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How to do Iceland Airwaves Festival Like a Local

Updated: Feb 15

The Iceland Airwaves Festival kicked off on November 1999. This inaugural festival was held in an airplane hangar at Reykjavik’s Keflavík International Airport. It is now the stuff of legends and apparently, they really did party like it was 1999! The festival has been held annually ever since but it has now moved into central Reykjavik. Iceland Airwaves venues are many and varied and dotted all over the capital. From the giant Harpa Concert Hall to the tiniest of backroom bars venues right across the city get involved.

Colourful view of Reykjavik with snowy mountains. Iceland Airwaves Festival.

Today this thriving music festival is very much on the international festival scene. It is well known for showcasing brand-new and up-and-coming acts. As well as many established international artists and homegrown talent. This emphasis on introducing fresh faces is a big part of the festival. And music press such as Rolling Stone and Kerrang will always send their journalists to cover the event.

If you would like to buy an Iceland Airwaves Festival pass you should get in quick. The music festival celebrates its 20thanniversary in 2019 so this year Airwaves tickets will go especially fast.

Top Tips from an Iceland Airwaves Regular

Download the App

The Iceland Airwaves App is a real lifesaver when it comes to navigating the festival. It has all sorts of features allowing you to plan your itinerary and find your way from venue to venue. You can build playlists and it will even give you band suggestions based on your tastes. It is a great way to discover new music without trawling YouTube videos. The App is great for the super organized who like to plan in advance. But it is equally as useful for those last-minute emergencies when you can’t find your venue.

Check out unusual venues

The big-name acts, of course, play the larger venues with their bigger audience capacities. However, there are so many interesting and unusual smaller venues dotted around the city. From cafes to record stores to art galleries almost any space can be turned into a mini music venue. These are the types of places where you’ll discover something new that you wouldn’t necessarily have planned on seeing. Who knows you might just stumble upon the next big thing! Many of the venues are within easy walking distance of each other. This makes it really easy to pop in for a quick look if you are passing nearby.

Reykjavik street view in winter. Snow and low light. Iceland Airwaves Festival November.

Look out for Secret Shows

Many of the bigger-name acts at the festival enjoy making surprise appearances in the smaller venues. These sets will be last-minute affairs and news of them spreads by word of mouth. So if you sense an air of excitement somewhere do follow your nose and ask around. Subject to venue capacity you might get to see a once-in-a-lifetime acoustic show from a star.

Stock your ‘drinks cabinet’

In case you haven’t heard buying alcohol in Iceland is an expensive affair. Prices are high in government-run shops (the only place where you can buy sealed bottles and cans). In the bars and restaurants, the prices are even higher. If you would like a few drinks then do drop by the duty-free airport shop on your way. Having a few bottles packed in your case can save you a lot of cash. Do as the locals do and enjoy a few pre-drinks before heading out for the evening. Then you can just buy a beer or two to carry you through. Icelandic beer is actually very strong so that could be all you need to get merry.

Swimwear is essential!

Soaking in Iceland’s hot spring pools is a must on any visit to the island. If you are tramping from venue to venue and then dancing all night a mineral soak is very much welcome. You can soak tired bodies in one of many different hot springs and pools in Reykjavik. You might also like to close or open your trip with a visit to the famous Blue Lagoon. Being just a twenty-minute drive from Keflavík International Airport it makes for a great first stop of the last hurrah.

Steamy outdoor blue lagoon with bathers and dark volcanic rock surround. Not far from Iceland Airwaves Festival.

What to pack

November is very much a winter month but even so, temperatures are not too icy in Reykjavik. You will need some warm outfits and a light waterproof and windproof jacket. The issue is that you will want to dump your jacket as soon as you get inside. So layers and a thin jacket are perfect rather than a big down sleeping bag coat!

Please note also that you can end up covering a lot of Kilometres walking from venue to venue. So a good pair of comfy and sturdy is a must. It is a good idea in fact to bring a couple of pairs so that you can swap them over. This is especially true if you plan on doing some extra sightseeing beyond the city. We certainly recommend that you do this. You don’t want to visit Iceland and not see at least some of its natural wonders. It is really easy to hire a camper van or car and tour the Golden Circle for example. If you plan on doing this do bring a very good warm coat, gloves, socks, and hats. Note also that November is a prime time of year for seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland. Make sure that as well as seeing the stage lights you go in search of the dancing lights of the Aurora too!

Size your Time in Iceland

The Airwaves Festival is a must-attend event in Iceland. To make the most of your trip, consider renting the best campervan in Iceland to explore the island before or after the festival. Don't miss out on this unforgettable experience!



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