Traveling to Iceland but not enough time to go see the sights outside of the Capital City area? No need to worry – there are some amazing ones within your reach anyway! This entry will start a small series of Hulda’s tips on what to see in Reykjavík on locations that are accessible by biking or walking. We’ll start with something that you would be seeing every day without necessarily knowing that it’s there are all: the lighthouse island and nature reserve Grótta.
To find it on a map of Reykjavík you’ll have to first look for the narrow peninsula on the left side called Seltjarnarnes. On top of it is a strange-looking small island with a long tail, although the tail exists only 50% of the time, being submerged by the tide for the other half. This tail part used to be much wider according to the maps drawn in the 1500′s but the landscape has changed a lot since then, and was eventually nearly cut off by a ravaging storm that also tore off turf, demolished houses entirely and collapsed two churches. There are no longer humans living on the island although it has once upon a time been inhabited, both before the storm when it was much larger, and after it. Now the only buildings on the island are a small house and the lighthouse Gróttuviti.
But is the little house abandoned? Far from it! It was originally built by the lighthouse keeper and after him owned by his son. The son drowned while rowing out at sea, after which the lighthouse keeper’s house was indeed empty for a long time until the Rotary Club of Seltjarnarnes bought it and had it repaired.
A closer look at both the lighthouse keeper’s house and the Gróttuviti itself. The tide was up so alas we could not go over to the island, I only have my camera’s awesome zoom to thank for this image.
The area is easily accessible on foot, but nature has put some restrictions on when you can enter Grótta. Always check the tide schedule (you’ll find one near the pathway to the island) before going over, getting stuck there will mean several hours of waiting for the next tide. It’ll likely be made worse by the sea wind which is really strong in this area, so if you plan on going there wear warm clothes even if it’s summer. Another limitation is the sea birds’ nesting season from May to July, which is good to keep in mind. The kría (= Arctic Tern) in particular are merciless and won’t ever tire of trying to peck your head in if you as much as look toward the general direction of their nests!*
The picture is dark but it doesn’t lie about the colour of the beach. Due to the volcanic nature of Iceland almost every beach here is made of black sand with the exception of a few naturally white/red beaches and some artificially created ones.
Grótta is by no means the only thing to see in Seltjarnarnes. The whole peninsula is an experience to walk around with breathtaking views at the sea, lots of jogging options to those who like running (in my personal opinion definitely the most beautiful jogging route of Reykjavík if we exclude Esjan**). There are works of art as well, but sometimes you’ll only notice them if you look at the right direction, which can even be at your feet…
1. It’s banned to enter the island between 1st of May and 1st of July (nesting season) except in presence of the island’s caretaker.
2. Please note that dogs are not allowed on the island for any reason.
3. All inappropriate behaviour and entering the island with a horse is banned***.
4. Everyone are to behave well and be tidy on the nature reserve. (“Velog” seems to be a typo, it should probably read “vel og” instead.)
How to get there:
You can take the sea-side walking route, but beware the joggers and bicyclists on the way because they brake for no one. It will take a while though, so for saving time and your feet you can opt for the bus 11 and get off the bus at Lindarbraut. From there it’s about 15min walk to Grótta. You can also drive there if you have access to a car, there’s a large parking lot right next to the walkway to Grótta. Don’t forget to check the tide before entering the island, it comes in surprisingly fast when it does!
*I have some first hand experience on this from Flatey, a small island in Breiðafjörður, that we once visited around the end of nesting season. A large part of the island was off limits but even walking on the other side didn’t keep me safe, and I once ended up running for dear life with my purse on top of my head. Those birds mean business.
** Esjan is a mountain so let’s just leave it at that, not every jogger wants to go the whole vertical 600m. Some do though – few things are as aggravating as resting at Steininn near the top and seeing someone blithely run up and down the mountain side.
*** The route is so difficult for horses anyway that no horse lover would even consider it, and the only type of horse that could ever make it there without breaking its legs is the Icelandic horse. Which, coincidentally, is the only type of horse we have here.
Today seems perfect for Múm. Múm was originally formed in 1997 but has since changed its form quite a lot. They’ve published so far seven albums in total. Their sound is described as experimental, in the best possible meaning of the word. Ethereal, beautiful and strange.