In 2014, the World Health Organization published a report about the world’s cleanest cities,or those places whose air quality was the envy of urban areas across the globe. Of 1600 cities surveyed, just 32 of them had PM2.5 air pollution ratings of under 5, the WHO’s recommended annual level for this kind of particulate matter.
The Nordic nations ranked great as a whole, with one of those top 32 cities being Iceland-based. Although Reykjavík fared well, it was actually nearby Hafnarfjörður that shone out. But as you’ll soon discover, this underrated Icelandic city has far more going for it than its air quality.
Take a look at our guide before you point your rental car in the direction of Hafnarfjörður, so you can experience everything on offer in Iceland’s cleanest city.
Things to do in and around Hafnarfjörður
Some travelers write off Hafnarfjörður as little more than a suburb of Reykjavík, which is a pity, as there are a surprising array of things to do here. No matter what your interests are, there’s something to keep you happy. All the while, you’re conveniently placed to dip in and out of Reykjavík or visit well-known attractions of the Reykjanes peninsula, such as the Blue Lagoon.
History buffs will appreciate the area’s fishing and Viking heritage, while those that prefer the outdoors will have numerous hiking and biking trails at their disposal. All of which will enable you to get that fresh air fix.
Sporty types will be keen to fit in a round of golf, while horseback riding provides an easy and fun form of exercise. To top it all off, excellent public transport connections mean getting there couldn’t be simpler.
Check out its fishing connections
Hafnarfjörður is, first and foremost, a port. After a volcanic eruption more than 7,000 years ago, lava streamed into the water and cooled to form a natural harbor. In the heart of Hafnarfjörður, you might also notice the boiler of a ship called “The Coot” beside the road. This was Iceland’s first fishing trawler and is now a reminder of the importance of fishing in Hafnarfjörður.
A fisherman’s house called Siggubær, built in 1902 by a man named Erlendur Marteinsson, is preserved as part of the town’s museum and offers a fascinating insight into how workers lived in the past.
Another building, the Sívertsens-húsið, is the oldest house in Hafnarfjörður, built a century earlier. At the time, the wealthy Bjarni Sivertsen ran a shipyard and this house shows how you’d have lived back then if you had plenty of money.
Learn more about the elf community
Though many of Hafnarfjörður’s resident population commute to work in Reykjavík, its hidden community prefers to stay local. Hafnarfjörður is an important center for the Huldufólk, and its elves lure curious travelers keen to learn more.
These fascinating creatures are believed to live in the rocks within the city center, such as at the base of a cliff called Hamarinn, which is home to the elves’ Royal Family.
Take a tour and visit Hellisgerði Park. This well manicured green space contains an important Huldufólk settlement in the cooled magma, known as the Elf Garden.
Another thing you will see as you walk through Hafnarfjörður’s residential neighborhoods are a number of tiny elf houses that people look after in their private gardens. The attention to detail is amazing, particularly for those which are miniature versions of the human house they stand beside.
Be kidnapped by the Vikings
Arranging a kidnapping probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you’re planning a holiday to Iceland. Come to Hafnarfjörður with a group, however, and you could end up doing just that. It’s one of the more outrageous activities to arrange as part of a night out at the Viking Village, but the surprised target of your crime will soon forgive you as they realize what’s really going on.
At the Fjörugarðurinn restaurant, participants enjoy a Viking feast and drink copious amounts of mead and Brennivin. Everyone’s encouraged to sing along with Viking folk songs, and one lucky diner will even be crowned an honorary Viking by the Fjöru-chieftain. It’s shamelessly touristy, of course, but go with the flow and you’ll find it makes for a hilarious night out.
Let your hair down at a Viking Festival
In June, things ramp up a notch during Hafnarfjörður’s annual Viking festival. Viking lifestyles and traditions are brought to life during a four-day event which takes place in Víðistaðatún park in June. Thrilling re-enactments are as much fun for spectators as they are for those who dress up in costume to fake battle deaths and injuries.
At the festival, there are all types of ways to fully immerse yourself in Viking culture – try your hand at axe-throwing, perhaps, or be taught how to shoot a bow and arrow. Want something tamer? Try wood carving, dancing or listening to music as you chat over a glass of mead. Bring your wallet: there are plenty of souvenir shopping opportunities too.
Play a round of golf
Golf is a popular sport in Iceland and some of the best courses in the country can be found in this area. Keilir is Iceland’s top-ranked golf course and it is located on the western edge of Hafnarfjörður. It’s a links course, which means players compete on firmer ground. Visitors are welcome to take in the lush green grass and admire the picturesque natural surroundings.
Nine of its eighteen holes offer extraordinary views across the water to the Snæfellsjökull glacier. The remainder were constructed over a lava field called Kapellhraun, added when the course was expanded in the 1990s. It can be quite a challenge for players if the ball goes astray, thanks to the rough surface of the lava, but the thrill of the chase is all part of the fun.
Go horseback riding
Interacting with a delightful Icelandic horse is a bucket list activity for many Iceland visitors. The closest stables to Hafnarfjörður are those belonging to Íshestar, established in 1982.
There, your hosts can arrange a stable visit for you to meet this gorgeous Icelandic horse breed. Of course, it’s far better to ride, so saddle up, pop on a helmet and set out into the countryside around Hafnarfjörður.
Novice riders should start with the hour-long Lava Tour, an easy ride through lava fields and grassy meadows. More experienced riders can book the Viking tour, a three-hour ride that explores more of this ancient lava field, visits the River Kaldá and narrows in on the imposing Helgafell mountain.
Hike in the surrounding countryside
After some horse riding, you can stretch your legs a bit while enjoying the wonderful landscape. You can go hiking in Iceland, as this activity will help you get back in motion. Luckily, you don’t have to go far from the center of Hafnarfjörður for some top-notch hiking. Some of the best places include:
Close to Hafnarfjörður, take a nature walk at Ástjörn. In summer, purple and blue lupins crowd the shores of this pretty little lake. A trail leads around the water and it’s a popular bird-watching spot. In season, you might catch sight of the rare horned grebe, known to locals as Flórgoði.
This is another of the many lakes in the Hafnarfjörður area. It’s especially pretty because of the trees that have been planted around it, making it a charming place for a picnic and a stroll along a woodland trail. From some points along the paths, you can see the cone-shaped Keilir Mountain through the trees.
The Seltún-Krýsuvík Geothermal Area
The colorful hot springs and mud pools of the Seltún-Krýsuvík Geothermal Area are about a fifteen-minute drive from Hafnarfjörður. You can take a closer look by following the wooden boardwalks. The area’s sulfur emissions can create a bit of a pong, but it’s worth putting up with the rotten egg smell to watch the area hiss and spit like an angry wild cat.
Grænavatn and Kleifarvatn
Grænavatn is an explosion crater which gets its name ‘Green Lake’ from the vivid turquoise colour of its water, caused by the algae that bloom in it. Nearby is the larger Kleifarvatn, whose black sand beach looks especially striking juxtaposed against surrounding hills dusted with snow to create a stunning monochrome landscape.
Hotels in Hafnarfjörður, Iceland
There are a range of possibilities if you’re keen to stay in Hafnarfjörður, with plenty of hotels and guesthouses conveniently located in town. There’s also a summer-only campsite surrounded by parkland that lies within easy reach of the town center on foot or by bus. A few of the options are:
This centrally located, themed hotel is one of Hafnarfjörður’s most popular options. It has the typical style of the traditional viking villages in Iceland. Its Viking-style rooms are a perfect fit if you want to go all in on the historical experience. The Nordic-style décor in the rest of the hotel means you can stick with the present-day if you prefer.
Located on the seashore in Álftanes, if you want that ‘get away from it all’ feeling without straying too far from town, this is it. Tucked away from the lights of the town centre, this complex of black-timbered cottages is also ideal for northern lights spotting
Hafnarfjörður’s Vibrant hostel is a sociable and welcoming alternative, making this an excellent choice regardless of whether you’re travelling solo or with friends. Enclosed bunk beds with curtains and individual showers for privacy elevate this spot beyond the standards you’d expect from a regular hostel.
The Village as a camp base
Under the radar, Hafnarfjörður really does make an excellent base if you want to explore south-west Iceland. While public transport can connect you well to the area, you’ll appreciate the convenience and flexibility that comes with renting your own car. So, choose a vehicle, secure your Iceland car rental and work out where in Hafnarfjörður you’d like to start!