From Iceland — Helgafell: The Holy ___ Hike

Helgafell: The Holy ___ Hike

Published June 1, 2012

Photo by
Atli Árnarson

You have one more day in Reykjavík. Later in the night you plan on going out and getting drinks. You’ve seen the Golden Circle, and you’re all foss’d out. However, you still want to get one more nature trek in. But there’s so little time. If only there was a hike you could complete in under four hours and be ready to go out and dance your pants off…

Go to Hafnarfjörður

Helgafell, or “Holy Mountain,” is a mountain just outside the town of Hafnarfjörður, a half hour drive from Reykjavík’s city centre. It’s a climb that doesn’t take long to hike, yet the view from the top is spectacular. Locals will walk their dogs up this mountain, go for a light walk, or even go mountain running, an exercise which is growing in popularity in Iceland. This makes a hike up Helgafell the perfect trip if you don’t want to spend an entire day hiking, or just take a break from the city for a few hours.


To get to Helgafell, you pass through Hafnarfjörður, a town also known as “Lava Town” because it was built on lava and there are lava boulders and the like found all around town. It is also known as the “Town of the Hidden People,” because of all the elf sightings, having to do with the fact that lava boulders are a known home for the hidden people.

Ancient Waters

After the drive through the town, we arrived outside the fences of Helgafell. Just outside the fence, there is a body of water that looks more like a pond or a stream than anything else. It runs 1.1 km long, making it the smallest river in Iceland.

The water’s also over 1000 years old, which made me think it must be extremely unsanitary. Helga, the tour guide, handed me a cup and announced we’d be starting the tour by drinking this water. I walked over to the small river and dipped my cup in and took a hesitant sip. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the water was crisp and clean tasting and I didn’t keel over and die immediately.

Newly refreshed, we began our hike. We went through the opening of the fence, which is there to keep out folks on All Terrain Vehicles, and began walking through the lava fields to the foot of the mountain. On the way there, off to the left on a high peak, there are three stone figure-looking objects in a line. These are night trolls.

Photograph by Atli Árnarson.

According to legend, night trolls once roamed the area and one night they heard through the grapevine that there was a beached whale at the nearby shore. Craving some whale meat, they made their way to the location of the whale, where many other night trolls were already arguing over the foodstuff.

Long story short, the arguments went on a little too long, because as these three guys were heading back to their dwellings, whale meat in hand, the sun started to come up. And we all know what happens to night trolls stuck in the sun (hint: they turn to stone). Gluttony truly is a deadly sin, it seems.

Guest books & refreshments

On our way up, once we left the lava field and were onto Helgafell, at each step of the way there was a noticeable difference in the rock. The rock towards the bottom of the mountain was black and very edgy, where as when we moved towards the top of the mountain, the rock took on a golden colour and had cracks through it, bringing to mind what I thought the back of a very large dinosaur would look like.

Photograph by Atli Árnarson.

This difference in rock is due to the rock towards the bottom being much older than the smooth rock near the top, into which people were able to carve their names and testaments of love, something usually seen in tree bark in really bad romances.

When we reached the very top, in a metal container to protect from wind and rain, there lay a guestbook where all the participants signed their name. And the view from the top of Helgafell is stunning. Being only 352 m high, our expectations weren’t high, but again we were pleased with the breathtaking view.

And back again

While taking in the panoramic of Hafnarfjörður and the other mountains that surround the area, we were treated to home-brewed tea and kleinur. Once we were warmed and refreshed, we began hiking down the south side of the mountain.


We reached the bottom and made our way back to the car where there were more refreshments waiting. We got back in the vehicle and were handed certificates of completion. This was a nice way to make us feel accomplished for completing a fun hike. And, when you go downtown, you can take it with you to show your mates that you accomplished something aside from hitting all the bars in 101 Reykjavík!

To book this trip or for more information, you can either call +354 891 7074 or e-mail or

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