Autumn is upon us, which means that music fans from around the world will soon be flocking to Reykjavik for Iceland Airwaves Music Festival. Airwaves is one of my absolute favorite festivals, taking over the city for five days every October or November, and showcasing a ton of incredible Icelandic talent, as well as some awesome international acts. Not only is the festival great, but the location can’t be beat. Iceland is stunning, with Reykjavik as its cool, small-yet-cosmopolitain capital. I’ve gone to Airwaves twice, and have made some of my favorite travel memories at this festival.
One of the things that differentiates Airwaves from most other major music festivals is that it takes place in a chilly climate in late autumn, which means that you have to plan your packing very differently than you would for other music festivals, which are most often put on in spring or summer.
Because all of the “official” festival events are in the evenings, this frees up a lot of time during the day to see some natural sights, so you’ll want to be prepared for that as well!
Here’s a list of what you’ll need for your Iceland Airwaves adventure.
5 pairs underwear – I use ExOfficio quick-dry underwear.
2 bras – I pack one regular and one sports bra
1 bathing suit – You don’t want to miss out on the Blue Lagoon or Reykjavik’s awesome public pools!
1 warm jacket with a hood – It can get pretty darn cold in Reykjavik in November.
2 pairs of leggings – Great for layering under dresses or skirts, and even under pants if it’s really cold.
1 pair jeans/pants – make sure your pants match all of your tops!
1 dress – Reykjavik is a pretty fashionable city, so I like to dress up a bit for going out on the town.
1 skirt – A basic black skirt is really versatile, great to dress up or down.
2 short-sleeved tops – While it will be quite cold outside, it can get pretty hot inside the bars and concert venues. You’ll want to be able to be comfortable once you get inside.
2 long-sleeved tops – Great for layering, especially if you plan on doing any outdoor activities.
1 thin sweater or cardigan – Great to layer over any outfit and still fit under your coat.
1 thick sweater – If you don’t plan on buying one in Iceland.
4 pairs wool hiking socks – These will keep your feet warm, dry, and blister-free. You want to be comfortable doing outdoor activities, as well as when you’re standing around for hours in lines or in concerts!
1 warm hat, 1 scarf, 1 pair of gloves – You’ll definitely want to have these to fight biting Icelandic winds when you’re outside. Make sure these are all compact enough to cram in your bag once you’re inside.
1 purse – I’d recommend a cross-body bag, just big enough to hold your essentials: scarf, hat, gloves, wallet, phone/camera. If the bag is too big, it can get really cumbersome at a packed concert. A small cross-body bag will keep everything close at hand and out of the way.
1 pair of flip flops – To use at swimming pools and hostel showers.
1 pair of comfortable, sturdy, waterproof shoes with decent tread – You’ll want good, versatile shoes when you’re spending time in Iceland in the winter. Even if you’re just in Reykjavik, streets can be icy, and you’re going to be spending a LOT of time on your feet. If you end up spending time outside the city, you’ll want to have shoes you can do some light hiking in. Dr Martens have worked fantastically for me on previous Airwaves trips.
Bar of soap
Hair ties/bobby pins
Razor (or not, it’s winter.)
Diva Cup – Always the ideal ‘feminine product’ for travel.
Lotion/Chapstick – Reykjavik’s winter climate is very dry and windy. Be sure to keep your skin hydrated!
Ibuprofen – There’s no hangover like an Airwaves hangover.
Deodorant – Dancing all night can make you pretty darn stinky!
Basic makeup – Great for getting dolled up to go out, but don’t go over the top since you’re going to sweat it all off anyway. Check out the low-key traveler’s beauty kit.
A small camera – A smartphone or point-and-shoot camera should do the trick. Unless you have a press pass, you probably won’t have close enough access to performances to warrant a DSLR, and bulky, expensive cameras can get damaged at a music festival. If you’re worried about capturing Iceland’s natural beauty: worry not! This place is so lovely that even the lowest-quality cameras will take spectacular photos.
Smartphone – There’s wifi everywhere in this tech-savvy city, so you can stay updated on the go! If you have an unlocked phone, local service is pretty cheap.
Honestly, I wouldn’t recommend bringing a laptop or any heavy, expensive gear unless you absolutely have to. There’s so much going on during Airwaves that you won’t want to spend any time on your computer anyway.
Thermal underwear – You don’t really need these if you just plan to stay in Reykjavik, but if you plan on spending any serious time outside (a considerable likelihood in a place like Iceland, where most major attractions are natural), especially if you’re hiking or camping, you’ll definitely want to have some extra-warm layers available.
Daypack – If you plan on doing any day trips outside of Reykjavik, you’ll definitely want a slightly more substantial pack that can hold your everyday essentials, plus a water bottle, snack, and extra layers. This stuffable daypack works great and doesn’t take up too much luggage space.
Important things to consider when packing for Airwaves:
The weather in Iceland is extremely fickle. Plan for dressing in layers, as you’ll have to add and shed layers throughout the day, especially if you’re going in and out of concerts.
You may want to leave room in your bag to bring home a lopapeysa or Icelandic sweater. These thick wool sweaters are both beautiful and extremely functional. They’ll definitely keep you toasty on cold, wet Icelandic days, and are great to layer under your coat to stay extra warm. You can buy a lopapeysa for a pretty reasonable price at the Kolaportið flea market, which happens near Reykjavik harbor every weekend.
Laundromats are not common in Iceland, and though you can often do laundry at a hotel or hostel, it can be pretty expensive (around $8 per load). Be sure to bring clothes that are easy to sink-wash and air dry. If you do need to do laundry, Laundromat Cafe in downtown Reykjavik has some washers and dryers in the basement.
You may want to add a flask to your bag. Booze is incredibly expensive in Iceland, and if you plan on drinking (it’s a music festival, and Icelanders party hard!) then you’ll want to buy duty free liquor from the Keflavik airport on arrival. Liquor is much cheaper to buy at the airport than it is from state liquor stores (Vinbuðin), and you can do some ‘pre-gaming’ before you go out. Sharing drinks is a great way to make new friends!
Don’t waste packing space on an umbrella. Iceland is very windy, and even if it’s raining hard, an umbrella is essentially useless. A good rain shell, or even a fold-up plastic poncho might serve you better.
* Cover image from Iceland Airwaves Music Festival.