Iceland is known as the land of fire and ice—and for good reason. Contrast is part of the Icelandic landscape and identity. Glaciers sit alongside steaming hot springs, snow-capped mountains run into black-sand beaches and in the capital of Reykjavik, the island nation’s rich cultural heritage exists in harmony with cutting-edge art and design. In the daylight hours (which change drastically with the season of course), Reykjavik is a quaint, thoughtful place. However at night the city turns up with a uniquely Icelandic nightlife that rivals the excitement, variety and enthusiasm of global cities. Best of all, the entirety of central Reykjavik is walkable and locals are more than willing to show visitors old haunts and secret spots.
Bunk Bar and Café
Parties start late in Reykjavik, so grabbing a bite to eat, some coffee and even a few rounds at Bunk Bar and Café offers a lively first stop. The cozy environs come complete with a large selection of local draft and bottled beer, and a broad range of tequila. The food sways to side of comfort portions (with an excellent burger), and the coffee bar has plenty of options. It’s all reasonably priced, especially for such a central location on Laugavegur.
Head over to Reykjavik’s fast-changing marina neighborhood for some local fare and entertainment at Slippbarinn. Off the beaten path of the backpacker bars and adorned with contemporary Icelandic interior touches from local designers, the seaside pub features an impressive wine list along with a selection of Icelandic beers that will surely be new to visitors. In the summer months, Slippbarinn will be tough to walk away from as the sunlight lingers into the late evening and warm breezes drift off the docks. In the winter, the hygge vibes run strong with mulled wine and plenty of candles and comfort food.
While the massive overheard sign still reads The Dubliner, the remnants of previous ownership, a small display in the window of this bar and dance club located at Naustin 1-3 gives way to its real name: Paloma. Upstairs, at the main bar, a driftwood ceiling houses a glowing disco ball and lava rocks line the viking sailing ship-shaped bar. Paloma features some of Reykjavik’s best local DJs, with the atmosphere ranging from all-out dance party to calm, cool and collected—with the lighting always kept low. Either way, it’s a chill spot to try an array of beers and spirits, meet locals and dance. There’s even a back balcony for catching some air.
Since opening in Reykjavik’s City Center in August 2012, Dolly has firmly rooted itself as the hip new kid in town. With a sister bar in Copenhagen (aptly named Jolene), the darkened bar boasts an inviting dance floor and a nouveau electro-vibe. You won’t find craft cocktails here—the emphasis is on local pints and getting down into the early hours of the morning. Expect to see the city’s stylish crowd partying alongside in-the-know visitors. When the dance party lets out, stop by the famous Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur where weekend hours stretch to 4AM for a traditional Icelandic hotdog, the city’s unofficial late night snack of choice.
Word of Mouth presents a destination the way we experienced it. Following both trusted tips and our own whims we explore with the goal of finding what’s unique to that place. For deeper looks at some of our favorite metropolises, check out our CH City Guides.
Images and reporting by David Graver and Hans Aschim