I was on my way from New York City to Berlin and since I would be changing planes in Iceland anyway, I decided on a short layover in Reykjavik. Iceland is worth a trip in itself and required more than just three days so I wanted to try something different. No Golden Circle Tours, Northern Lights safaris or cross-country road trips for me. Those could wait for some other time (when the weather was better and I had a car).
Turns out Reykjavik is neither a big city nor did I require more than one day to walk off the main sights. But it is well connected to an extensive bus system. Some routes lead to the other end of the island! On the horizon a table mountain caught my eye. A heavy cloud had gotten itself stuck on top and looked like a fluffy hat. Naturally, I wanted to check it out and so my day adventures began.
Getting out of Reykjavik doesn’t take long. A bus ride of thirty minutes later and you already see black mountains ride around you and fields of moss covered lava stones stretch as far as the eye can see. Nature hikes can be found abound and if you -like me- don’t feel like spending $50 on the Blue Lagoon experience, there are alternatives. Nature has created hot thermal pools and rivers all over the landscape, many of which are perfectly safe to use and are popular among the locals.
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Reykjavik Day Trip to Esja
Esja is a mountain in the Northeast of Reykjavik. Technically it’s still part of the city district. As is typical for Iceland, it is bare rock for the most part. However, when you start from the Hiking Center, you will see plenty of trees. It looks perfectly tranquil and picturesque.
Wild walking anywhere else but from the Esjaetur Hiking Center proved to be tough as farmland stretched along the foot of the mountain. I didn’t want to trespass, so I couldn’t give it a try. Also it can be rather reckless and dangerous to stay off designated parts in Iceland anyway. Paths need to be adhered to. Not just to fulfill their main purpose but also to A) protect nature and B) yourself. Especially in thermally active areas, you could step into a crevasse and potentially be scalded by boiling water and gas. No one’s idea of fun.
How to get there: Get two bus tickets for return travel around Reykjavik. Don’t forget to keep the receipt you get upon using it as your transfer ticket. (Pay bus driver in exact change or pay with credit card in the tourist info.) Make your way to Mjódd and change into bus #57. Get off at Esjuræter Hiking Center (press stop or energise the bus will drive past). Remember to check return times to avoid waiting in the could for hours.
Reykjavik Day Trip to Rauðhólar
This is the fastest you can get out of the city and in the arms of nature. Right at the edge of suburbia, you can find this quaint nature reserve. Bike, horse and hiking trails can be found all over and once you cross over the a little bridge and into the reserve, you will think yourself transported to an entirely different world. I fancied it looked a bit like a moon landscape. Piles of black sand and rocks were everywhere. It was definitely sublime.
Depending on the weather or your mood, you can walk for a few hours or just take a short stroll around the area. It is easy terrain though hiking shoes are always advised because of the quick weather changes. Because of the rocks and sand, there can easily be a lot of puddles in a short time, but nothing that should hold you back from a simple hike.
How to get there: Have two bus tickets ready upon embarking on the bus (and keep the receipts from the bus driver). From Mhódd, take the #51 or #52 to Norðlingabraut/Árvað. Walk for 15 minutes to the main hiking trail and then just wander around. (On the designated trails, of course.)
Reykjavik Day Trip to Hveragerði
This is a super popular spot for locals! Put on a bathing suit, grab a towel and dress up for a hike. After arriving in Hveragerði head in the direction of the mountains and simply follow the river into the landscape. The hiking trails on either side of the river will charm you excessively. Just be sure to not stray. There are a lot of mini geysers and cracks opening up, clearly visible by the steam rising out of the earth.
After an easy one-hour hike you will reach information signs and a mini car park that will point you towards Reykjadalur valley. (This takes another 30-40 minutes) Past discoloured mud (don’t touch!) and pillars of scalding water drops you walk up the mountains. The goal is to reach the area where the river is no longer cold but also not boiling hot. There most likely will be Icelandians already lounging back in the thermal waters.
How to get there: Get six bus tickets for the entirety of the trip. Again, keep the transfer ticket to travel within Reykjavik. From Mjódd, take the #51 or #52 and get off at Hveragerði/Shell, then walk past the run covered in graffiti and turn right towards the mountain. Follow the stream and look out for the markers along the path. The hike takes roughly two hours.
Where to Stay in Reykjavik
Staying in the city center is a good idea to catch the sunset over the harbour with Mount Esja in the background. To eat the best Icelandian hot dog nearby and catch the bus to get your Reykjavik day trips. So why not stay in a cosy bed and breakfast, such as Hotel Reykjavík Centrum ? For a more hotel feel, for example look into the Grand Hotel Reykjavík.
Reykjavik Day Trip – Yes or No?
Absolutely! If you want to get away from overcrowded places, get off the beaten path and do things a little differently, these day hikes in and around Reykjavik are great. They are easy to do, cheap and not strenuous. Of course, of you want to do challenging hikes, they might not be what you’re looking for but it’s a good warm up. Either way, have your camera ready because Iceland is just so beautiful wherever you go.