Esja—That big mountain over there
Close to the heart of every Reykjaviking—literally as well as metaphorically—is the mountain range Esja, located just north of Mosfellsbær, about a 20 km drive from the city centre. The most popular destination, the Þverfellshorn peak, can be reached by hiking routes of varying length and difficulty. At 720 metres above sea level, the peak offers an unbeatable panoramic view of Reykjavík, Hvalfjörður, the Snæfellsjökull glacier, as well as the North Atlantic. For the experienced hiker taking the shortest—and most difficult—route, the ascent can take as little as 90 minutes, but even shorter walks not ending at the top provide a view of diverse flora and vegetation. This is an activity that Icelanders enjoy year-round.
Hvalfjörður—The forgotten detour
Since the tunnel opened under its mouth in 1998, the fjord of Hvalfjörður has become something of a half-remembered nightmare for many who think of it merely in the past tense, as that “extra hour” of driving required when taking Highway 1 north out of Reykjavík. For better or for worse, what is now ignored by the more than 5.000 cars opting for the tunnel each day is a natural refuge at the fjord’s deepest point—about 30 km in—wherein lie two valleys, a lake, and Iceland’s highest waterfall, Glymur, standing at 198 metres tall. This hiking trip is not recommended during the winter months, for the area can be slippery and the waterfall may dry up or freeze.
Jökulsárlón— A magnificent glacier lagoon
This one is kind of obvious. We’re talking about the largest glacier lagoon in Iceland. Whatever, we’re talking about a glacier lagoon. Small icebergs floating around in a lake formed when the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier began receding away from the Atlantic. The bay is easily accessible off Route 1 in southeastern Iceland, between Skaftafell National Park and Höfn. Though the lagoon is impressive year-round, the ideal time to see it is no doubt during the winter months, when the icebergs and the glacier are at peak-size and condition.
Laugavegur— This is not a casual stroll
Between Landmannalaugar and Þórsmörk in the south of Iceland is ‘Laugavegur’, a 54 km hike offering an incredibly diverse range of landscape. Disclaimer: this is a serious (read: at times DANGEROUS) undertaking. People do die doing this. But if you’re well prepared (the weather can change remarkably rapidly, at any time of year) and don’t go outside the marked route, you probably will be fine. People do live after doing this, also. Most people, in fact. The hike is recommended in the summer, and buses start running trips between mid-June and mid-August. Do Laugavegur as a day-trip, or take the full tour in between three and five days. Or, you could run it in about five hours. People do that too. And live.
Krýsuvík— A geological wonder
Krýsuvík is a geothermal area on the Reykjanes peninsula, a few kilometres southwest of Reykjavík. The area is located on a fissure zone on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, and is thus populated by lava fields and sulphur and hot springs. Underwater hot springs were recently discovered in nearby Kleifarvatn, and diving tours are offered year-round as long as the lake is not frozen over—which it is awful likely to be between November–February.
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