Cold and Damp in Southwest, Sunny and Warm in East

Rain in Reykjavík

The weather in the capital region will be damp and cool in the coming days, with a sunnier and warmer forecast in East Iceland.

Today, southwest winds will range from 8 to 15 m/s, occasionally reaching 10 to 18 m/s from the northwest. Winds will ease gradually by afternoon. Expect intermittent showers or drizzle across western regions with temperatures between 9 to 15 degrees Celsius. In the east, it will be mostly sunny with temperatures ranging from 15 to 22 degrees Celsius.

Tomorrow, southerly winds will prevail at 5 to 13 m/s. There will be occasional precipitation in the west, but otherwise, conditions will be fair. Winds will strengthen later in the day with rain spreading across the western areas by evening. Temperatures are expected to remain steady.

No Hot Water for 36 Hours in August

Much of Iceland’s capital area will be without hot water for 38 hours between August 19 and August 21. This is due to the connection of a new water pipe. The areas affected are Hafnarfjörður, Garðabær, Kópavogur, Álftanes, Norðlingaholt and Breiðholt.

Water will be shut off on the evening of Monday, August 19 and will be turned on again at noon on Wednesday, August 21. Residents are recommended to keep their windows closed to retain heat during this time. They are also reminded to keep taps water shut off to avoid damage when the water returns.

Water provider Veitur notes that when waters is restored, leaks may occur. Any leaks should be reported immediately so they can be addressed promptly. Once water is restored, water pressure may be low for some time.

More information about the project is available on Veitur’s website.

Public Bus Fares Rise Today in Iceland

Bus in Reykjavík, Iceland

New and higher public bus fares take effect in the capital area and across Iceland today. A single fare in the capital area is now ISK 650 ($4.69, €4.36), a rise of just over 3% from the previous fare of ISK 630 ($4.55, €4.23). A notice from Strætó, Iceland’s public bus service, says the fare hike is due to rising costs and salary hikes. The price of passes has been raised even more, around 3.85%.

Wage hikes largest driver

This is the second time that Strætó raises bus fares this year. At the end of 2023, a single fare cost ISK 570 krónur ($4.11, €3.83). That was raised to ISK 630 at the beginning of 2024, and is now being raised to ISK 650. This entails a 14% rise in just over six months. While inflation remains above fiscal targets in Iceland, yearly inflation was measured at 5.8% in June, significantly lower than the fare hikes Strætó has instituted. Strætó’s CEO Jóhannes Rúnarsson says that wage hikes are the largest driver of the fare hikes, and that wages account for 50-60% of Strætó’s operational costs.

Countryside bus fares also rise

In line with Strætó’s decision, the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration has also raised the price of single fares in the countryside by 5.3%. This means that a public bus trip from Reykjavík to Akureyri will cost ISK 13,200 ($95.28, €88.64), where it formerly cost ISK 12,540 ($90.52, €84.22). A trip from Reykjavík to Keflavík will now cost ISK 2,400 (previously ISK 2,280).

A Guide to Bird Watching Near Reykjavík

an arctic tern near lake þingvellir

Whether you’re an experienced or hobbyist bird watcher, many of Iceland’s most beautiful and iconic birds can be seen near the capital area. While heading off to the isolated breeding grounds of Þjósárver might be a grand adventure (or even “just” a puffin tour in the Westman islands), you don’t need to head off to the wilderness to appreciate the diverse and fascinating bird life that Iceland has to offer.

swans in iceland
Swans are not an uncommon sight near Reykjavík.

Before you go

If you’re serious about birding, then you’ve likely already brought your binoculars and camera, if you’re into bird photography. While you can certainly have a fine time observing birds with nothing more than your naked eye, here’s a quick list of some gear you may want to pick up.

  • A good bird guide: One of the best guides available for Iceland is the aptly named Icelandic Bird Guide. It’s available in most bookstores, and many gift shops carry it as well. At the time of writing, it retails for around ISK 6,800 [$49, €45]. It’s slightly pricey for a book, but all of the information will make your time bird-watching in Iceland all the more rewarding.
  • A bird map of Iceland: If you’re looking for something lighter weight, a birding map is also great to bring along. This popular map is likewise available in most bookstores, outdoor stores, gift shops, and other places. It can be found in many other languages as well, including English, German, French, and Chinese. It retails for around 2,500 ISK [$18, €17] and is a great addition to your bird-watching trip!
  • Good clothing: While you likely won’t be heading off into the wilderness, it’s still good to have the proper outdoor clothes when bird-watching. The weather in Iceland is notoriously fickle, and you may want to get muddy to get a better look at that loon across the lake. It will of course depend on the season and your own common sense, but we recommend a good pair of boots, a wind- and waterproof shell, warm socks, some sort of insulating layer, a cap, and some sort of backpack for your guide book and some snacks. You may also want to read more about dressing for the shoulder seasons in Iceland.
  • Other resources: If you’re an avid bird-watcher, then you likely already know about eBird, a website for bird identification developed by Cornell University, and Merlin, an app for bird identification that is likewise developed by Cornell. These are invaluable resources for bird-watcher anywhere in the world, and Iceland is no exception. If you’re looking for more specific information about bird habitats and the most common species in Iceland, then you may want to refer to the Icelandic Institute of Natural History.
greylag goose in iceland
The Greylag Goose is another common bird you'll see around Reykjavik.

Grótta Lighthouse in Reykjavík

Grótta, a small island and lighthouse, is located in Seltjarnarnes (the small community west of Reykjavík), so you can visit this little natural gem without even leaving town. It is connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus and provides beautiful views ideal for an afternoon walk or bird watching. The area is particularly rich in bird life, with approximately 106 bird species in this small area.

However, this rich diversity in bird life also means that Grótta is an important breeding ground. Access to Grótta is restricted during the breeding season from May 1 to July 15. In summer, the area is also home to around 140 species of plants, which is about 1/3 of all plant species that occur in Iceland!

This area is especially good for the urban bird watcher, as you don’t need a car. The area is served by bus route 11.

puffin near seyðisfjörður
It's not unheard of to see puffins in and around Reykjavík.

Laugarnes Peninsula

Another good option for the urban bird watcher, Laugarnes peninsula is situated in East Reykjavík and is close to the popular city pool Laugardalslaug. Laugarnes can also be accessed if you walk from the coastal path by Harpa concert hall and continue east. The walk will take about 45 minutes, but it’s a lovely way to see the shoreline of Reykjavík city.

Some of the most common species on the Laugarnes peninsula include Northern Fulmar, Arctic Tern, various gulls, Kittiwakes, Eider ducks, and even the Atlantic Puffin! The meadows near the shore here also tend to be filled with various songbirds and nesting waders. There are also several picnic benches nearby, so Laugarnes is a great place to take a walk on a sunny, have a little lunch, and just enjoy being in nature.

While visiting the Laugarnes peninsula, you may also want to visit the unique Sigurjón Ólafsson museum. This area is best accessed via bus routes 12 and 16.

shorebird iceland
A common ringed plover - one of the many waders you will see in Iceland.

Þingvallavatn Lake

The Þingvellir area is of course notable for being a part of the popular Golden Circle day tour, but this national park also has a lot to offer bird watchers. Lake Þingvellir (Þingvallavatn in Icelandic) also happens to be Iceland’s largest lake. Bird-watching here is a great way to experience more of the area than you might on a normal day tour, as many tours of the Golden Circle may only stop briefly at Þingvellir. This area is fascinating from a cultural, historical, and natural perspective, so spending a day bird watching by Þingvallavatn is a good way to slow down and really see this popular attraction.

Of course, you may be frustrated in you bird-watching if you try it from the most popular areas, as the coming and going of travellers may scare off many birds. There are, however, several popular fishing, camping, and picnicking sites on the north side of the lake that are great spots to bird-watch from.

In terms of what kind of bird life you can expect, it’s really a microcosm of all of Iceland. Many gulls and shorebirds make their way to Þingvallavatn, in addition to waders, ducks, loons, geese, and smaller songbirds. Expect to see species such as glaucous gulls, white wagtails, barnacle geese, harlequin ducks, murres, phalaropes, brants, whooper swans, and gadwalls.

black-headed gull by lake þingvellir
A black-headed gull.
red-necked phalarope
A red-necked phalarope.
mallard duck
A common mallard duck.
arctic tern by þingvallavatn
An Arctic tern.

When exploring Lake Þingvellir, do be sure to respect any closed areas. The area is a national park, and during the summer, it is also an important breeding ground for many of these bird species. The arctic tern is particularly known for aggressively defending its nesting grounds, so this advice is as much for your sake as the birds’!

Úlfljótsvatn Lake

Úlfljótsvatn is a 2.45 km² lake located just south of Þingvallavatn. Summer cottages have been built by the Scout Movement, which purchased land around the reservoir in 1940, and the Icelandic National Scout Jamboree has been held there. Scouts have cabins, boat rentals, and playground equipment in the area, alongside residential dwellings. The area is also of interest to birders, given its location near Þingvellir.

The area is less crowded and calmer, so it may be a better place if you’re looking for peace and quiet. It’s also a nice area to drive to. About an hour from the capital, you can simply drive as if going to Þingvellir, and then take a right onto Route 360. Alternately, there’s a nice drive through the Hengill area mountains by taking Route 435 from Reykjavík.

In terms of the species you can expect, it’s much the same as Þingvallavatn, though keep an eye out for merganser, the Greater Scaup, starlings, and Barrow’s Goldeneye as well!

Elliðavatn Lake

Elliðavatn is a reservoir on the border of Reykjavik and the suburb of Kópavogur. Originally, Elliðavatn consisted of two separate lakes: Vatnsendavatn in Kópavogur and Vatnsvatn in Reykjavik, butbetween 1924 and 1928, the surface area of the lake doubled due to the construction of a dam. Elliðavatn now covers about 2 km² but is shallow, with an average depth of around 1 meter and a maximum depth of 2.3 meters.

About a 20-minute drive from downtown Reykjavík, these days, the lake is a popular outdoor area. There is a trail around the lake area, in addition to the nearby forest of Heiðmörk, which is also a popular hiking and walking area for many Reykjavík residents.

a male eider duck
A male Eider Duck.

Some of the most common species at Elliðavatn include whooper swans, tufted ducks, less black-backed gulls, red-necked phalaropes, mergansers, and Eurasian wigeons.

Flói Nature Reserve

For travellers in the capital region looking for a day tip, northwest of the town of Eyrarbakki lies a wetland area teeming with birdlife. About an hour from Reykjavík, the Flói Bird Reserve, features walking paths and a bird hide, making it an ideal spot for bird watching. The reserve is distinguished by its flood meadows and numerous small ponds, with approximately 70 bird species recorded.

During spring and autumn migrations, visitors can see Greylag Geese, White-fronted Geese, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, and various waders such as Snipe. In winter, the estuary of the river Ölfusá attracts birds, primarily gulls, along with occasional sightings of Long-tailed Duck and Common Eider. Open waters also draw all sorts of geese, shorebirds, ducks, and more.

 

Nature on your doorstep

Bird watching is a great way to get outdoors and spend time in nature. Though the many waterfalls and sights in Icelandic nature are doubtless beautiful, it sometimes feels like a drive-through approach to tourism to park your car, see the sight, and move on. Bird watching in Iceland allows you to engage more with your surroundings and really have an experience of the landscape around you, no matter your level of experience. Whether you’re a pro, kitted out with all of the expensive gear, or just looking to take a walk and enjoy a nice day, bird watching is a great way to do it. And with this guide, you don’t need to be go off on a highland expedition either – there is so much wonderful nature just on our doorstep!

If you enjoy bird-watching, you may also be interested in learning about the unique features of the Icelandic Oystercatcher population.

February Marks Highest Ever Traffic Levels in Capital Area

Renting a car can be a great way to get around Reykjavík

February experienced the highest traffic volume on record in the capital region, with a 6.7% increase from the previous year. Predictions by the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration indicate a potential 4% rise in traffic for the current year.

Slow Sundays, busy Thursdays

February saw an unprecedented volume of traffic in the capital region, marking the highest levels ever recorded for this month. Traffic increased by 6.7% compared to February of the previous year, based on three key measurement points of the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration in the capital area.

The most significant rise in traffic occurred on the Vesturlandsvegur road above Ártúnsbrekka in East Reykjavík, while the most minor increase was noted on Reykjanesbraut near Dalvegur in Kópavogur. According to the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration’s website, cumulative traffic (the total amount of vehicle movement or traffic flow recorded over a specific period) has grown by 5.2% so far this year.

Traffic peaked on Thursdays in February but was lowest on Sundays, although the most significant year-on-year increase was seen on Sundays. The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration’s calculations suggest that traffic in the capital area could rise 4% this year compared to the last.

“With only two months into the year, the traffic division’s forecasting model of the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration suggests that there could be an increase of just over 4% in traffic in the capital area, based on the mentioned measurement points, compared to last year.”

Mumps Diagnosed in Reykjavík Area

doctor nurse hospital health

A case of mumps was diagnosed in Iceland’s capital area in early February. Now, a second person connected to the first case has also been diagnosed with the illness. Mumps is a viral respiratory infection that has been quite rare in Iceland since 1989, though a few outbreaks have occurred since then.

Those who were exposed to the positive mumps cases have been informed by health authorities, according to a notice from the Directorate of Health. Those who were exposed and are unvaccinated were advised to stay away from others to reduce the risk of infection. The gestation period for mumps is about three weeks, so it is possible that other cases will emerge in Iceland.

Vaccination is the most effective protection against mumps and has been routine in Iceland since 1989. Since 2000, a few outbreaks have occurred, mainly in people born between 1985-1987. Older cohorts are generally considered immune due to frequent outbreaks prior to 1984.

Rates of measles rising in Europe

A case of measles was diagnosed in Iceland recently as well, in an adult traveller who had recently arrived from abroad. Chief Epidemiologist Guðrún Aspelund stated that measles infections are on the rise in Europe, which increases the likelihood of an outbreak in Iceland.

Bus Fares to Rise by 11 Percent

public transportation iceland

Strætó, the public transport company which operates city buses in the Reykjavík capital region, has announced a new price structure. The change comes into effect on January 8 and bus fares will rise by 11 percent on average, Viðskiptablaðið reports.

A single fare will now cost ISK 630 [$4.60, €4.20], up from ISK 570 [$4.20, €3.80]. Strætó last raised its prices in September of 2022, when a single fare cost ISK 490 [$3.60, €3.30], citing higher fuel prices. This amounts to a 29 percent hike in the 16 month period.

No price changes outside of the capital area

The decision was made by the Strætó board, according to a press release, and ratified by the ownership committee, representatives of the six capital area municipalities who own the company. They are Reykjavík, Kópavogur, Hafnarfjörður, Garðabær, Mosfellsbær and Seltjarnarnes.

“The operational status of Strætó was considered before making the decision, as the accumulative effects of the Covid pandemic can still be felt,” the press release said. “The higher prices also help alleviate higher operating costs for Strætó and increased payroll costs and reduce the need to cut back on Strætó services in the capital area.”

The new price structure only applies to Strætó’s capital area routes and no changes have been made to the prices for routes outside of the capital area.

Will the situation on the Reykjanes peninsula affect the capital area?

Reykjavík

Many travellers to Iceland have asked about the potential impact that a volcanic eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula might have on Reykjavík. While the usual caveats apply here (when and where the eruption will occur is difficult to tell with precision), the current consensus is that the capital region will remain largely unaffected.

That being said, Reykjavík residents and visitors alike could feel some side effects of the next major eruption in Iceland.

Reykjavík services and utilities

In a worst-case scenario, an eruption could disrupt operations at Svartsengi, a geothermal power plant and the main supplier of water and power to the Reykjanes peninsula. While the Reykjavík area sources its power from other plants, if operations at Svartsengi are disrupted, power from other plants may have to be diverted to keep the lights on in the region. Last winter also saw hot water shortages throughout Iceland, and a disruption to Svartsengi could exacerbate heating prices during the winter. For travellers, this might mean that public pools and geothermal spas could face closures or shortened opening hours.

Draft legislation has also been proposed that would raise property taxes in order to help fund the construction of protective barriers around Svarstengi. A similar increase to sales tax was also introduced to aid in reconstruction after the 1973 Heimaey eruption in the Westman islands. Though these taxes would not be directly passed on to travellers, it is possible that prices could indirectly rise in the wake of a tax hike.

Impact on travel

There has been concern during past eruptions on the Reykjanes peninsula that lava flows could disrupt Reykjanesbraut, the main transport artery between Reykjavík and Keflavík International Airport. This is not currently a concern, as it will likely surface somewhere near the town of Grindavík, located on the south coast of the Reykjanes peninsula.

The latest information from the Icelandic Met Office provides a map of the projected lava flow:

grindavík fissure
Icelandic Met Office Nov 11

Several roads have also been damaged due to seismic activity in the area. Grindavíkurvegur, the main road connecting Grindavík to Reykjanesbraut, was closed on November 10 due to damage. However, road closures are not expected in the capital area.

reykjanes road closures
Umferðin.is – November 13

Though the next eruption is expected to be significantly larger than the previous Reykjanes eruptions, its probable location means that air traffic will likely be unaffected. Located on the south coast of Reykjanes, prevailing wind patterns ought to blow any volcanic fumes south and east, away from the airport.

Health concerns

Previous eruptions have, however, caused some air pollution in the capital area. During the 2022 Meradalir eruption, those with preexisting conditions such as asthma, in addition to children and elderly people, were encouraged to avoid outdoor activity on some days when wind patterns brought the pollution to Reykjavík. As of right now, it is too early to say how an eruption near Grindavík will affect air quality in Reykjavík.

The situation on the Reykjanes peninsula is still unfolding, and it goes without saying that travellers should exercise common sense, stay informed, and listen to the authorities. However, the situation poses no immediate threat to Reykjavík and the greater capital area, and disruptions to the rest of the nation are likely to be minimal.

Resources

In addition to following our news coverage, travellers and residents alike may find the following resources useful:

The Icelandic Met Office

SafeTravel, for travel warnings and tips for staying safe.

The Icelandic Road Administration and its live map of road closures throughout Iceland.

The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management.

A live webcam stream from Þorbjörn mountain.

 

 

Fire in Hafnarfjörður Industrial Building Used for Housing

Slökkvilið höfuðborgarsvæðisins bs / Facebook. Fire in Hafnarfjörður, August 20, 2023

Seventeen people were registered as residents of an industrial building in Hafnarfjörður in the Reykjavík capital area that was heavily damaged when a fire broke out yesterday. The building was not approved for housing. A couple and a family of four were sleeping inside the building when the fire broke out but were woken up by good samaritans who saw the rising smoke and ran over to help. No injuries or fatalities have been reported.

The fire broke out at Hvaleyrarbraut 22 around noon yesterday, and firefighters did not manage to quell the flames entirely until around 4:00 AM this morning. Duty Officer Þorsteinn Gunnarsson of the Greater Reykjavík Fire and Rescue Service said the building was heavily damaged and a part of it had been torn down in order to put out the fire.

Saved a family of four from the flames

Guðrún Gerður Guðbjörnsdóttir called emergency number 112 immediately when she spotted the fire. When she realised it was in the building where her daughter lived, she made her way in. “I ran up the stairs, jumped onto the roof and ran to the window where my daughter lives,” Guðrún told RÚV reporters. She managed to open the window and wake up her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend. There was already a lot of smoke in the apartment when she reached them.

Another civilian working near the building told reporters that he had run over when the fire broke out and woken up a family of four that was fast asleep inside the building. The family managed to escape to safety. The building was also used as storage and firefighters did their best to save valuables that were stored on the lower floor of the building, though accessing the storage rooms proved difficult.

Likely more than 17 living in the building

Birgir Finsson, Acting Fire Chief of Greater Reykjavík, says 17 people were registered as living in the building, which was not approved as residential housing. He stated that it was likely, however, that even more had been living there. “Residing in commercial [or industrial] buildings is still not permitted, though there is a lot of it in the capital area,” Birgir stated.

Following a fatal house fire in June 2020, Icelandic authorities launched an investigation into housing conditions in Iceland that found that between 5,000 and 7,000 people were living in properties classified as commercial or industrial buildings in Iceland in 2021. The Minister of Infrastructure drafted an amendment to fire safety regulations last month in efforts to ensure more people have their actual residence registered correctly and make it easier for authorities to enter housing where fire prevention measures may be inadequate.

Iceland’s Popularity Grows – Among Walruses

Köfunarþjónustan ehf. / Facebook. A walrus takes a break in Sauðárkrókur, Northwest Iceland

No fewer than four walruses have wandered over to Iceland so far this year. Walruses are not native to the country but since the start of this year, individuals have made stops in East Iceland, the Westfjords, Northwest Iceland, and the capital area. Walruses can be dangerous and readers are warned against approaching them.

Last Thursday, archaeologists working on a dig in Arnarfjörður in the Westfjords spotted a walrus out in the water. It was later spotted sunning itself on the shores of the fjord near Hrafnseyri, RÚV reports, and stayed on into the weekend. Just a few days earlier, a different walrus made himself at home on a floating dock in Sauðárkrókur harbour in Northwest Iceland. “It’s our new pet,” port security officer Ágúst Kárason told reporters. “He’s damn big and hefty, an adult with big tusks.”

Followed to work by walrus

In early June, a staff member of the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute in Hafnarfjörður, in the capital area, was accompanied by a walrus on his morning commute. “I was biking and he followed me from Herjólfsgata street to Fjörukráin restaurant by Strandgata street. There he turned around and swam out into the fjord,” Jón Sólmundsson told reporters. “He was also curious, there were some people that stopped to watch him and he seemed to be considering them too.”

Yet another walrus spotted in Breiðdalsvík, East Iceland in February turned out to be celebrity walrus Thor, who had spent the winter sightseeing around the UK with stops in the Netherlands and France. Walruses seen in Iceland generally arrive from the shores of Greenland or from northern Norway, but Thor may have travelled from the Canadian Arctic. There were no indications that any of the four walruses were the same animal.

Swam from Ireland to Iceland

More walrus visits have occurred in Iceland over the past few years. One was spotted on June 17, 2022 in the town of Reyðarfjörður, East Iceland. A GPS tag on the animal revealed that it had swum over from the Faroe Islands. In September 2021, a walrus spotted in Höfn, Southeast Iceland turned out to be Wally the Walrus, who had been previously spotted in Spain, Wales, and the Isles of Scilly (off the UK coast). Wally had last been seen in Cork, Ireland before being spotted in Iceland, meaning he had swum over 1,000 km [620 mi] to reach the island.

Icelandic subspecies went extinct after human settlement

Iceland used to be home to a special subspecies of walrus, but it became extinct around 1100 AD, most likely due to overhunting by humans. Walrus tusks were considered precious at the time and were sought-after by royalty in Scandinavia and elsewhere. Other factors, such as rising temperatures and volcanic eruptions, may have been factors in the animals’ extinction as well.