What is the nightlife in Reykjavík like? What makes partying in Iceland different from 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 to 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 at 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.
Reykjavik hosts a great variety of clubs, bars, craft bars, more traditional settings, local tastes and an atmosphere to suit every preference.
Whether you’re looking to relax with a beer and a chat or paint the town red and hit the dance floor, Reykjavik caters for all options.
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 when 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 of the obvious positives out of the way.
Photo credit: Alexander Matukhno, Iceland Airwaves Flickr
Reykjavik's 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 throw 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!
The nightlife in Reykjavík centres around the main shopping street; Laugavegur.
Here, in the centre 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 tropical-themed "Bar Ananas").
Alongside the bars are 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 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).
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 following a bar-crawl 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 quickly.
There are hardly any nightclubs in Iceland, at least not in the way you might describe the nightclubs found across the rest of the world.
Just to be clear, you won’t find a club with 3 floors and 7 different VIP rooms in Iceland. You also won’t find a huge eclectic mix of different genres in one nightclub.
Instead, in Reykjavik, you’ll mostly find blends between bars and dance venues, cafés and restaurants. These make for great intimate atmosphere’s and also means your usual nightmare of waiting in long queues for a drink is limited.
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 then you'll be asked for ID. Be sure to bring an ID with you that shows your date of birth and a photograph (e.g. a Passport or Driver's License).
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. You should remember to bring plenty of warm layers with you, including a jacket, gloves and a hat.
As for safety, the capital is an incredibly warm and friendly city. Just like anywhere that sells alcohol, there will always be an element of debaucherous behaviour.
Any threatening or aggressive behaviour is usually quickly dealt with by Iceland’s police. The culprits will often be met with heavy fines.
Most people, however, are harmless and welcoming and you should feel perfectly safe out on the streets of Reykjavík, even late at night on your lonesome.
From Sundays to Thursdays all the bars will close at 01:00. At the very least, that’s when the bars stop serving drinks. Although the chances are you won’t actually be kicked out of any Reykjavik clubs until close to 02:00.
Recently, both Thursday and Sunday nights have become known as ‘little Saturdays’, with more and more people frequenting the bars. This has massively helped to fuel 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 02:00.
Most of these bars close around 05:00. 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.
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.
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. On this day Reykjavík positively brims with free artistic activities and attractions. The night is always completed 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 then sees those same kids flocking to the streets in their finest gowns and white caps.
The Eurovision Song Contest is another big night for Icelanders in May.
Almost 99% of Icelanders watch this international song competition. The competition runs from 19:00 to around 22:00 on a Saturday night, leaving the city centre deadly quiet until it’s finished and the results are in.
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.
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 the bars 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.
However, bars will frequently have new owners, a new name, new music and new decorations. However, the crowd will often change too.
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 and bar snacks that close early-ish (22:00—00:00).
There are also upscale hotel bars that are open until 01:00 and a number of restaurants that serve tasty cocktails until around midnight.
Obviously it depends on your taste in music and the kind of crowd you prefer that will determine your favourite best bars and nightclubs in Reykjavik.
Here are some of the most popular places in town you should check out:
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.
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', amongst 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 with electro DJ's.
Opening Hours: SUN-THU: 18:00–01:00
3) Gaukurinn is a fun and very inclusive dive bar. This is the home of the drag scene in Iceland (Drag-súgur). It’s an alternative underground art scene which also holds regular stand up comedy nights (also in English!), movie nights and 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
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. This is a very popular venue amongst the local population.
Opening Hours: MON-THU: 15:00–01:00
FRI - SAT: 15:00–04:00
5) Kiki is the newest name of the only gay club in town. It’s 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
FRI - SAT: 20:00–04:30
6) The Irishman Pub is 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 on 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 located at Klapparstígur 27, just down the hill from Bravó.
Opening Hours: MON -THURS & SUN: 11:00–01:00
7) Kex Hostel often puts on live music events, such as the annual Kexport Festival. 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 between 22:00 and 23:00.
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. It’s usually a mixture of those either sitting down for a beer and a chat, or those dancing on the tiny dance space. Music genres vary, but it's guaranteed to cause a head bob or two. The bar can be located right below Kiki.
Opening Hours: SUN-THURS: 11:00–01:00
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. The best atmosphere is 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. It’s the best cocktail bar in town and provides excellent escapism when the weather outside is nothing like the Bahamas. It’s fully beach-themed with 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
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 Discobar is 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. It’s the perfect spot to go if you’re in the mood for dancing. You should note, however, 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
Credit: Pablo Discobar Facebook.
13) Kaldi Bar is now very popular amongst tourists and locals alike. It’s so popular that you’ll struggle to 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 03:00 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. It’s 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. It hosts a relaxed atmosphere unless there are live bands playing. Taste the home-brewed beers, local brews or quirky cocktails. On Sunday nights there's free jazz.
Opening Hours: THURS-SUN: 11:00–01:00
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! The nightlife in Reykjavik has the perfect variety to suit your preferences. Let us know your favourite haunts in Reykjavik below!