Summer is a theoretical and occasionally occurring season here in Iceland. Even if you see blue skies out of the window in the morning, you’d be wise to pack a hat for later. And maybe something waterproof. But before that rain shower, here are some places you could head to while the sun shines.
This leafy leisure area is a family favourite. It contains the Laugardalslaug pool, a large park, the botanical gardens, a petting zoo, and various play areas. The Ásmundarsafn sculpture museum is a beautiful building with contemporary displays and a sculpture garden; end up at Kaffi Lækur for lunch or coffee. In the summer, you can take a ferry to Viðey island, in the midst of the Faxaflói bay.
Overlooking 101 Reykjavík is Öskjuhlíð, the forested hill crowned by the Perlan visitor’s centre. The hill itself has a network of trails—from gravel roads to barely-visible tracks—that wind past ruined WWII bunkers and pillboxes. The area is frequented by Reykjavík’s LARPers, so you might also encounter some wizards crouched in weird Blair Witch-style dens. At the foot of the hill, there’s a rabbit-infested graveyard, and you can finish your stroll with a dip and some lunch at the Nauthólsvík beach and café.
The Vesturbær neighbourhood lies over the hill from 101, past the University of Iceland campus. Visit the relaxed Vesturbæjarlaug swimming pool, then head to Kaffihús Vesturbæjarfor a sit-down lunch (or drop by the Melabuðin grocery store and deli for some picnic supplies and head down to the sun-kissed park area at Ægisíða). Pop into the Nordic House on the way home for an exhibition, or dinner at Aalto Bistro.
If you’re feeling truly lazy—well, who can blame you. It’s summer. Live your life! The Tjörnin pond is surrounded by parks, or if you’re feeling social, buy some tinnies, and bask in the sun at Austurvöllur. Café Paris has a drinking terrace if you’re phobic of grass, or go to Sundhöllin for a refreshing outdoor soak; the Einar Jónsson Museum’s walled garden is also a quiet haven. Watch the sunset from Sky Bar.
This ex-industrial neighbourhood might still be mostly concrete and metal, but it can make for a chilled summer day out. Get brunch at Coocoo’s Nest, then meander over to the Marshall House for some contemporary art; climb the Þúfa hill-sculpture for a view over to Esja and Harpa, then head to Grandi Matthöll for dinner; Bryggjan Brúgghús has a sun deck for a relaxed drink.
At the end of the Seltjarnarnes peninsula lies Grótta, a picturesque seaside spot with a black sand beach and a lighthouse that’s reachable by causeway at low tide. There’s also a nature reserve with some walking paths and birdwatching information, a tiny hotpot to dip your feet, and the promise of a swim at Seltjarnarneslaug to round things off. It’s 5km from downtown; take the bus, or do a bike ride along the coastal pathway, returning via Vesturbæjar.
Esja & Úlfarsfell
Two more ambitious hikes in the Greater Reykjavík area include conquering the mountains Úlfarsfell and Esja. Úlfarsfell is just 211 metres high, and there are steeper or more circuitous trail options leading the summit; the Lágafellslaug pool is nearby, offering a view of the mountain you just climbed. Esja is the last stop on the city bus system, and has paths of varying difficult to the 914m summit.
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