It takes guts to live in Iceland, and yet the people are warm, hospitable, and friendly toward strangers (and most of the population speaks excellent English). Despite spending their lives amid violent volcanic eruptions and slow rolling lava flows that regularly reshape the landscape like a mad tectonic sculptor.
A Land of Stark Contrasts
The island sits just south of the Arctic Circle, at the juncture of the stormy North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, so people here have learned to cope with dramatic weather and natural forces, primarily by indulging in potent potables and partying for protracted periods. In the summer, the Summer Solstice arrives with 72 hours of no sunset and endless days of continuous sunlight. Winter, while not entirely dark, often include more than 18 hours of darkness and two hour sunsets. The result? Bars that stay open late or never close their doors, and a preternatural appreciation for insomniac indulgences.
People of a similar bent have discovered this curious aspect and while nature lovers come for the spectacular geysers, hot, turquoise, bubbly mineral springs, glaciers, and breathtaking waterfalls, other kinds of visitors come in search of fun. As a result, Iceland has seen a rise in tourism, and June 20, the Summer Solstice (coincidentally the longest day of the year) is a favourite time to visit. Leading up to this day are a several exciting festivals and celebrations that are part of Iceland’s history and reflect its distinct people, language, and traditions.
Discover How to Celebrate and What to Drink
Foodies and culture vultures in search of authentic experiences know the quickest way to learn about a country and its culture is through its food and drink, and in Iceland Reyka Vodka is an essential component at any festival or party. Here are five fun things to do before, and during Summer Solstice in Iceland, that you won’t want to miss:
National Independence Day in Iceland
If you want to experience a bit of the old and new, visit Iceland on Independence Day on June 17. This annual national holiday commemorates the foundation of the Republic of Iceland and its independence from Danish Rule in June 1944. The date of June 17 is important because it’s the birthday of Jón Sigurðsson, the leader of Iceland’s independence movement, and all across the country families hold parties, traditional and patriotic events are held, and people flock to scenic Austurvöllur Square, a popular gathering place in Reykjavík, the capitol of Iceland. This expansive square is filled with gardens, benches, and is surrounded by charming, café-lined streets.
Once there, the official celebration culminates in the arrival of the chosen “Fjallkonan” or Lady of the Mountains, who is often a young, attractive actress. Dressed in traditional Icelandic garb, called Skautbúning, and wearing a silver girdle, and a flowing headdress designed to represent the fiery ice covered landscape. As a symbol of Iceland’s wish for freedom, this Lady of the Mountains first appeared in folk tales and was then described in the historic 19th century poem, Eldgamla Ísafold, by poet Bjarni Thorarensen.
The Fjallkonan is believed to embody and personify Iceland as a nation, the Icelandic people, and the country’s struggles for independence, and once she arrives at the square, she reads the Eldgamla Ísafold and this is the signal to all Icelanders the independence celebrations can begin. All round the country parades are held, marching bands play, and dancers and performers in bright costumes fill the streets.
The Summer Solstice
With the arrival of the Summer Solstice, Icelanders begin the Solstice Festival and let their hair down during the ensuing 72 hours of continuous daylight. This popular festival attracts visitors from around the world and includes musical artists performing a variety of music genres across multiple stages and this year it ran from Thursday, June 16 to Sunday, June 19. Think of it as Woodstock meets pagan Nordic folk traditions as people celebrate around the clock in bars that never close; dance around bonfires for hours; and Icelanders roll naked in the morning dew to ensure good luck the rest of the year.
Not a fan of this kind of dew, or nakedness? Get comfortable with a tasty Icelandic Paloma cocktail created by Reyka Brand Ambassador, Trevor Schneider. It’s a kiss of summertime that’s refreshing and fun to drink and it won’t make you feel awkward like running naked might.