About This Festival
Late night lovers, fans of intimate shows, quirky clubs and even quirkier destinations: rejoice, this is your festival! Reykjavík is on the bleeding edge of Nordicculture and all things cool. Put on your Viking hat and prepare to get down up north at the Iceland Airwaves festival.
Iceland Airwaves - The Best Music You’ve Never Heard
You're probably familiar with Icelandic legends Bjork and Sigur Ros, musical acts that are synonymous with the land of fire and ice. In fact, these musicians are partially responsible for putting Iceland on the map in recent years. In addition to the international roster of alternative rock up-and-comers, you're also bound to be introduced to some great local music you've never heard before. It’s one of those festivals where it pays to not chase the lineup, but to chase the experience.
Iceland Airwaves all started in1999 as a party sponsored by Iceland’s favorite airline, Icelandair, throwing a music concert in an airplane hangar. This homegrown festival has outgrown the original venue and now transforms downtown Reykjavík into a city-wide festival full of art, music, fashion and fun. Tickets now sell out around August and foreigner attendance is almost on a par with that of the locals. The off-venue program attracts a much larger percentage of locals.
Location is Everything
Reykjavík is an easily accessible capital and most venues are stumbling distance from each other. Those who are tired of oversized music festivals will love Reykjavík’s beautiful, intimate venues.
Small venues means impacted shows, so it’s best to plan in advance. While international headliners often play only once, local artists often play up to 10 times. Be sure to check the on-venue and off-venue schedule if you want to plan your musical adventures. Here are a few of our top venue picks:
- Harpa Olafur Eliasson’s controversial yet stunning modern venue on the harbor front is the central hub of the festival, and where the Media Center is located. The Icelandic Symphony usually holds a not-to-be-missed concert here.
- Hafnarhus, The Reykjavík Art Museum The museum is worth a visit during the daytime as home to Iceland’s largest collection of contemporary art. One of the largest venues of Airwaves, make sure to get here early for big name acts.
- The Nordic House A beautiful modern building with a view of Reykjavík and the often snowcapped Esja mountain, this venue holds fantastic concerts in a great setting. It is also home to Dill, perhaps Reykjavík’s best restaurant.
- Fríkirkjan The Free Church built in 1899, holds limited performances that you won’t want to miss. This is perhaps the most intimate of Airwaves venues.
- Kaffibarrin Home to the artsy, fashionable and raging, this place is legendary, especially after 2am. An off-venue establishment that’s been going strong for years.
The Blue Lagoon Chill
Perhaps one of the most iconic parties of Airwaves, the Blue Lagoon Chill, takes place at—you guessed it—the world famous Blue Lagoon. A powder blue pool next to a geothermal power plant has been taken over by a modern facility and day spa to the dismay of some and joy of others. The temperature naturally fluctuates and it’s easy to spot where the hotspots are. We can’t imagine a more stunning festival location and it’s worth a shout even just for the novelty of the venue alone. And what better way to nurse a hangover than with a soak in the healing waters?
While Airwaves for sometime has been known as a local festival, in recent years, the Airwaves landscape has changed, as more foreigners flock to this tiny volcanic island. Make sure you allow for enough time to explore some of Iceland’s treasures. While Reykjavík is an epic and is the sole destination for most, the countryside is worth exploring either before or after the festival. An around-the-island trip is ideal if you have time for it, though the weather this time of the year can make for challenging road conditions. Check local tour operators for excursions like Northern Lights tours, snowmobiling and dog sledding.
Of course, the most memorable experiences in Iceland are the ones that are serendipitous. Don’t overplan, but stack your odds. The more time you spend outdoors, the more likely your chances are of seeing the Northern Lights or an elusive Icelandic elf. The more time you spend wandering the streets and clubs of Reykjavík during Airwaves, the more musical magic you will discover.