Outdoor Areas in Reykjavik
Dominating dramatically the Reykjavík city skyline and providing a stunning backdrop to the capital area is the impressive Mount Esja, a popular destination for day-trippers and riddled with well-worn hiking trails. Once surmounted, the view from the top of this 914 metre high mountain is breath-taking.
There are several different routes up and around the mountain, varying in terms of difficulty. The path is divided into sections, marked with signs along the way. Each sign gives an indication of the difficulty of the path ahead with a grade system ranging from 1 boot (easy) to 3 boots (challenging). At sign 3, experienced climbers can choose to climb directly to the top, instead of following the path which goes off to the right. Approximately 200 from the top, there’s a point marked with a big rock called “Steinn”. Most inexperienced climbers choose to stop here and take in the view before going down again, as the path becomes increasingly difficult from there on. If you do get to the top, don’t forget to sign the guestbook!
Please remember to take care when climbing. It can be steep in places and large quantities of snow are often present on the upper slopes. Follow your chosen route closely and definitely take advice on the weather conditions before attempting a climb.
Mt. Esja is located in Kjalarnes, past the town of Mosfellsbaer just east of Reykjavík. It is accessible by the number 15 bus from Hlemmur bus station. Get off at Háholt in Mosfellsbaer, then take the number 57 to the foot of Esja at Esjuskáli.
Elliðaárdalur Valley is a lush recreational area popular with walkers and cyclists alike. Located within the city limits of Reykjavík the valley features a distinctive fishing river populated with a remarkable number of Arctic char, salmon and brown trout.
Fishing licenses are available during the summer fishing season, which is opened annually by the Major of Reykjavík on June 1st. The season ends on August 31st. Note it’s also possible to fish in the nearby Elliðavatn Lake and Reynisvatn Lake.
Laugardalur (Hot Spring Valley) is a major centre for sports and recreation in the capital.
In Laugardalur, you will find a youth hostel, a campsite, and the largest outdoor thermal pool in Reykjavík, Laugardalslaug, in which you can swim all year round. It is very hard to describe the experience of tiptoeing over frozen ground to the pool in your swimsuit and then immersing yourself in the wonderful water that nature (and some ingenious Icelandic geothermal engineering) has thoughtfully heated to just the right temperature: the number of returning visitors definitely suggests it’s worth trying. Laugardalur also boasts a beautiful botanical garden featuring an impressive selection of Arctic flowers and plants. Beneath the branches of a leafy grove in the gardens you’ll find the lovely Café Flora.
The Family Park and Zoo in Laugardalur is open all year. The Zoo includes most Icelandic animals, both wild and domesticated, from foxes, reindeer and seals to cattle, horses and sheep. In summer the Family Park offers many rides and play equipment for children of all ages. Outside the summer season the Family Park remains open as a play area. At the edge of the Laugardalur valley, not far from Laugardalur Arena, is a strangely shaped, domed white building. It is known as the Reykjavík Art Museum’s Ásmundarsafn sculpture collection. This used to be the studio of Ásmundur Sveinsson (1893-1982), a pioneer of Icelandic sculpture. In addition to his works exhibited inside the museum, a sculpture garden outside contains many of his monumental works.
Reykjavík’s main sports stadium is also located in Laugardalur valley and mostly used for football (soccer) matches in the summertime. Close to the stadium is the Laugardalsholl arena, a multipurpose indoor venue built in 1965. In addition to large pop and rock concerts, trade shows, exhibitions and the 1995 World Championship of Handball, the Laugardalsholl hosted the famous 1972 World Chess Championships, where American Bobby Fischer defeated Russian Boris Spassky.
Other sports facilities in the valley include running tracks, football fields and an indoor ice rink.
Heiðmörk Nature Reserve
Situated on the southeast outskirts of Reykjavík city is Heiðmörk – a wonderful recreational area with many trails leading through a vast expanse of bushy vegetation and lava formations. Some of the parks most notable features are the Rauðhólar or ‘Red Hills’ – the remnants of a cluster of pseudocraters in Ellidaárhraun lava field. Heiðmörk is a favourite with the locals, especially for sports enthusiasts, those with children and couples looking for a romantic retreat!
Heiðmörk became a conservation area in 1950 and derives its title from its namesake in Norway. The district forestry service manages the area, including its 18 mile long gravel road network and the Rauðhólar nature reserve.
More than four million trees have been planted there since 1950 and the already existing vegetation has thrived since the area was fenced-off. The most prominent of the 26 species of trees planted is the Sitka spruce. Those fascinated by the more feathery residents of Reykjavík will be pleased to discover that 30 species of breeding birds have also been spotted.
Öskjuhlíð is a beautiful woodland area surrounding the Pearl – one of Reykjavík’s stunning landmark buildings.
Conveniently located right in the heart of the city this gorgeous place makes for a popular quick getaway from city life, where visitors can cycle or walk along the various paths, that weave through a dense forest of pines and birch trees.
The paths around Öskjuhlíð join an extensive network of well-maintained footpaths in Reykjavík, leading through the scenic shores of Nauthólsvík and around the coastline to Seltjarnanes. Another option is to take the southeast trail to the recreational areas and valleys of Fossvogsdalur and Elliðaárdalur and on to the Heiðmörk heath nature reserve.