Touch down in Reykjavik and you’ll be in awe of how beautiful the world’s northernmost capital is. But with a buzzing nightlife scene, the Icelandic capital has more to offer than scenic views.
While you won’t find any multistorey shrines to house music, you’ll find an exciting scene revolving around jam-packed dance floors in bars, cafés and restaurants. We spoke to Teitur Helgi Skúlason, half of the production duo ra:tio, who has been working with the best up-and-coming artists in Iceland and knows his way around the city’s night scene. “Reykjavik offers a bit of an unusual clubbing experience, with unique bars and clubs all over town,” he told Culture Trip.
Prikið, the Reykjavik institution
Bar, Restaurant, American, $$$
For those looking for a distinctly Reykjavik experience, Prikið is your go-to place. “It’s the absolute cornerstone of Reykjavik nightlife – a great place for those who love ’90s contemporary hip-hop music,” says Skúlason. The small club feels like a jam-packed house party at weekends, with people crowding into the two-storey house and dancing in every space available – even the stairwell. Sitting right on Laugavegur, the main thoroughfare for nightlife in Reykjavik, it’s hard to miss this iconic red house, and even harder to leave when the grungy alternative party kicks in.
Austur is both the biggest and oldest nightclub in Reykjavik, located on the ground floor along Austurstræti – hence the name. One of the classier venues in town, there are two bars, a large dance floor, plenty of table space and, if you’ve got enough money, the chance to make use of VIP table service and have bottles delivered to your table. The polished atmosphere means that you’ll have to dress to impress inside this club, which plays classic European club and dance music.
Located closer to the harbour than the rest of the bars on this list, Gaukurinn is one of the last bastions of live music in the city after a slew of venues shut down. While the venue might resemble a dive bar, the friendly service and cheaper-than-usual prices more than make up for the slightly shabby decor. Expect alternative, rock and heavy metal live music when there are gigs on, and an all-inclusive ambience at this establishment, which also hosts regular drag shows. Stop by when you’re in need of live music or the fast food that’s served in the evening.
Pablo Discobar is a cocktail bar that makes you feel as if you’ve stepped out of the blustery Icelandic weather and into a South American discotheque. Located on Ingólfstorg, the main square downtown, tropical bird wallpaper and glittering disco balls complement the tequila- and mescal-infused cocktail menu. Though the drinks are on the pricier side, the colourful venue plays an infectious mix of electro, funk and hip-hop at weekends and serves tasty Latin tapas at the second-floor restaurant Burro, making this a go-to venue if you want to dress up for a fun night out.
One of the few clubs in the city that has a strictly enforced dress code, B5 on Bankastræti is a small, Miami-inspired club that draws in an Icelandic crowd who like to dress up for a night out. Lit in deep pink colours, this venue serves premium drinks and has a two-for-one happy hour. Locals tend to start arriving at around 1am, and the venue can get busy, so arrive early to avoid long queues.
A night out in Kíkí presents the best opportunity in the capital to let loose on the dance floor. “This is the most popular queer club in Reykjavik, but of course it’s open to everyone, as long as you’re willing to dance!” says Skúlason. The venue is lit with disco balls and the music choice is always on point: one minute it’ll be the latest pop and hip-hop songs, and the next, Queen singalongs and show tunes. The club has a friendly vibe, and you’ll meet tourists and locals alike on the dance floor. Look for the rainbow-painted building on Klapparstígur, just off Laugavegur.
A longstanding club in the city, Kaffibarinn is a must for anyone looking to experience classic Reykjavik nightlife. Morphing from a quiet place to have a beer in the early evening into a party house after hours, this bar and nightclub is frequented by the alternative crowd. Rumour has it it was once owned by Blur frontman Damon Albarn. “It has a sophisticated yet loose atmosphere, with groovy techno and soul music. It’s got a small dance floor – it’s more of a sit-down place,” says Skúlason, “with prices that are standard for the city”.
As the night starts to wane, the energy and dancing at Paloma start to increase at a frenzied pace, making this club one of the best places to end your night out. “Another of the best places to dance in Reykjavik, it has a more unpolished vibe, with deep house dance music, and a beer pong table on the lower floor as well,” says Skúlason. “As well as the large dance floor, there are a few different lounge areas for relaxing, and a long bar that serves popular and expensive drinks.”