Your indispensable guide to the best of the bar scene in Iceland's capital
Reykjavík has long been known for its lively nightlife, and in recent years there has been a massive increase in high-end bars, with great craft beers, cocktails and wine selections.
There is fierce competition in Iceland's food and drink scene, although the people behind it are friendly and supportive - most of the chefs and bartenders know each other well in this small community. Despite the pandemic, many long-standing establishments remain, and the city has also welcomed some exciting newcomers.
Drinks are on the expensive side, but most bars in town offer happy hour prices that are well worth looking into if you’re on a modest budget.
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The bars below are all within walking distance one from another, and shouldn’t be missed on a visit to Reykjavík.
Kaldi has the biggest selection of gins in Reykjavik. Photo: Kaldi Bar
There’s a bit of an oxymoron in the name of Kaldi Bar, meaning “Cold Bar”, as this is one of the hottest bars in town. The focus here is on Icelandic microbrewery beers, such as the one the bar takes its name from. Additionally, the bar boasts Reykjavík’s largest selection of gin and on any given night the place will be packed full of locals, having a quick beer after work or sipping on g&t into the late hours.
This centrally-located spot has limited seating, and always feels cosy with its brass bar and dark interior, exposed rocks and wooden beams. In summertime they make good use of their big outdoor area, flanked by a distinctive mural of Tupac and Einstein sharing a beer. As an added bonus the owner, Georg Leite, is extremely charming and often behind the bar personally recommending what to try next.
When you're not watching the bar staff's mixing skills, you can watch the world go by at Veður Bar. Photo: Veður Bar
Just across the street from Kaldi Bar you’ll find Veður Bar, an Icelandic play on words for "weather-beaten", and arguably one of Reykjavík’s best-named bars.
If you're being beaten by the volatile Icelandic weather you can find refuge here and sip on some of the best cocktails in town while watching the world go by through their floor-to-ceiling windows. The interior is Scandinavian minimalist, with parquet floors and muted blacks, greys and off-whites. If you struggle to find a seat in this busy spot, there is also seating downstairs.
Apótek's dill-infused gin is a must try. Photo: Apótek
Apótek is well-established as one of the most popular restaurants in town, located in an opulent historic building right in the heart of the city. The name is Icelandic for "Apothecary" and pays homage to the building’s history as a pharmacy.
In the lobby bar, guests can choose between a number of prescription-themed cocktails made by the bar’s resident "pharmacists". These include Painkillers, Stimulants, Tranquilizers and even some Placebos. Award-winning cocktails include Dillagin (dill-infused gin) and the wryly-named Ryen Toastling (rye whiskey and toasted porter).
The interior is classic, with high ceilings and velvet chairs, and in addition to the cocktails there are tasty sweet treats on offer from their patisserie. If you’re feeling even more peckish, afternoon tea is also available daily (pre-booking necessary).
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Another restaurant popular with the locals is Sushi Social, which fuses Japanese and South American cuisines. Here the decor is tropical maximalist, with colourful, mouth-watering drinks to match. Expect your cocktails to arrive both well-decorated and tasty, making this an Insta-worthy destination. Also don’t forget to make the most of their delicious food menu to go with it.
Skál! features natural wines, creative cocktails, and often their own brews to go with their New Nordic cuisine. Photo: Skál!
Skál! is located inside the non-stop buzz of bus-terminal-turned-food-destination Hlemmur Food Hall.
This small scale restaurant received a Michelin Bib Gourmand in 2019, and it would be a crime not to try one of their small plates along with a drink from their newly launched cocktail menu. Skál! offers New Nordic cuisine with locally sourced ingredients, and they keep it experimental in both their food and beverages. Check with the sommelier if they happen to have brewed something themselves recently or have a special drink on offer.
Off-the-beaten-path wine bar Port9 is a true hidden gem. Photo: Port9
Tucked down a side street you’ll find Port9, an excellent wine bar that makes you feel like you found one of the city’s secrets. Low lighting and green velvet sofas provide an intimate atmosphere, and you can choose between affordable glasses of exquisite wines, or really go all-out with some vintage offerings. More than 50 variations of wine from both the old and new world are available, and some tasty nibbles to go along with them.
Super cool Röntgen is a great spot for gin or local beers. Photo: @rontgenbar
One of the liveliest bars in town is the hip Röntgen. Spread over two floors, the bar greets you with warm candlelight, a cosily dark interior and interesting artwork.
From Sunday to Tuesday the atmosphere is chatty and relaxed and on Wednesdays some of the city’s most notable entertainers host their take on a pub quiz or karaoke. Thursdays to Saturdays you can expect things to liven up with DJs or live music.
Their gin selection is good, and local beers and cocktails are also available.
Vínstúkan 10 Sopar
Come hungry, not just ready for a drink, to Vínstúkan 10 Sopar. Photo: @vinstukan
When you enter 10 Sopar you leave Iceland behind and find yourself in a quaint cellar that feels more like the Mediterranean. The decoration is minimal but guests come here for the broad selection of natural wines and simple but sublime accompanying food. The wine selection is fantastic, focusing on interesting wines from smaller producers and lesser-known regions, and the fare to go with it is just as good.
Their selection of tapas includes manchego cheese with truffles, garlic shrimps, and broccoli with salted lemons, cooked to perfection from high quality ingredients. Not surprising when the executive chef, Ragnar Eiríksson, is the former head chef of Dill - Iceland’s only Michelin star restaurant.
An Americano in Reykjavik: Mat Bar offers consistently high quality cocktails.
Mat Bar is one of the city’s best restaurants, offering rotating menus so you never quite know what’s going to be on offer. They shake up the food choices repeatedly so you might find their take on Icelandic, Italian or Middle Eastern dishes, but you’ll always be sure that the cocktails will be fantastic and the food incredible.
It's a great place for an aperitivo and the large windows make this a spot to see people and to be seen. Pre-booking is recommended.
Super stylish Mikki Refur offers up natural wines, local beers or artisanal coffees. Photo: Mikki Refur.
This small and cosy cafe and bar is situated in the same building as interior design shop Norr11, which shows in the stylish interior and the cool clientele.
The name comes from a beloved children’s play by Norwegian author Thorbjørn Egner, and this is the best stop for a drink before or after a show at the impressive National Theatre, situated just across the street.
Choose from natural wines, local beers or artisanal coffees, accompanied by a good selection of bar snacks, or larger dishes if you’re hungry.