Where to See the Northern Lights in Reykjavík

Northern Lights in Iceland

Seeing northern lights is a dream for many. In Iceland, the lights are usually green but sometimes purple, red and white. They can be seen on dark nights if their activity is high and the skies are clear. The northern lights have a schedule of their own and can be quite unpredictable. But if you’re in Iceland between September and April, remember to look up when the skies are clear. Like stars, you can best see these wonders away from the pollution and city lights; the darker the surroundings, the better. If you’re staying in Reykjavík, you don’t need to go far. Here are some of the best places to see the northern lights more clearly.

Northern lights in Iceland
Photo: Golli.

Grótta in west Reykjavík

Grótta is a small island connected to the Seltjarnarnes peninsula, about six kilometres [3.7 mi] west of Hallgrímskirkja. Due to its location, there are minimal city lights and pollution, giving you a higher chance of seeing the northern lights. Grótta’s lighthouse adds to its picturesque coast, creating a tranquil experience as you gaze at the lights.

To get there, you can take bus route 11 from Reykjavík city centre and get off at Hofgarðar. It is a 1.3 km [0.8 mi] walk from the bus stop to the vantage point.  You can also travel by car, bicycle, ride-share, scooter, or on foot.



Grandi harbour district

This area of Reykjavík is about two kilometres [1.24 mi] from the city centre. This neighbourhood has been growing in recent years, and you will now find various boutiques, restaurants and museums in the Grandi area. Due to its location on the waterfront, it is an excellent viewing point away from the city lights. You can get there by foot, car, bicycle or scooter, or take bus route 14 to Grandi bus stop. The best vantage point is on the northern tip, so walk up Eyjaslóð street along the water.

Perlan, Reykjavík, Iceland at sunset
Photo: Perlan’s 360° sightseeing platform offers great vantage points.

Perlan sightseeing platform

Perlan museum is in Reykjavík, just two kilometres [1.24 mi] south of the city centre. A large sightseeing platform wraps around the glass dome, where you have a 360° panoramic view of Reykjavík and beyond, which offers a great, unobstructed vantage point to see the Aurora.

To get to Perlan by bus, you can take bus routes 13 or 18. You can also travel by foot, ride-share, bicycle, or scooter. You can buy tickets to the sightseeing platform at Perlan’s reception for ISK 2,990 [$22, €20]. The observation deck is open until 10 PM, giving you ample time to observe the lights.

Northern lights and the peace tower in Iceland
Photo: Golli. The Northern Lights Yacht Cruise invites for beautiful views of the bay.

See the Aurora from a yacht

The Northern Lights Yacht Cruise will give you incredible views and the ability to see the Aurora more clearly. The two-hour cruise leaves from the old harbour in Reykjavík at 10 PM and is for those aged seven and older. As of 2024, the price is ISK 14,700 [$107, €99] per person, including blankets, Wi-Fi and a guide.

For an even better vantage point, there are more northern lights excursions, many of which depart Reykjavík city centre. You can also rent a car and chase the Aurora on your own.

No luck?

If you are not fortunate enough to catch the northern lights while in Iceland, you have other options. You can opt for a virtual experience by going to Perlan and experiencing them in the planetarium or to the Aurora Northern Lights Center in the Grandi harbour area, where you can admire the lights through VR goggles.

Perlan Planetarium Northern Lights
Photo: The northern lights in Perlan’s planetarium.

To keep track of the best times to see the northern lights in Iceland, using apps such as My Aurora Forecast & Alerts can better your plans. You can also visit the Icelandic Met Office’s website, where you can see the Aurora forecast. Note that on their map, the white areas indicate clear skies and a higher chance of seeing them. You will find their activity level in the upper right corner.

You can click here for a map of the Northern Lights viewpoints.



Perlan May Soon Offer Journey “Into the Volcano”

A rainbow over Perlan, one of the museums in Reykjavík

Perla norðursins ehf, the company that holds the lease for Reykjavík’s famed landmark Perlan, has submitted a proposal to Reykjavík City Council for a new attraction at the site: a virtual elevator ride into the depths of the Earth, to witness the interior of a volcano.

“Into the volcano”

According to the proposal, the site would be roughly 100 metres squared and just to the west of the Perlan structure. The attraction, tentatively called “Into the Volcano”, would offer guests a virtual “elevator ride” some 2,000 metres down into the Earth.

The journey itself would began at an active volcano in Reykjanes, depicting lava flow and ash near Grindavík. As passengers descend into the Earth, screens would depict what they would see if they could literally sink into a volcano unharmed. In addition, there would be a display showing how deep into the Earth the guests are descending, what the temperature is at a given depth, and other data points.

A physically present guide, or a voiceover narration, would explain to guests further what they are witnessing. The entire journey would take about seven minutes.

A trial run

The proposal states that Perlan would cover all the costs to create the exhibition and would pay the City of Reykjavík 1 million ISK per year in rent. They are asking for a three-year trial run of the attraction.

12 Things to do With Kids in Reykjavík City

Children playing in Ægissíða, Reykjavík

Travelling with kids is certainly a little different than travelling with only adults. It requires consideration for little feet but that’s no reason to worry. Iceland is a remarkably kid-friendly country, where locals embrace the idea of children being a part of their daily life rather than needing constant entertainment with specific activities. That being said, Reykjavík city has enough fun, child-friendly activities to offer.

 

Family friendly museums

Exploring Reykjavík´s family-friendly museums offers a mix of learning and fun for young and old alike, making them an essential stop for any family visiting Iceland.Here are four must-visit museums in Reykjavík that are fun for everyone:

1. Þjóðminjasafnið museum

The National Museum of Iceland has an informative exhibition of the making of Iceland’s nation and its culture. While the adults delve into the rich heritage, the kids can embark on their own little adventure with a museum bingo card. This definitely adds an element of excitement to their exploration through the museum. From ancient artefacts to skeletons and opportunities to dress up in traditional Icelandic attire, there is something to engage every young mind. 

Open Air Museum in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Árbæjarsafn Open Air Museum

 

2. Árbæjarsafnið Open-Air museum

Located in the outskirts of Reykjavík, Árbæjarsafnið Open-Air museum offers a unique glimpse into Reykjavík´s past. Wander through a collection of historic houses, many of which were wholly relocated from the city centre, and imagine daily life in Reykjavík in the 19th and 20th century. During the summer months, museum staff walks around, dressed in period attire, adding an interactive dimension to the experience. 

 

3. Perlan museum

Situated on a wooded hill in the heart of Reykjavík is Perlan, also known as the Pearl. Renowned for its distinctive architecture, Perlan features a glass dome placed on four repurposed water tanks, making it one of Reykjavík´s most iconic landmarks. Inside you can explore a world of wonders, including a glacial ice cave, a planetarium show and an interactive display of Icelandic nature and culture. Don´t forget to take a stroll along the glass dome´s balcony and treat yourself to an ice cream while you enjoy the breathtaking panoramic view of Reykjavík.

 

4. Whales of Iceland

For an amazing experience dedicated to the majestic creatures of the sea, head to Whales of Iceland. This interactive museum is the largest one in Europe that is fully dedicated to whales. In the museum you can find 23 life-sized whale sculptures that are based on actual whales found in Icelandic waters. Complete your experience with a drink at their café and let the kids play at the designated play area. The museum is in walking distance from the city centre and you can enjoy the colourful boats in the harbour along the way.

 

Get free access to a number of museums, pools and more with the Reykjavík City Card. 

 

Activities for the whole family

As you plan your family adventure in Reykjavík city, discover a selection of activities favoured by locals. From cherished pastimes to lesser-known gems, these experiences will make it even more fun to explore the Icelandic capital.

Swimming pool in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Swimming pool in Iceland

 

5. The swimming pools of Reykjavík

Icelanders love their swimming pools and the culture around them is quite the phenomenon. With almost 20 pools in the greater capital region, there is a good chance you can find one conveniently located near you. Each pool has a designated children’s pool and hot tubs, where you can easily relax while the kids splash around. Most pools will provide floaties for the children’s safety as well as some water toys to play with. Complete the Icelandic experience with a late afternoon dip, followed by a traditional hot dog for dinner. It’s safe to say your little ones will sleep soundly afterwards.

 

6. Húsdýra- og fjölskyldugarðurinn petting zoo

While Iceland may not have a traditional zoo, visitors can enjoy the charm of a petting zoo located near Reykjavík city centre. Here you will meet some friendly Icelandic farm animals, seals, reindeer and more. The park is divided into two sections: the petting zoo and a family park where you will find a large playground and some carnival rides. Feel free to bring packed lunches as picnic tables and outdoor grill areas are available for a full day of family fun. 

 

7. Noztra creative workshop

For families with a knack for creativity, Noztra Workshop is just the place to unleash your talents. Their ´paint your own pottery´ café provides a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere, perfect for a creative session. Located near the old harbour at the Grandi area, this cosy studio invites you to enjoy a creative cup of coffee while crafting memories together. Note that children under 8 years old are welcome until 4 PM daily.

 

8. Indoor playgrounds

In Reykjavík you can find two indoor playgrounds, providing entertainment for children up to 9 years old:

  • Fjölskylduland (Familyland) is a holistic indoor playground and family centre in the outskirts of Reykjavík. It offers a safe and stimulating environment for children up to six years old. Fjölskylduland creates a supportive environment for families by hosting events and offering parents workshops and classes.
  • Ævintýraland (Adventureland) is an indoor playground situated in Kringlan shopping-mall. Children from age 4 to 9 are welcome for some supervised fun while the parents indulge in a little bit of shopping. 

 

Free family friendly activities in Reykjavík

Children playing in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Children playing at Ægissíða in Reykjavík city.

Exploring Reykjavík doesn’t have to break the bank. From playgrounds and parks to a seaside treasure hunt, Reykjavík offers enough activities that won’t cost you a thing!

9. Grasagarðurinn

This park is a beautiful destination, especially during the summer months. Located in Laugardalur, it is next to Húsdýragarðurinn petting zoo and the famous Laugardalshöll swimming pool. Grasagarðurinn park showcases Iceland´s flora and nestled in its midst is an adorable greenhouse-like café. If you venture further into the park, towards the swimming pool, you will find a playground next to a historic site where Reykjavík´s housewives used to do their laundry. 

They would travel along Laugavegur, the main street of the city centre, and end up at the washing pool in the park. In Icelandic ´laug´ means ´pool,´ which explains why places and streets in the area are all called Laugar– something. 

 

10. Harpa Concert Hall

Whether or not you plan to attend a concert, a visit to Harpa is a must. This beautiful building, home to the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, has a very unique glass architecture and offers stunning views of Faxaflói bay and mount Esja from within the building. Families are warmly welcomed at Harpa, where children can enjoy the fun, musical-themed play area and even learn a thing or two about music.  For those seeking a cultural experience for their Reykjavík itinerary, check Harpa’s calendar for interactive concerts tailored for children.

11. Playgrounds

Every child loves a trip to the local playground, better known as ‘róló’ by the locals. These fun play areas are scattered throughout Reykjavík, offering countless opportunities for young adventurers to let their imaginations soar. In downtown Reykjavík, Hljómskálagarðurinn park boasts a charming playground where children can climb, run, and play to their heart’s content. Surrounded by lush greenery and overlooking Tjörnin pond, it’s the perfect spot for families to unwind and enjoy some outdoor fun.

After closing hours, typically around 5 PM, children are also welcome to use the outdoor areas of Reykjavík’s kindergartens. This provides additional opportunities for some playtime and maybe even some social interactions with locals.

12. Fjöruferð – a treasure hunt at Reykjavík´s black beaches

children on the beach in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Children playing in the Icelandic “fjara”.

A favourite activity among Icelandic children is going on a treasure hunt at the black beaches during low tide. As the tide recedes, you will find plenty of interesting little things like shells, crabs, polished stones and more. In Icelandic, there’s a distinct difference between ‘strönd,’ which refers to a typical beach, and ‘fjara,’ which refers to the black beach during low tide. Gather your family for a nice stroll along the shore of Ægissíða and enjoy the refreshing sea breeze while you hunt for your own Icelandic souvenirs. Just remember to always be careful as stones can be slippery and winds can be hard.

 

To make the most of your family trip, consider staying in Reykjavík and renting a car. This allows for flexibility in your plans, ensuring you can balance day trips into nature with more relaxed days exploring the city. Happy travelling!

Exploring Reykjavík in 24, 48 and 72 hours

View of Reykjavík from Hallgrímskirkja church.

Reykjavík, with its quaint houses, tasty restaurants, and countless museums, exhibitions, and galleries, is a marvellous option for a short city break. With a city this small, you can cover a lot of ground and manage a whole host of things in one to three days! 

But even in a small space like Reykjavík, it’s impossible to do absolutely everything, and picking from the numerous options can be an unwanted hassle. That’s why we created our 24, 48, and 72 hour Reykjavík itinerary. Whether you don’t enjoy planning or simply need some inspiration, we hope this guide will help you make the most of your trip! 

Day one: Geothermal baths, Icelandic food and sightseeing

Morning

If your accommodations don’t offer a complimentary breakfast, head to Sandholt, one of the oldest operating bakeries in Iceland. They offer hand-crafted pastries and sourdough bread, as well as a great breakfast menu comprising yoghurts, sandwiches, shakshuka, and other delicious dishes. 

After breakfast, spend the morning in a typical Icelandic way by going to Sundhöllin geothermal swimming pool, where the locals swim, have a ‘pottaspjall‘(an Icelandic word for chatting in the hot tub), and do some cold plunging. 

Sundhöllin swimming pool in Reykjavík.
Photo: Golli. Sundhöllin swimming pool in Reykjavík.

Noon

Go to Kaffi Loki for lunch, where you can taste some of the most traditional Icelandic food: Icelandic lamb soup, gratinated mashed fish, homemade flatbread with smoked lamb, and fermented shark, amongst others.

An excellent way to get to know Reykjavík in your limited time is by taking a free or private walking tour. This way, you won’t have to be stressed out and glued to your phone, trying to figure out the fastest way between attractions. You can simply enjoy the walk while absorbing Icelandic history and culture. 

Afternoon

If you’re hungry after the walk, we suggest making your way to Hressingarskálinn café for a traditional ‘rjómaterta’ or ‘Hressóterta’ (whipped cream cake). This is an old-fashioned staple when it comes to celebrations in Iceland.

For those looking to take a piece of Iceland home with them, use the afternoon to do some shopping. Check out Eymundsson bookstore, Vínberið candy store, or Lucky Records music shop, all of which offer a variety of Icelandic products.

Evening

For a fancy dinner, book a table at Sumac (preferably a few days in advance). They offer mouth-watering food inspired by the Middle East. Pick your own combination of small dishes or opt for a fixed menu. For a less fancy but just as delicious dinner, try Dragon Dim Sum, a Chinese- and Taiwan-inspired dim sum bar by the old harbour.

Not ready to call it a day? Check out Hús máls og menningar, a cultural house and bar located in a former bookshop on Laugavegur street. With live music every night, this is a great place to prolong the evening.

Day two: Unusual museums and the food hall culture

Morning

Start the day with breakfast at Reykjavík Roasters in Ásmundarsalur, a non-profit art space with constantly rotating exhibitions. 

Next up is the Sculpture garden at the Einar Jónsson Museum, a lovely free attraction featuring 26 replicas of Einar’s statues. Einar was one of the artists who laid the foundation for modern art in Iceland. 

After the garden stroll, head down to The Icelandic Phallological Museum. This unusual museum, “dedicated to collecting, studying, and presenting actual phalluses and all things phallic”, was founded in 1997 and has become a top-rated attraction in downtown Reykjavík.

Noon

For lunch, it’s time for an Icelandic classic: Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur at Tryggvagata street. This hot dog stand has been serving Icelanders Icelandic hot dogs since 1937. Ask for ‘one with everything’ for the most authentic experience.

Bæjarins Bestu hot dog stand in Reykjavík.
Bæjarins Beztu hot dog stand in Reykjavík.

While you’re digesting your hot dog, pop down to the Reykjavík Punk Museum, a tiny museum located in an old public bathroom where you can learn about the Icelandic punk scene. 

Afternoon

Spend the afternoon in Perlan, one of Reykjavík’s famous landmarks. Inside, you’ll find a fascinating nature exploratorium, as well as an observation deck, planetarium, café, restaurant, bar, and ice cream parlour. 

Evening

In the past few years, a myriad of food halls has popped up all over Reykjavík. Hlemmur Mathöll, one of the first, is a particularly fun one to visit, as it used to be a bus station. If you don’t see a restaurant you like, try Pósthús, located in a former post office, or Hafnartorg Gallery down by the Reykjavík harbour.

A busy day at Gallerí Hafnartorg food hall.
Photo: Golli. A busy day at Gallerí Hafnartorg food hall.

How about a movie after dinner? Bíó Paradís is a unique and small movie theatre in downtown Reykjavík where you can get popcorn and wine while watching critically acclaimed and foreign movies. It has a vibe you won’t find in other Icelandic cinemas and is definitely worth a visit. If you’re not in the mood for movies, check out Bullsey or Skor, where you can grab a drink and play a fun game of darts.

Day three: The National Museum, a typical Icelandic ice cream and Flyover Iceland

Morning

Have a refreshing acai bowl from Maikai for breakfast before walking or taking the bus to The National Museum of Iceland

Noon

When you’re done soaking up the Icelandic history, it’s time for lunch at SÓNÓ matseljur. SÓNÓ is a seasonal vegetarian restaurant situated in the fabulous Nordic House, which was designed by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. It’s well worth taking a walk around the house after lunch. 

Head back downtown through the beautiful surrounding area, past Tjörnin pond and through the charming neighbourhood of Þingholtin.

Afternoon

If there’s one thing the Icelandic people love, it’s ice cream. All year round, no matter the temperature or weather, a typical Icelandic activity is going for an ice cream drive. Swap out your afternoon coffee for a classic soft serve in a dip, a delicious ‘bragðarefur’ blizzard or a creamy Italian scoop.

Two people eating ice cream in the snow.
Photo: Golli. Two people eating ice cream in the snow.

Make your way to Flyover Iceland for a fantastic trip that covers the whole of Iceland. This is an amazing experience, even for those who have already travelled around the island. If you get easily motion sick, the Whales of Iceland exhibition is an excellent alternative.

Evening

For your final evening in Reykjavík, grab some street food at LeKock, a restaurant inspired by childhood memories and travels. Enjoy sensational but simple food in a laid-back atmosphere and play one of the many board games available. If you’d rather have a fine dining experience, Oto is the place to go, but remember to book in advance! With its Japanese Italian fusion cooking and excellent choice of music, you’re bound to have a fantastic final night.

If you don’t fancy going to bed just yet, Tipsy is a fabulous place for a last cheer, and Kaffibrennslan café is a cosy one for a quiet evening coffee and a slice of cake. 

Cocktails in the making at Tipsy, Reykjavík.
Photo: Golli. Cocktails in the making at Tipsy, Reykjavík.

What Is Iceland Like in the Spring and Fall?

Hraunfossar Waterfalls in Iceland

Icelandic nature during shoulder seasons

During fall, Iceland’s nature takes on a unique palate of orange, maroon, and moss green, making autumn in Iceland a treat for your eyes. During the spring, the empty branches start blooming after a long winter’s rest, and the grass turns green again. Both fall and spring are excellent times to observe the rich birdlife of Iceland, as migrant birds pass through during this time. The well-known Atlantic Puffins arrive in April and stay until September. You can see the puffins in several places, but the most convenient way is to take a boat tour to Akurey island or Lundey island from Reykjavík harbour.

The weather in Iceland during fall and spring

During any season, Iceland’s weather can change often and quickly. Sometimes, you can even experience all four seasons in just one day! For this reason, it is best to be prepared and regularly check for weather updates and road conditions. In the fall, the average temperature is 4-7°C [39-45°F], and in the spring, 0-7°C [32-45°F]. In the spring, the daylight is, on average, 15 hours. During fall, it averages 10 hours. Fall and spring bring more rain than the other seasons, so bringing water-resistant coats and footwear may be a good idea.

The roads in Iceland

Route 1, often referred to as “the ring road”, will take you around the island with clear road signs and paved roads. However, some remote locations may only be accessible by gravel roads. You will not be able to travel to the Highland, as the F-roads that take you there are only open from June to August.

Foggy road in Iceland
Photo: Golli.

Driving safe

Due to rainfall, water can accumulate in the roads’ tyre tracks or other dips, causing hydroplaning. If this happens, slow down by letting go of the accelerator and pump lightly on the break if needed. Note that rain, fog, and snow can reduce visibility, especially during the darker hours. Make sure to never stop in the middle of the road or enter closed roads; it is illegal and can cause serious accidents. In case of an emergency, call 112. Make sure to bring essentials such as warm clothing, snacks and beverages, and to have a GPS/map at hand. It is good to familiarise yourself with Icelandic road signs before driving. For information regarding weather and road conditions, you can call 1777. With some preparation and research, you can have a safe and adventurous journey!

Northern lights in Iceland during spring and fall

Late fall and early spring are good times to see the northern lights, though never guaranteed. You can catch them yourself from wherever the skies are clear, but tours are available to see the northern lights shining brighter from better vantage points. The tours usually run from mid-September to mid-April, as the rest of the year brings too much daylight to see the aurora. You can view the northern lights forecast here. Note that the white areas on the map indicate clear skies and a higher chance of seeing them. You will see numbers in the upper right corner representing their activity level.

What is there to do in the spring and fall in Iceland?

Inside:

Iceland offers a diverse range of museums. In Reykjavík, Perlan museum has interesting interactive exhibitions presenting virtual northern lights and a man-made glacier, in addition to educational exhibitions on natural history and geology. Other museums in Reykjavík include the Maritime Museum, the Whale Museum, the National Museum of Iceland, and the Reykjavík Art Museum. Iceland offers a variety of restaurants and cafes where you can experience both Icelandic and foreign cuisine. You can browse Iceland’s unique art, clothing, and jewellery designs in local shops around the country.

Perlan Museum in Reykjavík, Iceland
Photo: Perlan Museum in Reykjavík, Iceland

Outside:

Hikes in areas such as Heiðmörk nature reserve and Þingvellir national park will bring you a new appreciation of the scenic nature of Iceland through lava, moss, lakes, and rich history. Road trips to the villages and towns of Iceland are a great way to experience authentic Icelandic culture. To keep warm during cold days, submerge yourself in some of Iceland’s many geothermal pools and lagoons. Mountains, black sand beaches, waterfalls, glaciers, and geysers are some of the natural wonders of Iceland worth exploring, whether on your own or by going on various excursions.

As summer and winter are the peak seasons of tourism in Iceland, fall and spring are more affordable for flights and accommodation while bringing fewer crowds. Whether chasing the aurora, exploring Iceland’s nature and its wildlife, or immersing yourself in the local culture, the shoulder seasons provide fascinating scenery for a vacation to remember.

 

Reykjavík City Council Approves Sale of Iconic Perlan

Perlan Öskjuhlíð haust autumn

The Reykjavík City Council has authorised the sale of the landmark Perlan building and two adjacent water tanks in Öskjuhlíð, with a combined real estate value nearing ISK 4 billion ($30 million / €28 million). Acquired by the city in 2013, Perlan has since transformed from a financial burden into a profitable tourist attraction, according to a press release from the City of Reykjavík.

Property office greenlights sale

In a meeting held yesterday, Reykjavík City Council greenlit the finance and risk management division – also known as the property office – to initiate the sale of the iconic Perlan and two adjacent water tanks in Öskjuhlíð. The properties boast a combined real estate value nearing ISK 4 billion ($30 million / €28 million).

According to an official press release, Perlan was constructed by Hitaveita Reykjavíkur, the city’s district heating company (which later merged with Rafmagnsveita Reykjavíkur to form Reykjavík Energy). The landmark building, inaugurated in 1991, was acquired by the City of Reykjavík in 2013, along with two water tanks from Reykjavík Energy.

At the time of acquisition, Perlan was a financial drain, generating revenue barely covering its real estate taxes and land rent. However, the past decade has witnessed a remarkable operational turnaround, according to the press release, with revenue now significantly exceeding costs. The property is currently leased to Perla norðurins ehf., which has transformed it into a popular Reykjavík tourist attraction.

The press release further highlighted Perlan’s evolution over the years, noting its diverse offerings, including exhibitions, restaurants, and a viewing platform that provides panoramic vistas of the capital and surrounding mountains. “The venue also features an array of attractions such as an ice cave, an observatory, and interactive exhibits on Icelandic nature and culture.”

“The properties present substantial opportunities for future development, and it’s not necessarily in the city’s best interest to spearhead that growth,” the release stated. “The total area of the building and tanks is approximately 5,800 square metres, with a real estate valuation of ISK 3,942,440,000.”

The case will go to the City Council for final approval on September 19.

Isavia Demands Felling of 2,900 Trees in Öskjuhlíð

Perlan Öskjuhlíð haust autumn

The operator of Reykjavík Domestic Airport, Isavia, has requested that 2,900 trees in Öskjuhlíð forest be felled immediately, or 1,200 of the forest’s tallest trees, to improve flight safety. Öskjuhlíð is one of the oldest forests in Reykjavík and is on the natural heritage register. If the request is approved, it would constitute felling about one-third of the forest or at least half of its oldest and tallest trees.

Isavia sent a request to the City of Reykjavík on July 6 demanding city authorities fell trees within the approach zone to the airport from the east in order to improve flight safety. Isavia suggests two possibilities: felling all the trees within two areas of the forest, a total of 2,900 trees; or felling around 1,200 of the forest’s tallest trees.

Reykjavíkurborg. What Öskjuhlíð would look like with the 2,900 trees felled (inside the red dotted line)
Reykjavíkurborg. What Öskjuhlíð would look like with the 2,900 trees felled (inside the red dotted line).

Protected green space enjoyed by many

The forest enjoys protection both within the neighbourhood zoning plan and as a city park in the city’s master zoning plan. Öskjuhlíð is also on the natural heritage register. Felling the trees is subject to the consultation and approval of various parties, including the Icelandic Institute of Natural History.

The felling would come at a significant cost, at least ISK 500 million [$3.8 million; €3.5 million] to fell 2,900 trees. That price tag would not include the necessary landscaping of the area after the trees are cut down and removed. In 2017, around 140 trees in the forest were felled to increase flight safety. Isavia put the project out to tender and footed the bill.

Öskjuhlíð is a popular site for outdoor recreation as well as the location of Reykjavík landmark Perlan. Reykjavík University is nestled at the base of the forest and religious organisation Ásatrú has facilities in Öskjuhlíð as well, where they hold regular events. The greater Reykjavík area does not have many forests to boast of, the two main ones besides Öskjuhlíð being Heiðmörk and Elliðárdalur.

Airport location a long-standing debate

Research has shown that afforestation carried out in the greater Reykjavík area since the middle of the 20th century, including in Öskjuhlíð, has decreased the intensity of storms and reduced average windspeeds in and around the city. Instead of felling trees, some have argued that the landing route to the domestic airport from the east could be made safer by extending the runway further west. That would require extending the existing runway out over the ocean, however.

The location of Reykjavík Domestic Airport has been a hot-button issue almost as long as the airport has been around. An agreement has now been made to move it from its current location in Vatnsmýri and build a residential development in its place – but a new location for the airport is yet to be determined and its relocation remains a source of tension between the sitting government and the City of Reykjavík.

Perlan Viewing Platform Free for Icelanders

tourists on perlan

Icelanders can obtain free access to Perlan’s viewing platform with a special membership card, RÚV reports. The Reykjavík landmark, whose name translates as “The Pearl,” has received criticism for beginning to charge admission to its viewing platform in 2017.

Gunnar Gunnarsson, Perlan’s managing director, says some 1 million tourists visit the landmark every year, and the increased traffic brings with it high maintenance costs. When determining the price of admission, Gunnar says, Perlan looked to Hallgrímskirkja. While admission to the church’s tower, which provides a panoramic view of Reykjavík, is ISK 1,000 ($8/€7.20), admission to Perlan’s viewing platform was originally set at ISK 490 ($4/€3.50), but was recently raised to ISK 890 ($7.20/€6.50).

Gunnar says that although most of Perlan’s visitors are foreign travellers, the organisation values its Icelandic visitors as well. Icelanders can obtain a special membership card which gives them free admission to the viewing platform. Gunnar says around 1,000 Icelanders have already taken advantage of the offer.