Everyone has that friend who loves to wake up at the crack of dawn on vacation and get their daily workout in while the rest of us eat pancakes back at the hotel. Or maybe that is you. If so, I bow down to your motivation and bequeath you with this guide to running in Reykjavik. It just so happens that running is a popular activity here, for travelers and locals alike, and the city offers a wonderful network of trails. And what better way to see a new city than to wander (speedily) through its streets?
Where to go: some convenient running routes
Sculpture & Shore Walk (8km)
This paved trail is very flat and offers beautiful views of the sea and surrounding mountains (if it’s not too cloudy that is). Harpa Concert Hall is a great starting location since it’s close to most accommodation in the city center. The path extends all the way to the Viðey Island Ferry Terminal, a distance of 4km one way, making this a great 8km route.
Laugardalur Loop (5km)
This route is special because you can take a long dip in the geothermal hot pools at Laugardalslaug after your run. The pool allows you to keep your belongings in one of their lockers while you’re out running. They also have a map of the running trails around the area, so you can choose exactly where you want to go. This is the typical 5K route.
South Reykjavik Coast (10km)
A paved path lines the coastline south of downtown, that takes you from Ægissíða, through Skerjafjörður and down to Nauthólsvík. Around Perlan, the hot water storage tanks with the spaceship-like building on top of it, the path divides into multiple gravel and paved paths, allowing for more exploration. It’s a nice place to meander through the trees and add more kilometers. However, you can always just continue along the coastline until the end of the inlet and back. The Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach is also along this route, so you can stop in for a dip after your run.
Elliðaárdalur Valley (10km)
Elliðaárdalur Valley is a nature oasis nestled in the middle of the city. If you’re staying in the city center, you’ll want to catch a bus here or ride a bike. You can take a Strætó bus to the Elliðaárdalur stop (takes about 10 minutes) and start your run from there. This loop is 10km, but you can always cut it shorter by crossing over one of the bridges and following the trail north on the opposite side.
You can loop around the Seltjarnarnes peninsula, running along the coast and around the Grótta Island Lighthouse. Again, it is a bit farther from the city center, so you’ll want to take a bus or bike. From the city center, take the Strætó bus to the Seltjarnarnes bus stop (takes about 15 minutes). This is a great opportunity to see a part of the city that many travelers never make it to.
At the peak of winter, Reykjavik gets four hours of daylight. You can’t always squeeze your run into this short timespan, so it’s very likely you’ll be running in the dark. Fortunately, the dark is not really “dark” here because the city is lit up and majority of the paved running trails are lit with streetlights. As a precautionary measure, most runners wear reflectors— reflective clothing or accessories will do. Also, Reykjavik is a safe city and people can comfortably run by themselves. Nonetheless, it’s always a good idea to tell someone where you’re going and when you plan to be back.
The winter weather is very unpredictable, so you’ll want a waterproof jacket, shell pants, and wicking apparel to prevent chafing if your clothes get wet. It’s also a good idea to bring a hat with a brim to keep the rain out of your eyes. Because the paths frequently get iced over (and you’ll want to save your tailbone), bring over-the-shoe spikes. Think of them as snow tires for your shoes.
Finding daylight will not be a problem for you during these months. However, the weather is still unpredictable. You’ll want to pack the appropriate clothing for running in both rain and sunshine. On warmer days, you can get away with running shorts and a T-shirt (it rarely gets above 18°C), but a quick change in weather could call for a rain jacket and shell pants.
Join an event
The best website for finding information on running events during your trip is Running Iceland. Here you’ll find all the races going on in Iceland throughout the year, along with the distance and type of path (road vs. trail).
There are a lot to choose from, so I’ll let you in on our favorites here at I Heart Reykjavik. The first is The Reykjavik Marathon in August. Don’t be alarmed by the name! This run also includes a 10K and ½ marathon (because let’s be real, it’s tough for me to make it past 30 minutes). That same night is Culture Night, so the city turns into a big party. To make up for all the calories you burned in the morning, you can devour waffles and beer all night. Life is all about balance.
We also love the Midnight Run held on the summer solstice. You can choose from a full marathon, 10K or 5K. Everyone is timed to finish by midnight and then receives free entry into the biggest geothermal pool in Reykjavik, Laugardalslaug.
The Adidas Boost Run happens every July or August on the coast by Harpa Concert Hall. Since the path is very flat, many people will get their personal best times. So sign up for this one if you’re looking for bragging rights.
ÍR’s New Years Eve Run is a 10K that is as integral a part of Reykjavik’s new years eve as the fireworks. You’ll find many runners dressed in costume as they fight for the best costume award and celebrate the end of the year.
Lastly, The Color Run, hosted by over 300 cities around the world, happens during the summer in Reykjavik. I’m sure you guys know the drill, but be prepared to get blasted with foam, bubbles, and lots of color.
What to listen to
While running in Reykjavik, I believe it’s completely necessary to jam out to Icelandic tunes. I’m all about that cultural immersion. I’ve crafted the perfect playlist for your next run here. From warm up to cool down, this will power you through.
This post is a part of a series of posts where Sarah, our 23-year-old Coloradan blog-helping-elf, shares her findings during her 5-week stay in Reykjavík. Before Sarah joined us here in Reykjavík she spent a year in New Zealand where she got a taste for the sweet life of travel. After Reykjavík she’s headed south again to spend a year in Australia.
Read more of Sarah Takes on Iceland here.