iceland’s oldest and most enduring music festivals. Held annually at the end of August, this event has garnered increasing prestige within the international jazz community.

For jazz-fans, the festival presents an unmissable opportunity to dive into a world of musical diversity, featuring performances from both Icelandic and international artists. From contemporary and avant-garde expressions to the rhythm of Latin jazz and the grandeur of big bands, the Reykjavík Jazz Festival offers a rich tapestry of genres to explore.

5. Músíktilraunir – The Icelandic Music Experiments

Músíktilraunir or The Icelandic Music Experiments, is an established musical event that was first held in 1982. It stands out as a unique event within Iceland´s music industry as it provides an invaluable opportunity for young, aspiring musicians. While its not a traditional music festival, music-lovers are sure to discover upcoming talents and enjoy great music. 

The festival takes place in Reykjavík city, usually at the beginning of the year. Over the course of five days, close to 50 musical acts compete to take one of the ten available places in the finals. Músíktilraunir serves as a crucial stepping stone, offering a platform for 13-25 year old musicians to showcase their skills and gain both national and international recognition. 

Notable past winners include Of Monsters and Men, Samaris, Mínus and Mammút, all of whom have since cemented their place within the music industry, both in Iceland and abroad. 

So if you are a music lover seeking fresh sounds and travelling to Iceland, Músíktilraunir might just be the festival for you. 


No More One-Metre Distancing Requirement for Seated Events

Harpa concert hall

Iceland’s Health Minister has lifted the requirement of one-metre distancing at seated events, such as concerts and performing arts events. The decision was made in consultation with the Chief Epidemiologist. Event organisers had complained that the rule was unnecessarily cumbersome and stricter than requirements in other types of venues, such as bars and restaurants.

“This is a big and important change,” Health Minister Willum Þór Þórsson stated. “This changes the conditions for holding events as it will be possible to utilise all seats at events as long as there are not more than 500 people per compartment.” As previously, mask use is still required at all seated events.

Performing arts venues are still not permitted to sell alcohol during events. Some event organisers have protested that regulation, as alcohol sales are permitted at bars, clubs, and restaurants.

Mál og menning Bookstore Starts a New Chapter

Earlier this summer, Reykjavík’s Mál og menning bookstore closed its doors “indefinitely,” after some 80 years of operation at Laugavegur 18. It seems, however, that the cornerstone bookseller will soon be turning the page on its old life. DV reports that real estate developer Garðar Kjartansson has signed a ten-year lease with the building owners and intends to keep the Mál og menning (‘Language and Culture’) name but transform the space into a live music venue.

Garðar was quick to assure people that the new Mál og menning would honour its bookish roots. “There will probably be more books than ever before,” he said. The primary design focus will be books, he explained, which will fill the shelves along the walls and be available for purchase or just on-site browsing. “I’m not going to start spending money on decor—everything [we need] is already here.”

To further drive the book focus home, the new Mál og menning is bringing a venerable neighbour into its space: the iconic antiquarian bookstore Bókin (‘The Book’), which has been in operation since 1964. Bókin has been owned and run by Ari Bragason and his father since 1997, and they will now move it into the basement of Laugavegur 18.

Garðar envisions Mál og menning as a bustling live music venue, and then some. “We’ll have concerts here every night from around 8 – 10 pm,” he explained, and there will also be stand-up comedy nights. And chessboards. And two cafes—one on the ground floor and one on the second floor where the Súfistinn café used to be.

The idea is to have all different kinds of music, but Garðar says that jazz musicians have been particularly eager to stage a weekly jazz night. Whatever the genre, however, he says that Mál og menning is not going to be a part of Reykjavík’s late-night djamm circuit. “It’s going to have a laidback Helgi Björns atmosphere,” he said, referring to Helgi Björnsson, the Icelandic actor and singer whose “Ef ég nenni” (‘If I Bother’) is arguably the go-to Icelandic Christmas pop song. “It’s not going to be a nightspot at all. It’ll be open from noon to midnight, every day.”

Originally, Garður had planned to open Mál og menning in December, but obviously, the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed his plans. “We’re just going to have everything ready and then open when we open, as you say.”

New Fund to Support Live Music Venues in Reykjavík

Húrra concert Reykjavík

Supporting small music venues is the goal of a new fund under the auspices of the City of Reykjavík. A press release on the city website states that the fund will supply grants for improving facilities, equipment, and accessibility at small and medium-sized venues and cultural centres that organise live music events. Recent years have seen the closure of many small music venues across Reykjavík, including Café Rosenberg, NASA, and Húrra to name a few.

“[The fund] contributes to the continuation of amenities for live music in the city which in turn supports the music scene and enhances daily life,” the press release reads. The fund is part of the Tónlistarborgin Reykjavík (Reykjavík Music City) project, a three-year developmental project intended to further strengthen Iceland’s capital as a centre of music by creating more supportive infrastructure for the music scene.

The application period for the fund opens on July 15 and the deadline is August 30. Application forms can be found on the city’s website.