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Iceland is a country known for its natural landscapes that has set into motion a slew of incredible landscape formations. Geysers spew from the ground, mineral-rich springs bubble with earthen energy, and shifting of foundational plates have developed mesmerizing valleys and lakes. Memorable sites like the Northern Lights, pristine lakes, volcanic creations and challenging hiking terrain fulfill outdoor enthusiast dreams.
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Reykjanesfólkvangur is a stunning nature reserve just outside of Reykjavík, a mere 20 minutes away in Hafnarfjörður. While large, and housing other awe-inspiring sites, it should be recognized as a whole as well. The terrain turns otherworldly, with geothermal activity creating a land of bubbling waters and steamy crevices. Green moss carpets the hills that native sheep trot alongside, making for some pretty incredible sites along one of the many hiking paths. Reykjanesfólkvangur perfectly captures the beauty hot magma can create within nature, under the right circumstances. At various times, the Northern Lights can be seen from the reserve as well.
Öskjuhlíð offers that perfect blend of city and nature when visiting the capital. The sloping green space features excellent mountain biking terrain and walking paths, that reward with the very best views of the skyline once reaching the top. Birch trees, wildlife and scenic picnic spaces keep Öskjuhlíð both connected yet serene.
Lake Tjörnin sits within Reykjavík and is a result of water flow from a lagoon. While not the most jaw-dropping lake you may have ever seen, it adds an even deeper appeal to the area. Surrounding the water is a reserve and paved paths for jogging and walking. During the winter, when the water freezes, Lake Tjörnin becomes a winter wonderland with folks lacing up their skates to hit the ice.
Elliðaárdalur Valley is most well known for its fairytale worthy river surrounded by clusters of wildflowers and green trees. Along the curving stream of water, expect to see cascades seemingly erupt out of nowhere, adding depth and beauty to the overall views. Be sure to get your fishing license so you can enjoy the abundance of salmon and trout that fill the gentle rapids.
A coastal one hour drive from Reykjavík will guide travelers to trails that lead to Glymur, a waterfall preceded by a gorgeous walk amongst rock, caves and gorges. Take it slow if you are not an experienced hiker as many note this can be a relatively challenging trek, and be aware that it will take over an hour for most to reach the cascades. But once looking over the views from the top, it instantly becomes worth it. The electric green foliage paired with the misty falls is incredible.
Krýsuvík is a geothermal haven just 40 minutes from Reykjavík. Almost as if watching the horizon of another planet emerge, Krýsuvík welcomes with plumes of natural steam puffing into the air, mysterious bubbling mud and accumulation of sulfuric pools. All of this piping hot activity is encapsulated by various terrain that presents in earthy yet striking colors—it’s certainly a work of art.
Nauthólsvík is a beach right in Reykjavík, which is perfect for families in the summer, or the typical local who loves an icy dip in the winter. This one is tricky though because it’s somewhat natural and manmade at the same time. Formerly, a natural stream warmed parts of the beach, but for some reason was blocked off. Rocks and sand were moved in and the city pumps a toasty water source into the cove to keep it hot while offering nippy contrast out in the actual sea. Saunas, pools and food stands offering snacks have commercialized Nauthólsvík a bit more, but it’s original roots warrant it a place on our list.
Laugardalslaug is actually a pool complex with lots of aquatic activities. However, they tap into nature to thermally heat and mineralized the water to hot tubs and other areas of the recreation facility. It’s a great place to gather the family, that doesn’t require a treacherous journey to reach the benefits of geothermal. Pools and soaking areas have a lovely look and design.
Thingvellir National Park
Thingvellir National Park is about an hour outside of Reykjavík and is full of historic structures, but predominantly natural wonders formed by tectonic plate separation. Although inland, some incredible snorkeling spots are found within the chilly, visually crisp waters of Thingvellir. Lakes, rock formations, bridges and stunning drives open up hours of things to do, even in the winter when a blanket of snow coats the land. Maybe we’re being bold, but this could be the most amazing natural wonder near Reykjavik.