New Year’s Eve? The fun’s gone to Iceland where you can celebrate with massive firework displays that last all night
Every week our Holiday Hero Neil Simpson takes an in-depth look at a brilliant holiday topic, doing all the legwork so you don’t have to. This week: New Year’s Eve in Iceland.
It may be ice-cold, but Reykjavik is the red-hot place for New Year’s Eve – thanks to a series of feelgood firework displays that last all night and raise big money for charity.
‘Our firework parties are a local tradition that holidaymakers really love, especially when they hear the reason behind them,’ says Arny Palsson of the Berjaya hotel group, which has six hotels in Reykjavik and six more on the Golden Circle tourist route around the island.
The story began in the 1960s, when volunteers with Iceland’s Search and Rescue charity started to sell fireworks between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. It’s illegal to set them off at all other times in Iceland, to ensure they are not mistaken for emergency flares. The pop-up stalls were a hit and today produce a huge slice of the charity’s income.
Rocket fans: Reykjavik is famous for its New Year’s Eve firework parties. Pictured are the fireworks over Hallgrimskirkja church
Palsson says most locals feel it’s their duty to buy at least one box of rockets between December 28 and 31 (holidaymakers often buy sparklers, known as ‘star-lights’). And with 600 tons of gunpowder sold by New Year’s Eve, Iceland claims to set off more fireworks per person than anywhere else in the world.
In Reykjavik, the first rockets go up at about 8pm and parties take place across the whole city rather than in a central display. From a high vantage point like the grounds of landmark Hallgrimskirkja church, you’ll get a 360-degree view and can see fireworks into the early hours.
Dozens of parties also have bonfires: Icelandic folklore says staring into a bonfire burns away bad memories from the past 12 months.
While temperatures can fall as low as minus 4C at night, the New Year period is still a fantastic time for Icelandic holidays. Above is the Blue Lagoon, one of the most popular attractions
While temperatures can fall as low as minus 4C at night (and remember there may be only four hours of sunlight a day), the New Year period is still a fantastic time for Icelandic holidays.
The waters of the Blue Lagoon and new Sky Lagoon feel hotter when the air temperature falls and are magical in snow. As most of the country’s energy is geothermal and green, hotels are warm, there’s piping-hot water in bathrooms and no one scrimps on Christmas lights, which stay up until twelfth night.
December and January are also good months for the Northern Lights. The Reykjavik Excursions group has a range of expert-led ‘light-chasing’ tours, most with small groups who head to likely viewpoints by coach, car or even boat. There are also tours that start with a relaxing soak in a geothermal bath and sauna complex and end on a midnight ‘light-hunt’. Tours from £65 (re.is).
Visitors to Iceland in December and January have a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights
Above is the Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik, which has a ‘stylish’ restaurant
The foodie scene in Iceland is also hot, with star chefs riding the ‘Nordic wave’ to Michelin-star success. Make reservations for New Year’s Eve early: top choices include Dill, Grand Brasserie, Hedinn and The Fish Company. The stylish restaurants in the new Hafnartorg Gallery and in the Harpa Concert Hall make it easy for guests to combine culture with great food.
Look at five-night tours that include the fireworks in Reykjavik and trips around the Golden Circle taking in waterfalls, black-sand beaches, boiling mud pools, glaciers and geysers. From £799pp plus flights (icelandunlimited.is).
Discover the World has a range of options including a five-night, self-drive Volcanic Explorer with trips to lava fields. From £668pp plus flights (discover-the-world.com)
Icelandair, British Airways, easyJet, Wizz and new entrant Play have direct flights from London from about £150 return. Rooms at stylish hotels such as colourful Reykjavik Marina are from £120 per night (berjayahotel.com)