Until 1989, beer with an alcohol content above 2.2% was illegal, and other forms of booze were tightly restricted. Alcohol consumption in Iceland is actually lower than in most European countries, but when Icelanders do drink, they tend to make up for lost time. Late Friday or Saturday night, you'll likely witness dancing on every available surface, public urination, the occasional brawl, licentious sexual behavior, and so on. At least the 2007 smoking ban has made the air more hospitable.
The legal drinking age is 20, but it's not heavily policed. Some bars and clubs have a 22-and-over policy. Drinking on the street is prohibited, but the law isn't enforced. Reykjavík is a safe place, but as always, women should beware of accepting drinks which may have been tampered with. Many foreigners, usually men, come in search of reputedly loose Icelandic women and are disappointed.
Fashion in the club scene is surprisingly dressy for laid-back Iceland. A certain divide has opened up between spiffier joints and hangouts with too many hipsters, rockers, and bohemians for any sort of dress code.
On weekends, not much gets started before midnight, and clubs stay open as late as 6am. Weeknights, when bars are required to close at 1am, are far more relaxed. On Thursday nights, DJs and live music often take it up a notch. Most of the clubs are cafes by day and serve food until 10pm. Bars and clubs have cover charges only when there's live music.
Many locals save money by drinking at home and then heading out around 1am, when the lines start forming. (Icelanders don't like waiting in line and will push and shove to cut ahead.) At the end of the evening, many partiers wind down in Austurvöllur Square, near the biggest late-night taxi stand at Tjörnin Pond.
Reykjavík bars change constantly, and listings are quickly outdated. If you're not sure where to go, trust your instincts, keep on the move, and ask locals for advice. Icelanders are very accessible, especially when they're in party mode, and the nightlife scene is nowhere near as snobby as it is trendy.
Joining the Party
- Pub Crawl: Nightlife comes in a package tour, starting on select nights at 10pm at a location passed along via Facebook or e-mail by City Walk. For 2,500kr, a team of guides will lead the group to several bars, where there will be drink specials. Around 40 others are along for the ride, Icelanders and tourists alike.
- Beer Tasting: The craft-beer scene in Reykjavík has exploded in the last few years and the city now has a dozen good bars with a selection of Icelandic microbrews. Your Friend in Reykjavík offers 2.5-hour tours with tastes of 10 different Icelandic beers (9,990kr per person).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.