Bestu varas: A Guide to Celebrating the Icelandic New Year

Iceland is a land of natural beauty, rich history, and unique traditions. One of the most celebrated events in Iceland is Bestu varas, the Icelandic New Year. This holiday is a time for reflection, celebration, and renewal, and it is marked by a variety of customs and traditions that have been passed down through generations. In this guide, we will explore the history of Bestu varas, how it is celebrated in Iceland today, and provide tips on how you can join in the festivities.

History of Bestu varas

Bestu varas, which translates to “best year” in English, is a traditional Icelandic New Year celebration that dates back to the Viking era. The holiday is believed to have originated from the winter solstice celebrations of the pagan Norse people, who marked the longest night of the year with feasting, bonfires, and rituals to ensure the return of the sun and the coming of spring.

Over time, Bestu varas evolved into a Christian holiday, with many of the old pagan customs being incorporated into the new Christian traditions. Today, the holiday is a blend of ancient Viking rituals and modern Icelandic customs, making it a unique and vibrant celebration that is cherished by the Icelandic people.

How Bestu varas is celebrated in Iceland

Bestu varas is a time for family and friends to come together to celebrate the passing of the old year and the beginning of the new one. The holiday is marked by a variety of customs and traditions, including:

– Bonfires: One of the most iconic symbols of Bestu varas is the bonfire. In the days leading up to New Year’s Eve, communities across Iceland build large bonfires to symbolize the burning away of the old year and the coming of the new one. The bonfires are lit on New Year’s Eve and people gather around them to sing songs, dance, and celebrate.

– Fireworks: Icelanders love fireworks, and New Year’s Eve is one of the biggest fireworks displays of the year. Starting at midnight, the sky is filled with colorful explosions as people set off fireworks to welcome the new year. It is a breathtaking sight and a truly magical experience.

– Food and drink: Like most celebrations in Iceland, Bestu varas is not complete without plenty of food and drink. Traditional Icelandic dishes such as smoked lamb, pickled herring, and rye bread are served, along with plenty of beer and schnapps to wash it all down.

– New Year’s Eve parties: Many Icelanders attend New Year’s Eve parties to ring in the new year with friends and loved ones. These parties can range from small gatherings in private homes to large public celebrations in town squares and community centers.

– New Year’s Day traditions: On New Year’s Day, it is traditional for Icelanders to take a dip in the hot springs or hot tubs to cleanse themselves of the old year and start fresh in the new one. This tradition, known as “réttir,” is believed to bring good luck and prosperity for the coming year.

Tips for celebrating Bestu varas in Iceland

If you are planning to celebrate Bestu varas in Iceland, here are some tips to help you make the most of this unique holiday:

– Dress warmly: Iceland can be cold in the winter, so be sure to dress warmly for the outdoor celebrations. Layers, hats, gloves, and scarves are a must to stay comfortable while watching the bonfires and fireworks.

– Join a local celebration: Many communities in Iceland host public celebrations for Bestu varas, including bonfires, fireworks displays, and parties. Joining a local celebration is a great way to experience the holiday like a true Icelander and meet new people.

– Try traditional Icelandic food: Bestu varas is a great opportunity to sample traditional Icelandic dishes such as smoked lamb, pickled herring, and rye bread. Be adventurous and try something new – you might discover a new favorite dish!

– Respect local customs: While Bestu varas is a fun and festive holiday, it is also a time for reflection and renewal. Be respectful of local customs and traditions, and take the time to learn about the history and significance of the holiday.

– Stay safe: Fireworks can be dangerous if not handled properly, so be sure to follow safety guidelines and use caution when setting off fireworks. It is also important to drink responsibly and have a designated driver if you plan to indulge in alcohol.


Q: When is Bestu varas celebrated in Iceland?

A: Bestu varas is celebrated on New Year’s Eve, December 31st, and New Year’s Day, January 1st.

Q: What are some traditional Icelandic New Year’s dishes?

A: Traditional Icelandic New Year’s dishes include smoked lamb, pickled herring, rye bread, and Icelandic schnapps.

Q: Are there any superstitions or rituals associated with Bestu varas?

A: One popular superstition is the belief that if you eat a piece of fermented skate on New Year’s Eve, you will have good luck in the coming year.

Q: What are some other ways to celebrate Bestu varas in Iceland?

A: In addition to bonfires, fireworks, and parties, Icelanders also enjoy taking part in outdoor activities such as ice skating, skiing, and hiking during the holiday season.

In conclusion, Bestu varas is a time-honored tradition in Iceland that celebrates the passing of the old year and the beginning of the new one. With its unique customs, delicious food, and festive atmosphere, it is a holiday that is cherished by the Icelandic people and visitors alike. Whether you choose to join in the public celebrations or create your own private festivities, celebrating Bestu varas in Iceland is an experience you will never forget.