Europe, Iceland, Travel

Traveling to Iceland In the Winter – New Year’s Eve Festivities

The reason for our journey was to experience the Nordic traditions that Icelanders follow each year.  It starts with a family meal, and then they are off to a bonfire.  These are communal bonfires that Icelanders use to “cleanse” themselves of the year they have had, often burning all that was bad for them, to make way for new beginnings.  They also sing traditional Nordic songs while they do it.  Then it’s back home to watch an annual TV program called, “Ridicule”, where the actors make fun of all of the Icelandic happenings for that year.  At 11:30pm, the show ends and everyone goes outside to light aerial fireworks until a bit after midnight.  For the young people, this also marks the time to go out until 4am, since the bars are open that late.

Our Dinner

A special view from Saeta Svinid with the moon in the background.

We had dinner at a local Icelandic Pub called, “Saeta Svinid“.  It is this charming little place, right in the middle of the city center. (Initial reservations were at Kopar but we overslept.) I wasn’t very fond of the beef brisket there (ask for medium-well if you’re normally a medium person) but my other half loved the salmon dish.

Note that it’s best to make reservations on New Year’s Eve at least 3-4 months in advance.  Since we waited, only undesirable times were available to us AND, you have to email them to snag a reservation – no one uses an online system.  We were lucky they could fit us in at 5:30pm.

The Northern Lights

Yes, you read that right.  We saw the Northern Lights while getting off our tour bus, towards the bonfire.  While camera phones don’t do well with dark lighting, we were able to snag a few pictures of the dancing green, blue, and purple streaks in the air!  It was absolutely mesmerizing to see!  If you ever need a forecast of when they will appear, click here and bookmark it.  This will help you determine if you even need to book a tour (or even can book one).

The Bonfire


To get to the festivities, we booked a tour with Grayline, giving us transportation to everything we wanted to see (it was about $50 a person).

Our first stop was a bonfire, which was much-welcomed with how cold it was outside.  A few thousand of our “friends”, gathered around the two-story flame to drink, sing songs, and cheers each other until 11:30pm.  These bonfires are held all over Iceland.

Mini NYE Party Before the Fireworks

Our second stop was to the Grayline bus terminal for an hour-long welcome party with donuts and coffee, including musical performances.  It was a much-needed place of warmth before proceeding onto our final destination -the fireworks!

The Fireworks 

For our final stop, we were taken to the highest point in Reykjavik by the water towers, in order to see how truly amazing the fireworks displays are.  In Iceland, it’s the one night of the year that Icelanders get to set off aerial fireworks, which they happily do for over an hour.

While it was 23 degrees outside, you couldn’t pull your eyes away from the displays that could be seen for miles.

After the activities were over, we had every intention of going back, changing, and going back out to Loftid, the club we had tickets to.  However, we were so exhausted from our flight delay that we stayed in and went to bed!

Note that if you do go over NYE, tickets to some places are not available until about the week of NYE.  And, not every place will offer tickets to get you in the door faster.  My suggestion is to do your research if you can and try to find something to have as an option. Otherwise, you’re dressed up and waiting in line, in the freezing cold.

For more information on traveling to Iceland, click here.

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