It’s difficult to imagine the drinking of beer being prohibited anywhere these days, but in Iceland beer was prohibited right up until 1989. Now this isn’t to say that all alcohol was prohibited. Quite the contrary, you could buy very hard liquor and get horrendously drunk on it, but beer, which is pretty light in comparison, was banned!
That all changed in 1989 and since then Iceland, and particularly its capital Reykjavik, has earned quite the reputation for its pub scene and beer culture. So, if you’re looking for a good place to party come and join the Icelanders because they sure do know how to have a good time!
Why was Beer Banned?
So why exactly was beer banned but other alcohol was not? Well originally there was a prohibition on all alcohol following a referendum in 1908 where the people voted 60% in favour of a ban. The ban began in 1915 and ended with a second referendum in 1933 when 60% of the nation voted in favour to lift it. But, when the ban was lifted for some reason beer was left out and it remained prohibited. There are several theories behind this, one being that it was simply a mistake, and when it was discovered later they couldn’t be bothered to change everything.
So it continued in this way for decades. Icelanders could get smashed on the hard stuff but not beer, until they started going on holidays to Europe in the 1970s and beer was rediscovered. It’s thought that this brought the beer culture back to Iceland, or at least an interest in it anyway. Finally, in March 1989 the ban was dropped and the way that Icelanders enjoy their drinks began to change.
When in Iceland…
Today the beer culture is still fairly new and the whole pub scene is emerging. In the past Icelanders would wait until the weekend then go out and get absolutely plastered. That element still seems to be the same – Icelanders have a reputation for drinking copious amounts, whether its beer or something else. They don’t (or at least haven’t) tended to go for a quiet night out, to meet some friends and have a few drinks, instead opting to head out very late (midnight or later) and then drink the night away. These guys know how to party!
Now there are an increasing number of pubs in Reykjavik but there are also numerous clubs and bars too. Definitely head to the capital city to make the most of this bar scene, and look for the heart of Reykjavik’s nightlife on Laugavegur Street. The clubs come in many different shapes and sizes with music to suit many different tastes so you should be able to find one you like.
The party never starts before midnight, so make sure you have a lie-in in the morning, and take lots of cash with you because drinks can be pricey in Iceland. Also be aware that some of the clubs and bars have a cover fee.
Iceland’s pub culture may be a little different to what you’re used to but if you like a friendly and fun atmosphere this country has it in abundance!
by Claire Bolgil, Travel Writer Extraordinaire
Today you can party like a Viking in Iceland