There’s no better way to discover a new city than by foot. Once you get out of the car or bus, everything slows down, but more than that, it gives you more time to think. “I suspect that the mind, like the feet, works at about three miles per hour,” Rebecca Solnit writes in her book ‘Wanderlust: A History of Walking’. “If this is so, then modern life is moving faster than the speed of thought.”
In some respects, Reykjavík is a pedestrian’s paradise—the the city is small and can be easily covered by foot. On the other hand, the streets are often winding and lead in unexpected directions, and many Icelanders seem more accustomed to driving between destinations. Here are some of Reykjavík’s best walking routes that are easily accessible from downtown.
There are some walking paths that need no introduction: the sculpture and shore walk by the harbour, for example, or the stroll around Tjörnin. These are perennial favourites, and for good reason. Another perhaps less well-loved walk is on Öskjuhlíð, the hill most famous for Perlan, the shining pearl on its peak. Take a hike through the wooded area on Öskjuhlíð’s south side down towards Nautshólsvík.
The neighbourhood just west of downtown features plenty of cute streets and hidden treasures to discover. From downtown, walk west down Vesturgata before turning left onto Bræðraborgarstígur. Take a gander at the quaint and colourful houses down this street until you reach a beautiful view over the ocean at Faxaskjól. Keep following the road as it turns north and becomes Hofsvallagata, before turning right onto Túngata at the impressive Christ’s Church Cathedral to head back downtown. Along this route you can stop for ice cream at Ísbúð Vesturbær, for a swim at Vesturbæjarlaug, or for a coffee at Kaffihús Vesturbæjar.
Everyone’s familiar with Skólavörðustígur, the street that leads to Hallgrímskirkja, but the streets around the famous church get a lot less love. Some of my favourites for people watching and discovering new shops and galleries are Bergstaðarstræti and the more tree-lined Laufásvegur. For the more adventurous, turn off Skólavörðustígur onto Njálsgata, and continue across Snorrabraut before turning right onto Rauðarárstígur. After walking a few blocks you’ll hit Klambratún, a big green park that houses Kjarvalsstaðir, a gallery that features the art of Jóhannes Kjarval.
For those with an eye for the more industrial, take a stroll through the up-and-coming Grandi harbour area. If you turn right onto Grandagarður after passing through the hubbub of the old harbour area you can wind a big loop through the neighbourhood on foot. Down Eyjarslóð you’ll find shops and design studios such as Farmers Market, as well as some stunning views of the city and Esjan. For bonus points, stop in at Bryggjan Brughús on your way back downtown for a pint and some good food.
This is a bit further out of the way, but the beach, views, and grassy park areas are worth it. If you loop around Seltjarnarnes, a small city on a peninsula just west of Reykjavík, you’ll find incredible views in all directions. The long, sandy and sheltered beach at the furthest point of this walk is objectively the best place to watch the sun set, and you can cap off your stroll with a trip out to the lighthouse or a soak in the warm foot bath tucked in the rocks on the north shore. The city’s plentiful green space and quirky houses make Seltjarnarnes a fun area to explore.
Of course, if you’re looking for less of a choose-your-own adventure tour of the city, there are plenty of guided walking tours in Reykjavík. Some favourites include the Reykjavík Music Walk, the city library’s Dark Deeds Walk and the Haunted Walk of Reykjavík.