Take one of my all-time favourites, i.e. shore walks. Pair it with the mesmerising beauty of Reykjavik shores, and you’ve got the whole of this post in a nutshell. Let’s talk about Seltjarnarnes peninsula, Grótta Lighthouse, and how to get there from Perlan Museum and from Laugarnes.
Two brief introductory remarks:
1. In Reykjavik I realised one thing I knew already, but had yet to label properly, and it’s that I love shore walks. It didn’t take me long to notice that the first five entries of the ‘Hæ Hæ Ísland’ photo series (see the Facebook and Insta blog pages for more info) all portrayed different spots of Reykjavik shore at different times of the day. So I was especially happy to put together this post.
2. At first I was tempted to title this post something like ‘From pink clouds to ice storm to pink clouds and The Wind’. Then I changed my mind, as I felt it would come across as a tad too dramatic. It would have been fitting, in fact. Throughout my Reykjavik shore walks I experienced opposite, equally amazing weather conditions. On day 1 the sky did go from pink-and-light-blue pastel tones to ‘I can’t even look ahead because the ice hurts too bad’. On day 2 it was calmer again, aside from the wildest wind blowing nonstop.
This was not my first experience with strong northern winds (the Sørvágsvatn hike in the Faroe Islands is a valid precedent), but really, the winds in Reykjavik were unbelievably strong. When I checked the aurora forecast on my last night there (more for fun than with actual expectations, the sky being overcast), the banner on the website homepage read: ‘Yellow and orange alert for the whole country for today and tomorrow. The best is that everyone just stays where they are.’ You see what I mean.
Enough rambling, let’s talk about Seltjarnarnes peninsula, how to get there from opposite sides of Reykjavik, and breathtaking views along the way!
Seltjarnarnes peninsula and Grótta Lighthouse
Seltjarnarnes peninsula is located only a few kilometres off Reykjavik city centre. It is a quiet, mostly residential area with an interesting church, and foot and bike paths running all along the shore. The closer you get to the tip of the peninsula, the prettier the city views you can enjoy from there.
At the very tip of the peninsula you find Grótta Lighthouse. The lighthouse and the area surrounding it are very popular among both locals and tourists. True, the lighthouse is probably the most identifiable landmark but, really, take your time to explore the whole area, and don’t leave until you’ve been all over the place.
There’s the lighthouse itself, which originally dates back to the late 19th century. It used to be connected with the electric grid, which was later dismantled. Remains of the structure are still visible in the pillars standing on the beach.
There’s the flat, grassy area adjacent to the lighthouse, which offers breathtaking ocean views. There’s Seltjörn black beach, which will blow your mind every step of the way as you stroll down the sandy shore. Seltjörn is one of my Reykjavik places of the heart. The walk on the shore was a mesmerising experience for a number of reasons: the broad expanse of black sand, the strip of pink in the sky you don’t expect, seagulls and eider ducks chilling on the shore… The list goes on.
And there’s the path that runs parallel to the beach, but at higher ground. The path also follows the pond called Bakkatjörn. I can only imagine how colourful it is without snow. I experienced the ‘colourless’ version of it, what with the snow, the black rocks, and the frozen pond. It was stunning, to say the least: I saw so many shades of white I could barely count. It felt like being on the Moon.
I ended up walking to Grótta twice in two days, and I was confronted with very different weather conditions. I got there via two very different routes, which were equally scenic and rich in breathtaking views of the city and the fjord. So, because I enjoyed both of them so much, I thought I’d put together a proper description of both of them.
Walk #1: From Perlan Museum to Seltjarnarnes
On my first day in Reykjavik I walked to Seltjarnarnes from Perlan Museum. The walk itself is about 9 km in total. It follows the path through Öskjuhlið, past Nauthólsvík geothermal beach and the domestic airport, through Vesturbær and Skjol quarters, all the way to the very tip of the peninsula.
If you’re standing in front of the museum entrance, you want to take the trail on your left. It will take you straight through Öskjuhlið, the hill on top of which Perlan is located. The hillslopes are covered in trees, and there are trails weaving all around the forest, but you can hardly get lost.
Once you’re (literally) out of the woods, you will find yourself in front of Reykjavik university. That’s also where, right by the footpath, you will encounter a bunch of signs marking the bike and foot trails in the area. Amongst them is the ‘Nauthólsvík’ sign. From there it’s a short walk to the beach.
Simply put, Nauthólsvík geothermal beach is a beauty. The beach used to be a landing spot for amphibious aircrafts in war times. Later on it quickly went on to become a favourite recreational area. I believe it gets very crowded in the summer, as it’s super popular amongst locals. The beach is covered in yellow sand, and it has a sauna and hot-water pools, while the enclosed lagoon by the shore is warmed up to a good 15-19°C in the summer months.
Needless to say, when I was there the beach was beautifully empty and silent. The air was crispy, the morning light still pinkish, and the wind rippled the surface of the water in the lagoon. The sand was wet and literally sprinkled with snow, so much so that it really did look like a work of art. The wind is a painter.
From Nauthólsvík just keep to the main path, which runs all along the domestic airport. That stretch of path lacks any specific landmarks. That, though, doesn’t make it less scenic: I was stopping every other minute to take dozens photos of the views.
Once you’ve passed the airport site, the route takes you through the (mostly residential) quarters called Vesturbær and Skjol. That’s the point where you will have to leave the shore path, and walk by the main road instead.
That’s also the point where, if you feel like taking a break, you will find a few, sparse cafes and restaurants along the way. I did need a break, and I was lucky enough to walk past Arna Ís og Kaffi cafe just then. Stopping there turned out to be a great idea. The cafe sits at the very beginning of Seltjarnarnes, just by the ocean. It’s cosy, warm, and it has super yummy cakes on the menu. The coffee was great, and so was the cake I ordered. The cafe is also known for its ice cream, which did look delicious, but I was too frozen in my bones to even contemplate trying it this time.
While I was in the cafe, the weather worsened. The wildest wind joined forces with a pitiless ice/snowstorm, which was going to rage nonstop the whole afternoon. Since I left the cafe, I had to walk with my hands over my face the whole time, all the way to the lighthouse and back to the city. Yes, that’s how painful it was!
From the cafe you can either walk through the residential area or stick to the shore path. I went for the inland path, both because I wanted to see Seltjarnarnes church along the way and because I hoped I would be a little more sheltered from the wind. I did manage to see the church. As for the ‘being more sheltered’ part, my attempt proved pointless.
As I got closer to the lighthouse, I found myself back along the shore. I stopped next to a wooden hut used for storing smoked fish. It was the only shelter available. It was so smelly! The lighthouse was right in front of me, just a few hundred metres away, but I was struggling to walk on. I walked a few steps, then I stopped again. So close, yet so far!
I eventually saw a few other people ahead of me. They had driven to the peninsula, parked their cars, and were heading toward the beach on foot. So I, too, forced myself to let go of the iron bar I was holding on to so as not to be blown away. I joined forces with two Hungarian gentlemen, who were equally determined to make it to the lighthouse, and on we walked. I could barely keep my eyes open, I had pins and needles in my face, but oh wasn’t it worth the walk.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t reckless or inconsiderate. I knew that if I’d felt even remotely unsafe I wouldn’t have walked on. You don’t mess with natural elements, because it can get really dangerous. In the Faroe Islands I didn’t get to the top of Trælanípa because I felt unsafe. Other people did, but I didn’t, and that’s okay. So, just to remind us all: you’re not uncool just because you feel unsafe and other people don’t. That’s not how it works, and thankfully so.
At Seltjarnarnes, though, I did walk on because I felt safe. It was quite a hardcore, super exciting experience, I have to say. I completely failed to see the black beach near the lighthouse, though. It got covered in ice and snow quite fast, so it didn’t even look like a beach at all. That is one of the reasons I’m so happy I went back to Seltjarnarnes the next day!
Walk #2: From Laugarnes to Seltjarnarnes
This walk is about the same length as the previous one. From the Viðey ferry terminal to Grótta it’s roughly 9 km, but to it you will have to add the walk from your starting point to the ferry terminal, and the walk from Grótta to wherever you want to go next.
When, on my second day in Reykjavik, I realised I would have time to go back to Seltjarnarnes, I went straight for it. The weather forecast was decent, and a strong wind was blowing, but no ice storm in sight.
I went to Laugarnes first thing in the morning, and from there I walked my way back to the city and then on to Grótta again. The walk almost took me the whole day because from Laugarnes I went to Elliðaárdalur first. From there I headed back to the coast, and walked to the peninsula. In other words, it is a long walk, but I made it much longer, so it really doesn’t have to be a whole-day walk.
Laugarnes is quite a popular recreational area, but I guess it tends to be more crowded over the summer months. At least, that would be my assumption, since when I was there, around 10.30 in the morning, there was literally no one around.
Laugarnes is where you find Kirkjusandur beach, the Sigurjón Ólafsson Museum, the Recycled House, and the ferry terminal to Viðey Island.
Kirkjusandur beach I could barely see. Blame it on the morning darkness and the heavy snow, which made it impossible to tell where the actual beach was.
The Sigurjón Ólafsson Museum is, obviously, dedicated to the work of Icelandic sculptor Sigurjón Ólafsson. Laugarnes is where he lived and worked when he got back to Iceland after his studies in Denmark, so the area really is his true home.
In the vicinity of the museum you might also notice what resembles an archaeological site. If it’s covered in snow, as it was when I was there, you won’t see much, but those are the remains of a settlement that dates back to the Viking age.
The Recycled House is exactly what the name suggests: a building entirely made of recycled things. The house was built by film director Hrafn Gunnlaugsson, who bought the old shed before they tore it down, and turned it into a colourful, flamboyant creation. Aside from the building itself, there is also a sculpture garden, plus random objects and piles of materials scattered around the site.
With a bit more daylight and a little less snow I could have seen more, I guess. The morning silence and the wind gave the site a kind of eerie feel, and the totem-like iron sculptures by the entrance looked a bit creepy too. However you feel about it, the Recycled House objectively makes for a one-of-a-kind work of art.
As for the ferry terminal, that’s where ferries to Viðey Island sail from all year round. The island, which sits only a few kilometres off Reykjavik mainland, is a major landmark. Not only does it offer breathtaking ocean views, beautiful nature and a wealth of trails, but it is also home to cool sights, such as Richard Serra’s Milestones, and Yoko Ono’s Imagine Peace Tower.
The museum and the Recycled House were closed. So was the very last stretch of path to the terminal (due to road works). So was, apparently, Viðey itself (because the floating pier had been damaged by the storms), and anyway in winter the ferry only sails on weekends. So even in the best weather conditions, and with more time on my hands, visiting the island was not an option. Needless to say, Viðey is super top list on my Reykjavik list for my next Iceland trip.
The route from Laugarnes to Seltjarnarnes is as easy and straight as it can get. You simply have to follow the (super scenic) footpath along the shore (also known as Sculpture Walk), and enjoy the views of Kollafjörður fjord along the way.
From Laugarnes it’s around 3 km to the city, past the Sun Voyager and Harpa Concert Hall. Then, from Harpa it’s another 5 km to Seltjarnarnes. If, when you’re at Harpa, you’ve had enough, you can detour to the city centre and find shelter in a cafe on the high street, or you can enter Harpa itself, and sink into one of the plushy benches in the main hall.
If you do want to keep going, from Harpa you have to follow the main road. You will walk past the Old Harbour, and soon you’ll be back along the shore, from where you will catch a first glimpse of Grótta Lighthouse in the (still far) distance.
Roughly halfway to the lighthouse, you might notice a steel staircase on your right just by the rocks. A few steps, and you’re standing on the (black) beach. Needless to say, I went for it. Incidentally, that’s also when I realised I’d lost a glove, and I felt it would be a good idea to turn one of the spare socks I had in my backpack into a glove. (True story. More about it in the next post.)
Just keep to the shore path, and you will reach Grótta; there is no way you can get it wrong. Shortly before the lighthouse you can also head back down to the shore past the rocks, to Kvika footbath and Nordustrond walking path. I didn’t venture there, because the winds were strong, and I couldn’t see a thing down there.
There’s only one thing I can say to end this post, and it’s all about the indescribable beauty of black beaches. Before Iceland I’d only walked a tiny stretch of black beach in the Faroe Islands, on the way back from the hike to Sørvágsvatn. In Reykjavik I got a proper first taste of it, and I can confidently say they make for one of the most stunning, mindblowing sceneries I’ve ever seen.
I can’t wait to see more of them.