Remember that article where we told you all about the best bars in the Icelandic capital? Well, now we are revisiting Reykjavik nightlife with a full guide to enjoying it as a foreigner.
Know What To Expect
Reykjavik nightlife has gained world fame for being fast-paced, diverse, and somehow always changing. The Northern Lights are not the brightest thing in the night sky anymore. The Icelandic capital has welcomed a steady influx of travelers in recent years and the nightlife is growing proportionally (or even a bit out of proportion). So what does a party in Reykjavik look like?
It Is A Small, Small City
In fact, I am having trouble calling Reykjavik a city in the first place.
The capital of Iceland has the charm of a tiny town, the kind of place you would like to raise your kids in, not where you expect crazy nights out to happen. But with small size comes convenience. Bars and clubs are within walking distance from one another. Since they are all concentrated, bar hopping is easy, even when the temperatures are below 0.
Speaking Of Bar Hopping
Reykjavik nightlife is refreshingly free of showing off.
Most venues have no entrance fee and no VIP section. Think of Icelandic parties as one big fiesta where alcohol flows and everybody is friends with everyone. The fun goes on all night, too.
Unlike other countries where bars would close on you around 3 AM (I am looking at you, Britain), clubs in Iceland stay open throughout the night. Weeknights might be slow (some venues are not even open during the work week) but Fridays and Saturdays are all night style parties.
Reykjavik Nightlife Is Inclusive
Going back to that ‘alcohol flows and everyone is friends’, it is surprising to see what a few drinks do to them, both Icelandic women and men.
These Nordic people are usually reserved and a bit shy during the day. By night, it is good vibes and love for everybody. Inclusive is not just a word here. Ever heard of the bathroom debate in Iceland? No, because it does not exist. Icelanders are accepting and loving as is. At night, a bit of extravagance is even encouraged.
During festivals, carnivals, or on New Year’s Eve things get even wilder. People throw on their craziest outfits and go dancing like truly nobody is watching. There is no sense of scrutiny in Reykjavik clubs and bars. You are free to be who you are and do whatever you enjoy (so long as it is legal, obviously).
How Locals Do A Night Out
Bar-crawling is the norm for a Reykjavik night out. People tend to have a couple of favourite bars and discos and they switch throughout the night. When it comes to partying, staying at the same place is rarely ever the case. And neither is staying in the same group of friends. If you lose your buddies throughout the night, remember:
- The scene is small, you will soon find them.
- Meanwhile, make new friends on the dancefloor. It feels surprisingly natural.
- I sincerely hope you are not too drunk to get back on your own. If you are, though, chances are nothing bad will happen. Iceland has one of the lowest crime rates in the world.
As for the way they dress, the answer is: surprisingly casual. Or I might just be used to flashy Eastern European nightlife. Either way, don’t expect girls in sky-high heels and guys in suits. Look presentable and you will be let in.
There Are No Nightclubs, Per Se, In Reykjavik
You might have noticed it in our article on best bars for foreigners. There are no huge, multiple levels, multiple dance floor discos in Reykjavik. Instead, you get a mix of coffee shop, bar, restaurant, and a place to go (or stay) dancing.
This is a huge part of why there are no entrance fees. You don’t charge people to enter a restaurant, right? And a lot of the venues are restaurants or cafés by day.
The legal drinking age in Iceland is 20, which might come as a surprise to some.
Bars have strict face control as selling alcohol to minors leads to hefty fines. Bring your ID and make an effort not to lose it throughout the night.
Where Is Reykjavik Nightlife?
So where is that magical zone where all the best places are?
Chances are, you will not need my guidance to find it. Just follow the crowd on a Friday night. It will lead you to Laugavegur, the main street of the city. There are all sorts of bars along the street. And don’t be disturbed when you see the name change – from Laugavegur to Bankastræti, to Austurstræti it is still the same street. Use this as a guideline to search the area:
You will find people don’t go out in huge groups, at least not at the beginning of the night. The reason is, if you are long-term resident (or even if you have only been here for a couple of months), you are bound to bump into somebody you know.
The Reykjavik nightlife scene is tiny and foreigners are more than welcome.
In recent years, with all the tourists coming in, things have been getting a bit more diverse. You are no longer the novelty you would have been a decade ago. Still, don’t be surprised at how friendly people get when they hear you are not from Iceland. It is a welcome novelty to the usual bunch of night owls that know each other (have hooked up, have been friends, have fought, or whatever drama there might be).
Trends In Reykjavik Nightlife
People have been crazy about cocktails, recently. Reykjavik might not sound like a cocktail lover’s heaven at first but trust me when I say it is.
Take the Slippbarinn bar at the Marina Hotel. I know I talked about it in the last article, but it’s too good not to mention again. They were the city’s first real cocktail bar and have remained a legendary venue ever since. In the last couple of years, the Slippbarinn has begun to embrace local ingredients for their cocktails. Fresh seasonal herbs are the star ingredient in most of their drinks these days.
It is not just the Slippbarinn, either (but look to it if you want to know what the next big thing is going to be). Mixologists throughout the island have been turning back to their origins. If Mojitos were all the rage a couple of years ago, now it is original mixes featuring local ingredients. You might not expect it at first but Iceland is the perfect place for the cocktail lover in you.
How About Food?
Drunk food might be the last thing on your list but let me take a moment to acknowledge it. Midnight (more like early morning) snacks are on a whole new level in Iceland. Remember how most of the bars are either restaurants or coffee shops by day? That means you can literally order food inside the party place. Sure, the kitchen does close at some point but it is usually later than you expect.
b5, one of the city’s It places features hamburgers by Hamborgarabúlla Tómasar, a legendary burger joint that they brought inside the venue. Speaking of b5, here is what you should know about the bar (I am quoting myself here):
One of the things you will love (and hate) about Reykjavik is there is always something new.
A new bar, a new band, a new trend. In the midst of all this, b5 has managed to stay relevant and that alone should spark your interest. With simple Scandinavian (or shall we say Nordic?) design, top-notch cocktails, and prices that … are definitely not as fun as the cocktails.
Which brings me to my final (and slightly sad) point:
Reykjavik Nightlife Will Not Be Cheap
Sorry, but there is no way to do a night out on a budget in Reykjavik so you might as well splurge.
Daily Happy Hours are a way to destroy your liver without destroying your wallet. It mostly affects beer and wine prices, cocktails stay the same. Since the concept of pre-drinks is virtually non-existent in Iceland, your happy hour experience will come close to your ‘clubbing experience’ (because there are no clubs, remember).
The happy hour might be a good way to find semi-cheap beer but if you are anything like me, a couple of drinks and you become very friendly. At the end of the day, you don’t save that much if you start buying shots for everyone once the buzz hits you. Which is why you should brace yourself for big spending (and big drinking).
You are on vacation, let loose.