It’s that time again, time for my favorite festival Iceland Airwaves. This year they’ve brought back the original feel and are using more independent venues throughout the city. It means more movement and walking, but also means you get to see a lot of bands in unique spots. You can learn more about those venues at the Reykjavik Grapevine.
5 days of music spread all over the city can sound intimidating, but if you go in with a game plan and you’re prepared you’ll be amazed at how smooth things will go for you.
I highly suggest you follow these three pages on Social Media. Iceland Airwaves page will give you the quickest updates and information on bands. IMX is an awesome source for finding out the history of bands, and they also shoot out information on tours and new music to look for. And the Reykjavik Grapevine is an English language newspaper, in an informal sometimes snarky manner they discuss the happenings around Iceland and you can gain more knowledge on things to do while you’re visiting. They typically put out a special Iceland Airwaves edition, as well as run a blog during the festival dedicated to Airwaves.
And with that, here are some pointers on prepping and enjoying the festival:
- Follow the three social media sites above for quick access to changing info
- Be relaxed, flexible, and social
- Be prepared
- Be a tourist, in and outside the city
- Respect the land, yourself, the people, and your fellow festival folks
- Support the artists, buy their music
- Food, alcohol and favorite people & places
- Have fun
Be Relaxed, Be Social
Combining the normal tourist activity with over 7500 festival folks makes Reykjavik a busy busy city. Relaxation is key to enjoying yourself. You may have to wait a little longer for drinks/coffee/food/entrance into a venue, so just relax and breath in the fresh air. Be social, if you’re stuck in a line chances are you’re stuck with people of like mind, so don’t be afraid to ask your queue cohorts why they are there, what bands they’ve seen, who they are going to see and why. There are quite a few unannounced gigs that will be going on around the city, and being social is the only way you’re going to find out about them.
dj. flugvél og geimskip surprising the audience by performing with Dr. Gunni at Airwaves 2015
There is a lot of music, a good deal you may have never heard of. Listening to the Spotify link and/or checking out the page I’ve created of Icelandic bands playing are both extremely easy ways to begin prepping for the festival, and most likely you’ll find bands you never knew you couldn’t live without hearing live.
The Airwaves crew have done an ace job of making it easy for you to plan ahead and navigate these different venues with an app which is available now. Make sure you download it so you can start putting together a game plan. You should always have a plan A and plan B, so if the venue you’re trying to see a gig at is full you can quickly move on to your second choice. The app will save you a lot of time with maps, time schedules, alerts and reminders of upcoming gigs. It really will keep you on schedule, or help you alter your schedule in seconds.
Be a tourist, in and out of the city
Nobody needs to tell you, but Iceland is gorgeous, so make sure you take some time to enjoy it. whether it’s just walking around Reykjavik looking at all the murals and art, or taking daytrips, get out and experience Iceland, there are plenty of options. Here are a few of my favorites:
I Heart RVK
I heart Reykjavik is a fantastic walking tour company that will take you around Reykjavik discussing it’s history and unique attributes.
They book up quickly, so I would suggest trying to reserve a spot now. It’s especially nice during Airwaves as there will be more music in the streets than usual while you walk around learning about old famous hangouts, and the history of the capital city.
On tour with Ívar is a new walking tour I’m really hoping to make it to this year. Ívar Pétur is in the legendary party band FM Belfast, and this tour is his way of sharing a local’s perspective. You’ll see the not well known side of Reykjavik, eat some food, drink some drinks, and hang out with Ívar and friends. Reviews that I’ve read make it seem more like a day out with your very knowledgeable friends.
The Icelandic Punk Museum opened last year during Iceland Airwaves with Johnny Rotten in attendance. Located in an abandoned Women’s public toilet in the center of downtown, the history of punk music is written on the wall in both Iceland and English. Once entering, you can stroll through the toilet stalls reading a chronological account of the advancement of punk in Iceland. Written by Dr. Gunni of legendary bands Bless, S.H. Draumer, Unun, and author of Iceland’s most comprehensive English music history book, Blue eyed pop. Across from the historical toilets are instruments, clothing and other interactive exhibits. It’s well worth a visit
Also check with your hotels, or the tourist office located in the city center. there are plenty of day trips to take you to see waterfalls, geysers, and the gorgeous landscapes of Iceland outside of the city.
Respect the island and it will respect you. Built on multiple volcanoes with lava in its veins, The island may try to kill you if you give it the chance. Just be aware of your surroundings, footing, and the weather. Common sense goes a long way, and Icelanders fully believe folks should use said common sense. Have a good time not an out of control painful time. There’s a lot to do and even the half day you spend recovering from the night before will result in you missing a lot.
Pay attention to warnings about weather and areas not to tread in. Unlike the East coast where we cancel school over the mere hint of snow, the Icelanders rarely give out warnings unless they need to.
Support the artists, purchase their music while you’re there. There is a lot of music you won’t find off the island, or if you do it’ll cost crazy shipping. So purchase it while you’re visiting. Iceland has some amazing record shops, Lucky Records, 12 Tónar, and Reykjavik Record shop are the ones I’m most familiar with. All ran by folks who love music, and love talking about music, you’ll also find a lot of off-venue gigs will be at these places.
Food and favorite places. There are a lot of solid places for quick bites or sit down meals. And there is the Bónus grocery store in the event you want to grab your own stockpile of munchies. I tend to go for the lighter side of things such as the Noodle Station or Núðluskálin. Noodle Station is your quick simple three option noodle place, good for warming you up and filling yer gullet quickly and cheaply.
Núðluskálin gives you more options, including spice level. “Noodles in a fen number 6” just so happens to be my favorite noodle dish in Iceland and required at least once when I’m visiting.
Vegetarians and vegans also have quite a few places to check out. Gló and Kaffi Vinyl are my two favorite places.
For a very quick simple fix, there is also the famous Pylsurs (hot dog). the famous “Clinton” stand down by the Reykjavik art museum. Cheap, and they are good.
Bars are plentiful in the city, and the prices only slightly vary. There will be bands or DJ’s playing in most of them. During the week the bars close at 1 or 2am, but on the weekend the bars will be open until 4. Find a bar with the atmosphere you dig and have at it. Alcohol purchased at the liquor store is taxed pretty heavily. I suggest picking up a bottle of wine or spirits at the duty free shop while you wait for your baggage, It will be considerably cheaper that way.
And finally, the most important factor, have fun. Don’t get too wrapped up in details, maps, or must sees. You are going to experience one of the most unique festivals in the world, and you’re going to do it with northern lights above your head. If you have any specific questions, don’t hesitate to comment below, or send me a Facebook message at Ragnaarbastiaan. Follow me on Facebook for photos of the festival, as I’ll be up there snapping away.