This Sunday Icelanders will celebrate Fisherman’s Sunday – a day especially dedicated to fishermen in Iceland. Seaman’s Sunday has been celebrated since 1938 to honor the hard work and sacrifices of the Icelandic fisherman.
Seaman’s Sunday is celebrated in fishing towns all over Iceland with sea-related entertainment for the whole family. In a way this is a fun reason for everyone to come together and remember the importance and impact that the fishing industry has had on the Icelandic culture.
In Reykjavík the festival “Festival of the sea” will be held in the old harbor area from Harpa to Grandagarður (West Harbor). The festival reflects traditional Icelandic culture and the nation’s long-standing dependence on fishing. There will be a diverse program starting with an opening ceremony by the old harbor on Saturday morning. Guests can enjoy sailing and sea swimming, there will of course be various entertainment for children at all ages like pier fishing, face painting and even a fun play area will be made from recycled material from the sea and nature for the youngest. There will be a parade from Harpa music hall to Grandi area and the coast guard ship Óðinn will be welcoming visitors to explore the ship where crew members of the ship will be welcoming guests, telling stories of their stay on board.
Various restaurants along the harbor and in Grandagarður will take part in the festivities and some of them will have special offers.
SKÝ Restaurant & Bar, located at CenterHotel Arnarhvoll has an incredible view over Harpa and the old harbour, will of course honor Fisherman’s day by offering guests a special offer on Fish & Chips and beer for only 2.900 kr. all day Sunday. SKÝ Restaurant & Bar also offers happy hour between 16-18.
Icelanders sure know how to keep their traditions alive! Many festivities throughout the year come from ancient celebrations from the pre-Christian Norse calendar. Þorri and Góa, for example, celebrate the beginning of the fourth and fifth month of winter.
Both of these celebrations are also known as Husband’s Day (Bóndadagur), and Woman’s Day (Konudagur). Bóndadagur marks the beginning of the Icelandic month of Þorri. Whereas, Konudagur marks the start of the month of Góa. Konudagur is the first day of Góa. It always falls on a Sunday on the second-to-last winter month, marking the time when the days start being visibly longer. Centuries ago the tradition was that the housewives would wake up and go lightly dressed out in the snow, to welcome Góa by saying:
“Góa is coming, kind and true;
she´ll be warm enough.
Þorri, you´ll be missed by few;
you´ve been plenty rough.”
The expression “Ladies’ Day” goes back to 1900. It made it to the official calendar in 1927 and has been on it since then.
On both Þorri and Góa, it is tradition to pamper your loved one with sweet attentions throughout the day.
So for that reason and the fact that it’s in February, Woman’s Day (Konudagur) has been considered the Icelandic equivalent to Valentine’s Day. Although the day of love gained international popularity over the last years, Icelanders prefer to follow their traditions and reserve a special day for both parties.
Here are some reasons to adopt this new love tradition after your visit to Iceland!
Always lands on a weekend!
It is known, Valentine’s Day is always on the 14th of February, which may cause you to celebrate in the middle of the week or having a belated lovely dinner during the weekend… Well, Konudagur is always on a Sunday and Bóndadagur is always on a Friday! Needless to say more.
Specially confectioned cake
Every year, Icelandic bakers hold a competition for “The Cake of the Year”. The most beautiful and delicious cake is sold especially for Konudagur! Here you go ladies, the best cake is showcased in the windows just for you. You deserve it!
Two instead of one!
Bóndadagur and Konudagur both focus on pampering the individual instead of the couple itself. This means that you get the whole day to treat your other half without compromising; food, activities, surprises, everything at your loved one’s preferences! And you know you’ll get yours too.. Not bad eh?
Anyhow, remember that we should be celebrating love every day, not only because of a special date and should always treat our loved one like a prince and a princess! Have a good day!
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 too may even receive little surprise treats from Santa on your door knob ;).
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.
There is also ton of fun happenings for adults in December in Reykjavik. Harpa concert hall has many Christmas concerts during this time of year and the theatres around town are loaded with performances of all sorts every day.
This is also the season for beer lovers as you will find a variety of Icelandic Christmas beer that is 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.
CenterHotels will host several fun happenings and Christmas related music events 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 your chances of getting white Christmas are a lot better than in many other places.
Your chances of seeing the northern Lights also exist 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 Jólaglöggor Mulled Wine, a spiced and usually alcoholic drink that is served warm.
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 for the major holidays and you can view our holiday menus here.
Have you ever wonder how an isolated community, living in harsh conditions, without an easy access to construction goods build their homes?
Turf Houses are an integral part of the Nordic culture of Iceland. Although similar architectural tradition has been seen in other Nordic regions such as Norway, Scotland, Ireland, Greenland, the Faroe Islands and the Great Plains of North America throughout time, Icelanders used this technique for a considerable amount of time – from the 9th to the 20th century! The historic records show that up until the 19th century, 50% of the Icelandic population was still living in turf houses, the last inhabitants left their traditional houses around 1966. Coming from the arrival of the Norse and the British settlers, during the top of the Viking Age, those houses needing a lot of maintenance were then replaced by more modern buildings.
Abundant, ecological and renewable, turf became the choice for shelter constructions in Iceland. The choice of this material had more than one benefit and this is due to the climate condition of the country. The wooden layer (mostly timber), the turf grass and the stacks of earth was giving a natural isolation from the strong winds and difficult weather of the beautiful land. The foundation were mostly made of large flat stones and would always feature an impressive fire pit as the center of the building. Humidity, which can be very hard to bare with, was then gently eliminated from the turf houses.
During the 1000 years that turf houses were used, their style changed significantly. For example, during the 14th century, the long viking houses were changed into many small interconnected houses.
In the 18th century, the burstabær style became more popular with wooden extremities (at the back and at the front) instead of having only the wooden door. This style has been adopted and are the ones that we are still able to see and visit nowadays. With this technique, depending on the region and its climate condition, turf walls could last between 20 and 70 years!
With time, the population started to cluster in bigger cities like Reykjavik and let behind the traditional technique of stone masonry and earthen architecture and moved to wood buildings. Only after several earthquakes and fires flattening the city, Icelanders switched to a safer and stronger building material; concrete and steel. Interesting enough, at the beginning of the 20th century when Iceland gained its independence from Denmark, the turf houses were endangered considering that, for some, the traditional technique was too related to the Danish crown and pressure was put to move onto a more modern style of building. However, the Turf House Tradition of Iceland was nominated at the UNESCO World Heritage in 2011 in order to conserve this original, charming and valuable tradition. You could read on the nomination that “The turf house is an exceptional example of a vernacular architectural tradition, which has survive in Iceland. The form and design of the turf house is an expression of the cultural values of the society and has adapted to the social and technological changes that took place through the centuries.”
You can visit those Icelandic treasures in several parts of the island. Amongst many worthwhile sites, the fairy-tale looking church, Hofskirkja turf church, should be on the top of your list. Although it is pretty recent, constructed in 1884 and heavily restored in the 1950´s, it is the only turf building still being used for its initial purpose. Hence, it is impossible to see inside of the small turf church, by respect of the practicants, but the graveyard is open to the public and gives an incredible view on the tiny dreamy edifice.
Most of the turf houses now belongs to the National Museum of Iceland (Þjóðminjasafn Íslands). The historical Keldur site is believed to be the oldest turf house site that survived through time in Iceland. Located in South Iceland, shortly over an hour and a half driving from Reykjavik, it is believed to be in place since the middle age. Because of its natural components and the harsh weather of the land, turf houses are not known for lasting very long without conservation. Hence, this site was restored after the two earthquakes respectively in 1896 and 1912. Throughout the years, many conservation interventions occurred and some of the element where rebuild and refurbished, mainly in 1985, 1994 and 2000.
If you have some spare time, you should definitely visit a turf house; it fits very well in a conversation!!
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 summer may not be the warmest or sunniest but that doesn’t stop Icelanders from celebrating it in various ways.
There are tons of festivals, big and small, held throughout the country every summer. The bigger once you may have heard of but the smaller local festivals probably not, but they can be just as fun. It’s a good opportunity to meet and mingle with the locals of the town.
The list of summer festivals is long but here you can learn about a few of our favorites.
Fisherman’s Sunday, held the first Sunday in June to celebrate and honor the hard work and sacrifices of the Icelandic fisherman and importance that the fishing industry has had on the Icelandic culture. Each town has a celebration by the harbour with sea related entertainment for the whole family.
The Secret Solstice Music Festival takes place in Reykjavik over the summer solstice during the brightest part of the year. With over 150 acts both local and international, performing on several stages this festival has become one of the biggest music festivals in Iceland.
A BBQ festival held in Selfoss, a town in the south of Iceland, with the focus on Icelandic meat and barbecuing. In addition to the presentation of Icelandic food there is an impressive program for the whole family from morning until night.
An Irish festival held in Akranes, a port town located on the West coast of Iceland. The town was supposedly settled by the Irish in the 9th century so every July, the town celebrates so-called Irish days to commemorate their Irish heritage and celebrate the summer at the same time. It’s a family festival with Irish themed entertainment from morning until night.
FJARÐARBYGGÐIN HIKING WEEK
This is one of Iceland’s biggest outdoor recreation events held in Fjarðarbyggð located in the East fjords of Iceland. It is 8 days of entertainment and organised activities to suit the entire family which spans from family walks to historical walks and even to challenges for hiking mountaineers, as well as categories in between.
A metal festival held in Neskaupstaður a quaint little town located on the Norðfjörður fjord on the Eastern coast of Iceland. Eistnaflug is held annually on the second weekend of July each year.
A fun annual music festival held the last weekend of July in Borgarfjörður Eystri which is located in East Iceland about 70 km from Egilsstaðir. The line up is usually mostly local bands. Most people camp and many bring their whole family.
VERSLUNARMANNAHELGIN / LABOR DAY WEEKEND
The first weekend of August is the Icelandic Labour Day weekend, a three day long weekend and the most travelled weekend in Iceland. Icelanders pack their camp gear and wool sweaters and flock out of town to set up camp at various festival sights around the country. The main festivals are Þjóðhátíð in the Vestman Islands, Neistnaflug in Neskaupsstaður and Innipúkinn in Reykjavík to name a few.
FISKIDAGURINN MIKLI / THE GREAT FISH DAY
An annual festival held in North Iceland in a town called Dalvík, held the first or the second Saturday in August. Fish producers invite guests to a sea food buffet between 11:00 and 17:00 at the harbour in Dalvík. The reason for this generous offer is to get as many people as possible together to taste fish and enjoy a good day in Dalvík. In the evening there is a big concert down by the harbour.
Gaeran, which means lambskin rug, is a music festival held in Mid-August in the northern part of Iceland, in the town of Sauðárkrókur. The festival focuses on offering a wide variety of genres, from folk to rap and everything in between.
Another annual event held in Reykjavík on the Saturday on or around August 18th, the anniversary date of Reykjavík city. It is by far the biggest celebration in Reykjavík and brings almost a third of the entire population of Iceland onto the streets to celebrate with music, arts and more.
EUROVISION song contest 2018 will be held this Saturday, May 12th.
It is the world’s biggest music show and is held every year, usually in May. The contest has been broadcast for 62 years or since 1956 and is one of the most watched non-sporting event in the world. The show is always held in the country that won the previous year and this year it is held in Lisbon, Portugal.
Eurovision is a great exposure and stepping stool for participating artists and several winners of the Eurovision song contest have had successful careers after the contest such as Abba, Céline Dion, Cliff Richard and Julio Iglesias.
Icelanders are generally very enthusiastic about Eurovision and particularly since Iceland started participating back in 1986. Some Icelanders would beg to differ but that is probably because they are closet fans and too embarrassed to admit that they love Eurovision.
In fact there are few things that bring out extreme patriotism in Icelanders, the success of the national football team is one of them (Duhhh) and Eurovision is another. The contest unites Icelanders every year with its glitz and glamour, over the top outfits and of course with it’s (debatably) great song performances.
CENTERTAINMENT will host a Eurovision party at Centerhotel Plaza on the evening of May 12th for our Eurovision loving guests. The show will be broadcasted on a big screen, the bar will offer extended Happy Hour and Portuguese tapas, and to make things even more exciting there will be score cards for guests that would like to participate in the fun.
Free event so give in to your guilty Eurovision pleasure and join in on the fun.
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.
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.
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.
On March 1, we celebrate the National Beer Day in Iceland.
In 1908 Icelanders voted in favor of a ban on all alcoholic beverages and the ban went officially into effect in 1915. As soon as Iceland stopped purchasing Spanish wines, Spain refused to buy Icelandic fish (our main export at the time), so therefore the ban was partially lifted in 1921 with legalization of wine.
Then in 1935 the prohibition of alcohol was lifted EXCEPT for beer (with alcohol content of more than 2.5 %) and the argument was that beer would lead to debauchery due to it’s low price. So in other words; Icelanders weren’t trusted to handle their booze.
During the time of the prohibition, smuggling and underground brewing was not uncommon and many pubs would serve light beer (Pilsner) with stronger liquor added to it (like vodka). But soon that was also banned by the minister of justice.
74 years and a few rallies later, the beer prohibition finally ended on March 1, 1989 and people were able to buy beer again legally in Iceland. This is the reason why some Icelanders celebrate Beer Day on March 1st. “We had to fight, for our right to party”.
Today beer has become the drink of choice for most Icelanders.
You can find local and imported beer in all pubs and most restaurants in Reykjavík. Beer is also sold in wine stores, however grocery stores only sell the light beer called pilsner (less than 2.5%). There are several breweries in Iceland and some popular Icelandic beer is Viking, Thule, Einstök, Kaldi, Brío, Boli, Gull.
So if you like beer; March 1st is a great day and an excuse to go out and have an Icelandic brew..or two.
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 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.
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.