Reykjavik nightlife abounds in the center of the city where there are a plethora of pubs, clubs and bars. As we were more interested in sampling Icelandic beer than clubbing, we veered away from the themed bars on the main drag (American Bar Reykjavik and Cafe Paris, to name two) and sought out the best places to drink local beer in Reykjavik, Iceland.
Just as it seems the case in several locales around the world, craft brew is on the rise in Iceland, too. Breweries in Iceland are producing everything from tried and true Iceland lagers to unusual and expensive experimental beer in Iceland – and we were delighted to indulge. (Visiting an Iceland brewery was high on our list during our trip, but short on time, we settled for visiting Reykjavik pubs instead. Tips on brewery tours at the end of the post!)
Unlike most of the rest of the world, however, brewing and consuming Iceland beer only became legal on March 1, 1989, what is now called Iceland Beer Day. For 74 years, consumption of beer was banned for Icelandic citizens. The beer industry in Iceland has come a long way since the prohibition in 1915 (as evidenced by the number of pubs in Reykjavik!)
Like most things in the country, the price of beer in Iceland is expensive. We consciously limited our drinking in Iceland and looked for Reykjavik happy hour deals. Icelandic craft beer, however, is never cheap – so in addition to drinking Iceland microbrewery beer, we also sipped pints produced by big-name Icelandic beer brands. (More on the cost of beer in Iceland below!)
In our search for bars in Reykjavik for drinking locally produced brew, we discovered two craft beer bars and a quaint cafe with a stellar happy hour, all three of which are conveniently clustered together off the west end of Austurstraeti.
Places to Drink Local Beer in Reykjavik
1. Skuli Bar
Skuli Bar has both craft brew and happy hour, so obviously it is one of the best places to drink local beer in Reykjavik. Unfortunately, the Skuli Bar happy hour (which lasts from 2pm until 7pm) just made the expensive Reykjavik craft beer less expensive, but, no doubt, still expensive. In the dim interior, the chalkboard displaying which beers are currently on tap is highlighted behind the bar.
We ordered one of each of the two happy hour options: Brio (Pilsner) and Myrkvi (Porter). Although I don’t usually indulge in porters, it paired brilliantly with the cold and dark weather occurring outside the window. Both beers are produced by Borg Brewery Iceland (Borg Brugghus), a microbrewery born from Olgerdin, Iceland’s oldest brewery.
With a friendly bar staff and equally friendly patrons, Skuli Bar is one of theh cool bars in Reykjavik that is a fun place to kick back and relax after a day of touring the Golden Circle. The beers were tasty, too. Although it was suggested, we passed on a shot of the local schnapps, Brennivin, which is often the drink of choice when consuming fermented shark. We also made sure to steer clear of Surtur 8.2, a stout with 14.5% alcohol content and a price tag of $15.50 a glass.
Cost: We had 3 Myrkvi porters (1000 ISK happy hour/1300 ISK list) and 1 Brio pilsner (600 ISK happy hour/900 ISK list), which at happy hour cost 3600 ISK, or about $28.50 USD.
2. Micro Bar
On the opposite end of the square, down a flight of stairs into a basement is MicroBar, which was easy to find once we spotted the wooden horse mascot grazing outside. MicroBar Reykjavik also has craft beer on tap and happy hour, only with shorter hours (from 5pm-7pm) and offering only one selected tap beer for 700 ISK (about $5.50 USD). Unfortunately, our arrival at MicroBar was after our return from Iceland’s South Coast Tour, which was post-happy hour.
Since there were no deals to be had, we angled toward our preferred style of beers: Olgjorvi American Pale Ale and Tumi India Pale Ale – which was some of the best beer in Iceland that we tasted. Both beers are crafted by Gaedingur Brewing, which was established in 2011. During our visit, there were six Gaedingur craft beers offered on tap, in addition to six others from around the country. MicroBar also carries a large selection of bottled beer – all craft, which makes it one of the best pubs in Reykjavik for craft beer.
The atmosphere felt cozy, yet the room was reminiscent of an open, yet small, beer hall. The bar staff was quick to tell stories and aid in beer selection and recount the history of craft beer in Iceland.
Cost: We had 2 Olgjorvi APAs (1200 ISK) and 2 Tumi IPAs (1400 ISK), which cost 5200 ISK, or about $40 USD.
Located in a small yellow house around the corner from Skuli Bar, we almost passed by this little gem. Fortunately, the chalkboard sign outside advertising happy hour beers for 600 ISK lured us inside Konsull. When we entered, it felt like we stepped into someone’s living room in the 1940s. Furniture was grouped together around coffee tables, along with one large, wooden dining table, which was used as community seating.
The happy hour special was a ½ liter of Gull beer, made by the parent company of Borg, Olgerdin. They have a history of brewing beer, distilling spirits and creating soft drinks since 1913 (we highly recommend their orange soda, Egils Appelsin!). They use pure Icelandic water in their products. Although mass-produced, it is a Reykjavik original and is practically the national beer of Iceland. It is not the best Icelandic beer, but trying one while in the country almost seemed mandatory. We’re not sure if it was the the happy hour pricing or if it was just that easy to drink, but we opted for a second round.
Cost: We had 4 Gull beers (600 ISK happy hour price), which cost 2400 ISK, or about $18.50 USD. Note: These were the best happy hour Reykjavik prices we found!
Iceland Beer Tips
Iceland Beer Tours
Want more Icelandic beer?! (Who doesn’t?) There are several Iceland Brewery Tour and Reykjavik Pub Crawl options that help introduce visitors to Iceland beer. With the unique history concerning alcohol consumption, emerging craft beer scene and thriving nightlife in Iceland, there is plenty to learn…and drink!
Beer lovers are able to tour two breweries: Olgerdin (the oldest Iceland brewery and producer of Gull beer) and Bryggjan – a Reykjavik brewery in the heart of the city (where there is also an Icelandic food and beer pairing tour). To combine sightseeing with beer tastings, consider joining the Golden Circle Beer Tasting Tour or the West Iceland Food Tour to the countryside, which includes a stop at an Iceland microbrewery. And, for those just looking for a fun night out in Reykjavik, meet up with fellow travelers on a Reykjavik Craft Beer Pub Crawl.
Drinking in Iceland on a Budget
Stay out of the Reykjavik pubs and bars. That’s the #1 tip for budget travelers visiting Iceland. The best budget tip for where to buy beer in Iceland is at the duty-free shop at the airport on arrival. While we clearly fall into the Budget Traveler category, we were not going to let the cost of beer in Iceland deter us from trying a few local brews at pubs in Iceland. It is, after all, our preferred method of meeting and mingling with locals.
The entire idea of Iceland on a budget is somewhat of an oxymoron. It’s simply not a budget destination and Iceland pubs are just not cheap. But, rather than eliminate the entire experience of bellying up to a bar and having a pint of beer from Iceland, we sought out happy hours in Reykjavik and consciously limited our intake of Reyjkavik beer. Our affection for craft beer over mass-produced beer, however, certainly added a few Icelandic Kronas to our tally of the cost of beer in Reykjavik, but was well worth the upgrade.
Top Tips for your Trip to Iceland
Where To Stay
During our visit to Reykjavik, we stayed in this awesome Airbnb Apartment. ( Not already a member of Airbnb? Use this link to create an account and save money on your first stay!) We have found that staying in apartments is often less expensive than hotel rooms – with the added benefit of a kitchen and, usually, more space. Reykjavik holiday apartments can also be searched on FlipKey (which is part of TripAdvisor) or on VRBO – Vacation Rentals By Owner.
However, for those who prefer staying in traditional accommodations, there are many Reykjavik hotels to choose from in – or close to – the city center. Check out these top-rated hotels (based on guest reviews!) for your upcoming trip: Kvosin Downtown Hotel, Canopy by Hilton and Hotel Lotus Reykjavik. Or, find a deal on a hotel room by bidding on Priceline.
Flights to Iceland
Our preferred method of getting anywhere is by flying (we are JetSetting Fools, after all!). However, due to our unique circumstances (flight benefits earned from years of service with a major airline), we rarely buy airline tickets. That being said, when we do need to purchase plane tickets, we start our search for the best deals on airline tickets on Skyscanner or Flight Hub.
Before You Go
- Don’t forget to pack a pair of lightweight and comfortable walking shoes for the city. I (Sarah) have traveled with these shoes by Columbia and Skechers. Kris prefers wearing these shoes by Merrell and Sanuk.
- We’re certain you’ll be snapping tons of photos during your trip. Rather than relying on your mobile phone to capture the sights, upgrade to an actual camera for higher quality photos photos (that can later be beautifully compiled into a travel photo book). We travel with a Canon Rebel (which takes amazing photos, but can be a bit clunky) and a Canon PowerShot ELPH (which takes beautiful pictures, is slim and lightweight – and the new models are wifi enabled so you can share your trip pics to social media in real time!).
- It’s easy to get turned around or lost in any new city! Be sure to have a good map and/or guidebook prior to arriving.
- We think travel insurance is essential! If you haven’t already obtained travel insurance for your trip, travel protected with World Nomads.
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