The climax of our trip to Iceland was New Year’s Eve in Reykjavik.
Icelandic people love Christmas. Every residence and even hotel rooms prominently displayed Christmas lights while we were there.
Some tourism brochures will tell you that Icelanders love to party, and you would have the impression that Reykjavik is party central.
The thing is though, because alcohol is so expensive in Iceland, the locals all drink indoors and may not go out until after midnight to save money.
What this all means is that business owners are staying indoors and celebrating new year at home. Many restaurants and pubs are not open.
In fact, we struggled to find anywhere to go on New Year’s Eve at all. The few places that were open were either deeply unappealing (the English Pub), or queued out so much that you suspected you’d see in the new year standing in a line.
Luckily, however, Reykjavik has a trick up its sleeve that does not have to involve going to the pub and getting drunk.
There are lots and lots of fireworks during the new year period. When I arrived in Reykjavik on 30 December they were going off sporadically. They were still going off when we left Iceland on 2 December.
But as you would expect, it all climaxes on New Year’s Eve. Fireworks can seemingly go off anywhere, and could be set off by anyone. You could be walking up a quiet alleyway all by yourself, and suddenly a rocket would shoot up right in front of you.
The focal point for it all is Hallgrímskirkja. We made our way to the dramatic church at the top of the hill at around 22.30. There were a few people there at the time, but over the next 90 minutes a crowd slowly gathered.
About 50 metres down the road from the church was one of the few places we found open, Cafe Adam. It was serving soup and sandwiches for customers who wanted to sit in. But it also had all sorts of other supplies including tasty pastries and, most importantly of all, beer. By Iceland’s standards, it was very cheap indeed, which was all the more incredible given that we could not find any other open shops.
The fireworks display was awesome, unlike any I had seen before.
I am normally not a great fan of fireworks. I think it’s because in the UK you have to stand in the cold and damp, and our fireworks are always meant to be choreographed, normally to poncy music. But of course, the choreography never works because of the minor fact that the speed of light and sound are vastly different. So it just looks like a weak mess.
In Iceland, they get rid of all that, and they get straight to the point of fireworks: a pure orgy of noise, light, explosions. And they use 500 tons of them.
People just let off fireworks in the middle of the crowd as well. You might think that is dangerous, and it probably is. I certainly had one or two close calls. You can see why some of the more safety-conscious locals advise you to wear safety goggles on a night out on New Year’s Eve in Reykjavik.
It is also a major fundraising event for Icelandic charities, particularly the Ice-Sar, the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue. They sell the fireworks to raise funds.
The fireworks lasted forever. They never truly ended, and they were entertainingly frequent enough going well towards 1am.
So despite the fact that all the bars were closed, my new year in Reykjavik was the best I had ever had — unlike nothing I had experienced before, and with a uniquely Icelandic flavour.