Do you want to experience the drinking culture in Iceland? Are you looking for the best bars in Reykjavík for craft beers? Do you want to find a bar perfectly suited to your needs? Read on to learn about Reykjavík's ever-growing craft beer culture and the best places to enjoy it.
Photo above from Locally Hosted Reykjavik Beer & Food Tour at the Old Harbor
To the delight of locals and visitors alike, the trend for brewing and drinking craft beer is picking up momentum in Reykjavík. In the past, downtown bars predominantly served mainstream lagers such as Víking, Gull or Carlsberg, and for a long time, Icelandic beer culture simply didn't develop.
This is in part due to the fact that in the early 20th century, Icelanders perceived the act of drinking beer to be unpatriotic—beer was the national drink of Denmark, from whom Iceland was trying to gain independence. In fact, beer was once considered so unpatriotic that it was banned in the country until 1989.
Nowadays, however, beer drinking is a staple part of the country's nightlife, and you can find a fine selection of craft beers in nearly every bar in downtown Reykjavik. Many specialise in this up-and-coming phenomenon, and we have thus compiled a list of the nine craft bars most worth a visit.
All of these locations are within an easy walking distance from each other, making it easy to tipsily make your way from one hot spot to the next.
See also: Beer Day in Iceland
Skúli Craft Bar is the best spot to dip into the craft beer scene for the first time. It's also arguably the best place to start your afternoon/evening in downtown Reykjavík as the bar offers happy hour prices from between 2pm and 7pm.
At Skúli Craftsbar you can find an excellent variety of up to 14 different beers on tap. The bar has a strong focus on the award-winning recipes from the Borg brewery and boasts a warm and relaxed atmosphere; the interior is complemented with a bright wooden bar and sophisticated artwork, making it the most elegant and refined choice of our preferred spots.
The beer is not cheap, but you can choose from some of the best in Iceland, served by knowledgeable and friendly staff. If you are in the mood for trying different brews, they also offer small tasting glasses, a major bonus for your wallet.
Photo by Gonzalo Remy
Staple drinks at Skúli include the award-winning Bríó (Pilsner), Garún (Imperial Stout) and Úlfur (Indian Pale Ale), all descendants of the Borg Brewery. If you would like to try something more experimental then you should ask for Leifur, named after the famous Icelander Leifur Eiríksson (or Leifur the Lucky) who came to America many years before its perceived 'discoverer', Christopher Columbus.
Considered a Nordic saison (or pale ale), Leifur is brewed with an arctic thyme that is native to Iceland. It offers a fresh taste and is perfect to drink during a bright Icelandic summer night—or to lift you up during the long, dark winter.
In recent times, the bar has also opted for "tap takeovers" where other breweries from Scandinavia (and other parts of the world) can come and surprise guests with their own national brews.
Photo by Thais Do Rio
If the current mixture of beers on tap does not suit your taste, bear in mind that there is a massive selection of premium bottled craft brews from all over the world available too. Just ask your friendly bartender.
Right around the corner from Skúli, you'll find MicroBar, one of the oldest craft beer bars in Iceland. Its ambiance and interior has more of a modern and pragmatic approach than its counterpart's, somewhat contrasting with what one would normally associate with the craft beer culture.
Regardless, the beers are top-notch and you can choose from up to ten on tap, plus a large variety of bottled craft beers.
The bar used to be located in Austurstræti - in the bowels of the City Center Hotel - but due to its high popularity, the owners decided to cross the street and expand their premises. Having done so, they now operate one of the trendiest craft beer bars in the whole of Iceland.
If decision-making is not your forte, you can order a beer tasting tray for a special price. With your purchase made, you will be enticed by a plethora of choice, straight out of Gæðingur brewery—what Borg beer is to Skúli, Gæðingur beer is to MicroBar!
Photo by Pradnyal Gandhi
Gæðingur is a small brewery in north Iceland, owned and operated by the same people as MicroBar itself. No wonder then that special effort has been made to ensure that the brewery's best products find their way to the MicroBar's taps.
Switching over from the quirky and experimental brews so prevalent in Skúli, we recommend you try one of the stronger, darker choices here. If you happen to appreciate the rich and strong taste of chocolate or coffee, the Stout from Gæðingur will be your new best friend—or your worst enemy the morning after.
If you and your friends are not overly enthused by fancy craft beers, you can also enjoy a traditional pilsner from Kaldi brewery, namely the Czech Budweiser.
Photo by Blake Wisz
Other great choices are Sur Citra, an IPA style brew concocted with skins of citrus fruits, and the Hverfisgata Spontan, a Reykjavik exclusive that has an unusual but very moreish flavour.
The craft bar scene used to be dominated by the three bars mentioned above. Knowing the thirst for quality brews, however, hot newcomer Bryggjan Brugghús decided to break the mold; instead of simply offering quality beers, why not make them too?
The bar's philosophy is to bring the best nightlife ingredients straight to the customer. Live music... CHECK! Great food... CHECK! Craft brews made on location... CHECK! What else could a city slicker need?
Located in the harbour, their large building accommodates the necessary equipment to make their tasty brews. Their range is heavily dependent on the season, and Bryggjan Brugghús always launches their own twist on what are now starting to become mainstream winter, summer and Easter beers.
Photo by Tom Nora
We can particularly recommend Hop Dylan and the fruity yet bitter IPA, always on tap, and applauded by the beer connoisseurs of the capital. The brewery is also a large provider of red ale and lager, both of which have been highly praised by the local and international community.
If too many beers are making you a bit peckish, they have an excellent dinner/lunch menu on the other side of the bar. If you are not game for a big platter, the snacks are definitely worth considering.
Being one of the largest venues, able to accommodate groups of all sizes, Bryggjan Brugghús decided to branch out even further and offer beer tours, complete with an obligatory beer tasting.
Photo by Jouwen Wang
One of their knowledgeable staff will walk you around the brewing premises (conspicuously hidden behind a massive glass wall on the main area of the bar) and explain the process of brewing "liquid bread", as well as the importance of using quality materials.
If you are looking for a good plan for Sunday and you need to add a touch of class to your drinking time, Bryggjan Brugghús is actually one of the best venues to listen to live jazz. Every Sunday from 21:00 you will be able to enjoy locals performing their own take of Americas's best musical export.
Brewdog is one of the few bars on this list that is not Icelandic; it is part of a now global chain, established in 2007, by two Scots with a passion for craft beer and a desire to revolutionise drinking culture. Considering its venues were opening in cities around the world, it was only a matter of time before one appeared in the beer-passionate capital of the north.
In spite of being Scotish in its roots, the Reykjavík Brewdog boasts a sleek Icelandic design with a range of national craft beers, alongside the brewery’s own products, on 20 taps. This bar, therefore, is perfect for those who want to know that they can enjoy internationally renowned drinks, such as the Brewdog’s famous Punk IPA, while trying out a few local flavours.
Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by GioNakked. No edits made.
The staff at Brewdog are friendly and knowledgeable, eager to help you find a drink that suits your palette; furthermore, on one of the walls is a ‘Periodic Table of Beer Styles’ to help guide you towards your perfect beverage.
The atmosphere here is open and cheery, lacking the aloofness of many other craft bars; part of this is due to the wings and burger menu, which provides something greasy and delicious to soak up your drinks with. The Brewdog is also one of the few craft bars in Iceland where parents can bring their kids, as the venue is children-friendly until 10pm.
Photo by Stanislav Ivanitskiy
Session Craft Bar is located on the second floor of a beautiful building in the downtown area, boasting lovely views over the busy streets below. The windows let in as much light as possible, and when night falls, unique lamps provide a cosy environment, only added to by the soothing, ambient music.
What makes Session Craft Bar particularly special, however, is its excellent range of drinks; the bar says somewhat (but not entirely) jokingly that if they don’t sell a certain kind of beer, that’s because it’s not good enough. With fourteen taps, however, there is still plenty of variety.
Photo by Evan Dworkin
The beers specialised in here are all Icelandic, selected from breweries around the country. Session LagerLager and Session IPA are both safe and delicious choices, though those with a more adventurous palette may want to try the ‘Is This Really It?’ Farmhouse Ale, or the ‘At Gale Force’ Stout.
Session Craft Bar is not just for beer-lovers; it also has an extensive wine list and fabulous cocktail menu.
Bjórgarðurinn, or the Reykjavík Beer Garden, has a lot working in its favour when considering the best bars for craft beer in Iceland. It boasts up to thirty Icelandic beers on tap, from a range of breweries around the country; many more bottled beers from all around the world; a fantastic location on the ground floor of one of the city’s most popular hotels; and a food menu tailored to perfectly complement the drinks.
The staff at the Beer Garden are experts in ale, and will help you pair your meal with its perfect liquid partner. For example, if you select something barbecued, you may be recommended the smooth, lemony All Day IPA as a palatable match. On that note, the menu is very diverse, with everything from vegan plates to a sausage bar to street food
Photo by Daniele Buso
Though a short walk from the downtown area, the Reykjavík Beer Garden is close to many large hotels (notably being on the ground floor of Fósshotel Reykjavík). Due to the fact you can get a filling meal here, as well as its generous happy hour, the venue makes the perfect starting place for an exploration of the craft bars in the city.
Lively, unique and modern, Bastard Brew and Bar is a fantastic place to enjoy Icelandic craft beer, classy cocktails and delicious food made with local ingredients. With its rustic interior and the rock, soul and disco classics playing in the background, it has an inviting warmth in the cold winter days, while its large outdoor areas also make it a great hang-out spot in summer.
The Hazy Bastard and Amber Bastard are highly recommended craft beers to enjoy here, with the former being a New England IPA and the latter being an amber ale. Craft beers from around the world are available from bottles, and the bar also boasts extensive gin, wine and cocktail menus.
Photo by Helena Yankovska
In terms of food, the Bastard Brew and Bar has a wide range of options, with tacos, flatbreads, burgers, fish, chicken dishes and vegan plates. The weekends even have a brunch menu from 11.30am to 4pm, making it the perfect place to cure a hangover or get started for a great night out.
Though not a craft bar in the conventional sense, the Reykjavík Brewing Company is central to the production of many of the incredible craft beers in Iceland. The brewery can be explored by booking an appointment, allowing you to see first hand how beers in Iceland are made, whereas the taproom can be visited without appointment for you to enjoy a pint straight at the source.
Eleven of the brewery’s best beers are on tap, changing on occasion with availability. In the summer, it is highly recommended to seek out the refreshing Barfluga lager, whereas in winter, the coffee-roasted Co & Co & Kokos stout is the perfect warmer.
The Reykjavík Brewing Company is located about half an hour’s walking distance from the downtown area, near the bus centre of Hlemmur; due to its early closing hours, it is thus more convenient as the first stop on a bar crawl. Due to the tours it offers of its brewery, it is also a great place to learn about the story of craft beer in Iceland.