A guide to drinking beer in Akureyri and north Iceland

For many, a trip to Iceland often focuses on a stay in Reykjavik and the ‘Golden Circle’ tour but on both of our visits we’d explored further afield. On our most recent visit, we hired a car and drove around the north coast of the country to Akureyri. And of course, in between seeing waterfalls and other natural wonders, we sampled a few beers! Here’s a little guide to what you can expect if you’re looking for beer in north Iceland and Akureyri.

Stykkisholmur

Our first night outside of Reykjavik was spent in Stykkisholmur. Located on the coast facing out onto the West Fjordlands, it’s described as a centre for fishing and tourism. It has a harbour with a lighthouse above it and a few hotels and restaurants, but it’s not a big place. Other than bar in our hotel (Hotel Stykkisholmur, located on top of a hill with good views but described by Ross as similar to the place in The Shining!), there didn’t appear to be many places to drink.

View across Stykkisholmur from Hotel Stykkisholmur, Iceland

Views from our room in Hotel Stykkisholmur

We ate that evening in a tiny fish restaurant named Narfeyrarstofa which was absolutely lovely – booking in advance is definitely recommended! There was a good selection of Icelandic beer including Einstok, Viking and Stedji, and we stuck around for another after we’d finished eating. The staff were very helpful and keen to recommend beers for us to try (although they did ask us why we weren’t in Reykjavik as it was the night Iceland’s national team were at home as part of their Euro2016 qualifying campaign!)

A bottle of Stedji's summer beer at Narfeyrarstofa, Stykkisholmur, Iceland

Bottle of Stedji beer at restaurant Narfeyrarstofa

We then headed back to the hotel bar. I’m not sure if it was open to the public, but it was fairly busy – probably because it was the only place in the hotel were the Wifi was working. The chap behind the bar kept darting back into the back (I assume he was watching the match!) and the beer selection was pretty limited, but we each had an Einstok Pale Ale and watched Iceland qualify to end our evening.

Sauðárkrókur

Imagine my excitement during our time in Reykjavik when I found out that one of the villages we’d be staying in had its own Micro Bar. As my two previous Iceland posts mention, Micro Bar was one of my favourite bars in the capital (so much so that we stayed in the hotel the bar is located in on our second trip), and we were looking forward to visiting this bar closer to their brewery Gaeðingur.

We arrived and checked in and our accommodation for that evening – Hotel Tindastoll. Full of ye olde charm, this hotel claims to be one of the oldest in Iceland and it does feel that way. Some of the rooms are in the older part of the house but we were staying in the more modern annex.

We wandered off to explain the town and came across Micro Bar and Bed just mere moments away from our room. Sounds great! Sadly for us, a note on the door revealed it’s only open Thursday, Friday and Saturday – and we were staying on a Monday night. Crushing disappointment! Luckily, we found ourselves a Vinbuðin in the town and purchased a few Gaeðingur beers to take with us.

Micro Bar and Bed in Saudarkrokur, Iceland

The closest we got to Micro Bar and Bed

As a very small town, there aren’t too many places to eat but we found ourselves in Olafhus Restaurant. There were more locals than tourists (Sauðárkrókur is close to a major skiing area, so I imagine the winter months are busier) and the food was hearty with a few beer options from Kaldi available.

With no other bars available, we headed to the little bar in the hotel. The beer choice was limited –pretty much just large bottles of Thule which was served in a Gaeðingur glass, but the room itself was fantastic. It felt so traditional and cosy that it was an enjoyable place for a last beer even if it wasn’t my favourite drink.

The bar at Hotel Tindastoll, Saudarkrokur, Iceland

The bar at Hotel Tindastoll

Akureyri

Akureyri is sometimes referred to as ‘the capital of the north’ and, although it’s nowhere near as large as Reykjavik, when you’ve been driving through tiny villages and open countryside it seems absolutely massive in comparison! It definitely doesn’t have the same bar culture as Reykjavik so if you’re expecting an Icelandic equivalent of Manchester (or any other European country’s second city), you’ll be surprised.

The church in Akureyri by night

We stayed slightly outside of the town centre – about a 15 minute walk – in Saeluhus Apartments. Our main reason for choosing this accommodation was the private hot tub on the terrace – a lovely place for a relaxing beer after a long drive from our stash which we’d stocked up at Keflavik Airport and at some of the Vinbuðins we’d come across.

The majority of Akureyri’s restaurants, shops and cafés seem to be located in a small area in the heart of the town centre, set just underneath the church. The liveliest place was definitely Akureyri Backpackers. As the name suggests, this is a youth hostel with a bar/café on the ground floor and a fairly decent beer selection, including a few from Borg Brugghus in bottles and one on draft. As it seemed to be the only place open (it was during the week when we stayed in Akureykri, I do believe there are some more options on the weekend), we visited a few times and found it to have a lively atmosphere and good beer each time.

A bottle of beer by Borg Brugghus at Akureyri Backpackers, Akureyri, Iceland

Beer at Akureyri Backpackers

We visited two restaurants during our time in Akureyri, and we were also pleased with the beer we found while we dined. Our first night we went to Rub 23, an eatery which is part steakhouse, part sushi restaurant. It had a fairly extensive beer menu with plenty of ‘world beer’ including Franziskaner, Leffe and Hoegaarden. But we were all about the Icelandic options. These included a ‘house beer’ and a few options from Borg Brugghus; a very patient waitress was happy to go through the choices with us. Orkin hans Noa was our dining destination for night two and alongside the fresh seafood, the beer options include Kaldi, Viking and Einstok – which are generally the standard options in Iceland.

A bottle of beer by Borg Brugghus Rub23, Akureyri, Iceland

Beer at Rub23

Akureyri is also the home of Einstok as every bottle tells you. But it’s not a brewery you can visit. It’s actually made in the Vifilfell brewery, which makes the Viking and Thule brands as well as Coca-Cola in Iceland. There’s an interview with the head brewer you can read on the Reykjavik Grapevine which is probably the closet you can get to visiting the Einstok brewery at the moment.

Myvatn Nature Baths

The furthest east we drove was to the waterfall of Dettifoss close to Lake Myvatn.

(As an aside from beer, Dettifoss itself is in the absolute middle of nowhere: you leave the ring road and find yourself on roads surrounded by just nothingness. There’s no plants, no buildings – just an expanse of bare land which does feel like you’re on another planet. Then suddenly, you reach a large car park with a path leading to a waterfall that you really don’t believe is there until you actually see it.)

The closest village is Reykjahlíð and on the edge of it, you’ll find Myvatn Nature Baths – northern Iceland’s counterpart to the Blue Lagoon. It’s smaller and much less touristy, so if you’re looking for an alternative experience to the Blue Lagoon, it’s a good option. As we were driving, we weren’t drinking but we did see other people having beers in the water. There’s no bar in the water like at the Blue Lagoon – instead staff bring drinks out to you. It’s a lovely place to visit and well-worth it if you’re in north Iceland.

So there you have, our mini road trip around north Iceland. Nowhere has the same party culture as Reykjavik but there’s still plenty of beer options around – including a number of Vinbuðins to keep your beer stash stocked up as you’re travelling!

Looking for more information on beer in Iceland? See my guide to beer in Iceland or if you’re staying in the capital, my pick of five great beer bars in Reykjavik. Or, if you’re looking for more general info on visiting the area, check out my guide to north Iceland and Akureyri on my dedicated travel site.

 

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Five great beer bars in Reykjavik

We’ve just got back from our second trip to Iceland – it was a multi-destination adventure that involved staying in seven different places across the country with a total of four nights spent in Reykjavik. It may be an expensive city but it’s also a very fun one and has plenty of places to get a decent beer. We visited a fair number of the bars while we were there, but here’s just five of the best places to drink beer in Reykjavik in my humble view.

Mikkeller & Friends Reykjavik
Mikkeller & Friends Reykjavik

I had to start with Mikkeller! Located in an attic on top of a restaurant (keep climbing, it’s not on the ground floor!), it’s a bit hidden away but was popular with both locals and visitors on each occasion we popped in. It’s the fourth Mikkeller bar I’ve visited now and the beer selection didn’t disappoint with the 20 taps dominated by Mikkeller and To Ol beers for the majority of the time we were there. I say majority as they held a Chicago tap takeover the day after our first weekend in Reykjavik and when we returned, there were still some US beers available.

Mikkeller & Friends Reykjavik Mikkeller & Friends Reykjavik

A fairly cosy venue, the main bar is in one room with the seating in another. This is a larger space featuring a wall filled with Mikkeller posters in frames, plenty of seating and a relaxed atmosphere. It’s not cheap but it’s a great place to spend a few hours.

Mikkeller & Friends Reykjavik

Micro Bar
Micro Bar Reykjavik

Micro Bar featured heavily in the post I did on beer in Iceland last year, and as we enjoyed it so much we decided to stay in the hotel which houses it (City Center Hotel) on our return to Reykjavik. It’s operated by brewery Gaedingur who are based in the countryside near Skagafjordur in North Iceland, and as a result their taps are dominated by their own beers but they also feature other Icelandic and international brands.

Micro Bar Reykjavik

They also have one experimental beer on, which was a Berliner Weiss during our stay. Boards of five or ten tasters are on offer if you want to sample the whole range and they also have a varied selection of bottles.

MIcro Bar Reykjavik

**Update November 2015 –
I’ve just found out that Micro Bar has moved to a bigger site in Reykjavik! They’re now located at Vesturgata 2 which is just around the corner from City Center Hotel opposite the Tourist Information centre. We’ll have to make a return visit to Reykjavík to check it out!

Kaldi Bar
Kaldi Bar Reykjavik

Located off one of the main shopping streets of Reykjavik, Kaldi looks deceptively small from the outside but do venture in! Alongside the main bar, there is a cosy snug room at the back and a small terrace out back. It feels rustic and intimate although it can get quite crowded but the beers are excellent and the staff friendly and helpful. Another bonus of Kaldi Bar is that they have a happy hour where a selection of their large beers are available for 700isk (about £3.50).
Kaldi Bar Reykjavik

Skuli
Skuli Craft Beer Bar Reykjavik

As a result of spending so much time in Mikkeller , we only actually had one drink in Skuli but it was a great little bar and the majority of patrons were locals. Most of the beers on keg were from Borg Brugghus but they also have options from Belgian brewers along with the likes of Mikkeller, To Ol and Omnipollo on too. It also has an outdoor seating area – which is very useful as we popped in about 10pm on a Friday evening and it was rammed (hence the lack of pics)! They also do a happy hour.
Skuli Craft Beer Bar Reykjavik

Kex
Kex Bar Reykjavik

When we travel, we generally stick to fairly mid-range accommodation but we decided to go for a night in Kex as it comes very highly rated and looked quite a fun and quirky place to stay. It was my first ever stay in a hostel (we didn’t stay in a dorm, we had a private double room although the bathrooms were shared – I don’t think I’m quite ready to sleep in a room with 14 strangers!) and I was impressed. It’s a huge building (a former biscuit factory) and alongside its accommodation, there is a bar open to all on the first floor. With an industrial theme, the Kex bar fits with its building and has a good atmosphere. On draught they mainly have Einstok but they also have one special on and while we were there it was Omnipollo’s Leon. We only had one in there before heading out for food, but when we returned later on it was bustling.
Kex Bar Reykjavik

Bonus: Vinbudin
Vinbudin Austurstraeti

Only low alcohol booze is available in your standard shop or supermarket, so it’s the off licence you have to head to for anything stronger. Although they have some odd opening times, it’s worth a visit if you can find one. We popped into the one on Austurstraeti where we found a good selection of Icelandic beers along with Mikkeller available. Different shops have different beer on offer as well – for example, we visited one Vinbudin in the north of Iceland that had a lot of Gaedingur so although it’s pricier than the shop at Keflavik Airport, it could be worth a visit for something a bit different to take home.

Wondering what else you can do in Iceland’s capital that doesn’t involve alcohol? See my guide to the ten things you need to do in Reykjavik on my other blog Jollies and Jaunts.

A beer lover’s guide to Iceland

Last autumn we had a Scandinavian holiday and spent time in Copenhagen, Stockholm and Iceland. Being a very lazy blogger, I’ve so far only got round to posting about the Danish part of our holiday (although I have had a half-finished Sweden post saved in my drafts for months!) but with the opening of the glorious Mikkeller in Reykjavik, now seems a good time to blog about some of Iceland’s other beery delights.

Iceland’s beer scene isn’t as developed as some other countries (well, beer was banned until 1989 so they’ve got some catching up to do) but there are a number of breweries and a decent number of bars especially in Reykjavik. There’s also an Icelandic beers badge on Untappd (the delightfully named Brew Lagoon).

The most well-known Icelandic brewery outside of the island is probably Einstok – some of their beers are usually available in Booths.

We spent a few days in Reykjavik then hired a car and drove the south of the island to Vik, before heading back to the airport via the Blue Lagoon. Here are some of my recommendations for places you should visit in Iceland for beer:

Keflavik Airport

A good place to start, because this is where most visitors will arrive. It’s about 40 minutes away from Reykjavik (the capital does have its own airport but it’s mainly for domestic flights) and there are frequent bus services. But the most important thing to note is the duty free shop. It is also tax free, so prices can be about 15% cheaper than anywhere else on the island. The shops are on both sides – when we landed the shop at arrivals was full of Icelanders stocking up. and we got some to drink in the hotel (Einstok Arctic Berry Ale, it was lovely). Not beer-related but another useful tip – if you go to the Blue Lagoon (more on than that later), they have a large shop at departures selling the products which are on sale at the Lagoon’s gift shop but at a much cheaper price.

 

Vinbudin

Alcohol is not on sale in regular shops, you can only buy it at the state-owned off licence chain Vinbudin. It has about 50 shops across the island. We didn’t go to any during our visit – we didn’t spot any when we were in Reykjavik and although we spotted one while we were driving through a town (I can’t remember which one), it had very limited opening hours, so I’d recommend buying beer at the airport if you’re not planning on going out too much.

 

Micro Bar

Micro Bar was our drinking establishment of choice while we were in Reykjavik.

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It’s located within a hotel, so has a mix of clientele and definitely had the best selection out of all the places we visited. It has a number of beers on keg, as well as a huge list of bottles – but be prepared to pay for it!

 

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Prices for the keg options weren’t too bad but some of the bottles were on the steep side so we stayed away from these. The draught beers seemed to change quite regularly so if you’re in the city for a fair amount of time there should be something new for you to try. They also do flights if you’re keen to sample everything.

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Frederiksen Ale House

This was the first venue we visited in Reykjavik and we had dinner here on the first evening. The bar itself is quite large with plenty of seating, and the majority of the visitors seemed to be locals.

It had Einstok, Viking and Thule on draught – these are the three brands which pop up pretty much anywhere you are. Viking and Thule are OK, but I definitely prefer Einstok. And while we were there, it was happy hour and it was two for one on pints. I’ve just had a look at the prices on their website, it’s about £4.80 for a pint normally, so can’t complain for the price!

The food was excellent too – I can’t remember what he had, but here’s Ross’:

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And I went for fish and chips (excuse the blurry pic!):

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Ölstofa Kormáks og Skjaldar

Located on a little side street off a street with many bars/cafes, this is a cosy little spot. It’s known for Brio, its own beer which has scooped a number of prizes – although I didn’t try it (I went for a wheat beer by Borg Brugghús instead). It seems more the type of places where locals would drink rather than tourists, and had the vibe of being more of a community place instead of a cool craft bar.

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Blue Lagoon

I’ve got to mention the Blue Lagoon. The guidebooks say it’s touristy, and it is, but we both enjoyed ourselves while there. It did wonders for my ezcema and it was lovely to swim round in the warm water (it was raining while we were there, but this didn’t detract from our enjoyable – in fact it made it a bit better because it was noticeably quieter). You’re given a wristband which is used to open and close your locker and to pay for anything while you’re in there. This is particularly useful as there is a bar in the water! It’s not got a huge range, but there is beer which is nice. There’s something very satisfying about enjoying a pint while relaxing in warm water. Two non-beer tips – 1. you can buy face masks at the bar but there are tubs of it for free around the lagoon and 2. you can take phones/cameras in with you but it just means you’ll have to keep one arm up in the air, so don’t bother!

Northern Light Inn

We decided to do the Blue Lagoon at the end of our trip, and is it in the middle of nowhere. The town of Grindavik is about a 10 minute drive away (we found it as we needed to put fuel in the hire car before returning it), and the Blue Lagoon does have a hotel. But there is also the Northern Light Inn which is about a 3 minute drive away from the lagoon. We stayed here and loved it! It’s got a restaurant and honesty bar  so you can get some decent booze (bottles of Einstok and wine mainly), and also provides useful services including free transfers to the Blue Lagoon and the airport as well as a Northern Lights wake up call. It wasn’t cheap but our hire car company (Blue Car Rental) gave us the option of returning the car at the Blue Lagoon so the free airport transfer made it a good deal for us.

 

So there are some of my tips for enjoying Iceland if you’re a beer lover. It’s by no means an exhaustive list but I hope it helps someone out! Before we visited, I didn’t know what to expect from the beer scene in Iceland – especially after being spoiled by Copenhagen. But there are some very good bars and amazing beer (the lovely water probably helps) so although it can be a bit pricey, it’s definitely worth it. As proof of this, we’re planning on going back this year to see more of the island and obviously visit the new Mikkeller bar!

To finish off, here’s an image of one of the most fantastic places we visited – Jökulsárlón. It had a real ethereal feel to it and is somewhere that really has to be seen to be believed!

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