Iceland Airwaves – advice on Iceland

Speaking of travel, it’s nearly time for Iceland Airwaves again. Though I won’t be going this year, Mike Hedge recently asked me for some tips to get the most out of Iceland and Airwaves so he can make the most of it.

When I went last year I took loads of photos and my brother and I
recorded a daily hangovercast. In case you missed that last year, or even if you want to listen to it again, you might be pleased to hear that it now has it’s own podcast feed. Subscribe here, or click here to lazily add it to your list in iTunes.

Here’s what I‘d want to know if I was attending Iceland Airwaves, and/or visiting Iceland for the first time. I’ve tweaked the message I sent Mike and dotted a few of my photos around to make it more convincing. These are my tips, but I’d also dearly love to hear what I’ve missed for when I go back one day.

Sam at the Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon geothermal spa is really close to the big airport at Keflavik. You can, and should, arrange (either in advance, or at the airport when you arrive) a transfer from the airport to Reykjavik via the Blue Lagoon. It’s well worth it, and is a very nice way to unwind once you land.

Reykjavik 101 - panorama

101 Reykjavik (the postcode for the middle of Reykjavik, which also lends its name to a charming film) is possibly the most intimate and friendly city centre I’ve ever visited. Even during busy times such as Airwaves, everyone seems to know each other. Noticing that you’re from out of town people will want to help make you feel at home. It’s lovely, once you get used to (or are prepared for) the fact that being able to talk to random strangers on the street is a reasonable thing to do. What, in London or New York it would mark you out as an insane person, is perfectly normal in Reykjavik.

Keriđ crater

It’s well worth hiring a car and going for a drive. You won’t need it for the city, but when you want to get out of the city and see the country you can either rent a car or take a slightly-overpriced coach tour. The car rental option is more fun. Here are some of the things you can see:


  • Geysir (the geyser for which all others are named)
  • The waterfall at Gullfoss
  • Lots of other waterfalls (Seljalansfoss, Skogafoss, etc)
  • The Keriđ crater
  • Amazing scenery generally. We just kept stopping the car to take photos.

And in the city of Reykjavik itself…

Baejarins Bestu hot dog place

  • the Baejarins Bestu hotdog place is famously good. You need one of these. Unless you’re a vegetarian of course.
  • The Hallgrímskirkja cathedral has to be seen.
  • I really liked hanging out at the cafe called Prikið (all these ‘ð‘ characters are pronounced ‘th’ by the way), and as a way of getting into the day with a burger (and all too often a beer) for breakfast-at-lunchtime.
  • The lobster soup cafe/shack is called Saegreifinn on the harbour. You Must Absolutely Go There and have lobster soup with bread. Whale & putrefied shark are optional.

Lobster soup

And then there’s Airwaves.

Planning is important here. They publish the list of artists, so take a look through and find the ones you don’t want to miss. It will help you plan ahead when the schedule is released.

You’ll probably find that the venues are more of less themed. Heavier stuff will tend to be scheduled in a particular venue, mellow stuff in another. Last year, the venue called Iðnó was where a lot of the laid back, and sometimes not so laid back, indie stuff was happening. Many local bands played there, with one whole evening dedicated to music published by the Bedroom Community label. A lot of bands on 12 Tonar were there too. Speaking of which, 12 Tonar is also a great record shop, and will no doubt be one of the better off-venue locations again this year. These off-venue gigs are cool, and a good way to warm up in the late afternoon before the main events start.

Nico Muhly, through the window of Kaffibarinn

Some venues will get very busy when the big names are on. bear in mind that about half of the people at Airwaves are locals, who love the fact that big foreign names come over to play. One evening we opted to avoid the crush at the Bloc Party gig, and I’m glad we did. I can see Bloc Party anywhere. I went to Airwaves to listen to icelandic and nordic music rather than stuff imported from the UK, Canada, the US, etc.


I found it helpful to relax and enjoy where I was, even if it meant sitting through something I didn’t 100% enjoy (say, because I knew the next thing was going to be awesome) rather than rushing from place to place and always missing the start of every set. Hanging out at one venue for a whole night (which we did at least once, and even when we did move around, we stayed in venues for chunks rather than for just one set) meant less rushing around, seeing things I wouldn’t have planned to see and discovering new acts.

Greg Haines

Photographers love Airwaves. Partly because Iceland itself is so amazing, and partly because in most of the venues at Airwaves it’s really easy to get right up next to the action. Airwaves is the chance many of these bands have to be showcased to international audiences, and they love the cameras in the venues. (Don’t know about the US, but this is very different to the UK where cameras and recording devices are often banned from gigs). Although there were a couple of venues with dedicated photographer pits right up close, which you needed a press pass to get into, most of the venues didn’t have that though and you can wander up to the front and get some great views (as long as you’re not getting in anyone’s way). Wonderful.

Lastly, and this might sound weird, booze in Iceland is taxed beyond belief, and spirits are stupidly expensive, if you can even find a shop licensed to sell anything more than beer. We found that taking a couple of bottles of spirits with us saved us a small fortune. Watch the import limits though. When we flew from London you were only allowed to take 1 liter of spirits per person into Iceland.

Have fun in Iceland, and have fun at Airwaves. I’m sure you’ll really enjoy it.

7 replies on “Iceland Airwaves – advice on Iceland”

  1. …and one more thing I noticed when I visited (in early March): there’s free wifi in loads of places – cafes, hotels, in the street. Stick Truphone on your iPhone, or Skype when they finally release something, and calls home will be really very cheap indeed.

    I’m there for IceWeb in November, incidentally.

  2. Oh yes, I definitely should have mentioned wifi. Carrying the laptop from the hotel (where wifi was expensive) to any of the local cafes and bars (where it was ubiquitous and free) became a daily ritual.

    Hope you enjoy IceWeb, James. It looks like it should be interesting.

  3. If there was ever a change to visit Iceland it’s these days. The ISK currency is at it’s lowest point ever so at the moment, beer is less expensive in Iceland than any of the other nordic countries.

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