Reykjavik Art Festival: The Artistic Side of the North
The Reykjavik Arts Festival is a large scale event for all art enthusiasts, and one of the oldest art festivals in Europe!
Whether you are a seasoned art aficionado or
The Reykjavik Arts Festival is a large scale event for all art enthusiasts, and one of the oldest art festivals in Europe!
Whether you are a seasoned art aficionado or
Just curious about the latest cultural treats Reykjavik has to offer, the Reykjavik Arts Festival has it covered. You can visit the exhibitions held at major cultural venues.
Wander through the city at any hour, sure that you will find the next event wherever you are. Do we need to add that most of the festival’s events are free? There is no better time for you to organise a trip to Reykjavik to see an inspiring festival in Iceland.
The Reykjavik Arts Festival runs in the late spring and carries on for almost 20 days. Every year it usually starts around mid May or the beginning of June.
As the weather gets better in the season, it is the perfect time of the year to visit Reykjavik, (it’s not polar cold around that time of the year!). Catch some of the world’s leading exhibits and art events of all kinds.
Through its importance and impact on the artistic community, the festival has helped create vast networks of connection between artists from all over the world, inviting well established ones, as well as introducing new artists with each edition.
Every year, the Reykjavik festival organisers present a concept. Be it a word, or a sentence, that may have multiple meanings and representations, which closely connects the events and the exhibitions. As well as giving a ‘conceptual map’ for the visitor.
The artists and exhibitors have to work within this theoretical boundary. For this reason, each edition presents also new works, and the visitors are guaranteed to see something unique.
Furthermore, the Iceland Arts Festival is a multidisciplinary event: it doesn’t focus exclusively on visual arts. It has always placed special attention onto creative intersections of arts and other media.
You won’t find just the more traditional exhibitions of static pieces throughout Reykjavik museums, but also, (and mostly!) street installations, public shows, performances, music, literature and much more!
The entire city takes part in this great event, every location in Reykjavik is touched by it. Almost every public space in town has at least one event scheduled, and you can breathe festival air everywhere you go.
The main hub of the festival is the Reykjavik Art Museum, where you will find art displays as well as several music shows. Many open talks with artists and organisers take place here; a great way for you to discover how the magic of the Reykjavik Arts Festival starts!
In the museum you can also hang out at the ‘Festival Hub’, an ‘ad hoc’ pop up bar designed by a local artist. It is open every day of the festival until midnight, and with its snacks, drinks and regular live music shows; it is bound to offer respite from the festival and a chance to meet the artists or the organisers in person!
The streets and the squares of the Reykjavik city centre live and breathe with the festival. Spectacular installations and unique shows are presented only outdoors, where there is ample space needed for some of the most unusual ones to be admired.
In 2018, for example, the festival has been visited by ‘Saurus’, a show from the Netherlands that brings dinosaurs back to life! Playful and spontaneous, these gigantic pieces of art (dinosaur sized!) roar through the crowds and engage with the spectators.
The Austurvöllur main square, just outside the Art Museum, serves as a focal point for the street events. It’s centrality and, indeed, size, make it the perfect location for the festival’s outdoor needs.
At Reykjavik City Theatre and the Harpa Concert Hall, conveniently located at a stone throw from the Arts Museum and Austurvollur, you will find most of the largest dance, theatre, and music ensembles.
Previous editions have seen the likes of Yann Tiersen, John Cage, Dave Brubek, Nina Simone, the late David Bowie, as well as local musicians Björk and Sigur Rós. The upcoming editions may just give you the chance to see some of the best musicians the world has to offer!
Not even the outskirts are ignored by this great festival! The footpaths and bike lanes that go around the city have had their own installations in previous editions, that can be explored either at your own pace or through guided tours.
Yurts have been built in the highlands surrounding the city for theatre plays, and the Oldusel Swimming Pool was used for underwater music shows. Metro stations, public parks, run-down neighborhoods, house windows, all serve an artistic purpose during the festival!
Remember that most of the festival can be enjoyed for free, although some of its events can be accessed only through the purchase of single tickets. This is usually the case with some of the headline events which take place indoors and in the main festival hubs (Harpa, Art Museum and City Theatre).
Prices may vary greatly, depending on the type of event and the artists that take part in it. The best thing to do is to keep an eye on the festival’s schedule to know which events are for free and which require a ticket. Book in advance to avoid disappointment!
With the passing of each year, the Reykjavik Arts Festival also introduces a new theme. It is a way for the Iceland festival to stay ‘fresh’ each year and to provide a good excuse to audiences to visit the festival again! It is up to you now to discover the new themes that they will be introducing!
If you are planning a trip to Iceland, make sure you catch the days of the Reykjavik Arts Festival 2020. You will get the most value out of your holiday!
When is Reykjavik Arts Festival? The next Reykjavik Arts Festival is from June 6 to June 21 in 2020.
Iceland is just below the Arctic Circle and its temperatures are rather low throughout the year, so don’t forget to pack some emergency winter clothes with you in case the evenings get too chilly! (Record low in June was -1!)
Icelanders like to go out rather late at night: expect bars to be rather quiet until midnight, that is the hour when the party starts!
Events can be in different languages, some of them are in English or offer English translations and dubbing, however, many are in Icelandic too! Check the events’ page to know the languages of the events you want to see.
If you can tear yourself away from the events of the festival, make sure to visit Hallgrímskirkja (Church of Hallgrímur), a Lutheran parish church, found on Hallgrímstorg 101.
This church, done in an expressionist architectural style, is the largest you will find in Iceland and among the tallest structures at 74.5 m high. You can also take advantage of its observation tower –
just take a lift up to its viewing deck and feast your eyes on Reykjavík’s panorama and the surrounding mountains. Winter (October-April) opening times are from 9.00-17.00, and Summer (May-September), opening times are 9.00-21.00.
Austurvöllur is a public square in Reykjavík. It is popular among locals and tourists, especially during warmer days due to the prevalence of cafes offering many treats to thirsty and peckish patrons.
Austurvöllur has been a public gathering place since 1930, and hosts many of the city’s important cultural and historical landmarks, such as the Parliament building and Reykjavik’s cathedral Domkirkjan – which is also the city’s oldest church.
Reykjavik offers many nighttime activities and attractions from a Northern Lights tour if you happen to be there, or return to the city from September to mid-April, beer tours as well as concerts and stand-up shows.
For a more unusual and entertaining form of cultural immersion we recommend the ‘Icelandic Sagas – The Greatest Hits in 75 Minutes’ held at Harpa Concert Hall.
The show is based on the country’s famous sagas, which are 40 ‘true stories’ about the first settlers, their viking raids abroad and their blood feuds at home.
These fantastic tales of brave, worthy men and feisty women, have been passed down through generations, and are now available in English to locals and tourists alike with a comedic twist.
This 75-minute rollercoaster of comedy will introduce you to the country’s history and literary heritage, but also to Icelandic humour.
Currently, the shows are scheduled to run all summer through to December and tickets cost 4,900 krona (about 40€). Be sure to check their website closer to the time of your trip to Reykjavik and book your ticket!
Reykjavik has a lot of accommodation options available from holiday homes, cabins, cottages and villas, hotels, studios and apartments. Here we will offer you a few suggestions.
For a conveniently located budget stay, 4th Floor Hotel provides guests with accommodation suited to any needs, and pockets, with prices starting at 104€ on Booking.com.
Rooms range from budget, economy, standard, superior as well as suites with city views. 4th Floor Hotel is located at the crossing of two main streets in the city, Snorrabraut and Laugavegur. It is just around the corner from Hlemmur Square and only 500 m away from Hallgrímskirkja.
Guests enjoy parking, free wifi, private or shared bathrooms as well as an ample breakfast. Be sure to discuss local tour options with the hotel staff as they can also help arrange for discounts.
For a midrange stay in Reykjavik, check out City Park Hotel, situated just a short walk from one of the city’s main street, Sudurlandsbraut.
All rooms have a private bathroom with showers and flat screen TVs, while some have seating areas and/or views of the sea or mountains. The hotel also provides bike and car hire services and a 24 hr front desk.
If you are looking for a more luxurious stay in Reykjavik, check out Eyja Guldsmeden Hotel. It is situated in a prime location, next to Hlemmur Square and just off Laugavegur, the main shopping street.
Besides the usual amenities, such as flat screen TVs and private bathrooms, the hotel provides guests with its own brand of organic Guldmeden toiletries. If this hasn’t convinced you, then may be the hotel’s wow factors will!
Balinese furnishings and four poster beds feature in all rooms, and if you book timely enough you may be able to get a room with a view of the sea, mountain or the city!
Other convenient features are an on-site restaurant, a bar, a fitness centre and bicycle hire. Be sure to book in advance so as to avoid disappointment!
In Reykjavik make sure to have a healthy and full pocket, as dining options tend to swing on the expensive side.
Where most restaurants may leave a dent in your travel finances, if you’re looking for value and quality, you must go to Icelandic Street Food in the city centre.
It’s a family run fast food business offering its patrons traditional Icelandic dishes – it is the first Icelandic fast food concept of its kind! You will be welcomed by friendly staff and experience great service.
The authenticity of this place is confirmed by the fact that the recipes used are from the founder’s grandmother, who also prepares some of the locale’s traditional delicacies and desserts.
For 2000 Krona (about 16€) you can enjoy lamb or shellfish soup in a bread bowl, a drink and cake. If this hearty soup does not leave you full, do not fret, as it comes with the option of a free refill.
The other staple of Icelandic Street Food is the Fisherman’s Favourite, a stew which consists of Icelandic cod, potatoes and onions stirred in hollandaise sauce and served with butter and rye bread. Be sure to also try the pancakes and Happy Marriage cake, made from oats, brown sugar, and homemade strawberry jam.
If you’ve had enough fish stews and broths, and want to try more exotic dishes, Rio Reykjavik is a must. Located by the Old Harbour, Rio Reykjavik is a South American restaurant with a hint of Asian fusion.
The restaurant, among the more moderately priced in Reykjavik, prides itself on being a whale friendly restaurant. Its philosophy is that of providing patrons with an all-round exquisite experience in a relaxing and fun atmosphere.
Prepare to feast your eyes and taste buds on a wide selection of tacos and tostadas, along with other Peruvian and Colombian dishes.
Though the menu lists a lot of meat, fish and seafood selections, (the most popular being the langoustine dishes), you can also find vegetarian and vegan options.
Looking for a vegetarian and vegan establishment? Glo is your go to place. Famished after shopping on Laugavegur street? Simply pop into Glo, which offers raw, vegan, gluten free as well as meat friendly options.
The establishment has now expanded into four locations, and aims to provide its customers with fast service and exciting blends of healthy and wholesome meals, such as veggie lasagna, bunless veggie burgers, Mediterranean bowl, Thai bowl, smoothie bowls, cold pressed juices as well as raw vegan desserts.
If you want to enjoy the Glo experience but getting to Laugavegur is inconvenient, here are the other three locations: Fákafen 11, Engjateigur 19, and Hæðasmári 6.
If you are not on a tighter budget, or do not mind spending a little extra for a fine dining experience, then you should make reservations at Nostra.
Also located on Laugavegur, in the heart of Reykjavik, Nostra boasts a selection of menus ranging from 8 course, 6 course, 4 course, vegetarian, vegan (available upon a 24 hr notice) and pescatarian.
Another point of pride for this restaurant is that their menus are not fixed as they rely on the best and freshest ingredients they have available. Foodie or not, be sure to give this place a try, you will not regret it!
As you may know, Iceland is a small island in the middle of the northern Atlantic Ocean. So, unless you want to make your way there swimming, boarding a plane is your only safe option!
Luckily, the Keflavik Airport (Reykjavik international airport) has excellent routes which serve most of Europe’s airports and many companies land there.
Once at the airport, you can make your way to the city either with a car (rental available at the airport), a taxi, a coach or a public bus. The journey will take about 45 minutes to an hour.
The Gray Line coaches offer a range of useful routes to and from the airport. There is a hotel pick up or drop off service on the way to, or from the airport, starting at 23€ one way, (39€ round trip).
There is also a pick up and drop off service from the airport to the main bus terminal in Reykjavik, starting at 18€, (31€ round trip). These coaches run 24/7, every half an hour from the airport, as well as from the terminal.
Public bus number 55 goes from the airport to the city, for example to Laugavegur. Yet this service is more limited, running roughly every hour, staring from 6.26 am. Journeys also last longer, up to an hr and a half, and cost around 1600 krona (12.95€).
Once in the city, you can use Reykjavik’s bus service (called Strætó in Icelandic) to get anywhere you need! Single fares are 460 krona, (about 3.70€), but be sure to have the exact amount, as the bus drivers cannot give you change and they do not accept credit cards.
Bear in mind that the buses have limited services on weekends and at night. For example, there are no bus services before noon on Sundays. Alternatively, you can always walk everywhere as the city is not too big and you may end up bumping into yet another installation or event organised by the festival.
We recommend you get a Reykjavik City Card, which allows unlimited bus journeys for a period of time (24, 36 or 72 hours allowance) and several discounts at shops and restaurants!
The hotels mentioned in this article all offer free parking. However for greater ease of movement, know that there are 4 parking zones in the city, and the closer you are to downtown and Laugavegur, the higher the fares will be.
Parking signs on lampposts around the city as well as the meters and ticket machines will help you identify which parking zone you are in or are headed for. Paid public parking in all 4 zones runs from 9.00-18.00 on Mon-Fri, 10.00-16.00 on Saturdays, with Sundays being free.
Founded in 1969 and launched in 1970, The Reykjavik Arts Festival has since attracted world famous collections, artists, and musicians from its inception onwards, including Edward Munch and Led Zeppelin only on it’s first edition!
Originally it was conceived as a biennial festival and, from 2004, it has become a yearly occasion (for the joy of art enthusiasts!).
The Reykjavík Arts Festival has since hosted performances and exhibitions from hundreds of artists from all over the world.
The international and interdisciplinary approach and mission of the festival helped create vast networks of outreach between artists.
This, in turn, spurred the creation of new works and played a major role in developing cultural and artistic diversity in Iceland.