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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.