This week is a busy one in Iceland with international events and holidays like Valentines Day and Sonar Music Festival 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.
Pink Party, Queer Bingo Extravaganza, Northern Lights Hunt, Masquerade Ball and plenty more fabulous fun is on Rainbow Reykjavík Winter Pride’s agenda this weekend February 8-11.
Going on for the 7th year in Reykjavík, this small pride festival has been a great success as it combines amazing nature, northern lights and nightlife. It is the perfect winter getaway and a great introduction to Iceland.
Guests are welcomed from all over the world so if Iceland is on your bucket list; the Rainbow Reykjavik Program covers it all. You will be walking along the Continental Divide between the tectonic plates of Europe and North America, seeing geysers, beautiful waterfalls and nature of unparalleled beauty. You will also relax in the Blue Lagoon and dine in world-class restaurants, sit in cozy cafes and of course party until the wee hours of the morning with LGBT people from all over the world.
CenterHotels works closely with Pink Iceland, the coordinators of Rainbow Reykjavík and this year, like every year, we proudly offer accommodations for visitors of Rainbow Reykjavík Winter Pride Festival.
Winter Lights Festival is an annual event held in Reykjavík that celebrates both the winter world and the growing sunlight after a long period of darkness. The festival this year will be held February 1-4 and with the participation of all the major museums and thermal pools; it consists of light installations, culture and outdoor activities. There will be a Museum Night, Pool Night, Northern Lights Run and over 100 other events in the Greater Reykjavík area.
The Museum Night takes place on Friday, February 2nd and is Winter Lights Festival’s most popular event. Museums across the capital area open their doors and entertain their guests with happenings such as dance, theatre, lectures, live music, film, literature readings and much more free of charge. All museums are open from 18.00-23.00.
Check out the Glacier and Ice Cave exhibition at Perlan, it gives visitors the opportunity to experience travelling through a real man-made Ice Cave, and for you punks out there, the Icelandic Punk Museum will open their doors for public access and at the Saga Museum you will be able to meet real vikings where they will be entertaining visitors all night like only they know how.
In collaboration with the Winter Lights Festival, GoRed’s for women Heart walk will also take place on Feb 2nd. It starts at hallgrímskirkja church at 19:30 and ends at Harpa Concert Hall where a new interactive light installation dubbed ‘Heart’ will be revealed on Harpa luminous facade.
The Pool Night takes place on Saturday February 3rd and invites visitors to try many of the city’s exceptional thermal pools for FREE. Pool Night added attractions include thrilling in-pool activities, music and pool illuminations. And if you are lucky you might get a glimpse of the Northern Lights while relaxing in a hot tub in one of the outdoor pools. Here you can find a list of all swimming pools in Pool night.
Northern Lights Run is a part of the Reykjavík Winter Lights Festival and is a run or a walk through downtown Reykjavík where runners will see the city in a new and colourful light. All participants get their very own illuminating merchandise throughout the entire event, making you a part of the entire show from start to finish. The run takes place on Saturday night February 3rd. More info on the Northern Lights Run here.
It may be cold and dark these days in Iceland but that doesn’t stop us from hosting interesting events here in Reykjavik. These two upcoming events will be held in the capital in the coming days.
Dark Music Days
Dark Music Days, one of the oldest music festivals in Iceland (founded in 1980), did not get its name because of the music being dark but because it is held during the darkest period of the Icelandic winter. This year the festival will be held January 25-27.
This annual festival, founded by the Society of Icelandic Composers is a festival for contemporary and new music and is a platform for performing and getting to know new music with an emphasis on new Icelandic compositions and performers in addition to international artists. The Artistic Director of Dark Music Days 2018 is composer Gunnar Karel Másson. Gunnar studied composition at the Iceland Art Academy and The Royal Conservatory of Music in Copenhagen.
Dark Music Days takes place in various venues in downtown Reykjavík like Harpa concert hall, Fríkirkjan church, Iceland Art Museum and more.
Reykjavík International Games (RIG)
Reykjavík International Games is a multi sport event of 20 different sports, sponsored by WOW air and will take place from January 25th to February 4th 2018.
The competition will mostly take place in Laugardalur which is the centre for sports and recreation in Reykjavík.
Many of the best athletes in Iceland compete among world class elite athletes from all over the world.
Athletes will compete at high level in various sports like archery, badminton, dance, fencing, gymnastics, judo, powerlifting, swimming, table tennis and several more. This year there will also be an off-venue program where for the first time everyone can participate in the events.
Hip Hip Hooray-it’s midwinter in Iceland which means only one thing..it’s celebration time again!
According to the old Icelandic calendar which was developed in the 10th century, the fourth winter month (mid January to mid February) is called Þorrinn (Thorrinn). The word is most likely derived from Thor the thunder god from the Norse mythology or from the Norwegian king Thorri Snærsson.
The old Icelandic calendar is not in use anymore but some Icelandic holidays and annual feasts are still calculated from it.
In pagan Iceland Þorrablót was a midwinter sacrifice, held to honor the Nordic gods, however with the Christianisation of Iceland the sacrificial festival was banned. Then in the 19th century, when Icelanders gained religious freedom, Þorrablót festival was brought back but without the sacrifice part. This midwinter festival is still a popular tradition in Iceland today and is a feast where locals get together and celebrate their heritage by singing, dancing and eating traditional viking food and of course lots of drinking because how else should we keep warm during these cold winter days.
The food, often served in wooden trays, consists of uncommon delicacies, like boiled sheep’s head, rams balls, blood and liver sausages, fermented shark, traditional herring and more. All this is often washed down with an strong Icelandic schnapps made out of potato and caraway called Brennivín, also known as Black Death.
Assuming your mouth is starting to water, most grocery stores sell tasting trays during the month of Þorri. And you can also find some Þorra inspired menu items at some local restaurants.
Bóndadagur (Farmers Day)
The first day of Þorrinn is called Bóndadagur (Farmers Day) and this year Bóndadagur is on Friday January 19th. On this day it is customary that the wives and girlfriends are especially attentive to their men.
So ladies, why not make your man feel like a viking for the night by treating him to the Old Iceland menu at Ísafold Restaurant, a three course menu that showcases the best of Icelandic traditional cuisine with a modern twist (don’t worry there is no rotten shark on the menu). And if your man is a whisky fan, you can end the evening with the whiskyflights tasting which consists of three different types of exquisite whiskeys on a specially designed tray.
January 6th, or the Thirteenth as Icelanders call it, is considered the last day of the epic Christmas season in Iceland. This is the day when Christmas decorations are taken down and when the last of the 13 Yule Lads, Kertasníkir (Candle Beggar), returns back to his home in the mountains.
Many Christmas lovers get the blues on this particular day, but on a brighter side, this is also a day that people celebrate in Iceland. Like on New Years Eve many families come together around big elf themed bonfires and sing and dance with elves and Yule lads.
According to Icelandic folklore mystical, supernatural events are connected with New Years and the Thirteenth as well as Christmas Eve and Midsummer night. These dates in a way border two worlds, our world and the world of the hidden people and the supernatural.
Various things gain special powers on these nights for example seals become human, cows gain the ability to speak in human tongue and the hidden people including elves become visible and some walk and dance amongst us.
There will be several bonfires in the greater Reykjavík area and the one closest to downtown is at Ægissíða by the seaside in the Western part of Reykjavík.
Oh and last but not least, get ready for more fireworks! Icelanders do like to make the most out of their holidays after all. 😉
If you’re celebrating New Years in Reykjavík, you are in for a treat. Icelanders sure know how to welcome in the new year.
In the early evening families gather for a feast. New Years Eve dinner is usually not as traditional as the Christmas meal. Some always stick to the same but most families mix things up a bit for New Years.
After dinner some families like to gather around neighbourhood bonfires and sing songs about (and with) the elves and hidden people that according to old Icelandic folklore are most prominent at this time of year and actually walk amongst us on New Years Eve some in disguises. The bonfires are more for the children and there are 17 bonfires in the greater Reykjavík area and the largest one is at Ægissíða by the seaside in the Western part of Reykjavík.
Reykjavik Excursions offers a great Bonfire Tour which allows you to experience this tradition with the locals. Also if you are interested in learning more about the strange Icelandic folklore connected to the magical New Year’s Eve, join the Magic & Mystery tour at New Year.
At 22:30 everyone gathers around the TV (literally everyone) to watch Áramótaskaupið which is a sarcastic comedy show that covers the highlights of the passing years events. You will notice the whole city shutting down during the show as everyone and their mother is inside watching it.
At 23:30, as soon as the Áramótaskaup ends, you will start to see and hear fireworks light up the sky which peak at midnight with fireworks covering the whole sky. Icelanders blow up about 600 tonnes of fireworks on NYE so get ready for a show, it is quite breathtaking.
Keep in mind that if you are planning on enjoying the fireworks from outside, safety googles are strongly recommended and due to the pollution caused by the excess amount of fireworks; it is wise for those who suffer from asthma to rather enjoy the show from inside.
Popular locations in Reykjavík to view the fireworks from are Hallgrímskirkja church and Perlan (The Pearl). Just make sure to dress warm as it’s going to be a chilly one and of course bring something bubbly and welcome the new year with a bang!
Lastly, like for Christmas, not all restaurants are open for New Years and the once that are open do book up fast so make sure to make a table reservation ahead of time. Most restaurants also offer a set New Years menu that are usually a more festive version of their normal menu.
All our three hotel Restaurants will be open for New Years Eve and New Years Day and you can view our New Years menus here: SKÝ Restaurant & Bar, Ísafold Restaurant and Jörgensen Kitchen.
Christmas is only few days away so the Christmas frenzy is at its peak in Reykjavík. After all Christmas is the most celebrated holiday in Iceland and many families tend to go all out when it comes to preparation.
We did cover a lot about the Christmas season in Iceland in our prior Christmas post but here’s some more insider information on how majority of Icelandic locals like to spend their holiest of holidays.
The celebration starts on December 23rd (Þorláksmessa) which is the biggest shopping day in Iceland. Locals flock downtown to do their last minute Christmas shopping in the evening so downtown Reykjavík becomes very lively with stores and cafés open as late as midnight. Taking a stroll down Laugavegur, Reykjavík’s main shopping street on December 23rd is quite an experience and sort of a must if you’re visiting. Checking out the holiday lights, sitting at a cafe and grabbing hot chocolate or Christmas beer while listening to Icelandic Christmas carols and even possibly running into a yule lad or two.
Another Icelandic tradition on this particular day is to gather with friends or family and eat fermented skate (the fish). Why this tradition is so popular is bizarre because the stench of the fermented fish is so strong that it takes days getting the smell out of your house or your clothes. Then again, Icelanders do love holding onto their Christmas traditions.
A lot of Icelanders also wait to put up and decorate their Christmas tree until December 23rd. However that tradition seems to be changing as people like enjoying their Christmas tree a bit longer during the dark December month.
On December 24th Christmas officially starts for Icelanders. At 18:00 precisely the churches ring their bells which symbolizes that Christmas is here. At that time Icelandic families sit down for their elaborate Christmas meal, followed with present openings. Yes, we don’t wait until Christmas morning to open presents. You may ask why and the answer is: why wait!?
Many spend the rest of the evening playing board games, some go to midnight mass and then end the night reading a book that they received for Christmas. It is a tradition in Iceland that everyone must receive at least one book for Christmas to read on Christmas eve, of course with some chocolate or cookies.
Christmas day is often spent home relaxing and/or at a family gathering. On December 26th, the second day of Christmas as we Icelanders call it, is the same as Christmas day just a bit more casual. For example many like to go out and hit the bars in the evening as bars stay open late.
Now you should have enough information to go and celebrate Christmas like an Icelandic local.
We at CenterHotels are getting pumped for the holidays and to share the joy we will be hosting some fun events in December like Wine Tasting at Jörgensen Kitchen & Bar and Christmas Yoga & Spa at CenterHotel Miðgarður. You are of course more then welcome to join in on the fun.
DECEMBER 14 | WINE TASTING EVENING AT JÖRGENSEN KITCHEN & BAR
A wine specialist will be visiting us at Jörgensen Kitchen & Bar on December 14th offering a very special night for all you wine tasting fans. Perfect addition to a good evening for couples and a wonderful twist for group of friends longing to meet up during the festive holiday season.
The wine tasting evening will take place at 19:00 on December 14th and in the wine tasting you’ll enjoy the wisdom of our wine specialist that will be offering you a taste of four different types of wines.
The wine tasting experience will cost only 3.900 kr (30€) per person and limited seats are available.
To reserve a seat by by the wine tasting table, please book here.
DECEMBER 18 | HOLIDAY YOGA AT CENTERHOTEL MIÐGARÐUR
How about enjoying a little extra in terms of relaxation during your visit in Reykjavík? We are happy to announce that on December 18th we will be offering a special holiday yoga class at CenterHotel Miðgarður.
The wonderful yoga instructor Thorey Vidars will lead a one hour gentle hatha yoga class focusing on breathing exercises, easy poses and deep nourishing relaxation.
After the yoga class all our guests are welcome to try out our new Miðgarður spa which includes a spacious sauna and hot tubs both inside the spa as well as outside in a secluded garden.
The yoga will begin at 17:30 on December 18th.
The price of the yoga class & access to Miðgarður spa is only 3.900 kr (30€) per person. Limited space is available.
To register for the holiday yoga, please register here
We can’t wait to see you all in your best holiday mood. Christmas hats are preferred but not mandatory.
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 Jólaglöggor 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.