Iceland is known for its wild and untamed nature and one of the best ways to get in touch with it is to go hiking. 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. In this article, we share with you a few popular trails for hiking near Reykjavík.
Just be sure to check the weather forecast before you set off, the fickle Icelandic climate is not to be trusted, no matter how nice it looks when you set out.
If you’re headed for a longer hike than a few hours, make sure you have the right equipment and that someone knows where you’re going and when you’re supposed to be back. It’s easy to do leave a travel plan with Safetravel.is.
For Reykjavík locals, the most popular hike in the whole surrounding area is mount Esjan. The stately mountain is a short drive away from Reykjavík but it’s visible from the city centre and its friendly presence has often been noted in poetry and literature concerning Reykjavík. The mountain is directly north of the city and people are so used to it that for many Reykjavíkians, pointing at Esjan is the only way they can be sure where north is.
The hiking trail up Esjan is well worn and you’ll be sharing the trail with locals getting out of the city and into the fresh mountain air. Although there are a few possible routes up and around the mountain, the most popular route lies straight up from the visitor centre at the roots of the mountain.
Most hikers stop at the big rock ingenuously marked Steinn (transl. Rock), since the path becomes more difficult after that, although if you’re an avid hiker looking for a longer hike, there are longer routes up the mountain to different peaks. Those trips require more preparation, however, so if you’re interested, seek out more information. If you do go all the way to the top, don’t forget to sign the guestbook! The view from Steinn is pretty good though, so it should satisfy most hikers.
How to get to Esjan
You can take the bus! Route 57 stops at the Esjurætur hiking centre. If you’re taking a car, just follow route 1 north out of the city, through the town of Mosfellsbær and stop by the hiking centre.
Reykjadalur Hot Springs
One of the most popular mountain hiking near 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 to Reykjadalur
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.
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 to Glymur Waterfall
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.
Þingvellir National Park
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 to Þingvellir
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.
Helgafell by Hafnarfjörður
If Esjan is the most popular hiking route in the area surrounding Reykjavík, Helgafell is a close second. Not as steep as the Esjan, Helgafell is perfect for a family hike. Hafnarfjörður is a little town right next to Reykjavík, known as the town on the lava field. Surrounding it is a rough and rugged lava field, partly covered by puffy moss and other flora. In other words, it feels like an extra-terrestrial landscape.
Helgafell isn’t tall, just 338 metres and the hills aren’t steep either, making the mountain perfect for a family outing. Despite not being particularly tall, the landscape surrounding Helgafell is relatively flat which means that the view from the top over Hafnarfjörður and a bit further away, the city of Reykjavík, is pretty great.
Just make sure you’re heading to the right mountain, especially if you’re using a GPS to help you get there. Helgafell is a common name for a mountain in Iceland and there is another one in Mosfellsbær and a famous one on the Snæfellsnes peninsula.
How to get to Helgafell
Drive to Hafnarfjörður like you were on your way to the airport but before you leave town, turn onto Kaldárselsvegur and continue on that way until you get to the parking lot where the hiking trail starts.
Read this article for more hiking trails within Reykjavík.
Enjoy your time in the outdoors!