Whether preparing for an extended road-trip around Iceland's Ring Road, or simply trying to figure out how to spend a layover in Reykjavik, Mount Esja offers a solid hike with commanding views of the city and coastline, and is less than 40 minutes from downtown.

Iceland is undoubtedly a land bubbling with adventure, and attracts a growing number of visitors each year seeking to explore its diverse terrain. While road-trips and “bikepacking” expeditions around the Ring Road are becoming more commonplace, many transatlantic travelers often find themselves in Reykjavik for only a few days, perhaps taking advantage of the extended layover option but with no idea of where to begin. Indeed, this island has much to offer; try searching “Iceland” on this website without feeling overwhelmed. Fortunately, there’s something for everyone, regardless of age or skill level.

While traveling in Iceland for several weeks over the summer, we met many people that only had a few days to spend between flights in Reykjavik. Most were overwhelmed and unsure where to begin. As our road-trip came to end back in Reykjavik, we found ourselves in a similar position, unable to leave and lingering in the city. They city itself is an incredibly funky place worth exploring for a day or two, but after several days we were ready to head inland for one last adventure. By this time, we’d befriended several locals and gathered that Mount Esja, often referred to as the “city mountain,” was the day-trip of choice for those living in an around Reykjavik. 

Mount Esja’s trailhead is located at the foot of the mountain in a small area known as Mógilsá. The visitor center is well marked and includes a small café, Esjustofa, for those needing to fuel up before the trek. Soon after beginning the hike you’ll encounter a fork in the trail— the path leading to the left is shorter but steeper, while the path to the right is slightly longer but a more gradual climb. The diverging paths eventually re-connect at the Steinn Overlook, where you’ll find a large stone marker (“steinn” is Icelandic for “stone”). 

From this point, hikers are awarded an incredible vista of Reykjavik and the ford of Kollafjordur to the south. From the Steinn, ambitious hikers can continue up to Þverfellshorn, a steep climb of roughly 600 feet in elevation. Locals warn against doing so in winter without proper equipment—weather conditions are known to change swiftly here—and have plenty of stories involving inexperienced hikers becoming stranded above the Steinn in harsh weather. For those heading down the mountain, take the opposite route back to create a loop hike.

If you’re in Reykjavik, at some point you’re likely to find yourself wondering about the opposing peaks comprising the skyline to the north across the water. Get in a car or hop on a bus, you won’t regret it.

Pack List

  • Hiking boots
  • Windbreaker, beanie, warm clothing
  • Daypack
  • Water
  • Snacks
  • Camera
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RT Distance 3.5 Miles
Elevation Gain 1788.1 Feet
Activities Photography, Backpacking, Hiking, Fitness
Skill Level Beginner
Season Spring, Summer, Autumn
Trail Type Loop
Features
Bathrooms
Easy Parking
Family Friendly
Food Nearby
Picnic Area
Scenic
Wildflowers
Wildlife

Reviews

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Overall rating: 

Great hike

This seemed to be a very popular hike with the locals so I knew we were in the right place. It was challenging and had great views of Reykjavik. It was pretty snow covered toward the top in mid-April so keep that in mind if you go.


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