Over the last few days, Reykjavík’s Winter Lights Festival has been brightening up the long dark nights with a plethora of exhibitions and workshops. Like any typical Icelander, we can always use a little bit more light in February, so we decided to spend the weekend exploring what the Festival had to offer.

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As survivors of several Icelandic winters, it’s easy to forget the effect that prolonged sunlight deprivation has on the body; lethargy, moodiness and a pale/greyish skin tone, usually reserved for the sick or Scottish.

February marks a turning point in winter; although the days begin to get longer after the Solstice in December, it’s not until February that you feel the benefits of increased sunlight.

This is perhaps not surprising when you consider, over the course of the month, Iceland gains almost three extra hours of daylight. Your outlook brightens as you start to arrive and leave work in the light of day and Spring is a distant but sparkling light at the end of the tunnel.

The Winter Lights Festival celebrates the power of the light in the dark, and plus, I’ve always wanted to wear my sunglasses at night. With over 200-events to choose from across the city, we were forced to be selective in our choices, but this is how we chose to enjoy this weekend’s festival.

Thursday 7th February

People attending the Winter lights festival in Reykjavík looking at the moon exhibit.

Credit: Winter Lights Festival Official site

We headed over to Harpa Concert Hall to check out Museum of the Moon by Luke Jerram. The centrepiece of the exhibit is a 7-metre in diameter globe with high-definition NASA imagery of our lunar light-orb projected onto it.

In celebration of the 50-year anniversary of man landing on the Moon, the piece looks at the technology that took us there and plays with the possibilities of space travel in the future.

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Friday 8th February

We began our Friday attendance of the Winter Lights Festival by making the most of Museum Night, allowing us free entry into some of the city’s most fascinating collections.

First, we stopped by the Icelandic Punk Museum, located in a renovated public bathroom at Laugavegur 116, just on the junction with the Snorrabraut road.

We descended two staircases and were immediately welcomed into a tiny concert. About six or seven people sat in all corners of the room watching a lone guitarist, We listened, enjoying the novelty of the performance, before taking a quick peek around the rest of the museum.

No doubt, the establishment is small, but almost all of the wall space is utilized with information, displayed on rough, ripped paper lathered on the side of a toilet cubicle.

Deciding on a change of scenery, we caught a bus to Árbær Open Air Museum. This fantastic exhibition is dedicated to showcasing the daily life of Icelanders, particularly residents of Reykjavik, in earlier times.

Huge historical buildings have been reconstructed from their original setting, erected into a makeshift town square that truly does transport one back to a simpler time. Given that it was night, and a fresh blanket of snow glistened beneath us, the ambience of the museum of spooky to say least. Thankfully, that was exactly why we had come.

The Museum staff hosted a ghost walk, delving into the fascinating and terrifying stories of ghosts, ghouls and murder that permeate Icelandic history. This was no mere guided tour, however.

Our guide was attired straight from the 18th century, her lantern swinging ominously in the darkness. Actors dressed like the damned spirits of yesteryear ran howling from old building to old building, only adding to the terror and entertainment as we stood listening and appreciating how integral the supernatural was to old Icelandic culture. 

Saturday 9th February

Fancying something a little more laid back for our first free day of the weekend, we made our way to Vesturbæjarlaug swimming pool for an illuminated pool party! As regular swimmers, we were excited to experience a local pool lit up in different colour. The promise of live music only made this prospect more exciting.

Photo Credit: Winter Lights Festival Official Site

We arrived to find the pool packed, with the poolside party vibe casting Vesturbæjarlaug in, quite literally, a whole new light.

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No sooner had we gotten myself comfortable in a hot tub, did singer-songwriter Hrafn Bogdan begin to perform a few numbers on his guitar. Live music and a jacuzzi: Life doesn’t get much better. Letting Bogdan’s music wash over us in equal measure to the hot water, dreams of summer drifted through our thought, an appreciation for all forms of light to be found in darkness.

Although we did not see many of the events on offer in Reykjavík, the Winter Lights Festival left us glowing and certainly warm to the prospect of coming back next year.

Did you go to the Winter Lights Festival? How did you enjoy it? Please be sure to leave any questions or comments you may have in the Facebook box below.