Icelandic Christmas Fun and Traditions

Posted on Categories Christmas, Culture, Food, Holidays, Iceland, TraditionTags ,

We LOVE our Christmas traditions in Iceland and most families hold onto them very tightly. 

Advent and the Christmas spirit

It will certainly not go unnoticed when Christmas season in Iceland begins as it becomes a 6 week party for all of your senses.
The season starts for most when Advent begins which is the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas. This is when you see Christmas lights and decorations pop up everywhere, you will hear the sound of Christmas music and get a whiff of gingerbread cookies and mandarins wherever you go. The stores become busier and public places generally more lively.  So in other words this is when you start to see, smell, hear and feel the spirit of Christmas everywhere around you.

 

The 13 Santa Clauses or Yule lads

Originating from Old Icelandic folklore there are 13 mischievous pranksters that live in a cave in the mountains and in modern days these lads have somehow become the Icelandic version of Santa Claus. Each Yule lad has their specific idiosyncrasy and will behave in a particular manner. For example Pot Licker steals leftovers out of pots, Door slammer likes to slam doors, especially during the night, and Skyrgámur has an affinity for skyr (Icelandic version of Greek yogurt).

But they’re not just bad, because starting 13 days before Christmas they come to town, one each night, and leave a treat in children’s shoes (or a rotten potato, depending on how the child behaved the preceding day). This is why children place their favourite shoe in their bedroom windowsill each evening starting 13 days before Christmas and of course try to be on their best behaviour in order to get a nice treat from Santa. If you’re a well behaved CenterHotel’s guest; you may even receive a little surprise treat from Santa ;).

 

Fun time for the whole family

This is the season for kids after all so what really sets the Christmas tone in Reykjavík is the Christmas ice skating plaza, located at Ingólfstorg square, across from CenterHotel Plaza. You can rent ice skates for 1.190 ISK and enjoy food, drinks and other goods while getting into the Christmas spirit.  The ice rink is open every day until December 24 from 12:00-22:00.

Another fun Christmas activity for the whole family would be to visit the Christmas market in Heiðmörk, a  woodland located on the outskirts of Reykjavík.  You will find vendors selling handcrafted Icelandic goods, you can grab coffee or hot chocolate and of course Santa has been seen walking around greeting visitors. The Christmas village is open every Saturday and Sunday in December until Christmas. Get directions here. 

Harpa concert hall has many Christmas concerts during this time of year and the theatres around town are busy with performances of all sorts every day.

There will also be fun happenings and Christmas related music events at CenterHotels in the month of December so you can be sure to get in the Christmas spirit if staying with us. See our Centertainment schedule here. 

White Christmas and Northern Lights

Who doesn’t wish for white Christmas?  Well if you’re in Iceland you’re in luck because your chances of getting white Christmas here are a lot better than in many other places.
Your chances of seeing the northern Lights are also a reality since December is the darkest month of the year in Iceland. To view the Northern Lights in all their glory it’s best to be slightly away from the city lights so you might want to consider joining a guided tour.

 

Food & Drinks 

Again, most Icelanders hold tightly onto their Christmas traditions and certainly no less when it comes to food, with recipes being handed down generations. The Christmas meal is the most special meal of the year so we go ALL OUT.  Most families stick to the same meal every Christmas although this has changed in the last few decades.

The most common and traditional Christmas meal is smoked lamb or ‘Hangikjöt’ served with bechamel sauce, potatoes, peas and pickled red cabbage. This has been a Christmas classic for centuries.
Other popular Icelandic Christmas foods are Glazed rack of ham or ‘Hamborgarhryggur‘ which is traditionally a Danish meal or Ptarmigan ‘Rjúpa‘ which is a member of the grouse family and most people will serve it with caramelised potatoes, and of course pickled red cabbage.

Baking is also a big part of Icelandic Christmas like in many other cultures and most families will bake few sorts of cookies but one baking tradition is especially important to Icelanders and sticks out from other cultures and that is the baking of Leaf Bread or ‘Laufabrauð‘. Sometimes called ‘snowflake bread’ Leaf bread is a crispy thin cake, decorated with leaf-like geometric patterns and fried briefly in hot oil or fat and served with Christmas dinner.

We also have our traditional Christmas drinks, like Jólaöl which is a mixture of local non alcoholic Malt drink and orange soda and Jólaglögg or Mulled Wine, a spiced and usually alcoholic drink that is served warm and then of course we have a variety of Icelandic Christmas beer that are brewed only for the holiday season. Going Christmas beer tasting has become a fun part of the Icelandic holiday tradition in recent years. We suggest you visit the hotel bar and try some delicious Christmas beers.


If you are visiting Reykjavík for the holidays, we recommend booking a table at a restaurant in advance for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve as not nearly all restaurants are open those days and the once that are open book up quickly.  Most restaurants also offer a set holiday menu that are usually a more festive version of their normal menu.
All our three hotel Restaurants will be open those days and you can view our holiday menus here.

Have fun in Reykjavik in December!

Will you be spending the holidays in Reykjavik?

Posted on Categories Christmas, Culture, Food, Holidays, Iceland, ReykjavikTags , , , ,

Spending Christmas in Reykjavík?

Most Icelanders hold tightly onto their Christmas traditions and certainly no less when it comes to food, with recipes being handed down generations. The Christmas meal is the most special meal of the year so we go ALL OUT. Most families stick to the same meal every Christmas although this has changed in the last few decades.

If you are so lucky to be visiting Reykjavík for the holidays, we recommend booking a table at a restaurant in advance for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve as not nearly all restaurants are open those days and the once that are open book up quickly.  Most restaurants that are open for these nights offer a set holiday menu which are usually a more festive version of their normal menu.
All our three hotel Restaurants will be open those days and you can view our holiday menus and make your reservations here below:

SKÝ Restaurant & Bar

SKÝ Restaurant & Bar is located on the top floor of CenterHotel Arnarhvoll and offers a spectacular view over down town Reykjavík and the mountain range beyond the Faxaflói bay.SKÝ Holiday Menus

Ísafold Restaurant

Ísafold Restaurant is located at CenterHotel Thingholt and offers delicious food and fine drinks. Ísafold takes pride in offering guests tentative service and quality food which is locally sourced. The suppliers are handpicked by the head chef.Ísafold Holiday Menus

Jörgensen Kitchen & Bar

Jörgensen Kitchen & Bar is a casual dining Nordic fusion restaurant located in Centerhotel Midgardur. Jörgensen Kitchen & Bar specializes in offering a taste of traditional Icelandic cooking mixed up with modern and international flair. The outcome is delightful.Jörgensen Holiday Menus

ICELANDIC BEER

Posted on Categories Beer, Food, history, Iceland, ReykjavikTags , , ,

In Iceland, surprisingly, beer was prohibited during most part of the 20th Century. Once the precious beverage was made legal again, it became the most popular beverage amongst locals, and let’s be honest… amongst travellers.

 

Beer always had an important place in the hearts of Icelanders, no wonders since many locals had their own brewing equipment at home during the 19th Century! Nowadays, the Icelandic beer brewing industry is prospering rapidly and several new breweries focusing on craftsmanship beers started their operations offering the widest selection of local beers Iceland ever had! The deliciousness of the Icelandic beers is not only due to the use of their pure and high quality water but also to their ingenuity and rigor.

 

In recent years, the beer market has flourished to give the drinkers an extended possibility of choices. Rather you are a beer lover or not, here are some beers you should definitely try before leaving this dreamy northern island. Some microbreweries, such as Ægisgarður are even offering tours allowing visitors to understand the process of beer making and taste many different products!

 

During the second World War when the British invaded Iceland in 1940, many soldiers thought that an important element was missing to their life… Beer! This is the reason why, Ölgerðin Brewery was allowed, only during that period, to produce beer for the British Navy. You can still find this beer until today under its original name; the Polar Beer. For the time being, beer consumption continued to be illegal for Icelanders and remained in that state until the close end of the 20th Century!

 

You would think that Icelanders went on high beer production after 1989, when the cherished beverage finally made its way back into the northern country. Surprisingly, up until very recently, very few breweries were producing a certain variety of beers, mainly pale lagers and lagers. The two major breweries are Ölgerðin Brewery and Vífilfell.  Amongst many beer produced, you should try the Ölgerðin classics; Egils Gull, Egils Premium and Egils Sterkur. Oh! And don’t forget to try Vífilfell’s classics for the second round; the Viking Classic (Vienna style beer with a touch of caramel and roasted malt in the taste), the Viking Sumaröl (belgian style summer beer spiced with coriander and orange peel), Viking Páskabjór (Most popular Dunkel beer in Iceland with rusty tones and flavors of coffee, chocolate and caramel) and Thule.

 

In recent years, many smaller, creative breweries got inspired from popular beers around the world. One is the beer Bríó, which won several prizes for their distinct taste obtained by adding German hops and Pilsen Malt in their recipe. Once you try its sweet perfume, it is hard to let it go.

 

Lastly, you shouldn’t leave Iceland without trying the fruit of the first microbrewery that opened in 2006; Arskógssandur, getting inspired by Czech traditional ways to brew. Kaldi, their pilsner beer offers dry and fresh taste with flavours of roasted barley and hops. In the same family, the Kaldi Dark beer is fermented with burnt malt, giving an additional dark colour, intense flavours and winning the hearts of the icelanders! You should definitely visit their Kaldi bar in the middle of Reykjavik, making it easier for you to taste more than one of their treasures!  

 

Here is a list of others beers worth your time and money:

Lava (Black Ale): Like wine, it ages very well and reaches its optimal taste quality after 3 years in a cold storage! It won many championships, mainly the “United States Open Beer Championship” and is now also available in North America.

Einstök Beers: White Ale, Pale Ale, Toasted Porter, DoppelBock etc. The Einstöck brewery offers a great selection of beers for all tastes and it is most likely to find them in the UK and the USA. A question of keep the travel alsting a little bit longer!

Borg Brugghús Beers: Úlfur (Indian-styled Pale Ale), NR 8.2 Surtur and NR 8.4 Surtur (imperial stouts with respectively vanilla and oaky aromas and liquorice, dark chocolate and coffee aromas) and Leifur Nr. 32 (Belgian White with arctic thyme and heaters flavours).

Skál (Cheers)!!

12 fun facts about Iceland and Icelanders

Posted on Categories Culture, Equality, Food, Iceland, Nature, TraditionTags , , , , , ,

Since you’re visiting Iceland; we wouldn’t want you to be too shocked or surprised by our wonderfully unique culture or quirky habits. So here are 12 fun facts about us and our country so you can be properly prepared.

 

1. We LOVE Ice Cream

Cold temperature does not discourage Icelanders from standing in line at the Ice cream shop regardless of the season. You will find a Ice cream shop in almost every neighborhood in the capital area. 

 

2. One of the most Eco friendly countries in the world

Roughly 90% of Icelandic homes enjoy heating and electricity from renewable energy and natural geothermal resources. This is one of the main factors that make Iceland rank one of the greenest environments in Europe.

This is also the reason why Icelandic people use outdoor swimming pools in the winter just as much as in the summer as they are all heated geothermally all year round. Going to the swimming pool for an Icelander is like going to church for some. It’s a place where locals come together, chill in the Jacuzzi and catch up with other locals. And of course it’s a blast for the kids with all the water slides.  

 

3. No mosquitoes

Yep, you can relax and enjoy a summer evening in Iceland without worrying about getting bit by these annoying insects.

 

4. Icelanders speak on the inhale

This may be a surprise to some Icelanders (only because it is so natural) but we often speak on the inhale, mostly when saying Já (yes). The reason is a mystery but if you pay attention; you’ll notice and hopefully get a giggle.

 

5. An egalitarian nation

Iceland became the first country in the world to democratically elect a female president in 1980 Vigdís Finnbogadóttir and then an openly gay prime minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir in 2009.

 

6. Icelandic babies nap outside

Also no matter the season, it is very normal to see strollers and prams outside a coffee shop or a home as parents often let their babies nap outdoors (bundled up of course). 

 

7. Beer was illegal for 74 years

Yep, there was a ban put on alcoholic drinks in Iceland in 1915. In 1935 the ban was partially lifted where stronger spirits were legalized but beer was not included until March 1, 1989.

 

8. The smallest nation ever to qualify for World Cup finals

A mere year after making into the quarter finals at the 2016 Euro cup with an epic win against England, the Icelandic football team beat the odds again by qualifying for the world cup finals in 2018.

 

9. No surnames or family names

The Icelandic phone book lists people by their first name and the reason is that Icelanders do not use family names. Instead they use the traditional Nordic naming system where the last name is taken from their father’s (or mother’s) first name with the addition of -dóttir (-daughter) or -son.  Jón Ólafsson’s offspring, for example, might be Einar Jónsson and Sigríður Jónsdóttir.

 

10. No McDonald’s or Starbucks

Fast food restaurants do exist in Iceland but you will not find a McDonalds or Starbucks anywhere unlike in most other cities.

 

11. Iceland does not have an army, navy or air force.

Iceland has only waged one war, and it can barely be called war. Its name is Þorskastríðið, The Cod War, political disputes between the governments of Iceland and the UK over fishing grounds. The only weapons Icelanders used were scissors, to cut the enemies fishing nets…we won!

 

12. The Icelandic police does NOT carry guns.

The only officers permitted to carry firearms are on a special force called the Viking Squad, and they are seldom called out. One man has been shot by the police, ever.

Icelandic Street food and Food Halls

Posted on Categories Culture, Food, Iceland, ReykjavikTags , , , ,

Street food and Food Halls have been more and more prominent in Reykjavík in recent years. After all street food is the heart and soul of international cuisine and food halls offer the convenience of having selection of food from all over the world in one place. 

 

Box Street Food

Box Street Food is a great place if you would like to get a taste of different street food in one place. It’s open Thursday to Sunday June 1-June 29th and is located in Skeifan shopping area (a bit outside of downtown). The vibe is very raw with pallets, trucks and raw metal containers offering street food, pop up shops and a large screen that will be showing all the World Cup matches along with a music stage where musicians perform for all the hungry and thirsty people. Dishes are sold for low prices, and guests are encouraged to try different dishes, instead of buying one meal at one restaurant.

There are many other popular street food and food trucks in Reykjavík like Bæjarins beztu, the famous hot dog stand that offers one menu item only and Fish and Chips Vagninn located by the old harbour.  

 

See more in our blog ‘Reykjavík for the budget conscious’.

 

 

Hlemmur Food Hall (Hlemmur Mathöll) 

Hlemmur Food Hall opened in August 2017 and is located inside the legendary ‘Hlemmur’. Hlemmur  used to be the main public bus stations/terminals in Reykjavík and a regular hangout for many punk kids and other interesting characters. The food hall is inspired by the great European food halls, offering 10 different vendors.  So whether it may be Vietnamese street food at Bành Mí, Mexican burritos at La Poblana, freshly baked bread and cinnamon buns at Brauð&Co or cured meats with a glass of french wine or champagne at Kröst, you can be sure to find it there.  You can also be sure to find many locals visiting Hlemmur Mathöll, mostly for the delicious food but also because of the history of the building.

 

Grandi Mathöll

Doesn’t look like much on the outside but it’s awesome on the inside. This new Reykjavík culinary treasure, located in a refurbished fish factory at Grandi Harbor District, celebrates Icelandic culture and industry. Grandi Mathöll offers a great sample of the best street food Iceland has to offer. You will find both traditional Icelandic cuisine like smoked Icelandic lamb from Fjárhúsið (The sheep stable) or fresh Icelandic vegetables from Rabbar Barinn and also dishes from elsewhere in the world like KORE a grub-delicious Korean street food.  

Things to reconsider when planning a trip to Iceland

Posted on Categories Food, Iceland, Nature, Northern Lights, ReykjavikTags , , ,

When planning or packing for your Icelandic vacation, there are few things that you may want to reconsider. For example, don’t bother to…

 

BRING YOUR UMBRELLA

Sure, it does rain in Iceland..however, the wind blows even more frequently and an umbrella and the wind do not go together.

 

BUY BOTTLED WATER

Icelandic tap water is about as clean as water can be. But not just clean, it’s delicious.  

Just run it for a few seconds, get it nice and cold and you will never want to buy another bottle of water again.  

 

CHECK THE WEATHER FORECAST IN ADVANCE

Weather in Iceland is way too unpredictable. Just be prepared for any kind of weather condition, rain, wind, snow, fog, sun. You could actually experience all the above in the same day.

 

SAVE LUGGAGE SPACE BY LEAVING YOUR WARM JACKET OR COAT AT HOME

Bad idea, because of the above comment.

 

LEAVE YOUR BATHING SUIT AT HOME REGARDLESS OF THE SEASON

Winter or summer you don’t want to miss out on visit Iceland without taking a dip in a naturally heated thermal pool or in a natural hot spring.  

 

EXPECT SEEING POLAR BEARS, PENGUINS OR IGLOOS.

Because if you do you’re in the wrong place.  The name Iceland may be a bit misleading because temperature in Iceland are quite mild thanks to the Gulf Stream. However approximately 11% of Iceland is covered by glaciers so glacier related trips and activities are very popular. You can see some of them here.

 

GET VACCINATED.

Unless you are arriving from countries that suffer from certain infectious diseases.  But Iceland is a very safe country to visit and infectious diseases aren’t a problem.

 

BE A VEGETARIAN

Well..most restaurants in Reykjavík do cater to vegetarians and have vegetarian options on their menus but it is almost a crime visiting Iceland without trying the Icelandic lamb, fish and of course HOT DOGS. We shouldn’t leave out other Icelandic delicacies like fermented shark but that may actually turn a meat lover into a vegetarian. 

 

GET A HOT DOG FROM ANY OTHER PLACE THEN ‘BÆJARINS BEZTU’.

They are simply the best.

 

GET UPSET WITH THE HOTEL STAFF BECAUSE THE  NORTHERN LIGHTS WEREN’T VISIBLE

Although the Northern Lights are active all year round; you can only spot them in the dark and when the sky is clear. Which means that they are NOT visible in the summertime when the sun never sets and only when weather conditions are favorable.

So don’t come to Iceland with the main or only purpose to see the Northern Lights, there are plenty of other things to see and explore.

On the other hand, if you are visiting in the summertime we can guarantee you plenty of Midnight sun. 🙂

 

What we do for Easter

Posted on Categories Food, Holidays, Iceland, TraditionTags , , , ,

5 days of Easter vacation, so what do we do…?

WE ROCK OUT..

The Reykjavik Blues Festival started yesterday so if you are a blues lover you should check it out. Big blues concerts will be hosted at the Hilton Nordica tonight and tomorrow night with both local and international blues acts performing into the wee hours of the night.

If you prefer Jazz then be sure to visit CenterHotel Plaza on Monday night April 2, as there will be a live Jazz band playing in the Plaza lounge at 9pm.

Also taking place this weekend is the music festival ‘Aldrei fór ég suður’ held in the town of Ísafjörður located in the West Fjords. It’s a great family fun and it’s free. The festival also coincides with the official Ísafjörður ski week, another reason families flock to this remote town in the West Fjords for Easter weekend.

WE SKI..

Ísafjörður isn’t the only popular ski destination this weekend because many Icelandic families travel up north to Akureyri for Easter. Akureyri, the capital of the north, is not only a beautiful town worth visiting but it has a fun little ski mountain very close and accessible from town. And on Easter weekend Akureyri hosts a big family festival called ‘Hello Easter’ with art exhibitions, concerts and loads of fun for the whole family.

For those who wish to ski but not leave Reykjavík city, Bláfjöll ski mountain is only 30 minute drive from Reykjavík and it is a very popular ski area for Reykjavík locals. At Bláfjöll you can rent skiing equipment, but make sure to dress warm.

WE EAT..

And the most important part of Icelandic Easter (for kids at least)…THE Easter Egg. THE Easter Egg is not only a large chocolate egg, that comes in various sizes and is filled with candy and other goodies. It is so much more. Read our last years blog dedicated to THE Easter Egg.

Although we adults also greatly enjoy THE Easter Egg, because how can we not; we are also excited for the Roasted leg of lamb that is traditionally served in Icelandic homes on Easter Sunday.

Don’t have access to an Icelandic family or a kitchen? Don’t worry, all three of our hotel restaurants SKÝ Restaurant & Bar, Ísafold Restaurant and Jörgensen Kitchen & Bar will be open for Easter and you can find delicious lamb dishes on their menus.

Happy Easter!

Eventful March

Posted on Categories Culture, Events, Food, Iceland, Music, News Feed, Reykjavik

The days are finally getting longer in Reykjavík with more sunlight, and the city is as vibrant as ever, offering two spectacular events this weekend.

 

Design March

Design March is Iceland’s most important annual design event and celebrates it’s 10th anniversary this year. The event will take place March 15-18th and will be the largest and most significant yet.

Design March offers a unique chance to see and experience Icelandic design, spiced with a handful of the most interesting international names.
From fashion to furniture, architecture to food design, the festival showcases the best of the local design scene alongside exciting international names.

So for four days, Reykjavík, the most northern capital in the world will host dozens of openings, exhibitions, workshops and other events. There are over 100 events-exhibitions, workshops, seminars and parties spread across the city. Usually, these sort of fairs are only open for professionals, however we Icelanders like to have fun, so everybody is invited to join in.

 

Sónar Reykjavík

Another event that is taking place this weekend AND celebrating it’s anniversary is Sónar Reykjavik music festival which will take place for it’s 25th executive year on March 16th and 17th at Harpa music hall.

Sónar is a well known music festival featuring mostly electronica, hip hop and advanced music both from the vibrant Icelandic music scene as well as international talent. The festival will be spread out across 4 different stages, all located indoors within the walls of the beautiful Harpa Concert House and headlining the SonarClub stage will be long-standing electronica innovators Underworld.

If you’re planing to going to Sónar Reykjavík, remember that SKÝ Restaurant & Bar is located right across the street from Harpa concert hall at CenterHotel Arnarhvoll and is the perfect place to grab a pre show dinner or a cocktail while enjoying a spectacular view over Harpa and the bay. And the best part is that CenterHotel guests receive 10% discount of the a la carte menu. It’s a win win win.

 

A week of three bizarre Icelandic holidays

Posted on Categories Events, Food, heritage, Holidays, Tradition, WinterTags , , , , , , ,

This week is a busy one in Iceland with international events and holidays like Valentines Day but today we’re going to focus on three quirky Icelandic holidays filled with indulgence and innocent fun.

 

Bolludagur – Bun Day

Bolludagur or Bun day is the first and yes we have a day named after a delicious chocolate glazed cream puff. Bolludagur always falls on a Monday six weeks prior to Easter and the tradition came to Iceland from Norway and Denmark and marks the start of Lent.

Lent being the time of self denial; what makes more sense than to stuff your face with puff pastry buns filled with jam and whipped cream, topped with chocolate glaze two days prior?

Traditionally local families will bake their own buns but you will find all sorts of buns in bakeries and grocery stores with variety of fillings and toppings.

Another interesting tradition associated with Bolludagur is that children in kindergarten make wooden decorated paddles which they use to spank their parents with in the morning of Bolludagur while yelling ‘Bolla, bolla, bolla’ in order to get a bun in return. A quite lovely tradition for us parents.. say no more. 

 

Sprengidagur

Sprengidagur is the day before Lent and day 2 of overindulgence.  
On Sprengidagur it is custom to eat a Lentil Soup or stew accompanied with salted lamb meat, potatoes and other root vegetables, a dish called ‘Saltkjöt og Baunir’. This meal is very savory and filling and although Icelanders don’t celebrate Lent by fasting anymore, the tradition of overeating Saltkjöt og Baunir on Sprengidagur is still very much alive.

 

Öskudagur – Ash Wednesday

The Icelandic tradition associated with this day is a bit strange. Young women would try and pin small pouches filled with ash onto the boy they fancied without them noticing.

Today however, Ash Wednesday has turned into more of a Halloween where children will dress up in costumes and walk between stores or houses and sing in hopes of receiving candy in return.

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So now you know why you’ll see children run between stores in costumes singing and the rest of the population may seem a bit dazed as most of us will be experiencing a mild case of food coma.

But don’t forget that Wednesday is not only Ashday but it’s also VALENTINES DAY and believe me when I say that we at CenterHotels are getting geared up for the day of loooove. Stay tuned on our Facebook sites.

What makes Icelandic Christmas special

Posted on Categories Culture, Food, Iceland, Reykjavik, WinterTags

We LOVE our Christmas traditions in Iceland and most families hold onto them very tightly.  As a matter of fact Iceland is so full of Holiday traditions that it’s not easy covering them all in just one blog post. We did our best but keep in mind that December has just started so there is more to come. 

 

Advent and the Christmas spirit

It will certainly not go unnoticed when Christmas season in Iceland begins as it becomes a 6 week party for all of your senses.
The season starts for most when Advent begins which is the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas. This is when you see Christmas lights and decorations pop up everywhere, you will hear the sound of Christmas music and get a whiff of gingerbread cookies and mandarins wherever you go. The stores become busier and public places generally more lively.  So in other words this is when you start to see, smell, hear and feel the spirit of Christmas everywhere around you.

 

The 13 Santa Clauses or Yule lads

Originating from Old Icelandic folklore there are 13 mischievous pranksters that live in a cave in the mountains and in modern days these lads have somehow become the Icelandic version of Santa Claus. Each Yule lad has their specific idiosyncrasy and will behave in a particular manner. For example Pot Licker steals leftovers out of pots, Door slammer likes to slam doors, especially during the night, and Skyrgámur has an affinity for skyr (Icelandic version of Greek yogurt).

But they’re not just bad, because starting 13 days before Christmas they come to town, one each night, and leave a treat in children’s shoes (or a rotten potato, depending on how the child behaved the preceding day). This is why children place their favourite shoe in their bedroom windowsill each evening starting 13 days before Christmas and of course try to be on their best behaviour in order to get a nice treat from Santa.

 

Fun time for the whole family

This is the season for kids after all so what really sets the Christmas tone in Reykjavík is the Christmas ice skating plaza, located at Ingólfstorg square, across from CenterHotel Plaza. You can rent ice skates for 990 ISK and enjoy food, drinks and other goods while getting into the Christmas spirit.  The ice rink is open every day until December 24 from 12:00-22:00.

Another fun Christmas activity for the whole family would be to visit the Christmas village located in downtown Hafnafjörður (aprox 15-20 minute drive from Reykjavík).  It offers live entertainment and you can walk through little Christmas houses with all sorts of handcrafted Icelandic designs and yummy home baked goodies for sale and of course Santa and elves will be around greeting the children. The Christmas village is open every Saturday and Sunday in December until Christmas.

 

White Christmas and Northern Lights

Who doesn’t wish for white Christmas?  Well if you’re in Iceland you’re in luck because your chances of getting white Christmas here are a lot better than in many other places.
Your chances of seeing the northern Lights are also a reality since December is the darkest month of the year in Iceland. To view the Northern Lights in all their glory it’s best to be slightly away from the city lights so you might want to consider joining a guided tour.

 

Food & Drinks 

Again, most Icelanders hold tightly onto their Christmas traditions and certainly no less when it comes to food, with recipes being handed down generations. The Christmas meal is the most special meal of the year so we go ALL OUT.  Most families stick to the same meal every Christmas although this has changed in the last few decades.

The most common and traditional Christmas meal is smoked lamb or ‘Hangikjöt’ served with bechamel sauce, potatoes, peas and pickled red cabbage. This has been a Christmas classic for centuries.
Other popular Icelandic Christmas foods are Glazed rack of ham or ‘Hamborgarhryggur‘ which is traditionally a Danish meal or Ptarmigan ‘Rjúpa‘ which is a member of the grouse family and most people will serve it with caramelised potatoes, and of course pickled red cabbage.

Baking is also a big part of Icelandic Christmas like in many other cultures and most families will bake few sorts of cookies but one baking tradition is especially important to Icelanders and sticks out from other cultures and that is the baking of Leaf Bread or ‘Laufabrauð‘. Sometimes called ‘snowflake bread’ Leaf bread is a crispy thin cake, decorated with leaf-like geometric patterns and fried briefly in hot oil or fat and served with Christmas dinner.

We also have our traditional Christmas drinks, like Jólaöl which is a mixture of local non alcoholic Malt drink and orange soda and Jólaglögg or Mulled Wine, a spiced and usually alcoholic drink that is served warm and then of course we have a variety of Icelandic Christmas beer that are brewed only for the holiday season. Going Christmas beer tasting has become a fun part of the Icelandic holiday tradition in recent years. We suggest you visit the hotel bar and try some delicious Christmas beers.


If you are visiting Reykjavík for the holidays, we recommend booking a table at a restaurant in advance for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve as not nearly all restaurants are open those days and the once that are open book up quickly.  Most restaurants also offer a set holiday menu that are usually a more festive version of their normal menu.
All our three hotel Restaurants will be open those days and you can view our holiday menus here: SKÝ Restaurant & Bar, Ísafold Restaurant and Jörgensen Kitchen.