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Going Out in Iceland: Beer, Bars & Booze

Reykjavík nightlife is famous. Even infamous, depending on your point of view. While Icelanders have always known how to party, the bar scene in Reykjavík has done a lot of growing up in the last few years, with several dedicated beer bars opening their doors, as well as ambitious cocktail bars, serving up delicious concoctions.


Whether you want to have a beer in the afternoon, head out for a drink in the evening, or dance till the morning comes, the liveliest bar scene in Reykjavík is in the city centre, on and around Laugavegur and Austurstræti. Many bars double as cafés and bistros (and even triple as venues for concerts and other events), simply turning up the music as the night progresses. Closing times differ depending on the atmosphere of each drinking establishment but the rule of thumb is that bars must close at 01:00 on weekdays and no later than 04:30 on weekends. Some bars close earlier. The most popular drink is beer and there’s plenty of good beer to be had, but Reykjavík is also having a cocktail renaissance, so ask your bartender about the bar’s specialties!


Believe it or not, but beer was prohibited in Iceland for most of the 20th century. It was legalised March 1, 1989, and March 1 is now the unofficial holiday of Beer Day! Ever since that day, Icelanders have been making up for lost time and beer is now the most popular alcoholic beverage in Iceland. Perhaps more importantly, Icelanders also started brewing their own (delicious) beer. For the first few years, easily drinkable lager beers ruled the roost but in the past few years, Icelanders have gotten a taste for a wider range of beers. Have a Kaldi beer at Kaldi Bar downtown or stop by MicroBar, Session, or Skúli and taste some of their extensive selection of microbrews. Einstök beer is good and widely available and the small-batch brews of Borg brewery are always worth trying. Danish brewery Mikkeller runs a beer bar with several of their most delectable products for sale and Bryggjan brewery is a restaurant/bar/brewery where beer is made on-site!


Icelandic liquor, which hasn’t really been known for finesse through the years, is also going through a renaissance. Brennivín, the most famous Icelandic liquor, gets a bad rap (it’s also known as Black Death) but in fact, it’s brewed like an aquavit and much like its Scandinavian cousins, can be quite pleasantly sipped with smørrebrød. It’s flavoured with caraway seed. Apart from the traditional Brennivín, new creations like liqueurs made with Icelandic blueberries, crowberries, rhubarb, and even birch, are inspiring bartenders all over Reykjavík. You can also try Icelandic gin, vodka, and whisky! Finally, Icelanders are liquorice lovers and if you share that love, be sure to check out the vodka-based Opal and Tópas shots, available at most bars in Reykjavík.