Iceland Airwaves is a truly unique festival and as we set off a week of music, talks and sightseeing we have the only guide you need to making the most of your time there.
There are so many excuses to go to Iceland Airwaves – from the breathtaking scenery and fresh ocean air, to the frankly inconceivable amount of musical talent that hails from there, it’s so much more than your regular new music festival. With the unusual climate, landscape and cost of living however, there are a few things it can be helpful to know before you get there. Fear not. We’ve got you.
Where should we go to get the best view of the city?
Perlan, a short walk away from the city centre, offers panoramic views of greater Reykjavík from its observation deck. If the weather is nice, the surrounding ‘forest’ (Iceland and I have differing opinions on what constitutes woodlands) is a good place for a stroll. If you want to stay more central, you can pay the small fee to go up to the top of Hallgrimskirkja and admire the city’s multi-coloured roofs.
Will we see the Northern Lights?
It’s definitely possible to see the aurora here, despite the street lights. You can download apps that tell you when the sun’s activity is strongest and therefore what your chances are. However clouds can get in the way at any time of year.
Go to Stofan and get a hot drink. Also, why aren’t you wearing more layers?
How about Grandi Mathöll? A multitude of food options under one convenient roof.
…and want a pint
Okay, let’s go to Kex Hostel then. One of the off-venue locations for Airwaves, Kex is a hive of activity year-round, with numerous weekly events as well as a dynamic mix of regulars rubbing shoulders with the temporary hostel clientele. The food is well-made and reasonably priced and there are big tables and comfy couches to spread out on. They even brew their own beer. It’s a fun place.
What are some un-tacky souvenirs we can bring back?
My favourite thing to take home is Icelandic salt. Saltverk has smart packaging and great flavours (pro tip: try the licorice one sprinkled on watermelon) and makes a lovely, inexpensive gift. You can buy it in budget supermarket Bonus. Another quirky option is Fotografi on Skólavörðustígur which sells photographic prints of all sizes, from large canvases to affordable polaroids. The images are all of Icelandic characters and scenes and are 100% guaranteed to delight your loved ones more than your own shitty iphone snaps. Lastly, if you have a bit more cash to splash, Reykjavik is full to the brim with cool designers and unique stores. Pop by SVART by Svart to check out their range of eco-friendly, zero-waste designs. The jewellery made from beach finds is beautiful.
Okay, we’re going to the festival now. Which Icelandic bands should be on our do-not-miss list?
Oh gosh, so many. GDRN, with her rich, silky vocals, is one to watch for sure. Kælan Mikla are all dark synthy chords and weave stupendously atmospheric performances. Blóðmör, a new punk/metal trio ARE ONLY SIXTEEN, and depressingly talented. But my unmissable moment has to be Seabear. Sindri Már Sigfússon’s (aka Sin Fang) side project that accidentally turned into a seven-piece band, Seabear have been in hibernation since 2011, but are gracing us once again with their sweet, low-fi presence and a NEW ALBUM. I am excited.
I want to eat something Icelandic that isn’t a poisonous dead shark that’s been buried in the ground to rot for six months.
Absolutely understandable. Plokkfiskur is a delicious fish stew served with a dense, sweet rye bread. It’s perfect winter comfort food. Head to the slightly touristy Sægreifinn for tasty, affordable lobster soup too. The Icelandic equivalent of doughnuts, kleiner, are not bad either. The ones covered in dark chocolate are – *chef’s kiss*
How do we live like locals?
Firstly, dress for the weather. It’s not cool or clever to turn up to places freezing or drenched, and will immediately have you written off as a daft tourist. A waterproof jacket and footwear are mandatory at this time of year, as are warm layers, hats and scarves. Embrace the dark, winter weather by cosying up in warm cafes and bars, reading, writing and eating and drinking well. When the sun does appear, make the most of it by indulging in Icelanders’ favourite hobby: sitting in the swimming pool. Notice I didn’t say ‘swimming’ – very little of that takes place. But the numerous excellent pools around Reykjavik are the perfect place to soak off last night’s boozing.
We’ve inexplicably got a desperate urge to pee in a Star Wars themed bathroom.
Café Babalú is the place for you, my friends. Get a piece of vegan chocolate cheesecake while you’re there, it’s tip top.
We’ve got time to do a day trip outside of Reykjavik. Where should we go?
A day tour of the South Coast would take in a large percentage of Iceland’s hottest (please note: not actually hot) tourist sites. But I would recommend hiring a car and heading up to Snæfellsnes, a peninsula to the North West of Reykjavik. The scenery is jaw-droppingly gorgeous, and it’s a part of the country that less folk go to see, so you’ll feel pretty special.
Is it true that there’s an Icelandic app that tells you whether your tinder date is actually your cousin?
Is it possible to do Reykjavik on a budget?
Icelandic is an expensive country, and that’s just the basic truth of the matter. That being said, there are ways to make your krona go further. There are plenty of cheaper hostels that are still decent places to stay, like Hlemmur Square and Bus Hostel. If you are an established member of the couch surfing community you might be able to find a host – although people don’t take kindly to freeloaders in general, so maybe don’t bother if you’ve never used it before. Alcohol, one of the most expensive purchases in the country, should be bought at the airport. If you are drinking out, check happy hours ahead of time and plan your movements around them. The Appy Hour app is a great resource for this.
Eating out is generally pricey, but again there are tricks and tips for the canny. Lunch deals are often good value for money, so it makes sense to have this be your main meal of the day. Krua Thai does a good one, and I’ve never managed to finish the whole plate which means a doggy bag of leftovers to drunkenly consume that night. Ideal. Hlemmur Square does a great discount meal of lamb, chips and salad for guests, and Noodle Station offers a warming bowl of ramen that can revive the coldest, dampest, saddest sight-seer for a brilliant price.