Going hiking is one of the most popular pastimes in Iceland on nice days. The landscapes are, of course, stunning and the lack of trees makes for amazing views in all directions. You don’t even have to go far out of the city to find beautiful trails with thundering waterfalls, cool and clear lakes, and hot springs at the perfect temperature for bathing.
Reykjadalur Hot Springs
One of the most popular hiking routes close to Reykjavík is a hike to the hot springs of Reykjadalur valley. Reykjadalur translates to smoke or steam valley, taking its names from the vapour rising from the warm water flowing through the valley.
From the parking lot at the opening of the valley, the hike to the hot springs takes about one hour but lucky for you the hot springs aren’t the only great thing about the Reykjadalur valley. It’s also a beautiful area showcasing Icelandic nature and its delicate flora.
Now, Reykjadalur is a popular destination so don’t expect to be alone in the warm water and be sure to bring your bathing suit. There are no changing rooms or facilities but the feeling of bathing in the geothermal water, surrounded by the stark nature of Iceland should more than make up for it! Just be sure to leave the place as it was when you found it.
Warning – There are pools with water at the perfect bathing temperature in Reykjadalur but there are also much hotter spots where the water is close to boiling. Be sure you test the temperature of the water before you dive in!
How to get there – Take route 1 south out of Reykjavík until you get to Hveragerði, take the third exit on the first roundabout on to a street called Breiðamörk and drive until you get to the parking lot at the start of the hiking trail into the valley.
The Mosfellsdalur valley is just a short drive away from the city and it also happens to be a lovely place to visit, a green valley, dotted with farms, and full of beautiful hiking trails and other recreational options. One of these paths takes you along the picturesque river that runs through the valley, all the way up to a lovely waterfall. Start the hike at the Gljúfrasteinn – Laxness museum and walk along the River Kaldakvísl up to the Helgufoss waterfall.
Gljúfrasteinn was built by author and Nobel laureate Halldór Laxness, one of Iceland’s most celebrated authors. He had grown up on a farm farther down the valley and lived at Gljúfrasteinn for the better part of his life. He loved this place very much and even set one of his novels there, basing it on the colourful characters he had known there as well as local legends.
Halldór loved to walk and often took his dog for a walk up along the river. Take a look around you when you walk, you just might feel a little bit of his inspiration on your way! When you get to the waterfall (which also happens to be a lovely spot for a picnic) you can turn back and take the same route back, or if you have a willing driver, get picked up by the waterfall. Afterwards, you can either head back to Reykjavík or drive a bit further to reach Þingvellir.
How to get there – Technically the city bus runs to Gljúfrasteinn in Mosfellsdalur but getting the bus is still a bit tricky. Since it’s not a popular route, a car has to be ordered in advance of the scheduled time of the bus. You also have to plan your day carefully since there are a few hours between each trip, so we recommend stopping in at the Gljúfrasteinn museum while you wait for your bus. For more info, check out www.straeto.is.
Another alternative is to get a rental car or take a taxi. To drive there, take route 1 north out of the city and through the town of Mosfellsbær. At the last roundabout on the way out of town, take the first exit into Mosfellsdalur, the same route you take when you’re going to Þingvellir.
If you’ve been to the Golden circle, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland you’ve made a stop at Þingvellir or Parliament Fields. Pronounced Thing-vet-leer, these fields were where the Viking parliament used to gather, from the 10th century onward. It’s not only of historical interest but also geological, as standing at Þingvellir means standing on a rift between tectonic plates. The tectonic plates are veeery slowly pulling apart, just a little bit each year, which is what has created some of the unique landscapes at Þingvellir!
Besides its importance, Þingvellir is also just a beautiful place for a walk or a hike. There are several different paths and trails of varying difficulties. Walking from the visitor centre down to the valley below is accessible to everyone but there are also some more challenging hikes in the area. If you’re just in the mood for a short outing, exploring Þingvellir – the old church, the clear lakes and the amazing views from the historical meeting point – is great. If you want a more challenging hike, explore some of the several hiking trails leading to and from Þingvellir, up to and over the mountains that surround it.
How to get there – To get to Þingvellir, take route 1 north out of the city and through Mosfellsbær. on the last roundabout at the top of the hill, take the first exit through Mosfellsdalur and keep on going on that road until you get to Þingvellir. When it’s time to go back after you’re walk, you can use the chance to view the rest of the stops on the Golden Circle, the Gullfoss waterfall and the Geysir geothermal area.
Glymur is actually not the tallest waterfall in Iceland, not anymore. Just a few years ago, a waterfall in an extremely remote area, in the middle of the highlands, was discovered which dethroned the otherwise impressive Glymur waterfall. That waterfall is very remote and very hard to get to, however, so most people are quite content with the short drive and hike up to the still pretty impressive Glymur.
Glymur lies at the head of Hvalfjörður fjord. The road around the fjord used to be one of the most travelled in Iceland as it was the route everyone from the North and west side of the country used to use to get to Reykjavik. Since the Hvalfjörður tunnel opened, most of the traffic has diverted there. Not only does that save a lot of people a lot of time, it also means that people have stopped thinking of the route as a nuisance to drive and can appreciate its natural beauty again.
The hike up to the waterfall is quite pretty, especially on a sunny day. You can choose between a couple of routes taking you to a different side of the waterfall but the easiest one (the one that doesn’t require any fording of rivers) takes about 45 minutes from the parking spot.
How to get there – Take route 1 north out of the city and turn right onto route 47 before the road enters the tunnel underneath the Hvalfjörður fjord. drive as far down the fjord as you can get and turn right onto a little road with a sign indicating that it’s where the trail to Glymur starts.