Reykjavík in December is oh so lovely. We go all out with our Christmas decorations and the city is flooded with fun events, yummy food and delicious Christmas beverages. Until recently though it’s been a fairly local affair, meaning that we haven’t really considered all the visitors that want to experience this with us, but this year things are much better.
December is a month you spend with your family, friends and workmates eating great food, drinking and being merry. The actual Christmas holiday is a family holiday in Iceland and most people eat at home which is why most of the restaurants in town are closed. You go to Christmas parties with the extended family, play board games with your friends and snuggle up under a blanket watching your favorite Christmas movies (Hello Elf and Love Actually!) With the darkness, the often insane weather, the snow (Reykjavík has NEVER had as much snow in December as we have right now) and all the warm and fuzzy feelings Christmas coziness is the word that best describes this time.
Figuring what to do, see and eat during your visit can be a little daunting (judging by the number of e-mails I get from people asking me what to do at least) which is why I thought I should write this post.
I’ve written a lot about Christmas in Iceland before but this post is more about how to spend your time in the city during this fantastic season.
But before we start: Jóló (pronounced: yolo)
Last year I made this podcast to teach you a few words that are good to know in December in Iceland and because I’m a rambler, especially when I do things unscripted, I ended up just talking a lot about things around the words I was trying to teach you. So maybe you should give it a listen if you want to learn more about Christmas in Iceland.
The words and phrases covered:
- Annar í jólum
- Gleðileg jól
- Gleðilegt nýtt ár
- Gleðilega hátíð
Christmas dinners and the holidays
If you are visiting Reykjavík in December you have to check out the Christmas menus that are on offer all over town. Many of them offer traditional Icelandic Christmas food but others take a more modern approach and offer a more festive version of their normal menus.
Without having tasted any of these myself I’m particularly interested in the Snaps Christmas lunch and dinner, which unfortunately is only available on the Icelandic part of their website but looks like a good mix of everything we love this time of year. Matur og Drykkur is another place I would be very interested in checking out, especially their Christmas brunches on the weekends. Their evening menu also looks pretty good. Instead of going to a more traditional Christmas buffet this year, Ásta and I (and our spouses) are going to Videy island for their Christmas festival. I can tell you after tomorrow night whether it’s any good or not. I’m super excited and my mouth waters just thinking about it.
If you book our Christmas Walking tour Kopar Restaurant is also offering my guests a special version of their Christmas dinner for a very special price too if you book it with the walking tour. It’s a great option of you want to do our Christmas tour and take a northern lights tour straight after it.
Reykjavík culinary and bar scene is buzzing in December but if you are visiting over the actual holidays your options become a bit more limited. Many of the more popular restaurants in town are closed for the 24th and the 25th but Visit Reykjavík puts together a list every year with all the places that are open over Christmas and new years in Reykjavík which they update regularly. You should probably book something right away if you haven’t already.
Christmas markets and the Ingólfstorg ice rink
Although Reykjavík doesn’t have Christmas markets like you know from Germany and many other places we’re trying our best to capture the Christmas market spirit. There’s a pop up design and art market at the Reykjavík art museum on December 5th and on the same day the whole Old Harbor area will turn into a little Christmas village with offers an happenings taking places the whole day (from 10:00 to 21:00).
For the month of December a local phone company is also sponsoring an ice rink at Ingólfstorg square which is open every day and you can rent the ice skates there in case you forgot yours (I’m guessing most of you did). Around the ice rink there will be a little mini Christmas market that will stretch into the neighboring Fógetagarður park on the weekends.
Finally, one of the more established Christmas markets that is accessible by bus is the Christmas Village in Hafnarfjörður. It’s open every weekend till Christmas and there’s a lot of stuff happening there worth checking out. You should especially check out Íshús Hafnarfjarðar which is one of the more exciting things happening in downtown Hafnarfjörður lately but it’s a co-op type place where a lot of local artists and designers have their workshops. They even offer a bus to take you there for free so you don’t have to walk from the Christmas Village.
Santa’s little helper’s ultimate list of interesting Christmas concerts and events to check out in Reykjavík in December
OK, so calling it the ultimate list is maybe reaching a bit but there are just so many things going on in Reykjavík in December that it’s literally impossible to list them all. But at least with this compilation you have some options.
Please note that many of these concerts are close to selling out so make sure you secure your ticket ASAP if you find something that sounds interesting to you. Because I’m so busy with the tours this month I’m not attending many of these myself but I do have a ticket to Something Beautiful in Fríkirkjan which I’m very much looking forward to. Both because I like Svavar Knútur and also because I think that particular church has something extra special about it which makes it great for small concerts.
The Nordic House Christmas Calendar – drawing by Lóa Hlín Hjálmtýrsdóttir
Advent at Harpa
Every Saturday through December 19 (13:00)
Harpa is presenting free, family-friendly events to celebrate the season. Check the schedule for details.
The Nordic House annual Christmas Calendar
Every day from December 1-23 at The Nordic House (12:34 in the afternoon)
Each day at the Nordic House, staff will open a new door on an Advent calendar and the artist(s) of the day will hold a small free event in the building’s Black Box theater.
Sigga Beinteins’ Annual Christmas Concert
December 4 and 5 at Harpa (20:00)
Sigga, a pop singer known for representing Iceland in the Eurovision Song Contest, will sing Christmas songs and classical ballads in both Icelandic and English.
December 5 and 6 (17:00 and 21:00) at Háskólabíó
For the tenth year in a row, humorous audience favorites Baggalútur will hold their annual Christmas concert.
Christmas Sisters & Friends 4 Ever
December 5 at Rosenberg Klapparstíg (22:00)
Sisters Soffía Björg og Kristín Birna are teaming up with Friends 4 Ever, who specialize in American doo-wop music, to present Christmas songs.
The Motet Choir of Hallgrímskirkja’s Christmas Concert
December 5, 6 (17:00) and 8 (20:00) at Hallgrímskirkja
The choir will sing festive songs, both old and new, and be accompanied by the Klais organ and a brass section.
The Singing Company’s Annual Christmas Concert
December 6 at Langholtskirkja (16:00 and 20:00)
The theme of this year’s annual concert will be Irish and Celtic Christmas music, blended with Icelandic pieces.
Kristján Jóhannsson’s Christmas Concert
December 6 at Harpa (20:00)
World-renowned Icelandic tenor, Kristján Jóhannsson, and guests will perform a selection of Iceland’s most beloved Christmas songs along with some of opera’s most cherished tunes.
Christmas with Reykjavík 5
December 6 at Fríkirkjan (20:00)
This quintet will sing jazzy interpretations of holiday tunes.
Fíladelfía Christmas Concert
December 7 and 8 (19:00 and 21:00) at Fíladelfía Church
This church’s charity concert for those in need will feature a gospel choir and special guests, including well-known Faroese singer, Eivør Pálsdóttir.
December 8, 9, 10 and 15, 16, 17 at Rosenberg Klapparstíg (21:00)
At this annual show, the Borgardætur will sing Christmas songs from various sources, with inspiration from The Andrews Sisters.
December 11 at Fríkirkjan (20:00 and 22:30)
This concert originated as a Christmas album by the same name which was released in 2013. Ragnheiður Gröndal, Kristjana Stefáns, and Svavar Knútur will play both traditional and original songs, read Christmas stories (likely in Icelandic), and surprise the audience with other diversions.
Bjartey og Gígja’s Christmas Concert
December 11 at Rosenberg Klapparstíg (21:00)
These young musicians from the band Ylja, known for their beautiful harmonies and acoustic guitar melodies, will perform some of their favorite Christmas songs.
Christmas in the Living Room
December 11 and 12 at Gamla Bíó (21:00)
For the second year in a row, actor and singer, Þór Breiðfjörð Kristinsson, will entertain with crooner-style Christmas standards with Icelandic lyrics.
Stefán Hilmarsson’s Christmas Concert
December 11 and 16 at Harpa (20:00)
This singer-songwriter, along with special guests will present both songs from his Christmas albums and some classics.
Brought From a Star – Fóstbræður Male Choir Christmas Concert
December 12 at Harpa (17:00)
In this concert the choir will sing traditional and contemporary Christmas carols from Iceland and Sweden as well as works for male choir by Anton Bruckner, Franz Biebl and Eric Whitacre.
Björgvin’s Christmas Guests
December 12 (16:00; 20:00 show is sold out) at Laugardalshöll
This show is like Iceland’s “Hollywood” Christmas concert extravaganza, with the “father of Christmas pop,” Björgvin Halldórsson, singing with a star-studded group of guests.
Christmas at The Iceland Symphony Orchestra
December 12 and 13 at Harpa (14:00 and 16:00 on both days)
This family-friendly performance will focus on the holiday spirit, with Christmas classics at the center of the stage, along with ballet students, a sign language choir, and even a clown as the emcee.
The Reykjavík Male Choir’s Annual Advent Concert
December 12 (17:00) and 13 (17:00 and 20:00) at Hallgrímskirkja
The choir consists of approximately 80 singers – mostly amateurs of different backgrounds and professions – united in the joy of singing. This performance will feature the renowned soprano soloist Sigrún “Diddú” Hjálmtýsdóttir, along with horns, organ, and kettle drums.
Kristjana Arngrímsdóttir’s Christmas Party
December 13 at Gamla Bíó (20:00)
Kristjana, an extremely versatile artist whose work ranges from folk to tango, will hold her annual concert and sing with her daughter Ösp Eldjárn, and local favorites Sigríður Thorlacius (Hjaltalín) and Valdimar Guðmundsson (Valdimar).
KK & Ellen
December 14 at Fríkirkjan (21:00) and December 21st at Háskólabíó (21:00)
Siblings KK (Kristján Kristjánsson) and Ellen Kristjánsdóttir, both known for performing blues, jazz, and folk, will hold their annual Christmas concert which will mix songs with stories (most likely told in Icelandic).
Múlinn Jazz Club: Múlinn Sextet, ho ho ho!
December 16 at Harpa (21:00)
A sextet playing jazzy versions of well-known Christmas songs, with secret guests on the schedule.
Katla and Bartónar’s Christmas Concert
December 17 at Gamla Bíó (18:00 and 20:00)
Two choirs will unite to present all kinds of Christmas songs, both Icelandic and foreign. The show will benefit Sjónarhóll, a counselling center for parents of children with special needs.
Sigríður Thorlacius & Sigurður Guðmundsson – Holiday Concert
December 17 at Harpa (18:00 and 21:00)
Featuring a band and a brass quintet, this will be the second year that Sigríður (from Hjaltalín) and Sigurður (from Hjalmar) will hold a holiday concert.
A Living Room Christmas with Sigga Eyrún
December 17 (20:00) and 19 (17:00) at Gamla Bíó
This “feel-good-pop” musician and guests will present a personal and cozy concert in the lounge area of this old theater.
Joyous and Peaceful Christmas – Pálmi Gunnarsson and Ragnheiður Gröndal
December 19 at Harpa (17:00 and 21:00)
This event, named after Pálmi’s famous Christmas song, features two Eurovision Song Contest alumni, along with a string ensemble and a choir.
Boney M Christmas Concert
December 20 at Harpa (17:00, 21:00 show is sold out)
This disco group is much-loved in Iceland and is sure to perform their Christmas song, “Mary’s Boy Child,” at this show.
Christmas Snow: Christmas Concert with Swing Kompaníið
December 21 and 22 at Rosenberg Klapparstíg (21:00)
“The Swing Company” creates swing arrangements (think Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli) of Christmas tunes. Featuring Greta Salóme, who represented Iceland in the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest.
Árstíðir’s Christmas Concert
December 23 at Fríkirkjan (16:00 and 21:00)
This internationally-known chamber-pop band will continue the yearly tradition of holding a concert on St. Thorlak’s Day, with a setlist combining their original songs with holiday favorites.
Bubbi Morthens’ St. Thorlak’s Day Concert
December 23 at Harpa (22:00)
For nearly 30 years folk/rock/punk singer and outspoken personality Bubbi has held Christmas concerts and the tradition continues this year.
New Years Eve
Reykjavík has this reputation for being a crazy party city on New Years Eve but in my experience that is just not true. I feel most people spend their time in house parties and with their families because it’s too much of a hassle to get downtown (not enough taxis and they cost double in this night) and for a long time the bars weren’t even open. That’s changing a little bit with more and more tourists visiting Reykjavík but I feel most people my age at least are still in the house party/family mode.
I wrote this post about about what to do on New Years Eve in Reykjavík which can be summarized with the following:
Good food, bonfires, strange satirical show that everyone watches, fireworks, fireworks, fireworks.