Reykjavík is home to some immensely talented artists, musicians, actors and comedians. There is just one problem, and it’s a big one: nobody outside of the approximately 360,000 Icelanders understands what they are saying! Luckily, several places around town cater to foreigners – ex-pats, immigrants, and tourists – by having events in other languages. Here are the top five venues that host events in English.
There is one universal language: karaoke. Tuesday night karaoke at Gaukurinn has become an institution. Locals and tourists alike join forces in one of Reykjavík’s best dive bars to get on stage and belt out classics. But maybe you’d rather be a spectator than the centre of attention. Guakurinn also hosts dozens of concerts every month. It’s an especially great place to catch a metal show! There are open mic singer/songwriter nights every month, drag shows, and comedy shows. Some artists are bound to speak in Icelandic, but Gaukurinn is known for its inclusivity.
There is a reason this cinema translates as Paradise Theatre. It really is heavenly! Bíó Paradís is not only the sole cinema in the downtown area of Reykjavík but also its only arthouse cinema. While it certainly showcases new Icelandic films, it also shows many international art films. Most of the time, these films have different showings, sometimes with Icelandic captions and other times with English. But for native English speakers, the real nostalgic treats can be found on Friday and Sunday nights, when Bíó Paradís shows classic films, often Hollywood favourites. The cinema also hosts several events and festivals. It is the hub of the Stockfish Film Festival, which takes place every spring, and the Reykjavík International Film Festival every autumn.
Hús Máls og Menningar
What is now a popular bar and venue with tourists was once a historically important bookstore. Mál og menning stood on Laugavegur for many years and served Icelandic and foreign book lovers. After its closure in 2020, the space re-opened as an event space and bar. Since then, it has become a staple in the Reykjavík nightlife. Apart from hosting concerts by local musicians and bands, they have a “sing-a-long” every day at 6 PM. While the bands will almost certainly include some of the more beloved Icelandic tunes, you’re bound to hear several songs you know the words to – and you are encouraged to sing along! Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, you can find stand-up comedy in English on stage at 8 PM. There’s always something going on at Hús máls og menningar, and most of it is catered to foreign visitors.
Arguably the most recognisable building in all of Reykjavík, Harpa has become representative of Icelandic culture. But the popular event and concert hall hosts events that everyone can enjoy, regardless of their native tongue. There are usually a couple of events scheduled that are aimed at the English-speaking crowd, such as the popular How to Become Icelandic in 60 Minutes. Every month, Harpa features jazz or classical music events. You don’t need to know Icelandic to appreciate and enjoy these! Sure, you may miss out on some of the on-stage banter or jokes. Harpa also has a strong history of bringing heralded international artists to its stages. Just in 2023, it boasted Wilco, Jethro Tull, Pavement, and Elvis Costello! The concert hall is amazing, with great acoustics. Whether it is a touring rock band, the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, or something you have never even heard of, we highly recommend attending an event at Harpa.
The Nordic House
The name Nordic House does not suggest that it is a place for events in English. But this event space and library dedicated to the Nordic countries often have to rely on English to communicate (although you will find precious few books in English in its library). The Nordic House also focuses a lot on the family and has many events for children. On the calendar, you can find workshops, art exhibitions, lectures, and more. Note that not every event is held in English, but many of them are. And it is the variety of events – the focus on art, literature, and international relations – that really make the Nordic House a special part of Reykjavík’s cultural life. When you factor in its café and its location in the beautiful Vatnsmýri Nature Reserve, it would be a shame not to visit!