Mt. Esja – Reykjavík’s favorite mountain

One of my favorite things about Reykjavík is of course it’s proximity to the sea (do you think I was a sailor or a mermaid in a past life?) but also the fact that everywhere you look you see beautiful mountains that manage to leave you in awe every day with their ever changing colors and beauty. Dramatic? Yes. But also very true.

Living with the mountains and the sea all around does something to you that I can’t quite explain. The mountains become a part of you and a sort of barometer of your life. I remember someone telling me once, after having suffered from a mild depression for a while, that they knew they were doing better because they could see the colors of the mountains again. I understood instantly what it meant.

The grand Mt. Esja


The most known of the mountains surrounding Reykjavík, and the favorite of many, is the Esja. Esja is actually not a single mountain but a mountain range formed by some volcanic activity back in one of those prehistoric ages that nobody (except maybe Dr. Ross Geller) knows the name of. It’s 914 meters high (about 2999 ft) and it’s a popular outdoor area with a bunch of Reykjavíkians climbing it every day. Personally I’ve never been up there but I once walked about 1/3 of the way before sitting down with my friends for a picnic. We were hung over, don’t judge. If you fancy going for a hike you can take a city bus to the roots of the mountain and follow clearly marked paths from there.

If you are wondering where to see Esja (usually called Esjan by locals – the Esja) all you need to do is go down to the shoreline somewhere (like down to the Sun Voyager) and look north. You’ll also see it in between houses all over Reykjavík and the top of Hallgrímskirkja church will give you a pretty awesome view of it. In fact, if you spend more than a few hours in the city you won’t escape it.

The Sun Voyager

The Sun Voyager

Esjan is has been the subject of many poems and pop songs and many Reykjavíkians will tell you that they have a special bond with the mountain. When I posted a picture of it on Facebook last week, someone who’s not living in Iceland anymore commented: My mountain on the picture. That’s exactly how many of us feel, it’s our mountain and a part of our being and everyday lives.

The smaller but no less beautiful Esja ring

A friend of mine, Erla, who took the photo of me on my About page, is one of those people who feel that special bond I talked about with the mountains. So much, in fact, that she’s been developing a whole jewelry line dedicated to the mountains. One of these items is the Esja ring, which is basically a replica of the mountain range itself twisted around your finger. It’s one of those beautifully understated pieces of jewelry that I personally really enjoy. Maybe I should ask her to make me one.

Esja ring

The Esja ring is only available in Erla’s Etsy shop and she ships all over the world.

One last word of warning

I know the city mountain sounds all warm and cuddly but if you do decide to go there for a hike please take care. The mountain is very steep in areas and there can be a lot of snow up there, not to mention the fact that the Icelandic weather can change in an instance. Even though it’s really close to Reykjavík it doesn’t mean you can’t get lost or hurt up there!

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One thought on “Mt. Esja – Reykjavík’s favorite mountain”

  1. Nick says:

    I’m Australian but I visited Iceland in 2009 and (on a whim) ended up climbing the esja with an american guy I’d met the day before. We caught 2 public buses to get to the foot of the mountain and with lots of pointing at watches and nodding from our non-english speaking busdriver we worked out that the next bus homeward was in about 4 hours. It was also the last bus that day. We set of in cool but good weather, stopping repeatedly to consult the photograph of the map which I’d taken when we were in the carpark. We climbed well into the clouds and visibility was down to only a few meters up or down. With frozen hands we stood in blasting wind and signed our names in the book in the metal box near the top, then kept climbing up to the something-horn (sorry, I can’t remember). At this point we decided it was best to turn and go back to the carpark as we were scared of missing our bus home. We got down the mountain OK and after eating the last of our rugbread and biscuits decided that we might try and hitchhike home. After about 10minutes a car’s headlights approached in the distance and I stepped forward with thumb extended. My heart sank as I saw it was young girl (23) and I thought “she is NEVER going to let two foreign idiots get in her car” – but amazingly she did. With a mix of broken english and gestures she worked out where we wanted to go and then offered to drive us not only back to the bus stop to get home but ALL the way home!

    I recently read that “You can’t have your best days in life without flirting with your worst” and I’ll never forget the relief I felt when we arrived back downtown again.

    I f$%@ing love that mountain.

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