Reykjavík’s gig circuit has changed fast in recent years, with city-centre favourites like Faktóry and NASA being shuttered by property developers. But the music scene thrives regardless, and there are still a variety of venues to catch a show, each filling a different musical niche. From orchestral recitals to art performances and from hip-hop parties to grimy rock concerts, here are some of our favourite downtown music haunts.
It’s no surprise that Húrra wins our “Best of Reykjavík” magazine’s Live Music award, year in and year out. It’s simply the best music venue downtown Reykjavík has to offer, with great sound, a great bar (they have Club Maté!), a great dancefloor, a great stage—great everything, basically. It’s the place where the best 101 bands host their album parties, and it’s where people end their Friday night blowouts. There’s also something fun happening on most weeknights, whether it’s live jazz, DJ sets, quizzes or karaoke. Hip hip Húrra!
You can’t talk about concerts in Reykjavík without talking about Harpa, the glittering music hall that sits on the city’s coastline. From the intimate seated Kaldalón hall to the grand multi-tiered Eldborg concert hall, Harpa hosts a constant flow of events, from symphony performances to comedy shows to festivals like Sónar, Airwaves, Dark Music Days and Midsummer Music. Dress up nice, and go absorb some fancy culture.
As well as being a hostel with an excellent bar and an ever-reliable restaurant, Kex Hostel has made a name for itself as a live music spot, too. This bustling bar room hosts free gigs several times a week, and there’s a tucked-away function room called Gym & Tonik at the back that sometimes hosts ticketed performances. During Airwaves, it’s where the KEXP radio station base their live programme, which should tell you all you need to know.
If you prefer your music grungy, raw, and weird, then Gaukurinn is your place. With dim lights, leather sofas, and gender-neutral bathrooms, it’s become the preferred hangout for the unorthodox Reykvíkingar, so if you’re looking for like-minded peeps, here you go. The venue hosts everything from metal to underground rap to drag extravaganzas to stand-up comedy, so you never really know what you’re gonna get on a given night. That said, you know it’ll be something you can only get at Gaukurinn.
Mengi is an unusual music space, in more ways than one. The concert room itself is more white cube than dive bar, hidden away discreetly behind a gallery shop on Þórsgata that sells records, prints, and art ephemera. The programme encourages new collaborations and experimental performances, so even if you know and love the work of the musician you’re seeing, you might be treated to something brand new on any given night. Memberships are available for regulars, and the space also runs an independent record label.
Packed hip-hop bar Prikið, lakeside concert hall Iðnó and DIY art space Gallery Port are three very different spaces that host infrequent but well-attended shows. The cosy Café Rosenberg hosts a regular programme of acoustic music. Dillon and Bar 11 are downtown favourites for dingy rock concerts. And finally, get Grapevine’s Appening app for iPhone and Android to see what’s going on all over town. Have fun y’all!
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