Reykjavik is a city packed full of activities that will more than keep you busy. Sometimes though you just need to get out of the city and spend some time in nature. For us nature lovers we are in luck as Reykjavik is surrounded with wonderful nature to explore. With just a short drive, bus ride, or walk you can find yourself out of downtown and enjoying the views of a waterfall, lava field, or lush green park in a matter of minutes.
It’s not every capital city that you can get that kind of nature experience so close to downtown!
The City of Reykjavík
For those times when you want to leave the bustle of city life and spend some time in nature we have rounded up 8 outdoor locations around downtown Reykjavik to visit. The following locations range from forests to open green parks, a small island and a beach. You can be sure to find the perfect outdoor location to add to your time in Reykjavik on this list!
Heiðmörk Nature Reserve
Located on the south-east outskirts of Reykjavik you will find Heiðmörk, a large nature reserve with a wide variety of nature to explore. In Heiðmörk you will find a vast expanse of trees with over 4 million trees planted here since 1950, a rare sight to see in Iceland. Other vegetation thrives here as well as more than 30 species of birds. The nature reserve is full of walking trails zig-zagging in the vegetation and is a popular place with the locals for exploring.
The ever-growing vegetation is not the only type of nature you will discover in Heiðmörk. The nature reserve is also covered with lava fields, caves, and unique lava formations including the popular Rauðhólar.
Rauðhólar, which means “red hills”, are the remains of a cluster of rootless cones and are a sight to be seen in Heiðmörk. With an impressive age of about 5,200 years Rauðhólar stands out with its bright red color and tall peaks. A fun place to explore once you have left the tree covered trails!
Feeling like getting out into nature but can’t decide between a walk in the forest, near a body of water, or past waterfalls? No need to make a choice, just head out to Elliðaárdalur valley and you will get to enjoy all of these things plus more beautiful nature in this large green space located just over 6 kilometers from downtown Reykjavik.
A 10 kilometer pathway takes you around the entire valley where you will walk along the lovely Elliðaá river, one of Iceland’s best salmon fishing rivers. You do need a permit to fish in Iceland, so please no fishing without one. Along the river you will come across several waterfalls, including the impressive Kermóaafoss waterfall, you will be pleasantly surprised to come across this large waterfall in the middle of your walk!
Keep a lookout for some of the wildlife running around this area, in particular the many wild rabbits that call Elliðaárdalur valley home. Pack some snacks and enjoy a picnic on the banks of Elliðaá river, or wander into the wooded area on the other side of the river and explore the little trails through the brush. When you are in the mood for some time with nature you can’t go wrong with a visit to Elliðaárdalur valley!
If you have a few hours to fill an adventure out to Viðey island is a great activity to add to your day. An island rich in history and nature, Viðey is reached by ferry that leaves from downtown Reykjavik with daily departures during the summer months.
While the island is only 1.7 square kilometers there is plenty to do and see on Viðey. Spend some time walking the many trails that cover the island and take in the different vegetation and birdlife. Explore some of the historical locations such as the archaeological remains of Skuli Magnusson, also known as the “father of Reykjavik” that dates back to the early 10th century. Around Viðey you will also find several different contemporary art pieces such as Yoko Ono’s Imagine Peace Tower. End the day with a relaxing break inside the cafe found in Viðeyjarstofa House, a building that was constructed in 1753 by the Danish government.
Viðey Island - © Iceland Monitor
No matter what you choose to do on Viðey be sure to take a moment to take in the striking views over the bay that can be seen from wherever you are on the island. The combination of the landscape, history and panorama views will make this an unforgettable nature escape.
If you are spending a few days in Reykjavik and would like to fit in a quick hike during this time Úlfarsfell is a great option for you. Located just 12 kilometers away from downtown Reykjavik, and easily reachable by either bus or car, Úlfarsfell is a popular hiking location for those of all activity levels.
The trail to the top of Úlfarsfell is around 5 kilometers and there are several different pathways you can choose from ranging from a steep and shorter trail, to a longer but more gradual incline one, so you can find the best fit for your group. The views from the top of Úlfarsfell are worth the adventure!
If you aren’t up for a hike there are plenty of other short trails that will take you around the base of the mountain where you will find a lovely wooded area. Walk around the tree-covered area on the dirt trails, or enjoy the views from the paved pathway that is popular for biking. A peaceful location to spend some time enjoying nature.
Fancy a beach day while in Iceland? You probably weren’t expecting to see a beach day on this list but we aren’t joking, you can actually visit a beach just a few minutes away from downtown Reykjavik. While it is a man-made beach it is still a lovely spot to enjoy a nice sunny day while in Reykjavik.
Opened in 2001, Nauthólsvík is a popular spot for locals to go sea swimming, year-round! Yes, even when the water is a crisp −2 °C in the winter months you will people wading their way out into the chilly water. If a refreshing dip in the ocean does not interest you, there is a hot pool just above the beach that has great views out to the sand and water, a great place to relax for a few hours.
Make the most of your beach day with a walk along the oceanside pathway where you will get some beautiful views over the bay. You will even find bunker remnants from WWII in this area, one of which has been converted into a restaurant. Who would have guessed that you could have a beach day while in Reykjavik?!
Nestled between the neighborhoods of Reykjavik and Kópavogur you will find this beautiful 2.5 kilometer long valley that is a popular recreational area with the locals. Fossvogsdalur’s wide open space and lush greenery make this area a great place for a quiet walk when you are ready for some time away from the busy downtown area. There is both biking and walking paths that run throughout the valley, sand volleyball courts, a frisbee golf course, and several playground areas located along the way for the younger ones to play on.
The location of Fossvogsdalur has an added bonus of the fact that the valley is sheltered from the wind, a rare treat to find in Iceland. Fossvogsdalur runs between the Nauthólsvík area and Elliðárdalur and the pathway through the valley will connect you to these locations, so make an afternoon of it and get to visit all three beautiful outdoor locations!
Reykjavik Botanical Gardens
Wonder what type of plants can survive the harsh arctic climate? See these special plants up close with a trip to Reykjavik botanical gardens where you will find over 3,000 plant species that the garden works to conserve for enjoyment, research and educational purposes.
The botanical gardens are found in Laugardalur Valley which is a wonderful outdoor space in itself. During the summer months a cafe is opened in the middle of the gardens, Cafe Floran, which is a great option for a unique dining experience.
No need to even leave downtown Reykjavik for this location! Found smack dab in the middle of the city, Tjörnin is a large natural pond that is surrounded by some beautiful green space. In this area you will see a variety of birdlife such as ducks and swans swimming about, several different parks and playgrounds, and a pathway that takes you completely around the pond, a wonderful place for a peaceful walk.
While exploring around Tjörnin make a visit to the following parks in the area:
● Hljómskálagarður - found on the southeast part of Tjörnin, this park is known for sculptures that have been dedicated to five Icelandic women. The area is named after the white building that is called Hljómskálinn, meaning conservatory, that was built in 1923. In recent years 50 cherry trees were planted in this part of the garden and are a gorgeous sight to see in the spring and summer months.
● Hallargarðurinn - located across the street form Hljómskálagarður you will find this park, and while Hallargardurinn is smaller than the previous park it is still a lovely area to walk around. Hallargardurinn is surrounded by beautiful buildings and outdoor art, and for the art lovers looking to see more art the National Gallery of Iceland is located near this park.
No matter what time of year you will be visiting Reykjavik Tjörnin is a great option for an outdoor adventure. With no need to drive out of the city it makes for the perfect quick nature escape!
Want to experience more nature that isn’t too far away from Reykjavik? These five day trips all take an hour or less to reach making them perfect locations for a quick day trip out of the city. As we said, you don’t have to travel far out of Reykjavik to enjoy some of Iceland's wonderful nature!