This weekend marks the start of the Hafnarfjörður Viking Festival, the largest celebration of Viking culture in Iceland. 

The festival is organized by Rimmugýgur, Iceland's biggest reenactment group, and attracts 30,000 visitors to a small park in the port town of Hafnarfjörður for an authentic taste of Viking living. 

As the event moves into full swing, The Viking Herald speaks to the Jarl of Rimmugýgur, Jökull Tandri Ámundason, about the history of the festival and what to expect if you attend. 

Homegrown Vikings 

Today, the Hafnarfjörður Viking Festival is a free-of-charge community event held in a public park. 

However, as Tandri tells us, it actually began as a commercial venture for Fjörukráin, a Viking village, hotel, and restaurant complex located in the town. 

"The story stretches back to 1995," Tandri explains. "The first Viking festival was held in association with Fjörukráin. They set up a market here to advertise the village and invited foreign Viking reenactors to come." 

A small group of people working for Fjörukráin and involved in the festival were struck by the decision to bring people from abroad to play Vikings, given that Iceland happens to be a country full of people descended from the Vikings. 

"They found it a little weird that we had to import people to do the festival and decided we should have Viking reenactors of our own," Tandri says. 

The group soon decided to form its own reenactment group. 

After some initial preparations in 1996, Rimmugýgur was officially founded in June of 1997 by a grand total of seven people and made its first appearance at the festival in the same year. 

"We have since grown from seven to 215 members by the last count," says Tandri. "We are in our 27th year of activity, and the market is also being held for the 27th time." 

The Hafnarfjörður Viking Festival, which started in 1995 as a promotional event by the Viking village and restaurant Fjörukráin, is today a major cultural festival managed by the local reenactment group Rimmugýgur. Photo: Smiley.toerist (CC BY-SA 4.0)

"Invading the local park" 

Fjörukráin passed over the entire organization of the festival to Rimmugýgur in 2018. The reenactment group swiftly decided to make a change of ethos. 

Instead of a commercial event with a steep entry fee, the group sought to create a community gathering that anyone could enter free of charge and celebrate Iceland's rich Viking history. 

"Since then, we have carried it forward as a more cultural event," Tandri explains. 

"Before, it was a closed-off area where you had to pay for entry, and it was more about marketing the Viking village." 

"Now, we basically invade a local public park for five days – or six days this year, due to the public holiday. Anybody and everybody can come in and experience Viking culture." 

Ensuring historical accuracy, all vendors and reenactors at the festival adhere to strict guidelines based on archeological finds and academic research. Photo: Courtesy of Rimmugýgur 

Open to everyone 

"The decision to make the event free was partly influenced by group members who wanted to share the experience with their friends and family," Tandri adds. 

"In the past, people we knew would arrive but were then reluctant to come in because of the sheer cost of the entry ticket." 

Plus, we are also in a public park now – we would have to fence off a huge area, and the rental price alone for any fencing would be astronomical based on the budget we have." 

"Because we had been running it at a loss for a couple of years, we decided to use activity tokens," Tandri admits. 

"You can buy one, five, or ten at an increasing discount, and they allow you to try out the archery, axe-throwing, and some crafts." 

"This has gradually allowed us to increase our offerings. At the same time it remains affordable for families and is nowhere near the ticket prices of the past." 

By moving the festival to a public park and eliminating entry fees, organizers have created a community-focused event that welcomes both locals and tourists alike. Photo: Courtesy of Rimmugýgur

An authentic air 

Visitors can look forward to plenty of other activities as well, of course. 

"They can expect to see a daily combat show of around 40 to 50 Vikings," Tandri highlights. 

"There is an archery contest, food being prepared, and a feast on one of the days for the whole Viking community." 

"There will also be live music played on period instruments, along with silversmiths and handcrafters working with wool, linen, or metal." 

"Visitors will be able to experience Viking games, as well as pop-up happenings where, for example, someone tries to steal jewelry, gets caught, gets put in the stocks, and has eggs thrown at them." 

Tandri also points out that the emphasis is on authenticity as well as entertainment. 

"You can come in and sell your wares, but they have to fit a certain authenticity based on archeological finds and academic papers," Tandri says. 

"So the materials and styles you use must be proven to be from the Viking Age. All Viking reenactors wear full garb – we are head-to-toe in fully authentic Viking gear." 

With 25,000 to 30,000 visitors annually, this event is Iceland's largest Viking festival, featuring around 200 Viking reenactors. Photo: Courtesy of Rimmugýgur

Iceland's biggest Viking festival 

Fortunately, the updated version of the festival has been hugely successful, attracting visitors from all over the world. 

"We have about 25,000-30,000 guests," Tandri informs us. 

"There are around 5,000 a day. We have about 200 Vikings attending in general, and people come from all over Scandinavia, and many other countries, including the UK, Canada, the US, Germany, Poland, and we have received friends from as far off as Australia." 

Not that the festival is only a tourist event – the decision to provide free entry for all has also helped encourage plenty of Icelandic people to attend. 

"It's probably about 60% local, 40% people from overseas," Tandri points out. 

"But the tourists are coming to actively visit the market. According to what I know, we have really good word of mouth, especially in the States. People come to see the festival and then go on to experience the country of Iceland." 

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