Reykjavík may be small, but its nightlife is epic. Whether you’re up for some live music, want to dance, or are interested a classic pub crawl, Reykjavík will not disappoint. The main drag, Laugavegur, is ground zero for the hottest clubs and bars in town.

Whether you’re up for some live music, want to dance, or are interested a classic pub crawl, Reykjavík will not disappoint.If you’re up for dancing, Kiki Queer Bar is your spot. If you fancy a whiskey bar, Dillon is the place. If you want to catch a hot Reykjavík band performing live, Húrra is your best bet. Be prepared for it to be a late night and for your wallet to take a hit. Locals don’t venture out until around midnight, and drinks are expensive. Expect to pay upwards of New York City and London prices for alcohol. For that reason, cocktail bars are scarce and beer is the favored beverage. But, for such a small city, you can’t help but be impressed by the number of hotspots catering to different genres. Your biggest challenge will be narrowing down your options!

Dance Clubs

Austur (Austurstræti 7, tel. 354/568-1907, 8pm-1am Thurs., 8pm-4:30am Fri.-Sat.) was once the hottest club in Reykjavík, but a dress code and competition from other clubs have knocked Austur down a couple of pegs. It’s still a place to go, mingle with locals, and dance the night away with current and trendy dance music.

Boston (Laugavegur 28B, tel. 354/577-3200, 4pm-1am Mon.-Thurs., 4pm-3am Fri.-Sat.) is best known as a hangout for local artists, writers, hipsters, and hangers-on. The bar has an unassuming exterior, but inside await good drinks and hot music, mainly rock. If there’s a concert on the night you go, expect to stand shoulder to shoulder. It’s a tight spot and doesn’t take too long to draw a big crowd.

Hressingarskálinn (Austurstræti 22, tel. 354/561-2240, 9am-1am Sun.-Thurs., 10am-4am Fri.-Sat.), simply known as Hresso, is a casual restaurant by day, serving up hamburgers and sandwiches. Free Wi-Fi attracts writers, tourists, and locals, who are known to spend hours sipping endless cups of coffee. By night, Hresso transforms into a dance club, with hot DJs and live bands. Expect current and trendy dance music.

Lebowski Bar (Laugavegur 20, tel. 354/552-2300, 11:30am-1am Sun.-Thurs., 11:30am-4am Fri.-Sat.) not so subtly pays homage to the Coen brothers’ movie The Big Lebowski. Inside there is bowling paraphernalia, posters from the film, and even a rug hanging on the side of the bar. It’s a casual eatery during the day, like many of Reykjavík’s bars, but at night it transforms into a pretty wild scene, playing the latest dance music. There’s a dance floor in the back end of the bar.

Lebowski Bar in Reykjavík.

Get a White Russian at the Lebowski Bar in Reykjavík. Photo © Bjorn Ludviksson.

Bars

Celtic Cross (Hverfisgata 26, tel. 354/511-3240, 11am-1am Sun.-Thurs., 11am-5am Fri.-Sat.) has Guinness on tap, which is the only thing that makes this place remotely Irish despite wood paneling and Irish ale ads on the walls. But, locals come for the Guinness and it attracts tourists as well. Crowds are known to be rowdy on the weekends.

The English Pub (Austurstræti 12b, tel. 354/578-0400, noon-1am Mon.-Fri., noon-4:30am Sat.-Sun.) is part English pub, part sports bar. There’s a nice selection of Icelandic and foreign beer, and Guinness is on tap. If there’s a soccer game being played anywhere in the world, it will likely be shown on one of the many screens in the bar. If there’s an English league game on, expect a crowd of expats, tourists, and locals.

Kaffibarinn (Bergstaðastræti 1, tel. 354/551-1588, 5pm-1am Sun.-Thurs., 3pm-3am Fri.-Sat.) has been a Reykjavík institution since scenes from the indie film 101 Reykjavík were filmed in the bar. Damon Albarn, the Blur frontman, used to own a stake in the bar. It’s a tiny bar, with a rich red exterior, that gets jam-packed during the weekends, but it’s one of those places that it’s cool to say you were there. Expect trendy dance music to be blaring as you enter.

Micro Bar (Austurstræti 6, tel. 354/847-9084, 4pm-midnight daily) is a beer lover’s paradise. The bar carries about 80 different beers from countries including Belgium, Germany, Denmark, and the United States. The big draws are the wide selection of Icelandic beers on tap and the number of Icelandic craft beers available. Stop by and try a local stout, pale ale, or lager. The atmosphere is relaxed and relatively quiet, with dim lighting and a large wood bar. You’ll find locals at one of the tables enjoying a beer and conversation with a friend.

Gay and Lesbian

Kiki Queer Bar (Laugavegur 22, tel. 354/571-0194, 8pm-1am Thurs., 8pm-4:30am Fri.-Sat.) is Reykjavík’s only gay bar and was a welcome addition to the scene when it opened its doors in early 2013. Many locals will tell you this is the place to go to dance because it attracts some of the best local and visiting DJs. You can expect music ranging from Madonna to Lady Gaga and everything in between.

Kiki Queer Bar in Reykjavík.

Kiki Queer Bar in Reykjavík. Photo © Bjorn Ludviksson.

Live Music

Bar 11 (Hverfisgata 18, tel. 354/690-6021, noon-1am Sun.-Thurs., noon-3am Fri.-Sat.) has earned its reputation as Reykjavík’s leading rock bar by featuring a steady stream of up-and-coming rock bands as well as local favorites. The decor is dark, with skulls and black furnishings, but the attitude is light and fun.

Café Rósenberg (Lækjargata 2, tel. 354/551-8008, 11am-1am Sun.-Thurs., 11am-3am Fri.-Sat.) is known to host jazz, pop, rock, and folk acts from all around Iceland. You have a good chance to catch local favorites like KK, Ellen, and Svavar Knutur here, as well as international acts. The staffers are warm and friendly music lovers who take pride in booking varied acts and running a laid-back café that serves classic Icelandic comfort food.

Dillon (Laugavegur 30, tel. 354/511-2400, 2pm-1am Sun.-Thurs., 2pm-3am Fri.-Sat.) looks and feels like a dive bar. Rockers, metalheads, and hipsters unite, listening to live bands and sipping the fine collection of whiskeys available. When there isn’t live music, locals DJs keep the music flowing. The interior is a little rough, with lots of wood and not many places to sit, and the music is always loud.

Húrra (Tryggvagata 22, tel. 354/691-9662, 5pm-1am Sun.-Thurs., 5pm-4:30am Fri.-Sat.) is a colorful spot featuring a steady stream of Iceland’s hottest bands taking the stage, playing everything from rock and dance to pop and hip hop, depending on the night.

Kex Hostel (Skulagata 28, tel. 354/561-6060) has become a Reykjavík institution over the past few years. The hostel, which used to be home to a biscuit factory, is a great space, complete with midcentury furniture, vintage wall maps, and a lot of curiosities. A small stage in the entryway hosts up and coming bands while guests drink and hang out at the bar. A back room serves as a concert space for more formal concerts. If you’re in your 20s and aren’t bothered by hipsters, this is your place. Since this is a hostel, it’s open 24 hours, so check listings at www.grapevine.is for concert times.

Loft Hostel (Bankastræti 7, tel. 354/553-8140) opened in 2013 and has quickly earned a reputation as a place to see and be seen. The fourth-floor bar/café hosts up and coming bands, established live acts, and DJs. An outdoor deck overlooks Bankastræti and is packed with locals and tourists alike when the sun is shining during the day, and filled with mingling concertgoers at night. Since this is a hostel, it’s open 24 hours, so check listings at www.grapevine.is for concert and event times.

Travel map of Downtown Reykjavík

Downtown Reykjavík


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Iceland.