partying in iceland by óskar hallgrímsson

What is the nightlife in Reykjavík like? What makes partying in Iceland different to anywhere else in the world? When does the nightlife start in Iceland and where are the best bars and clubs to go to? Read on to discover all there is know about Reykjavík's nightlife! 

In recent years, Reykjavík has become widely known for its fast-paced nightlife, praised by locals, tourists and travel magazines from all over the world. Many of those who arrive to Iceland's shores are taken aback by the sheer array of entertainment venues, bars and restaurants on offer, all of which offer their own unique insight into the capital's culture.

What Makes the Nightlife in Iceland Special?

The idea that Reykjavík has a great nightlife might come as a surprise; it is an incredibly small city, after all, and there are so few places to go... at least compared to huge metropolitan cities like London and New York.

But after partying in the world's great urban centres, the quiet charms of Iceland's nightlife quickly become apparent. They may even be the very qualities you're looking for on a night out: good company, security and plentiful drink options.

First, let's get some basic positives out of the way.

Picture from Iceland Airwaves

Photo credit: Alexander Matukhno, Iceland Airwaves Flickr

The nightlife is all centred in one place, all within easy walking distance from another, and rarely require an entrance fee. Queues to get inside are non-existent, or at least very small, and there are hardly any dress-codes. With one or two exceptions, there are no VIP rooms and the bars stay open nice and late (until around 04:30-05:30 on weekend nights.) 

More often than not, you can choose between a quiet boozer or a jam-packed party venue, all within a stone's thrown from one another. Nobody is likely to raise an eyebrow if you start dancing on top of tables or begin strumming instruments alongside the bar's jangling playlist. Icelandic nightlife should be fun and inclusive after all, and there aren't many constraints on the party atmosphere in town.

And that’s just on an average weekend downtown. During festivals and cultural events—particularly New Year's Eve—the city's night owls are expected to throw on a crazy outfit, down even more alcohol and start singing in celebration! 

Where's the Nightlife in Reykjavik?

Laugavegur shopping street in Reykjavík. Picture from Wikimedia Commons.

The nightlife in Reykjavík centres around the main shopping street; Laugavegur. Here, down the beating vein of Reykjavík, guests will discover all manner of restaurants and bars, some authentically Icelandic, others dedicated to movies ("Lebowski bar", anyone?) or different themes (i.e. the tropically themed "Bar Ananas".) Alongside the bars are interspersed numerous shops, restaurants and convenience stores, making a midnight snack easy to come by after the partying is all but over. 

There are also a number of bars and restaurants located on the neighbouring street, Hverfisgata, though this area is noticeably quieter. As you descend the main street, you will see that Laugavegur becomes Bankastræti, which then becomes Austurstræti. Bars can be found along this entire strip also. 

None of the bars charge entrance fees—that is unless a specific performance has been scheduled to play that night, at which point, you should be pleased for the live entertainment! This lack of entry fees, thankfully, means that you can casually stroll from one bar to another as you see fit.  

Strolling from bar to bar in the capital can also be a pleasant enough experience in itself; the streets are always filled with people and, if you’re a local or long-time resident, you're bound to bump into someone you know (... a positive or a negative, depending on the person, of course.)

Do People Go to Bars, Clubs or Cafés in Reykjavik?

nightlife in iceland by óskar hallgrímsson

People tend to have a few favourite bars, hopping between them as the night dictates. It’s very rare that people go out and stay in the same venue for the entire night. By moving around—bar-crawling—you will meet a lot of new people, listen to different genres of music and maybe even stumble into that special, special someone. Don’t panic if you lose your friends, the scene is small and you’re bound to find them again—or, hell, just make new friends. 

There are hardly any nightclubs in Iceland, at least not in the way you might describe the nightclubs found across the rest of world. Let's make something clear to all of you ravers out there; you will NOT find a club with 3 floors and 7 different VIP rooms, each pumping out different genres of acid-house, and getting progressively messy. 

Instead, you’ll mostly find blends between bars and dance venues, cafés and restaurants. Regardless of what exactly that might be classified, the alcohol flows freely—although not cheaply—and that is the most important thing. 

Dress Code and Age Limits

nightlife in iceland can be crazy, by óskar hallgrímsson

Most places don’t have a dress code, but you do need to be over 20 years old to gain entry. 20 is the legal drinking limit in Iceland. If you look younger than 20 - lucky you - then you'll be asked for ID. Be sure to bring an ID with you that shows your date of birth and a photograph. 

Since there is no dress code, it really doesn't matter what you wear, although people do tend to dress up for a night out. In the wintertime, warmth is more important than fashion, and so you should remember to bring with you warm layers, including a jacket, gloves and a hat. 

As for safety, the capital is an incredibly warm and friendly city. As with anywhere that sells alcohol, there will always be an element of debaucherous behaviour, though this is met with heavy fines. Most people are harmless and welcoming and you should feel perfectly safe out on the streets of Reykjavík, even late at night on your lonesome. 

Opening Hours of Bars and Pubs in Reykjavík

Nightlife in Reykjavík - picture from Secret Solstice festival

From Sundays to Thursdays all the bars will close at 01:00. At the very least, that’s when the bars stop serving drinks; chances are you won’t actually be kicked out until close to 02:00. Recently, Thursday nights (and Sunday nights!) have become known as ‘little Saturdays’, with more and more people frequenting the bars, only fuelling Iceland's reputation as a place that enjoys partying. 

But, as in most countries, it’s Friday and Saturday when the nightlife really kicks in. Although most of the bars are open from the early afternoon, they won't be getting anywhere near busy until after midnight, or around 2 in the morning. Most of these bars close around 5 in the morning, although if you're lucky, you might find an afterparty going on until much later than that. Best to be invited though; no one likes a gatecrasher. 

Special Events in Reykjavik's Nightlife

There are plenty of festivals that take place in Reykjavík, all of which will have a lasting effect on that evening's nightlife. The biggest music festivals are as follows:

There are also numerous other smaller festivals that boost the nightlife, as well as regular, secretive events that take place every few weeks or months. Events such as these include performances by Reykjavík Kabarett, Drag-Súgur, Sofar Sounds or Reykjavík's Poetry Brothel

Culture Night by Harpa in Reykjavík

But, besides the array of festivals and underground events, there are certain days of the year that have Icelanders flocking downtown. These include the 1st of March (Icelandic Beer Day) and the 'First Day of Summer', always on a Thursday in late April. Gay Pride Festival, in early August, is also a staple in the city, celebrating the LGBTQ community and their contribution to life and love in Iceland. 

Culture Night takes place on the 3rd Saturday of August; Reykjavík positively brims with free artistic activities and attractions, ending the night with a gorgeous firework display. 

In May, college and university graduations take place; hundreds of college kids, dressed up in silly-costumes, will celebrate the year's academic achievements. The night sees those same kids flocking to the streets in their finest gowns and white caps.

Another thing that happens in May; the Eurovision Song Contest. 99% of Icelanders watch this international song competition, a competition that runs from 19:00 to around 22:00 on a Saturday night, leaving the city centre in dead quiet.

Shortly after the winners are announced, the town fills with people dressed in glittery outfits and outrageous make-up. Almost all of them will end the night singing along to Eurovision classics in the city's bars. 

Where to Find Bars and Pubs in Reykjavík.

Reykjavík city centre

Downtown Reykjavík, 101, is divided into two sections when it comes to the city's nightlife: Above Lækjargata and below Lækjargata.

Most of the pubs and bars are on Laugavegur and the continuing streets from Laugavegur: Bankastræti and Austurstræti. The rest of them are on side-streets (and Hverfisgata), visible from the main streets. A quick look at the map below may help you navigate the city's favourite drinking establishments:

Names of bars and locations change very quickly, although many of them have existed under the same banner for years. Most of the time, the location remains the same for a bar—but with new owners, new name, new music and new decorations, the crowd will often change too. This list will be updated as often as possible.

So, if you came to Iceland some years ago, it is very likely that your favourite bar no longer exists, or it has been changed so much that it is completely unrecognisable.

Besides these, there are a number of cafés that serve beer that close early-ish (22:00—midnight), upscale hotel bars that are open until 22:00-01:00 and a number of restaurants that serve tasty cocktails until around midnight. 

The Best Bars and Pubs in Reykjavík

Obviously it depends on your taste in music and crowd what you think are the best bars and nightclubs. Here are some of the most popular places in town:

1) Kaffibarinn (KB for short) is by far the most popular bar in Reykjavík, heavily featured in the movie 101 Reykjavík and co-owned by Damon Albarn of Blur fame. This place is packed with people all the time, cementing its popularity in the heart of the Icelandic population. Frequented largely by musicians and 'hipsters', and other character types. Mainly alternative and electro music.

Opening Hours:     SUN-THU: 15:00–01:00
FRI - SAT: 15:00–4:30

2) Húrra is situated in a building that previously housed Harlem, another popular venue. Húrra has established itself as a great venue for live music and great DJ’s, constantly doing new things (such as movie nights). On Monday nights, their awesome house band plays jazz with free entry. They play all kinds of music but mainly live music and electro DJ's.

Opening Hours:     SUN-THU:  18:00–01:00
FRI-SAT: 18:00–04:30

3) Gaukurinn is a fun and very inclusive dive bar. This is the home of the drag scene in Iceland (look up Drag-súgur) and alternative underground art scene, and also holds regular stand up comedy nights (also in English!), movie nights and has live music. They have gender-neutral bathrooms and, from 2018, will serve juicy, grubby, all vegan food. The music here varies, but there are often rock or metal nights taking place.

Opening Hours:     SUN-THU: 14:00–01:00
FRI - SAT: 14:00–03:00

The welcome sign in front of Gaukurinn.

Credit: Gaukurinn Facebook. 

4) Ölstofa Kormáks og Skjaldar(‘Ölstofan’ for short) is great to sit down, have a beer and talk to your friends, normally there’s no music played or it is played at low volume. A very popular venue amongst the local population.

Opening Hours:      MON-THU: 15:00–01:00
FRI - SAT: 15:00–04:00
 SUNDAY: 15:00–00:00

5) Kikiis the newest name of THE gay club in town, located where many former gay bars have been, at Laugavegur 22. The music is mainly top of the charts pop, Eurovision songs as well as disco.

Opening Hours:      MON-TUES: CLOSED
WED-THURS-SUN: 20:00–01:00
 FRI - SAT: 20:00–04:30

6) The Irishman Pub The newest Irish pub in town. The feel of the venue is casual and there's been a lot of thought put into the decor. It's the place to be in St Paddy's Day and they have drink specials almost every day of the year. It's a favourite place for football fans to watch a game. They also have a private karaoke room that you can book for parties. It's at Klapparstígur 27, just down the hill from Bravó.

Opening Hours:     MON -THURS & SUN: 11:00–01:00
FRI-SAT: 11:00–03:00

7) Kex Hosteloften puts on live music events, such as the annual Kexport Festival, and it's a nice bar to sit down and enjoy good music and nice food. Every Tuesday there's live jazz here with free entry. This is a hostel bar so it doesn’t stay open until late and closes at 10 or 11 PM. Kex Hostel is located in an old biscuit factory on a street that's adjacent to Hverfisgata and is a 5 minute walk away from the main hub of bar activity in the city. On the way downtown it is good to make a stop at Dillon (rock bar) or Boston (a lounge bar with trendy décor but a party atmosphere).

Opening Hours:     Contact Hostel Bar for
Opening Times.

8) Bravó is a nice bar that tends to get packed with people, either sitting down for a beer and a chat, or even dancing on the tiny dance space. Music genres vary, but its guaranteed to cause a head bob or two. The bar can be located right below Kiki.

Opening Hours:      SUN-THURS: 11:00–01:00
FRI-SAT: 11:00–03:00

Bravo has the longest running happy hour in the city.

Credit: Bravo Facebook.

9) The English Pub is a good all-rounder pub. They have a big wheel of fortune where you can win a metre worth of beer and there are often acoustic guitar players around. Good in the early evening or on weekdays, not so great for dancing.

Opening Hours: SUN-THURS: 12 noon–01:00
FRI-SAT: 12 noon–04:00

10) Bar Ananas entered the city's nightlife like a warm breeze of summer, sipping on a fruity cocktail in here is an excellent escapism when the weather outside is nothing like the Bahamas. There's even sand on the floor! The music depends on the DJ each night.

Opening Hours: MON-THURS: 16:00–01:00
FRI - SAT: 16:00–03:00
 SUNDAY: 16:00-00:00

11) B5 is very popular amongst the glossy VIP crowd. This is one of the very few places in Reykjavík with a strict dress code and 2 VIP lounges. Put on a suit or dress and heels and expect top of the charts music.

Opening Hours: THURS-SUN: 18:00–05:00

12) Pablo Discobaris on the top floor, above the S-American restaurant Burro. Here you'll find delicious but pricey cocktails, a stylish but fun crowd, funky décor and all the disco you need. Dancing is encouraged! You should note that they occasionally have a minimum age of 25 to enter.

Opening Hours: SUN-THURS: 16:00–01:00
FRI - SAT: 16:00–03:00

The interior of Pablo Discobar; fancy!

Credit: Pablo Discobar Facebook. 

13) Kaldi Bar is very popular amongst the locals, so much so that you will most likely not find a free seat. This is a sit-down and chat bar, with multiple beers on tap. A place to see people and be seen, but come early to grab a seat. They close at 3 AM on Fridays and Saturdays.

Opening Hours: SUN-THURS: 12 noon–01:00
FRI - SAT: 12 noon–03:00

14) Bryggjan Brewery is located a little out of the centre of town, although only an additional 10-minute walk or so, along the old harbour (and past Slippbarinn that's great to nip in for a happy hour cocktail if you're starting in the late afternoon). This is a large bar, that also houses a restaurant with views over the harbour. A relaxed atmosphere, unless there are live bands playing. Taste the home-brewed beers, or fun cocktails. On Sunday nights there's free jazz.

Opening Hours: THURS-SUN: 11:00–01:00
MON-WED: 11:00–00:00


Seeing as there is no entry fee to most of these bars, make sure you check out most of them before you pick out your favourite ones!