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10/22/2018 | 12:00 AM

Iceland Airwaves: An Insider's Guide

Since its humble debut in 1999, Iceland Airwaves has not only become the leading music festival in Iceland, it has also established itself as a champion of new music and a significant event on the global music stage. It’s been covered in all the major international music press including Rolling Stone, Kerrang!, MOJO and NME and has been described as “the biggest party in the Northern Hemisphere.” This year, the event will be celebrating its 20th anniversary by taking the festival back to its roots in the heart of Reykjavík and emphasizing the element of musical discovery. 

Whether you’re new to Iceland Airwaves or a seasoned pro, if you plan on joining the party this year, there are a few things you should know. Take a look at our insider’s guide for some top tips on how to have as much fun as possible in four days. 


What to Pack

Warm-ish clothing Reykjavík can be cold in November, but not so cold you’ll need to wear down jackets and moon boots; just bring what you would normally wear for the season. The main problem you’ll have to deal with is getting too hot once you’re inside. The events take place in a number of different locations in the downtown area and not all the venues will offer a cloakroom service. The best solution is to bring a warm, light coat you can easily tie around your waist, or a nice tote you can stuff your coat in. Note! A coat in a tote also makes a nice buffer for comfort in crowded places.

Note: If you think you’ll have time for adventures in the great outdoors, then by all means bring your walking shoes and plenty of layers and waterproofs. Don’t forget to ditch the Hyvent and Gore-Tex for your glad rags, though, once you get back to civilization.

Fanny packs (bumbags) are great for festivals, and thanks to a mashup of normcore, dadcore and some other “core” trends, they no longer look dorky if you wear them around your shoulder.

Earplugs Your daily dose of decibels will go through the roof during this festival, so if you care about your hearing, invest in some decent earplugs. They might also help you get some sleep if you’re staying in downtown Reykjavík.

Beer Alcohol is notoriously expensive in Iceland, so stock up at duty-free. To save money, locals tend to start the party at home or the hotel before they hit the nightlife. Note! The Iceland Airwaves VIP upgrades* offer 20% off all alcohol sold at the official venues.

Hangover cure Bring Alka-Seltzer (they don’t sell it in Iceland). In case you forget and are in need of the next best thing, head to the nearest apótek (pharmacy) and ask for something called “Treo.” 


Mumford & Sons, Iceland Airwaves 2017. Photo by Florian Trykowski.

What App?

Get the Airwaves app. It lists the full festival schedule and bios of all the bands performing and you can use it to create your own schedules and playlists. It has a map of the venues and it can also make music suggestions by scanning your Spotify and accessing your taste in music.

Reykjavík Appy Hour lists all happy hours at Reykjavík bars. It’s a great money saving tool for economic drinkers.

Avoiding the Queues

The best way to avoid the queues is to either get there early or get a VIP upgrade (ISK 10,000 / USD 90), which allows you, amongst other special festival privileges, front-of-line access. You can also check with the event’s social media, which give regular updates on how busy venues are and whether or not there are queues. 

Explore

Iceland Airwaves is all about discovering new music, so don’t be afraid to go off-piste a bit. Walk, or run—depending on the weather—between the venues and let chance lead you to some new audio dynamite.

Off-Venues

Live music sounds from the most unlikely places during Airwaves, with coffee shops, bookstores and even clothing shops getting in on the action. While the official venues are where the main action takes place, most of the artists also play at the off venues, usually with stripped-down acoustic sets. 

Where to Relax

The atmosphere during this four-day festival is overloaded with energy, so you’ll definitely need a place to unwind. Here’s where Iceland’s geothermal pools come in handy. Swimming pool culture is big in Reykjavík and there’s a pool in every district of the city. The closest in the downtown area is the newly-renovated Sundhöllin pool. 

You Can’t Be in 10 Places at Once

When it’s all over you can’t help feeling like you’ve missed something, and then you hear about what happened here and there and realize you have. Don’t feel bad, though; hearing and sharing your experience with people is all part of the fun. 


The Flaming Lips, Iceland Airwaves 2014. Photo by Matthew Eisman.

Girl Power!

Iceland Airwaves is one of 109 festivals taking part in global initiative Keychange, committed to booking equal numbers of male and female acts by 2022. Ahead of its 20th anniversary, Iceland Airwaves became the first festival to meet the goal, booking 50% female acts for the 2018 edition in November.


Travel notes

Text by Lisa Gail Shannen.

Captioned photos courtesy of Iceland Airwaves. 

This year's festival dates are 7 to 10 November. Check the official festival website for more info and the full lineup:  icelandairwaves.is.

This article also appears in the Icelandair Stopover magazine, Fall 2018

To help you get the most out of the world’s coolest music festival, check out some of the anticipated highlights of the 2018 lineup, and read about some of the best moments in the event's 20-year history.