The Oslo Christmas tree - a present from Oslo.
For 60 years now (2011) Reykjavík has received a present from Oslo, the Oslo Christmas tree.
The Oslo Christmas tree is lit on the first Sunday in Advent on Austurvöllur square, the square opposite the Parliament. The ceremony starts at 16h and a lot of people attend with their children as this is the herald of Christmas here in Reykjavík. The Cathedral choir sings and the Norwegian ambassador holds a speech and this year the embassador of Norway in Iceland handed the Christmas tree over to our mayor. Everybody then counts down from 10 and then the tree is lit. And then we sing Silent night together. It is a lovely ceremony.
And then there is a program for the kids.
The tree is cut down in Norway and there is a ceremony there as well and the mayor of Oslo and the Icelandic ambassador in Norway attend.
In 2009 the Oslo Christmas tree was thrown into a fire which protestants had lit - shame on them!
In 2014 the biggest storm since 1991 hit Iceland after the erection of the Oslo Christmas tree, exactly a day before the tree was to be lit - and the top broke off the tree. It had to be replaced by an Icelandic Christmas tree that year.
There is another Christmas tree by the harbour, that one is a present from Hamburg. That tree has been given to the Icelandic nation by Hamburg since 1965, as a token of gratitude to Icelandic seamen who brought food-gifts to battle-weary children in Hamburg by the end of WW2. Hamburg stopped sending the tree in 2010 so for the first time the Christmas tree by the harbour is Icelandic.
Lent-Creampuff day, Bursting day and Ash wednesday
Bolludagur "Creampuff day" - Sprengidagur "Bursting day" and Öskudagur "Ash Wednesday" are 3 days in a row in the middle of February or March each year. On the first day children wake up their parents by spanking them in the morning, while they are still asleep in bed, with a specially made wand, and the parents are supposed to give them as many buns as the number of times the children were able to spank them. Everybody eats as many buns as they can with whipped cream, jam and chocolate on top. This is the busiest day of the year at the bakeries.
On the second day you are supposed to eat meat in brine (saltkjöt) with a yellow bean soup and potatoes. The thing is to eat until you are almost bursting, thus the name of the day. The restaurants are filled with people eating "saltkjöt" and of course you make it at home as well.
On the third day kids dress up in all kinds of costumes and go down-town or to the malls and sing a song in the stores and get candy. This is a rather new tradition which originated in Akureyri, the northern capital of Iceland. When I was a kid the tradition was to go down-town and to pin a home-made small bag "öskupoki" on the back of innocent strangers. At the end of the day you will notice a sign in the stores "Allt nammi búið" meaning "We are out of candy".
The photos I add are from Öskudagur and of the kids dressed up in costumes. I took a lot of photos, but I add the ones where they kids cannot be recognized, I think that is only fair to them :)
On the Sunday before this eventful week begins is the Icelandic "Konudagur" or "Wife´s day" and husbands/fiancés or boyfriends are supposed to treat their women extra well that day and buy them flowers and presents. Not all of them do that though, hmm, and Facebook is filled with statuses of what women got or didn´t get - so watch out Icelandic men, the truth is out there now on Facebook ;)
Corrugated houses in Reykjavík.
You will see that many, many houses in Reykjavík are colourful corrugated iron-houses, which we Icelanders call "bárujárnshús". This is typical for Reykjavík, and can be seen in the Farao Islands and in some parts of Norway. And "Balhannah" tells me that it is getting more common im Australia as well.
The corrugated iron was imported from England and was first used here in Reykjavík in 1880 and was only used on our colourful roofs. But as it proved to be so waterproof then it was used on the sides of the houses as well - waterproof siding!
There is shortage of woodland here in Iceland since the Vikings came here and cut the wood in great amounts - and let the sheep run free to destroy our vegetation. So we had to use other types of building material. And after the big fire in Reykjavík in 1915, we stopped using timber for building material and started using concrete. There were even talks about demolishing all the timber buildings, but fortunately that was not done.
Stag-parties and hen-parties in Reykjavík.
If you see something out of the ordinary down-town Reykjavík, don´t get startled - it is just Icelanders going wild with the new tradition here - stag- and hen-parties. We have not gone made and we don´t behave like this on a regular basis - but this new tradition makes us do very sillly things.
It is especially popular to get the stag dead drunk and make him do silly things, dress him up in drag or diapers, as can be seen in my last photo, and make him sing and beg for money. This is all taped.
I have participated in one hen-party. While VT-members, Barb and Steve from America, stayed in Reykjavík for a whole month in July 2013, they had a hen-party for their friends from London and Russia, who are getting married in 2014. My fiancé, Jón, has a big collection of hats and he brought them over and we had a hat-hen-party. I have to live in Reykjavík, so I chose the most inconspicuous hat I could find, a pirot hat which matched my outfit. The other ones carried hats in a Bónus bag and changed hats frequently - they don´t have to live here ;) We had loads of fun on a bright July night and stayed down-town partying until the wee hours of the morning.
We met another hen-party down-town, a group of women wearing orange coloured hats, they looked quite civilized too. But other stag- and hen-parties can get out control, making the stag and hen do way too silly things, but it brightens up life here in Reykjavík.
When one of my cousins was having his stag-party down-town - his "friends" dressed him in a costume and made him so dead-drunk (and he is a big guy) that he has no recollection of what happened.
Gay-pride in Reykjavík - being gay in Iceland.
Gay-pride is so big here in Reykjavík and in 2010 90.000 people attended the Pride Parade. We Icelanders regard this as our second national holiday and everybody goes down town and celebrates with the gay people. It is just so much fun and Reykjavík comes alive on this day. The kids love it as well and regard this as a fun festival and everybody is just happy and having fun and celebrating with the gay people.
Gay people have only been celebrating Gay-pride here since 1999 and it started with only a handful of people so they have come very far with Gay-pride being the second biggest festival here now. Gay-pride is held on the second weekend of August each year.
In Iceland people can be openly gay - as it should be everywhere in the world. Homosexuality is a part of life, so it should be embraced. In Iceland gay marriages are accepted and gays are not treated anything differently. Our Prime Minister (2009-____), Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, is openly gay.
There is a gay disco down-town called Barbara and a gay café called Trúnó. It is on our main street, Laugavegur 22, which used to house one of two gay discos when I was partying down-town 10 years ago. I went there often to dance as they had fabulous music. And in January 2012 a new discotheque opened in Hverfisgata down town - Gay 46
I include the website to Gay pride, there you can find very useful information if you are gay and intend to visit Reykjavík :)
And here is another website, which opened in March 2011 Pink Iceland which is a new travel agency for gays wanting to travel to Iceland. And a lot of gay people come to Iceland to get married in our beautiful nature.
There is a new (2013) Icelandic gay travel-website in English Gay Iceland.
The Festival of the Sea - Harbour day.
Iceland's biggest industry is the fishing industry. The annual Festival of The Sea is divided into Hafnardagur (Harbour day) and Sjómannadagur (The Fisherman's Festival). It is held the first weekend in June and we celebrate and remind ourselves of how important the sea is and has been for the Icelandic nation.
This year (2013) Harbour day was held for the 15th time and the Fisherman's Festival day for the 75th time (see my next tip on The Fisherman´s Festival day). Most activities were centred at or near Reykjavík's old harbour and Grandi. There was an outdoor "Bizarre sea creatures'" exhibition, whale-watching tours, mini amusement park, free boat tours, food and culture in tents on the pier.
There were sailing competitions and a lot of activities for kids. There was free admission to one of our coast guard ships, Óðinn, which is always very popular. And nearby seafood restaurants offered a special seafood-menu during the festival.
There were a lot of activities and if you are ever in Iceland during this weekend try not to miss it, it is a lot of fun.
The Festival of the Sea - Bizarre sea creatures.
The Icelandic Marine Research Intstitute displayed various fish in fish-tubs at the harbour during The Festival of the Sea. The exhibition is called "Bizarre sea creatures", and some of the fish are somewhat bizarre, others are fish caught here and sold for export.
The fishing industry is one of Iceland's biggest industries with cod, haddock, redfish, herring and coalfish being amongst the fish we sell abroad plus many more.
Kids love checking out the sea creatures - well, so do I and I find the monkfish especially interesting - it is so grim looking and not at all what one expects, as it tastes delicious.
I can tell you that a great part of the nation has worked in the fishing industry. When I was a teenager (13 and 15) I worked long hours in a freezing plant preparing fish for export.
RÚV - our state run TV and radio station.
In Iceland there is a state run TV and radio station, called RÙV for short or Ríkisútvarpið-Sjónvarp.
It is compulsory for every Icelander to pay the subscription for that TV station, even if most of us do not want to do that. Just 3 years ago we had to pay every month for having a TV at home and we paid only for one subscription. As a lot of people do not want to pay for this compulsory subscription they said that they had no TV. And then the RÙV inspectors would knock on your door to find out if you in fact owned a TV, and if they found one they would seal it so that you could not watch it for free. These inspectors were infamous, there are stories of them looking through peoples windows to see if they in fact owned a TV. They once came to my home to check out if my partner back then had a TV, but when I told them that I was paying for the subscription, seeing that this was my home, then they apologized and went away.
Now there is a new method for making us pay for this TV station, everybody over 18 years of age has to pay a tax, so this is now collected through our taxes. So if there are many people over 18 living at the same address that means that owning a TV is a lot more expensive than before, when you only had to pay for one subscription for each home.
There is not much on RÙV, this TV station is supposed to be our security tool in case of national emergency, but they have really not been too vigilant in living up to their role and other stations and on-line news have been telling the news before RÙV even woke up...
And seeing that it is compulsory to pay for this TV station they do not care really about their selection on movies or TV series.
RÙV is located in Efstaleiti 1, just south of Kringlan shopping center.
The Festival of the Sea - Fisherman's Festival.
Fishing industry is the biggest industry in Iceland and The Fisherman's Festival
(Sjómannadagurinn) is part of our annual Festival of the Sea. It is held on the first Sunday in June in honour of the big part fishermen and their families have played and play in the life of the Icelandic nation.
This year (2013) it was held for the 75th time and there were a lot of activities by the old harbour and in Grandi down-town, speeches and honoring of fishermen, music and singing and dancing. It is a lot of fun.
The coast guard’s helicopter demonstrated rescue operations at sea with one of the search and rescue teams. I was on board a ship getting ready for a free tour of the bay and the helicopter was so close that I was taken aback - it was just amazing, and I felt so great respect for fishermen and the rescue team.
There was free admittance to the coast guard ship Óðinn and the whole day the ship was filled with people exploring the coast guard ship.
There was a rowing competition, pillow fights and airobatics and a free sightseeing cruise on The Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue’s schoolship, Sæbjörg. The activities of Harbour day continued throughout The National Fishermen's day, focused on the sea.
Don't miss this day if you are ever in Reykjavík on the first weekend of June. It is so much fun :)
Iceland is one of the not very many REAL countries left in Europe. This might sound as a cliché of sorts, pompous declaration or superficial ranting and raving. Still, this remote island not only offers astounding geography with unexpected revelations around every turn of the road but has its culture trotting along globalization as a matter of fact. Of course, one of the manifestations is food as everywhere else. What is not so trivial is the fact that these people actually do eat interesting and Nature-bound stuff such as sheep or fish with all its components. Well, many people eat sheep even in America but they consume only the meat and the rest is practically turned into a fodder for the sheep themselves. In Iceland one can purchase a cooked sheep head strait in the supermarket. And this is more than normal because people eat “exotic” parts of the body that somehow do not inspire exclamations such as: “the food is staring you back!” Deft reference to sheep’s eye balls. Another testimony to a populace still bound to Nature is the consumption of Greenland shark which must have been a last resort even in saga times. The fact that this particular creature has a peculiar way of releasing its urine via the skin makes its flesh highly poisonous, though if left to “ferment” for some months in the ground it becomes edible, mind you the aroma is powerful. Powerful maybe but just slightly more than what a sophisticated French camembert cheese can muster. So, when some folks from the artificial city environments declare this food obnoxious, they appear to be ridiculously provincial. Even seasoned “international” chef celebrities (from New York where all the gourmet trends are set in motion) come to Iceland to have their palate provoked and face twisted in grimace in front of the cameras so their gastronomic intolerance can be broadcasted to a world that has limited gastronomical experiences by default. Just leave all bias and enjoy hakarl (pronounced something like how-cut).
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A hot dog stand must not sound as much but this is not the case in Reykjavik. Here is one establishment with at least 70 year history that has seen it all; from the paupers to the rich and famous, people have lined up in front of this shrine of sorts to celebrate food in its most unostentatious form. The fame of this stand is such that even Iceland Air promotes it on its flights (maybe to make up for the lack of food on board) as the hidden gem that is up there in the Premier League of worthy attractions, vying for supremacy with ice caps and glacier lagoons. Yes, it is difficult to believe it, especially after tasting its production (rather bland for my taste) but the long list of lucky gourmet dignitaries proudly displayed nearby testifies to its unswerving popularity.
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Winter solstice - the shortest day of the year.
I add this tip here under customs so you can see the contrast to my tip on summer solstice. As Reykjavík is so far up north (64 degrees North) the winters are really dark here with ever decreasing daylight until the 21st of December when there is daylight for only ca 4-5 hours. Here is a day to day list of Sunrise and sunset in Reykjavik on winter solstice. A lot of people suffer from S.A.D. depression caused by lack of light. One totally loses sense of time when it is so dark and we can never get used to this even though we have lived here for our entire lives. The days are even shorter in the northern capital of Iceland, Akureyri.
When the days are so short we actually prefer it not being sunny as it is hard driving when the sun sits so low in the sky and this is the cause of many traffic accidents here in Iceland.
When planning a trip to Iceland this should be taken under consideration.
Summer solstice June 21st - sumarsólstöður
The Summer solstice is on June 21st and as Iceland is so high up north the sun hardly sets from mid-June to mid-July, with the longest day being on the 21st of June when the sun sets and then almost immediately rises. It sets at ca 00:04 and rises again at ca 1:30, but it never gets dark during this time. Time of sunset and sunrise on solstice.
This is the most famous magical summer-night here in Iceland (Mid-summer night being the other) and we flock to a good spot where we can watch the sun set. I go to Grótta in Seltjarnarnes, which is part of the Great-Reykjavík area and there were so many people there, locals and tourists alike, taking pictures and just enjoying this longest day of the year. There is something so magical about this night that we hardly sleep at all.
In Viking times the solstice was the main celebration of the year and they had a big "party".
We try to make the most out of this time of the year as the opposite goes for the winter months when there is up to 20 hours of darkness during the shortest days.
New names and old names of streets.
In the old part of Reykjavik the street names have more than one - and sometimes more than two names on each sign.
This was decided some years ago, to show the old names of the streets on the signs. I like this, even though I have been living in Reykjavik all my life, I did not know the old names of the streets. So this makes it easier to look up the old names and read up on the story of Reykjavik. And sometimes the old names tell a story of their own.
Reykjavík nightlife. Beware - we drink a lot!
We Icelanders drink a lot, like so many nations living so far north. But only during the weekends, then there is madness down-town. And during the summer times there are various festivals around the country and there is a lot of drinking.
We don't really have a wine-culture and beer-drinking was forbidden here until 1989, imagine that!! From 1915 until March 1st 1989 (I remember that day vividly) there was no beer allowed in the country! It started with a general liquor ban, but 7 years later wine was allowed - and in 1935 hard liquor was allowed, but not beer. Talking about Big brother watching over you - beer was banned as it was believed that the nation would drink more otherwise. On the day they lifted the ban 340.000 cans of beer were sold - and we are a nation of 320.000!!
It is/was not a tradition here to drink wine with dinner as in more southern countries. We are slowly drinking more wisely - I think.
But the younger generation will get drunk and go down-town, that is what we have always done, when I was younger we all met in the city center and walked what was called "Rúnturinn" or the Round and met on what we called back then "Hallærisplanið" or the Famine-square". Those were the good times, and I went there on every weekend for years when I was younger. Now Ingólfstorg square is located where the infamous Hallærisplan square used to be located.
Nowadays both the younger and older generations party down-town where most of the discos and bars are located. There are some other discos scattered around Reykjavík and the neighbouring towns, but the main crowd goes down-town. The fun doesn't start until after midnight (ca 1:30) and it lasts until ca 6 in the morning. The reason for us going so late down-town is that we start drinking at home, in parties or by ourselves, as it is way too expensive getting drunk on the alcohol sold in the bars. The main party area is in and around Austurstræti street, Tryggvagata street, Bankastræti street and Laugarvegur street. The Icelandic term for going partying is "Ég er að fara á djammið".
When I was partying 10 years ago the nightlife was different, I felt safe down-town and there were night-busses picking people up. And there were a lot more bars than now. Now people don't feel safe there anymore, we have a big drug problem here and violence is a problem as well, people being attacked for just being there.
If you want to pick up a taxi early in the morning you will see a lot of people waiting in a queue by Lækjatorg square and close to the hot dog stand. This is where taxis pick up people. But you will also see drunk people trying to stop a taxi in the street or getting in your car asking you to drive them home. A lot of sober people do this for money, drive drunk people home... especially those living in the suburbs, as a taxi costs them a lot.
Also take this into account when you are booking a hotel or guesthouse, it is not a good idea to be too close to the city center on weekends, you will get no sleep.
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