In our other guide to Reykjavík, we spent some time exploring the landmarks and neighborhoods of this great city, but that only one piece of the puzzle. There’s more to Reykjavík than meets the eye.
Reykjavík is a city with a growing reputation. And while it is certainly a beautiful place, for many, aesthetics are not the main draw; it’s the nightlife. Throughout my travels, I’ve received a lot of information in passing from my fellow travelers, and when it comes to Reykjavík, I pretty much only ever hear people talk about its nightlife. So I’m here to see what all the buzz is about! I was expecting a strange, post-Viking, Girl-With-The-Dragon-Tattoo-esque brand of nightly festivities… but that wasn’t quite what I got. Now that I’ve visited Reykjavík for myself, I’m a little disappointed that it’s nightlife has eclipsed the rest of what this vibrant city has to offer, but I can understand why.
First of all, Reykjavík is FUN! It’s a really cool atmosphere, and Icelanders go hard. Most bars in Reykjavík will stay open until whenever people start leaving, and this usually won’t start happening until sunrise. I had a great time hopping from bar, to club, to bar until the wee hours of the morning, and I wasn’t the only one. Drinking along side me were a diverse mix of Icelanders and foreigners who never failed to keep my night interesting. I’d be excited to go back!
Second, Reykjavík has become a common stop-over destination for many transatlantic flights. Travelers on these flights will often build an extra day into their layover to explore Reykjavík. Still, many others will visit for one night only. And what else are they going to do? It’s a great last hurrah for any Euro-trip.
Third, (and this is where things get a little sleazy), Reykjavík is becoming known as a good place for a one-night stand. Why?
Is this good or bad? The jury is still out on that. On the one hand, I like the idea of there being a place with such drastically different ideas about what sex is supposed to mean. These sorts of cultural dissonances fascinate me. But on the other hand, this has attracted a small but growing culture of psuedo-sex tourism, and that never leads to anything good. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.
But one thing is for damn sure: stumbling out of a club in the middle of the night in broad daylight is severely disorienting. Having arrived about a month after the summer solstice, most of my drinking was done in an odd, perpetual twilight, as the sun refused to fully set. And by the time Winter comes around, residents of Reykjavík will live in non-stop darkness. It's an interesting quirk of Iceland's northerly location.
Hope you're thirsty!
Hope you're thirsty!
Going out in Reykjavík, I had a world of options at my disposal. It might have been hard to know where to begin, but luckily for me, my little brother had been a Reykjavík resident for a little while before my arrival, and was able to show me a few of his favorite spots. So without further ado, let’s get into it!
Address: Vesturgata 2, Reykjavík, Iceland
Hours: [2:00pm – 12:30am | Sunday – Thursday]
………...…[2:00pm – 2:30am | Friday – Saturday]
Iceland doesn’t have the best selection of beers. Personally, my favorite Icelandic beer is Einstok, but beyond that, there usually aren’t many other options on tap. Microbar, as you may have guessed, specializes in Microbrews from all over the country. So if you’re a beer nerd who wants to get a taste of what Iceland has to offer, Microbar is the quickest way to do that.
It’s not the easiest bar to locate, and while they pretty much all speak near-perfect English, Icelanders can be pretty vague with their directions. This bar is tucked away in a small nook, and to make matters worse, it’s down in the basement. However, if you can find it, it’s definitely worth the search. I love this place!
Address: Laugavegur 20b, Reykjavík, Iceland
Hours: [12:00pm – 1:00am | Sunday – Thursday]
………...…[12:00pm – 3:00am | Friday – Saturday]
This was one of the cooler places that we visited during our time in Reykjavík. Kaldi actually brews its own beer. Similar to the US, Iceland went through its own version of the prohibition. This period stifled Icelandic beer brewers so that when the ban on alcohol was lifted, Icelanders were mostly consuming unhealthy imported beers. These beers (a.k.a. American beers) were filled with unhealthy additives, and that is why Bruggsmiðjan Kaldi (that’s the brewery) was launched: to provide a healthy, tasty beer alternative.
Kaldi is brewed in Iceland’s Northeastern Region (Norðurland Eystra), but they also run this little gem in Reykjavík. The interior is industrial and stylish, but on Friday or Saturday night, it might be too crowded to notice details like that. But don’t worry – there’s a colorful patio with heating and murals if you need to escape for a moment.
Address: Laugavegur 2, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
Hours: [10:00am – 1:00am | Monday – Thursday]
………..….[11:00am – 4:30am | Friday – Saturday]
………..….[12:00pm – 1:00am | Sunday]
Yeah, it’s got a morbid name I guess, but this word actually translates to mean “lodge.” It’s literally right in the middle of Laugavegur, which is the main artery of Reykjavík, and it’s in a basement. Inside the bar is fashioned mostly from natural wood, and adorned with christmas lights. It’s pretty damn cozy down there.
As it gets later in the night, most bars in Reykjavík will eventually devolve into thumping bass and drunken crowds of people, but not Kofinn. It would seem that this bar is eternally chill, with only the rarest of exceptions. It’s known to be a hangout for locals as well as travelers, so you’re likely to find an interesting mix of people if you come here. Check it out!
Address: Bankastræti 1, Reykjavík, Iceland
Hours: [3:00pm – 1:00am | Sunday – Thursday]
………...…[3:00pm – 4:30am | Friday – Saturday]
Kaffibarinn is one of the Godfathers of Reykjavík’s nightlife. It’s logo draws on the logo for London’s underground (subway), but the place has been around for so long that the staff apparently can’t remember what the significance of the London underground was in the first place. At Kaffibarinn, a lot of effort is put into bringing in only the best DJs, and these efforts have not gone amiss. Kaffibarinn has had enduring popularity through the years, both with locals and with travelers.
“Kaffi,” if it wasn’t obvious, is the Icelandic word for coffee. During the day, Kaffibarinn functions as a café, but at night it turns into an absolute rager. It can get pretty crowded past 11:00pm, and there’s a long line of people waiting to get in on most nights of the week. If you hate lines (like I do), I’d recommend arriving around 10:15pm to be safe.
Address: 28b Laugavegur, Reykjavík, Iceland
Hours: [4:00pm – 1:00am | Monday – Thursday]
………...…[4:00pm – 3:00am | Friday – Saturday]
………...…[4:00pm – 12:00am | Sunday]
This was my brother’s favorite bar in Reykjavík. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of going to a bar named after an American city (didn’t I just leave Boston?), but I went anyway. Reykjavík’s bar scene is actually filled with not-so-subtle odes to American culture (Lebowski Bar is a good example), and I had been hell-bent on avoiding these places. So, admittedly, I went into Boston Bar with a stick up my butt. However, the coolness of this place quickly dis-lodged that stick and turned me into a repeat customer. I loved it here.
There are 3 main seating areas in Boston Bar. The first is their main room, which is covered in Christmas lights year-round and generally not overly-crowded. The second is an outdoor patio area with comfortable seating in vintage furniture. And the third is a small, cozy room upstairs. I’d definitely recommend coming in for a drink! (Their wifi was also very good.)
Address: 30 Laugavegur, Reykjavík, Iceland
Hours: [2:00pm – 1:00am | Monday – Thursday]
……….…..[2:00pm – 3:00am | Friday – Saturday]
………...…[2:00pm – 12:00am | Sunday]
Dillon is freaking cool. The main area of this bar is on the second story of a beautiful historic building in the heart of Reykjavík. Made entirely with a natural wood finish, it’s got a very cozy feel, even in the sweater weather of the Icelandic summer. But the real draw of this bar is another story up.
Literally in the rafters of this building, Dillon operates a small concert venue and an additional bar. We walked up the narrow staircase because we heard music, and before we had even reached the top, the air had grown hot and heavy. 100 or more people had somehow crammed themselves into this tiny space, amongst the wooden beams and slanting ceilings, to watch a rock band play a short set. It was hard to move up there, but I was enjoying this peek into the Icelandic music scene. A lot of great bands have come out of Reykjavík. Most of them had probably played this space at least once.
Address: Austurstræti 14, Reykjavík, Iceland
Hours: [Closed | Sunday – Wednesday]
……….…..[8:00pm – 1:00am | Thursday]
………...…[8:00pm – 4:30am | Friday – Saturday]
This place is the poster child for Reykjavík’s nightlife. Pretty much every “Reykjavík Nightlife Guide” that I see has Auster’s dance floor plastered on it’s cover, and for a good reason: it’s a photogenic place! There’s no dress code or cover charge, but the slick, polished interior of Auster can make anybody feel classy.
The line between “clubs” and “bars” is often blurred, but make no mistake: Auster is a club. The bar mostly just serves cocktails, and the people who drink them came here on a mission to dance. The dance floor is the most expansive area of the whole place, and was so tightly packed that I didn’t even bother trying to bring my camera onto it. We all have our crosses to bear, and that camera is mine. It looked fun though (if you’re into that kind of thing). Check it out!
Address: Vegamótastígur, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
Hours: [4:00pm – 1:00am | Sunday – Thursday]
……...……[4:00pm – 4:00am | Friday – Saturday]
Ölstofan is a Reykjavík original. It’s been around forever, and seems to have been making a solid profit from the local community long before Reykjavík became a popular travel destination. It has an undeniable dive-y, vintage feel to it, and its cliental reflect that. Indeed, the primary buyer persona for Ölstofan seems to be an older Reykjavík local.
Reykjavík has seen a huge influx in tourism in recent years, which has diluted the customer base of bars like this, but Ölstofan seems to have maintained its identity in spite all of that. It definitely caters to an older crowd—we’ll call them “mature”—and tends to be split between locals and foreigners. They also have a great beer selection, if you’re into that.
Address: Hafnarstraeti 18, 101 Reykjavik
“D10” is the abbreviated version of Dúfnahólar 10. The name is apparently a reference to the classic Icelandic film, Sódóma Reykjavík. We stumbled into this place by chance when we saw a bouncer standing by a random open door in an industrial feeling corner of Reykjavík. Through the door we followed the sounds of music down a long hallway until we eventually arrived in a medium-sized club that had been hidden away.
I’m not going to dress it up: this place is a little rapey. If you don’t believe me, check out that picture of the bed down below. What the hell kind of club has a bed set up right next to the dance floor?? (It turns out that this too was a reference to Sódóma Reykjavík.) We came in for a beer, but pretty quickly realized that we were not on the same level as most of the people in this place. So if you come to Reykjavík, and you are trying to get onto that level, check this place out.
Address: Ingólfsstræti 2a, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
Hours: [11:30am – 1:00am | Sunday – Thursday]
………...…[11:30am – 3:00am | Friday – Saturday]
This one takes the cake for my favorite bar in Reykjavík. Sitting on the roof of the Petersen Svítan Hotel, this place is known simply as “Rooftop Lounge” (or, in Icelandic, “Petersen svítan í Gamla bíó.”) On an off-shoot from the main road, Laugavegur, this bar is through a door, down a hallway, and up an elevator. It’s pretty tucked away, but once you’re inside, it’s a world unto itself.
There are a some cozy, classy spaces inside where wine and cocktails are served, but what really makes this place special is outside. Covered in luxurious couches and cushions, their huge rooftop has a wintery, communal vibe. It also has a wonderful view of Reykjavík, which was made all the more beautiful by Iceland’s perpetual summer sunset. I loved this bar because it made me feel very connected to my location. The cold air, the colors of the sky, and view of the city made this place special to me because helped me feel Reykjavík around me.
Reykjavík might be small, but it's culturally dense. There's a lot going on in this city, and while this guide covered a solid chunk of Reykjavík's nightlife, there's more to explore! If you’re looking for more suggestions, here are a few honorable mentions:
Honestly, it’s kind of a free-for-all, but here are a few helpful tid-bits to help
And that's about it for nightlife in Reykjavík! Hopefully this helps you get some sense of direction if you ever find yourself in Iceland. If you're interested in learning more about the sights that there are to be seen in Reykjavík, you should read our second city guide, "Peter's Guide To Reykjavík: Tourist Edition." And if you're interested in hearing more about Iceland as a whole, check out our Iceland Index Page to get the overview.