Reykjavík in detail

Drinking & Nightlife

Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between cafes, restaurants and bars in Reykjavík, because when night rolls around (whether light or dark out) many coffee shops and bistros turn lights down and volume up, swapping cappuccinos for cocktails. Craft-beer bars, high-end cocktail bars and music and dance venues flesh out the scene. Some hotels and hostels also have trendy bars.

Tips

The best bar prices (otherwise quite high) are at happy hours. Download the smartphone app Reykjavík Appy Hour. Reykjavík is known for its pub-crawl scene called djammið.

Djammið: How to Party in Reykjavík

Reykjavík is renowned for its weekend party scene that goes strong into the wee hours, and even spills over onto some of the weekdays (especially in summer). Djammið in the capital means going out on the town, or you could say pöbbarölt for a 'pub stroll'. (This should not be confused with the infamous countryside rúntur, which involves Icelandic youth driving around their town in one big automotive party.)

Much of Reykjavík's partying happens in cafes and bistros that transform into raucous beer-soaked bars on weekends, and at the many dedicated pubs and clubs. But it’s not the quantity of drinking dens that makes Reykjavík’s nightlife special – it’s the upbeat energy that pours from them.

Thanks to the high price of alcohol, things generally don’t get going until late. Icelanders brave the melee at the government alcohol store Vínbúðin (www.vinbudin.is), then toddle home for a prepub party. Once they’re merry, people hit town around midnight, party until 5am, queue for a hot dog, then topple into bed or the gutter, whichever is more convenient. Considering the quantity of booze swilling, the scene is pretty good-natured.

Rather than settling into one venue for the evening, Icelanders like to cruise from bar to bar, getting progressively louder and less inhibited as the evening goes on. ‘In’ clubs may have long queues, but they tend to move quickly with the constant circulation of revellers.

Most of the action is concentrated near Laugavegur and Austurstræti. Places usually stay open until 1am Sunday to Thursday and 4am or 5am on Friday and Saturday. Expect to pay around 1200kr to 1600kr per pint of beer, and cocktails hit the 2000kr to 2800kr mark. Some venues have cover charges (around 1000kr) after midnight, and many have early-in-the-evening happy hours that cut costs by 500kr or 700kr per beer. Download the smartphone app Reykjavík Appy Hour.

Things change fast – check Grapevine (www.grapevine.is) for the latest listings. You should dress up to fit in, although there are some more relaxed pub-style joints. The legal drinking age is 20 years.

Icelandic Booze

Icelanders have a lot of time in winter to perfect their crafts. It's no wonder then that a slew of good local distilleries and breweries have sprung up. Here's a quick cheat sheet for your next bar-room order:

64° Reykjavík (www.reykjavikdistillery.is) Microdistillery producing Katla vodka, aquavit, herbal liqueurs and schnapps from foraged fruits and botanicals.

Brennivín Caraway-flavoured 'black death' schnapps, nicely neon green and a whopping 80 proof.

Flóki Icelandic single malt whisky, produced by Eimverk Distillery.

Opal Flavoured vodka in several menthol and licorice varieties (52 proof).

Reyka Iceland's first distillery, in Borgarnes, with crystalline vodka.

Beer

Egils, Gull, Thule and Viking are the most common beers (typically lagers) in Iceland. But craft breweries are taking the scene by storm and you can ask for them in most Reykjavík and larger city bars.

Borg Brugghús (www.borgbrugghus.is) Award-winning craft brewery with scrumptious beers from Bríó pilsner to Úlfur India Pale Ale and Garún stout, all whimsically named. Its sheep-dung-smoked IPA Fenrir is an acquired taste.

Bryggjan Brugghús Microbrewery at Reykjavík's Old Harbour that offers tours.

Einstök Brewing Company (www.einstokbeer.com) Akureyri-based craft brewery with a fab Viking label and equally distinctive Icelandic pale ale, among other ales and porters.

Kaldi (www.bruggsmidjan.is) Produced using Czech techniques, Kaldi's popular microbrews are widely available. Its cool Kaldi bar offers seasonal draught beers on offer nowhere else.

Ölvisholt Brugghús (www.brugghus.is) Solid range of microbrews from South Iceland, including eye-catching Lava beer.

Steðji Brugghús (www.stedji.com) This small, family-run Borgarnes brewhouse crafts good seasonal beers, from strawberry beer to lager.

Reykjavík's Coffee Culture

Reykjavikers take their coffee seriously, and there are many sweet corners in which to dwell and sip your joe, or grab it on the go.

Reykjavík Roasters These folks take their coffee seriously. This tiny hipster joint is easily spotted on warm days with its smattering of wooden tables and potato sacks dropped throughout the paved square. Swig a perfect latte with a flaky croissant.

Kaffi Mokka The decor at Reykjavík’s oldest coffee shop has changed little since the 1950s, and its original mosaic pillars and copper lights have a distinctive retro charm. The clientele ranges from local families and artists to tourists, while the sandwiches, cakes and waffles are top notch.

Kaffi Vínyl This hip fixture of the Reykjavík coffee, restaurant and music scene is popular for its chill vibe, great music and delicious vegan and vegetarian food.

Stofan Kaffihús Spacious and relaxed, this welcoming coffee house fills a character-laden historic building in the city centre.

Café Haiti If you’re a coffee afficionado, this tiny cafe in the Old Harbour is the place for you. Owner Elda buys her beans from her home country Haiti, and roasts and grinds them on-site, producing what regulars swear are the best cups of coffee in the country.

C is for Cookie A cheerful spot named in honour of Sesame Street's Cookie Monster. It does super coffee, plus great homemade cakes, salad, soup and grilled sandwiches.

Kaffifélagið A popular hole-in-the-wall place for a quick cuppa on the run, with a couple of outdoor tables too.

Best Lists

Drinking & Nightlife

  • Kaffibarinn Perennial Reyjavík mainstay is casual by day and packed by night.
  • Mikkeller & Friends Sup some of the 20 craft ales on tap at this casually cool bar.
  • Kiki Dance the night away in this multistorey club.
  • Port 9 Arty, well-stocked, discrete, and arguably the city's best wine bar.
  • Paloma Around midnight Paloma starts heating up with two DJ spaces and an ever-changing line-up.
  • Húrra Early happy hour and late-night DJs or live music make this one of the capital's best dance spots.

Cocktail Bars

  • Slippbarinn Cocktails and tunes abound at this harbourfront bar in the Icelandair Hotel Reykjavík Marina.
  • Apotek Glittering glasses and bubbly conversation pairs perfectly with top-flight cocktails.
  • Pablo Diskobar Tropical trappings and exotic drinks.
  • Marshall Arty and chic, both the cocktails and the decor.

Clubs

  • Kiki This multistorey queer club is straight-friendly and tops for dancing.
  • Prikið This greasy spoon diner turns into a hot hip-hop club late-late.
  • Húrra Large rooms host live bands and DJs in the wee hours.
  • Paloma Only open late, Paloma has a large upstairs hall and a tight basement room, each with different DJs.
  • B5 Top 40 and jailbait are the order of the day.

For Beer

  • Bryggjan Brugghús Microbrewery with harbour views, extensive menu and occasional DJs.
  • Kaldi Always-packed Kaldi has hipster banquettes and its excellent house-made brews on tap.
  • Mikkeller & Friends Loads of local beers in a top-floor hideaway.
  • Micro Bar Sip beer in a low-lit lounge or on a sunny terrace.
  • Skúli Craft Bar This craft beer bar fills with jaunty folks.

Cafes

  • Reykjavík Roasters Premier coffee aficionados roast their own beans, and now have two branches.
  • Kaffi Vínyl Sip coffee or cocktails while listening to laid-back tunes.
  • Stofan Kaffihús Spacious and welcoming in an historic Old Reykjavík building.
  • Kaffi Mokka One of the capital’s oldest cafes with an approachable, well-worn feel.
  • Café Haiti In the Old Harbour, with coffee sourced from Haiti.
  • C is for Cookie Tiny and in a relaxed residential side street.

Late Night

  • Húrra Six beers on tap and an enormous back room that opens up for live music most nights.
  • Paloma After-hours dancing, DJs and great, heated vibe.
  • Kiki Multistorey dancing and good feelings, late-late on Thursday, Friday and Saturday only.
  • Prikið A quintessential dive bar with good stick to-your-ribs diner food that turns into a hip-hop dance party late.