Even if you’ve never been, chances are you know there’s something special about Iceland. People go on about the Northern Lights, cinematic environment, and mind-bending rotation of daily weather patterns. But one of my favorite things about this island is its complete dedication to all things cozy — and that goes for its many bars.
As someone who has dedicated at least one trip a year to Iceland for the better part of a decade, I’ve come to love the variety of bars in the capital city of Reykjavik. The capital city is where you’ll find the country’s best bars, but you won’t be hard-pressed to find a pint of beer, glass of wine, or shot of Brennivin at the watering holes dotting the countryside. More often than not, they’re attached to a hotel or bed and breakfast, or they moonlight as a café by day and a slightly more lively scene at night. But if the energy of a bar buzzing with conversation, music, and patrons from around the world is what you’re after, plan a night (or three) out in Reykjavik to take it all in.
Bar culture in Reykjavik can be cozy. After all, the winters in this destination can be brutal and everything’s a little better by candlelight. But the scene can also be boisterous, clubby, and, sometimes, a complete dance party. Ahead, you’ll find the five bars I make a point to visit on every single trip to the Land of Fire and Ice, each with its own vibe and friendly faces.
You can’t talk about Iceland’s bars without mentioning Kaffibarinn. This space is impressive for many reasons, but its transition from “quaint café” to “let’s do shots!” tops the list. There are a number of bars that function as cafés during the day, but Kaffibarinn’s crowds and dedication to at least one impromptu dance party a night on the weekends is reason enough to put it on your itinerary. It’s the ultimate space for an energy kick before continuing on your night. For those who don’t want to go all out on a dance bar, there is a more subdued area for lounging and holding conversations you can barely hear.
Speaking of bars that transition from day to night seamlessly, Prikið is another one to plan two trips to. The weekend lines can be overwhelming, but stick to it — this is the city’s outlet for all things hip-hop (both local and international). There’s always live music, a DJ set, or a comedian taking to the stage before the dance party really takes off. Prikið is one of the city’s oldest restaurants, dating back to 1951, and many of the interiors have yet to change. Head home for a bit of sleep, but return for breakfast, where the portions are big enough to fight off your hangover.
A gathering space beloved by locals, Veður (Icelandic for weather) is an intimate cocktail bar within walking distance of the city center’s busiest streets. This spot is known for its menu, which features all of the classics with top-shelf ingredients. For more adventurous drinkers, you can also bet that there will be a rotating selection of seasonal drinks. This bar has the basics of a great place to spend a lot of time, but what puts it over the top is the window seating in the front room — great for people watching — and a second space downstairs with comfortable couches. Candlelit and designed with rich colors and textures, you’re definitely transported out of the unpredictable weather and into a warm, inviting space once you walk in.
Vínstúkan Tíu Sopar
If tapas and wine are what you’re after, head to Laugavegur, one of the city’s busiest streets, for a subterranean break from the crowds. It’s not the easiest spot to find, but if you manage to locate the side stairs on the corner (if you hit Te & Kaffi, you’ve gone too far!), you’ll be rewarded. Vínstúkan Tíu sopar has an intriguing mix of wines, from more traditional reds and whites to funky oranges and quirky sparkling varieties, making it an ideal spot for a crew with a mix of tastes. This wine bar also serves a small menu of tapas, including cheeses and pimientos de Padrones.
Named for the beer it brews, Einstök Bar is a relative newcomer to the Reykjavik bar scene. Located on Laugavegur, the tables set up outside for drinkers become the No. 1 place to people watch on a Friday or Saturday evening. If you’re there on a chilly night, a bartender will even come out and offer you a blanket. Einstök is one of Iceland’s brewing companies, located in the northern city of Akureyri. You can taste any of their beers at this bar and there’s plenty of seating space for larger groups. Don’t miss the White Ale or the Arctic Berry Ale if you’re visiting during the summertime.
While these are great options for starting (or ending) your night, one of the best moves is to pick a spot and wander along the people-filled streets once you’re ready for a venue change. There are plenty of bars in this small town just below the Arctic Circle.