Everything You Need to Know Before Your First Iceland Airwaves

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The premise is simple – let bands and artists, small and large, perform in any free space in Iceland’s largest cities. Sounds awesome, right? If so, Iceland Airwaves Music Festival is your cup of concert-going tea. Taking place in Iceland each November, its performances span the concert halls of the famed Harpa to hole-in-the-wall coffee shops, showcasing some big-name and up-and-coming artists from around the globe.

Iceland Airwaves is different from your average music festival for a lot of reasons. In this post, I’ve compiled my tips so you can navigate this annual event like an *actual* rockstar.

About Iceland Airwaves

Iceland Airwaves is one of Iceland’s premier music festivals, bringing in artists from all over the world to perform on its stages over the course of five days. Unlike normal music festivals, which often feature large stages and huge crowds, many of Iceland Airwaves’ shows take place in smaller, more intimate venues. Because of their small size, these shows give audiences a chance to interact with the artists. In 2017, for the first year ever, Iceland Airwaves is taking place in two different Icelandic cities – Reykjavik and Akureyri.

The 2017 festival takes place from November 1-5 in Reykjavik and November 2-3 in Akureyri. To learn more about the lineup or purchase a ticket, click here. Tickets for the full 5 days in Reykjavik are 21,900 ISK (~$208 USD) and tickets for the 2 days in Akureyri are 8,900 ISK (~$85 USD).

How it Works

Iceland Airwaves is unique because its venues are spread out across the city. Instead of having main stages, many of the venues are small bookstores, shipping containers, bars, and hostel lobbies. This means that you can get up-close and personal with the artists, but it also means space is very limited. Therefore, getting to see your favorite artists requires a bit of planning and foresight.

When you check in at the festival, you should receive a schedule of performances and the venues. Even better, there’s an Iceland Airwaves app you can download to your phone so you can favorite the artists you want to see and create your own customized schedule.

Although the venues are spread around the city, many of the main stage shows take place in the Harpa building. The shows are divided into official and unofficial shows. When perusing the app, usually both will show up. However, official shows require a wristband (which you can get when you check in), and unofficial shows do not.

Useful Festival Tips

Plan Ahead

Using the app or the paper document, plan out the shows you want to see in advance, including where they are. Some of the venues take half an hour or more to walk to from others, so you’ll want to make sure you plan your route carefully to make sure you can get there on time. Many artists do more than one show, so that helps with planning if some of the shows you want to see are at conflicting times. The shows go until as late as 2 am or later.

Explore During the Day

Iceland Airwaves shows primarily take place in the afternoon and evening, so you have ample time to explore during the day. In the mornings, try taking a few day trips out of Reykjavik, or exploring a nearby hike. If you want to do this, it’s especially helpful to rent a car; that’s the easiest way to get around to nearby areas like the Golden Circle and the waterfalls in Southern Iceland. You could also pair your trip to Iceland Airwaves with a drive around the Ring Road.

Arrive Early to Shows

Like I mentioned before, you’ll want to make sure you arrive early to concerts that you really want to attend because they venues can get crowded quickly. In my experience, it helps to arrive at a show 30 minutes (for smaller artists) to over an hour early (for large, popular groups or artists). This will help ensure your place at the show so you don’t miss the artists you love the most.

Follow Your Ears

Because the venues are all over the city, it’s not uncommon to stumble upon shows that end up being absolutely fantastic, just because you heard them through an open window or out on the street. I found a few artists by complete chance during Iceland Airwaves that I now listen to regularly. If you have the time, stop in and listen to some smaller artists! You might be pleasantly surprised by what you find.

Where to Stay

When choosing accommodations, it’s important to look for a place within walking distance of most of the venues, so that you can get around easily in the evenings.

Accommodations In Reykjavik

For travelers on a budget, KEX Hostel is a fantastic place to stay. Not only are rooms relatively cheap for Iceland, but many of the shows actually take place in the hostel’s lobby. If you’re looking for a budget accommodation in the middle of the action, this is a good choice. If KEX is already booked, try Bus Hostel or Hlemmur Square.

If you’re looking for something a bit more comfortable, other travelers recommend CenterHotel Midgardur, Guesthouse Galtafell, and Nordurey Hotel City Garden.

Accommodations in Akureyri

For budget travelers, I recommend the Akureyri Backpackers Hostel. It’s cheap, clean, and full of friendly backpackers. For a bit more of a splurge, many other travelers recommend Skjaldarvik Guesthouse.

Additional Resources

  • Day Trips from Reykjavik – So you’ll have a few ideas of things to do during the day.
  • Iceland Ring Road Guide – In case you want to extend your trip and see more of this beautiful country!
  • How to Avoid Underage Rental Car Fees – In case you’re planning on renting a car and are under 25.
  • Iceland Airwaves Official Site – To peruse the lineup, buy your tickets, and plan your trip!

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Have you been to Iceland Airwaves? Are you going this year? Share your experience in the comments!

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Kay is a full-time working professional located in Washington DC who takes every spare vacation day to get outside and explore the world. When she travels, she loves visiting the most iconic and naturally beautiful destinations in the USA and abroad. You can typically find her wandering the streets of a city, running through a park, taking ridiculous self portraits, or hiking a mountain somewhere. Connect with Kay: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

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