From Iceland — Reykjavík Outdoors

Reykjavík Outdoors

Published June 27, 2003

Reykjavík Outdoors

Grasagarður Reykjavíkur
The Reykjavik Botanical Garden
In the heart of Reykjavik in a valley called Laugardalur is a glorious botanical garden called Grasagarður Reykjavíkur which opened in 1961. It is next door to a zoo and is a lush, verdant oasis which seems to expand and develop every year. At one end is a family park with some rides and other activities. At the other end is a set of outdoor museum posters explaining the fascinating history of the area where in times past the citizens of Reykjavik came with their dirty laundry in wheel barrows under extremely harsh conditions, even in the dark and cold of winter, and washed the family clothes and bedding in the hot water springs that ran through the valley. The remnants of the facilities have been refurbished and there are detailed descriptions with pictures of how things were done, including some tragic, fatal accidents. In the center of the botanical garden is a café inside a greenhouse, called Café Flóran which is open until late evening all summer long. Picnic tables and benches surround the café, as well as a charming gazebo and when the sun is shining the place is bustling with people both indoors and out. There are many secluded little areas in this park where you can sit and chat with a friend in a private atmosphere. The garden contains samples of most of the flora that grow in Iceland. It is a feast for the eyes and nose. Running from one end of the park to the other is a splendid esplanade with a thick row of trees on both sides. I believe this is the longest such esplanade in the nation.

Hellisgerði in Hafnarfjörður
This is one of the most unusual and charming parks in Iceland. Located in the suburb Hafnarfjörður, it is a cosy garden nestled on many levels in the lava, with lots of charming nooks and crannies to explore. Surprisingly, there is a collection of bonsai trees which was donated by a private horticulturist after many years of personal cultivation. This collection has the distinction of being the northernmost bonsai garden in the world and all of the trees were grown domestically.

This huge open area in Reykjavík is a popular outdoor spot for walkers, joggers, bikers, fishermen, and picnickers. The valley is filled with trees and a salmon river runs right through it, replete with waterfalls. There are charming little footpaths with a variety of foot bridges that cross the river in several places. There are picnic tables and benches in several clearings. The scenery is so bucolic that it’s a bit mind-boggling to realize you are still plunk in the middle of the capital city. One can stroll for many hours through varied terrain in this wide expanse.

is a 2800 hectare nature reserve immediately outside of Reykjavik. It has lush vegetation by Icelandic standards. There are 35 km. of footpaths and 45 signs with educational information and maps throughout the park. There are several lakes with trout in them. Many organizations plant trees in Heiðmörk on an annual basis. There are picnic areas with grills, and public toilets with running water. In late summer many people pick both blueberries and crowberries in Heiðmörk

Öskjuhlíð hill – bottom and top
The Pearl (Perlan) sits on top of the hill called Öskjuhlíð. During WWII this hill played a significant role when the British army used it for military installations. Now it is a favourite outdoor spot with richly forested areas, an artificial geyser, and dozens of walking paths. Among the trees you can still find traces of the army shelters and trenches. Since 1950, 176.000 trees have been planted on Öskjuhlíð. There are 135 different types of flora and 84 different bird species have been spotted there. If one is quiet and observant, it is possible to glimpse some of the many rabbits which make their home on or rather in the hill. After exploring the surroundings you can have a snack in the middle level cafeteria of The Pearl or go bowling (if you are so inclined) at the bowling centre on the other side of the hill. From the observation deck of the Pearl one can see for literally hundreds of miles in all directions. At the bottom of the hill, close to the sea, there is a charming turf-roofed seashore café called Kaffi Nauthóll situated right next to the bicycle and jogging path. This cosy café is a hugely popular spot for joggers, cyclists, and people strolling with their baby carriages and dogs, who want a tranquil respite from the bustle of the city. There is a wooden deck where people sit and sip drinks and eat light meals on sunny days and nights. Across the road is a white sand beach (Nauthólsvík) in a sheltered cove where the seawater has been heated and a modern service building with showers and dressing rooms was opened a few years ago.

is an island in the Faxa bay. It is only 1.7 square km in size. You have to take a small ferry to reach Viðey which takes less than 10 minutes and leaves from the Sundahöfn harbor. Iceland’s second oldest church, from the 12th century, is on the island. There is also a posh restaurant in a second old historical building. There are 5 private dinning rooms and conference facilities there. It’s fun and interesting to explore the island, its beaches, and old graveyard. There are horses there as well. At one end of the island is a grill house which can be rented for parties. Reservations for that have to be made long in advance. There is a large outdoor grill and a very large building with a clear plastic roof which offers shelter from wind and rain. The building is filled with picnic tables and benches, enough for well over 100 people.

The back alleys in Breiðholt II
In the section of Reykjavik known as Breiðholt, the neighborhood called Seljahverfi, there is an utterly delightful and extensive network of alleys behind and between the many opulent private homes. Many of them lead to a charming man-made pond in a clearing in the center of the neighborhood. There are stepping stones in this pond, leading to a tiny island. There is a gazebo right near the pond and lots of flowers which all add to the charm of the area. Taking a walk here on a summer evening when the sky is crimson and lavender and reflected in the little pond, is just heavenly.

is a 2.5 km long “link” in the chain of open areas running from downtown Reykjavik and the Öskjuhlíð area all the way to the Elliða lake and Heiðmörk at the edge of the city. It is home to lush vegetation and entirely surrounded by residential neighborhoods, one side being Kópavogur and the other side Reykjavik. There are playgrounds, vegetable gardens, school gardens, and sports areas.

This amazing little gem is located at Breiðhöfða 3 in a commercial district on the way out of the city heading towards Grafarvogur and Mosfellsbær beyond. Fornirlundur is a small formal public garden which was created in 1991 to display the wares of a masonry company B.M Vallá which sells all kinds of stone slabs. The park is in the grounds of this company. The ornamental garden modelled on old European design was completed in 1999 and has many trees, flowers, fountains, gargoyles, and benches, beautifully laid out in order to give the public an idea of what can be done creatively with stone and good landscaping. It is a feast for one’s senses and a true surprise considering where it is located. It is open from 8 a.m. to midnight every day of the week. There are even two apple trees growing in this “secret” garden which is a delightful spot for a short walk.

This is a charming narrow valley around 2 km long running alongside Dalvegur in the Reykjavík suburb of Kópavogur. It runs from near Smáratorg at one end almost to the big intersection over Reykjanesbraut at the border of Breiðholt and Kópavogur. There is a winding brook which runs the length of the valley and paved paths with little footbridges that cross the stream here and there. There are street lamps along the paths so evening strolls in the twilight are quite charming. There are school gardens and quite varied foliage in this valley which lies between a commercial district on the Dalvegur side and large private homes on the other.

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