Reykjavik off the beaten track: Botanical garden

Natacha Costa | Live the World

November 23, 2022

There is a joke that Icelanders tell and it goes as follows:

- "What do you do if you get lost in a forest in Iceland?

  • "You get up."

And... it's almost not a joke. Iceland might be "the land of ice and fire" but definitely is not "the land of trees". Once, however, it was. The Icelandic Forest Service reports that more than a thousand years ago, when the island was first settled, up to 40% of its surface was covered with birch trees. But then, the Vikings came. Iceland was previously uninhabited, so everything needed to be built from scratch. They needed houses, boats, fuel and also grazing fields for their animals. Lava also "took care" of some previously fertile land and suddenly the island stayed practically treeless. You become aware of this the moment you catch your bus from the Keflavik airport and start to notice its unique barren, Mars-like landscape. Another saying goes: "When in Iceland, if you see three trees together you have a forest". Jokes aside, already for over a century, Iceland has been working on reforestation projects, offering incentives for farmers and supporting numerous NGOs working in the field. 

When it comes to the capital, Reykjavik, here or there you will find a nice green area, but don't expect too much. One of the places that should be on your must visit list, in case you like parks, is definitely the Botanical Garden of Reykjavik in Laugarsdalur. Another peaceful spot not to be missed is the "city pond" - Tjornin. Discover in another story of mine why this small lake is also known as "the biggest bread soup in the world".

Picture © credits to N. Costa

If you happen to visit the Botanical Garden on a Friday during June, July or August, you can join a free guided tour, starting at the main entrance around 12:40. Otherwise, you can explore on your own, and if you wish to talk to some of the employees or volunteers, most likely they will be happy to answer a question or two. Even those older ones speak English very well! If you prefer, there are also QR codes that you can read and find additional information.

Picture © credits to N. Costa

The Garden was established in 1961 and it's run by the city of Reykjavik. Their objective is to "conserve plants for education, research and delight", and so they have around 3000 species, sorted in 8 different plant collections, keeping them alive despite of cold temperatures of Reykjavik. It's also open during winter months, but only between 10h and 15h, but as there are many 

Inside the Garden there is a splendid, tiny café with great cakes - "Floran Garden Bistro", which is considered one of the hidden gems of Reykjavik. Not so much of food choice, but it's a unique place to taste a good cake and enjoy a cup of coffee or tea. Take your time, while being surrounded by the beautiful green landscape and a serene environment of this Garden - a real "off the beaten track spot" in Reykjavik. 

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