7 Things To Do In Reykjavík Before Iceland Airwaves

Photo by: Art Gimbel
by Hilary Saunders | @Hilary_Saunders Tue November 01, 2016 | 12:00 AM

With a national population that doesn’t even crack half a million, there’s a good chance that many of the estimated 9,000 people attending Iceland Airwaves this weekend aren't actually from Iceland. In fact, a number of artists on the lineup will be coming from as far away as New Zealand, Belgium, Spain, Italy, the United States, and United Kingdom. Yet, the small island nation has become one of the hottest (metaphorically, at least) travel destinations within the past few years — thanks in part to the fest’s founding sponsor Icelandair and budget airlines like WOW Air offering insanely cheap travel deals. 

The festival goes down in the Icelandic capital of Reykjavík, which is a bustling and culturally-rich city in and of itself. So, for all you international travelers visiting for the music festival, here are seven historical, natural, and musical sites to see in and around Reykjavík during your time in the Nordic isle.

The Historical

National Museum of Iceland

National Museum Of Iceland 2010 Flickr Cc Jason Paris

The National Museum of Iceland is the best one-stop introduction to the small Nordic country. Reasonably priced and easily navigated, the National Museum includes permanent exhibits that trace the country’s history back to Norwegian settlers, Vikings, and Danish usurpers, through the Icelandic nationhood in 1904, and up to the present. Above is a photo of a rather quirky exhibit of silver casts of the Icelandic National Handball Team, who won Olympic Silver in 2008. Understanding the formulation and foundation of this island country is vital to experiencing everything else Iceland has to offer.

The Natural

Blue Lagoon

Iceland Airwaves 2015   1

Photo by: Patrick Nouhailler on Flickr Creative Commons

The Blue Lagoon is the Disney World of all geothermal hot springs. Tickets are expensive and the lines are long; your electronic wristband is your key to lockers and charge card for drinks and meals. But, all of the technologically enhanced amenities make for a seamless experience in the top tourist site in all of Iceland. Located in the Grindavík lava field about 45 minutes outside of Reykjavik, the temperatures in the giant natural pool average around 100º Fahrenheit, providing a hot, silica and sulfur-rich soak for guests from around the world. And for those wanting to enhance their experience, the Blue Lagoon even offers all kinds of spa treatments and in-water massages for extra fees. 

Pro tip: Buy your tickets in advance here.

Golden Circle

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Photo by: clry2 on Flickr Creative Commons

The Golden Circle is named for the path that connects three of the biggest natural attractions in all of Iceland—the Geysir geothermal area with the Strokkur geyser (that, let it be known, erupts more frequently and more impressively than the one at Yellowstone National Park in America), Gulfoss waterfall, and Thingvellir National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site with both historical and environmental significance.) Bus tours traveling to all three sites are available through a number of companies, but you can also rent a car and drive to them on your own time.

The Musical


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Photo by: Scott1346 on Flickr Creative Commons

Even though Iceland Airwaves will be hosting events here during the festival, the stunning architecture of the conference center/concert hall/opera house/performance venue, requires more time to appreciate in detail than the 20 distracted minutes of waiting in the beer line at a John Grant show can offer. The building itself, which only opened in May 2011, is nestled right along the Atlantic Ocean and looks out onto the adjoining harbor and nearby mountains. While the Harpa is open for public tours daily, if you time it right, you might be able to catch a free open rehearsal of the Iceland Symphony or other local events.

12 Tónar 

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Photo by: Helgi Haldórsson on Flickr Creative Commons

Encapsulating a record label, record store, and swag shop, Tónar 12 is one of the friendliest musical sites in Reykjavik. The staffers are knowledgeable about local music and thrilled to share it with curious foreigners. While the shop carries more CDs than vinyl (although there’s a vinyl room in the basement), don’t be surprised if the shopkeepers load you up with albums to check out, offer you headphones and a boom box, set up you up on one of the cozy back-room couches, and hand you an espresso to enhance your listening experience. Expect to walk away with all kinds of audible and wearable goodies.

Imagine Peace Tower

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Photo by: DreamPower on Flickr Creative Commons

In 2007, Yoko Ono debuted this work of art in Iceland in honor of her late husband John Lennon. The tower of light emanates from a site on Viðey Island off the coast of Reykjavik, and only shines between October 9 (Lennon’s birthday) until December 8 (the anniversary of his death), with a few other exceptions. While the light of the Peace Tower may be visible from parts of the capital city on especially clear nights, the short ferry ride to tour the historical island and see the exhibit up close is worthwhile for any Beatles fan or general dreamer.

Icelandic Museum of Rock ‘n’ Roll

The Rokksafn , as it’s known in Icelandic, is the museum dedicated to Iceland’s musical history. Although small and geographically closer to the main international airport in Keflavik than downtown Reykjavik, the Icelandic Museum of Rock ‘n’ Roll traces the island nation’s musical story back to the 1930s. Of course, artists like Björk (and The Sugarcubes), Sigur Rós, and Of Monsters and Men steal the spotlight in the exhibits, but other Icelandic musicians who’ve received less recognition in the States and abroad are also showcased. The Rokksafn also makes an effort to illustrate the Icelandic reaction to global musical trends, like Beatlemania in the ‘60s.

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Related Festival

Iceland Airwaves 2016 Rúnar Sigurður Sigurjónsson 1

Iceland Airwaves

Start Date: November 2, 2016
Reykjavik, Iceland