Iceland Airwaves

Iceland Airwaves: 4 Top Tips from Locals

Iceland Airwaves, one of the biggest Nordic music festivals, turns Reykjavik into a real party town for four days in November. Here's why Airwaves should be on your Iceland bucket list and what you should know before buying your ticket.

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Dominika Kolomazníková

14. September 2018

Iceland Airwaves represent an amazing concept of a festival that offers a great opportunity for small local groups to showcase their talents to thousands of participants who yearly join the festival, while allowing visitors to approach well-known international artists in cosy intimate venues in every corner around the town. Celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year, Iceland Airwaves festival is a unique chance for you to blend with locals and understand the Icelandic culture in less than a week!

Airwaves first-timer

Being part of Iceland Airwaves was one of the top things on my bucket list before I even came to Iceland. I had heard so much about this festival that when last year I finally happened to be in Iceland during this time of year I could not resist and decided to join. Since I wanted a more intimate approach to the festival and getting an insider’s point of view, I applied for a volunteering position to join the Iceland Airwaves crew. As an Airwaves beginner I was not sure what should I expect from this famous festival or how should I get prepared. That is why I have decided to put together a list of a few tips I wish I knew before I went to Airwaves for the first time.

Iceland Airwaves CrewPhoto: Dominika/Wonderguide

1. Pick your top artists in advance

Iceland Airwaves hosts hundreds of artists every year, varying from the unknown Icelandic upcoming talents to the international headliners. It is literally impossible to join each venue, therefore it is very important to study the line-up before the festival starts. I would surely recommend to choose a mixture of more known and less known artists, as well as discovering both international and Icelandic ones. The Icelandic scene surprisingly offers a great selection of musicians so I'm sure you will be able to experience an amazing show in any genre you like.

2. Be on time

Even though all the venues are situated within a walking distance from each other, it is again crucial to check the festival map in advance to have an approximate idea of where your chosen concerts are happening. Probably my biggest mistake last year was that I did not expect so many people lining up for a few artists who were performing in smaller locations. If you want to make sure that you do not miss your favourite group, always be on time and preferably even good in advance.

3. First drink, then go

The prices of alcohol in Iceland are ridiculous, I'm not exaggerating. In a regular bar downtown you will pay approximately 10 euro/12 dollars for a glass of wine or beer and 17 euro/20 dollars for a cocktail. If you do not feel like going back to your teenage years and buying a bottle of alcohol to drink before you go out, I would definitely recommend to invest some time into checking happy hours in different bars around Reykjavik. Almost each bar in town has a limited selection of discounted drinks at some time per day, which is usually in the late afternoon or early evening. You can also check this Guide to the Reykjavik Nightlife and get inspired.

A group of young people dancing. Photo: Húrra@Facebook

4. Don't forget about the off-venues

The ultimate best thing about Iceland Airwaves are the off-venues which are happening all around the city and are free of charge! So if you only have a tiny budget for your trip to Iceland but you would still like to experience the Airwaves atmosphere, those intimate concerts in hostels, bars, restaurants or even shops might be something you look for. Just step by the main venue at Harpa and ask for the flyer with all important information about artists and venues, or download the Iceland Airwaves 2018 app into your phone and stay updated!

The facade of HallgrímskirkjaPhoto: Dominika/Wonderguide

Practical information

If you're motivated enough to buy your festival pass but still need to get some general information continue reading, and also don't forget to look at the Iceland Airwaves website.

When is it happening?

This year's Iceland Airwaves are happening between November 7th and November 10th 2018.

How to get to Iceland?

Check the website of Icelandair and Wow air which provide direct flights to Iceland from different destinations in Europe, North America and Canada. My suggestion would be to extend your trip for at least a week so you can enjoy some exploring of Iceland and avoid the most expensive flight tickets around the festival dates.

Where is it happening?

The main venue is in Harpa concert hall which is located in downtown of Reykjavik. Most of the other acts take place in smaller concert halls, bars, clubs, museums and shops all around the town.

Where to stay?

Fortunately November is not the highest tourist season in Iceland, however many people especially arrive for this particular festival. Therefore accommodation possibilities can be very limited and it is important to book your stay in advance. My tip is to reserve accommodation that is downtown and within a walking distance from the main venues. It will help you saving some money on transportation when you will be coming from and to your hotel every day. It can also be very convenient since Icelandic weather is very unpredictable and trust me, you do not want to walk too long in rain and wind in the middle of the night.

What to do beside the festival?

The concerts are happening basically all the time during the four days of the festival. However if it is your first time in Iceland you should think of visiting some of the beautiful sites outside Reykjavik. For some useful tips, check the article on The Best Airwaves Daytrips.

An Iceland Airwaves poster. Photo: Iceland Airwaves official