Live From Iceland!

Thursday, August 4 update, Part 2: Mt. Esja and Mosfellsbær

The city of Reykjavik seems to be guarded by Mt. Esja. The mountain is visible from most parts of the city:

reykjavik mt esja background

Esja is about a 25 minute drive from Reykjavik, and has a complex hiking trail system that should appeal to almost any difficulty level you are looking for.

There is a parking lot at the base of the mountain, as well as a restaurant.

esja parking lot restaurant

esja restaurant esjustofa

We didn’t eat at the restaurant, called Estustofa. But, if you judge a restaurant by its children’s menu (and I’m probably the only one who does), Estustofa looks very good. The kid’s soup of the day costs just 490 krona— under $4. And a ham and cheese sandwich is under $5. I don’t know how big the portions are, but I think those are the cheapest prices I’ve seen in Iceland for a kid’s meal, except for some buffets which are free.

To the left of the restaurant in the first picture above is a very impressive hiking trail map. It’s like a subway map, showing you the stops and transfers you can make at each of those points.

esja subway map

Here’s a closeup of the map in the top middle, which is somewhat more to scale than the map on the left.

esja subway map mountain paths

You’ll want to take a picture of the paths, or maybe even print out these pictures? But even with a photo, we couldn’t really find our way on the paths to the right. Besides the two or three labeled points at the bottom of the mountain, we didn’t see any other names. And so we tried to piece it together from the colors that labeled the paths. We eventually found our way, but it was more confusing than I expected.

esja hike up hill

Note the wooden sticks along the path; they have green paint at the top, labeling our green path. But the path we were on was also an orange path? Like I said, it’s more confusing than the map implies.

Unless you are an extremely accomplished hiker and climber, you shouldn’t go past Steinn, which is a big rock with a sign marked “Steinn”; the last 200 meters or so that lead to the peak seem to be steep and dangerous. Even the hike to Steinn can take an hour or so up; presumably, the walk back down would take less time. The total roundtrip length is about 3.5 miles. If you want to get to Steinn, which can be a gathering place for people doing the hike, stick to the paths on the left and just head straight up.

We didn’t make it to Steinn; instead, we wandered around from path to path. Sometimes we knew where we were on the map, and sometimes we had no idea.

esja path up esja wooden bridge

As you climb higher, you’ll get to points where you can turn around and see the beautiful views looking out toward Reykjavik.

esja view reykjavik

Esja is one of two hikes we recommend within half an hour of Reykjavik; we enjoyed both this hike and Helgafell, in Hafnarfjörður. On nice days, you’ll find a lot of locals at both mountains. Esja has the option of the restaurant at the base, while you won’t find any food or drink at Helgafell. And Esja is probably more famous, so it may be your best choice if you only plan to do one of them.


On the way to Esja from Reykjavik, you’ll pass right by the town of Mosfellsbær. There are a few places of interest here. Surprisingly, you’ll find two thermal swimming pools: The older Varmárlaug, where you’ll find more locals and the newer and impressive Lágafellslaug, which is one of the nicest pools in Reykjavik.  See more information about these pools (and other pools around Reykjavik) at the Grapevine’s review page.

But we were planning to head to the Blue Lagoon later, and so we skipped the pools. Instead we stopped by Álafoss, the famous wool store. There’s a location in downtown Reykajvik too, but the Mosfellsbær store is much larger.

alafoss overview alafoss yarn

The yarn selection is impressive; they also had a selection of plans and knitting kits. If you’re serious about knitting, this is the place to go. But otherwise, as long as you can handle the crowds and cramped spaces, I thought the Handknitting store in Reykjavik is a better place to buy a premium wool sweater or blanket.

I didn’t realize that Álafoss is on a quaint street with some other shops:

alafoss street cool (1 of 1)

(Álafoss is just out of the picture; it would be in the front left corner.) Further back on the left is the Álafoss café; this building used to house the old Álafoss wool factory. You’ll find lunch, dinner or cakes here:

alafoss street cafe cakes 950 (1 of 1)

Even further down on the left is the Knifemaker— this was one of my favorite stores in Iceland. You may need to ring the bell to get in. But inside is an amazing collection of handmade knives. Some handles are made from whale bone, reindeer horn, and more.

alafoss street knifemaker (1 of 1)

The knives aren’t cheap– very few of the larger knives were under $300. But they were beautiful works of art, and it’s a worthwhile stop if you’re already on the street.


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Thursday, August 4 update, Part 2: Mt. Esja and Mosfellsbær was last modified: August 13th, 2016 by Eric