After a long day of hiking and sightseeing, you probably want to unwind. And what better way to relax than with a tall (or short) glass of Icelandic booze? Buying alcohol in Iceland is simple, even if it is a bit restrictive. Here‘s what you need to know before stocking up. Keep in mind that Iceland‘s drinking age is 20; you may need your ID ready either at the shop, at the bar or to get into the club.
Alcohol cannot be purchased in grocery stores in Iceland, as beer, wine and hard liquor are exclusively sold in outlets run by the State Alcohol and Tobacco Company of Iceland, referred to by locals as “Ríkið” (The State). The State runs around 51 stores in Iceland, Vínbúðin (The Wine Shop) that legally sell alcohol.
As a government-regulated entity, Vínbúðin is a victim of limited opening hours. In general, the stores are open on weekdays from around 11:00-18:00. In the countryside, however, some stores only open between 16:00-18:00! In recent years, some Vínbúðin stores have extended their hours until 20:00. In Skeifan in Reykjavík, for instance, the store is open on weekdays from 10:00-20:00. Regardless of where the store is located or what their daily hours may look like, every store closes on Sundays.
The selection also differs between stores. Some, like the Vínbúðin in Kringlan, have a wide variety of spirits. Others may have a broader selection of Icelandic craft beers. But one store tops them all in terms of not only choice but also price: Keflavík. The duty-free Vínbúðin at the airport means you pay a significantly lower price than in other liquor stores around Iceland. So, if you are planning on drinking in Iceland, the best bang for your buck is stocking up at the airport!
Don‘t Be Fooled at the Supermarket
In recent years, more companies and breweries have been producing non- or low-alcohol beer. If the alcohol content is low enough, the government will allow these products to be sold in supermarkets and convenience stores. This is great news for sober folks and those looking for good taste but no hangover. The Einstök low-alcohol beer is pretty tasty! But wine sold is mostly for cooking, and those looking to let loose and have a good time may not be excited when they see the alcohol content is only .5 in their beer. Keep in mind this advice: if it is in the aisle, getting drunk will take a while.
Bars and Breweries
Even if you decide to buy your alcohol later, the prices at any of Vínbúðin‘s locations will be far lower than the price you pay for the same drink at a bar. For instance, a can or bottle of beer may cost between 300-600 ISK at Vínbúðin. Depending on the bar, a pint of the same beer may cost between 900-1.200 ISK. Due to the high price of alcohol in bars, many Icelanders like to “pregame” at home before going out, which is why you probably won’t walk into a crowded bar or club until after midnight.
Some local breweries sell their products on-site, so you can buy some bottles and cans of their products to take with you. RVK Brewing Company is one of the few places that can do this. You can buy a 6 pack of some of their signature craft beer and just head back home. However, the prices in these instances are sometimes 5x what they cost in Vínbúðin.
Whether it is a bottle of gin, Spanish wine, or local beer, the best place to buy your alcohol is the Duty Free Store at Keflavík Airport and second is Vínbúðin. You can find the nearest shop to you here.