If you’re aching to get away from city life for the day, we’ve go you covered. Check out our picks for some of the best hikes, cafes, and galleries outside of the capital.
Hike: Helgafell (in Hafnarfjörður)
Helgafell in Hafnarfjörður is one of at least seven mountains in Iceland with that name. It can be either translated as “Helgi’s mountain” or “holy mountain,” though the latter is likelier to be the case. Helgafell is safe to hike all year round, although the ascent can be icy and difficult—bordering on dangerous—in the winter. In those conditions, hiking around the Helgafell area is just as nice. If the path is open, an easy one-hour ascent to the 338m summit will reward you with a staggeringly good view.
Activity: Sólheimajökull Ice Hike
Most visitors to Iceland want to get a closer look at the magnificent glaciers. One of the easiest ways to get on the ice is a hike at Solheimajökull, a long glacier tongue that almost reaches Route One on the South Coast. You can pre-book at gpv.is/icehike or just rock up and join one of the regular trips. Note: you’ll need the guide, and the crampons, so don’t go alone. Read a longer piece on hiking the glacier here.
This one isn’t for the faint of heart. Þórsmörk is a valley behind Eyjafjallajökull on the southern coast, unreachable in a normal road car due to the ever-shifting Krossá river. There’s not much there: the Volcano Huts, mountains, hiking trails, and a sprawling, almost untouched wilderness. But hey. Maybe that kind of “nothing” is exactly what you’re looking for. Buses leave from Reykjavík daily. Read an in-depth piece on Þósmörk here.
Gallery: Listasafn Árnesinga
Iceland is scattered with small towns of a few hundred people, often experienced by travellers as gas stops punctuating a road trip. But many of these towns contain hidden gems, be it a tucked-away ice cream store, a time-capsule bodega, or, in the case of Hveragerði, a fully programmed art gallery that shows contemporary Icelandic art alongside a permanent display on the region’s unexpectedly rich artistic history. Read an art feature on the gallery here.
You’ve probably passed through the Greater Reykjavík borough of Hafnarfjörður on the Flybus—it’s the first sign of civilisation, after the lava plains. It looks pretty quiet, but Hafnarfjörður is home to Pallett, one of our very favourite cafes. They serve hot soups and stews, hearty pies, rich sausage rolls, and artisanal coffee made by an Icelandic barista champion, in a beautiful, homely lounge. Well worth the drive. Read our interview with the owners of Pallett here.