grotta island

What if I told you that you can have an island by yourself right outside the city of Reykjavik? Don’t believe me? Then visit Grotta and see for yourself. Don’t worry, it’s just a few minutes away from the capital, and the place is so serene you’ll not think it’s possible that it’s sitting just outside the city.

To be more specific, Grotta is located in Seltjarnarnes, a short trip at the tip of Reykjavik. Getting there is like entering a scene from a fairy tale: You’re standing in the middle of the ocean, getting company from an old majestic lighthouse and the friendly grass and waves. It’s a picture-perfect setting. No noise, no pollution, just pure bliss.

For avid bird watchers, Grotta is your dream place. Huge array of bird species flock from all over the island, which is why since 1974, Grotta has been declared a natural reserve.

Grotta is the perfect place if you just want to walk or sit around while looking out in the endless Atlantic Ocean. But if you want something more specific to do. You’ll be happy to learn that it’s one of the best spots to catch a glimpse of the magical Northern Lights in winter.

However you choose to spend time on this small but mighty island, you’re sure to have a well-deserved relaxation under Iceland’s soothing embrace.

What is Grotta and Why Should You Visit?

Grotta is a pretty island located in the town of Seltjarnarnes that tourists often visit after enjoying a lively shopping or dining getaway in Reykjavik. Although it’s just a few minutes away, the island gives a totally different vibe from the city.

To say it is peaceful is an understatement. Grotta is serenity itself, looking pretty as it sits on top of the vast Atlantic Ocean with nothing else around it, up far and away from the rest of Iceland.

Like that one shy relative in every big family, Grotta is a little detached (quite literally) and the only way to get through it is by a small strip of sand that sometimes gets unavailable. So to enjoy its company, you will need to get to know it first. How? Check its water’s mood. When the tides are stable and low, the path going to Grotta is afloat allowing people to cross and reach it, but when the water is a little grumpy and high, then try your luck next time.

If the water’s in a good mood and you successfully cross the strip of sand, you will then be warmly welcomed by the grassy land of Grotta. Here, you are surrounded only by the limitless sky and sea and Iceland’s trademark black-sand beach below.

Nothing around Grotta sticks out that could possibly disrupt you from enjoying a serene walk by yourself or with family. On top of that, many species of birds can also be seen flying across the island that further adds up to the tranquility of the place. This is why, instead of being a fun-filled place, Grotta is more popular because of its comforting charm.

In the middle of the island, you can view the historical Grotta lighthouse standing guard on the site since it was built in 1897. Today, the lighthouse is made to be fully automatic, and was rebuilt in 1947 to be strong enough to withstand the test of time, it will be the first thing you see when you view the Grotta from afar, staying true to its promise of guiding people’s path.

Travel photographers who have visited Grotta in the past choose the lighthouse as their favorite picture subject. And seeing those images online, it’s not hard to see why. The lighthouse looks just picture-perfect, it stands out against the backdrop of the sky and sea and sometimes looks like a lonesome protector.

Depending on who views it, the lighthouse photographs can feel either lonely or hopeful. But either way, it remains a beautiful sight.

Right next to the lighthouse are two small farm houses that used to be abandoned in 1970. But after the municipality acquired it in 1994, they now serve as lively facilities frequently welcoming groups from school trips and tours visiting the island.

How to Get to Grotta?

Since it’s a popular destination, getting to Grotta is made really easy and cheap, being greatly accessible especially if you’re just around the city of Reykjavik. This is part of the reason why tourists often opt to add it into their itinerary.

The transport options depend on the type of visit you want to do and how long of the time you have available.

If you’re just craving for a quick escape and looking for the fastest and most convenient options, then taking a taxi or catching a bus are your best bets.

Taking a taxi is pretty straightforward, and can be done anywhere in Reykjavik. Just hop on a cab, politely ask the driver to drop you off Grotta, and you’re set for about a 9 minute trip.

If the bus is your option, then you will have to do a little bit of walking. The first set of walk will be to downtown Reykjavik, where bus #11 ( a yellow bus you cannot miss) rounds over. When you see the bus, hop on and drop off Lindargotu road. Here enters the second set of walking. From the stop, you’ll walk for another 15 minutes before reaching the island.

If you’re up for a bit of an adventure and have time to spare, you may also walk to Grotta for 40-50 minutes at a leisurely pace. This is a good way to not just enjoy Grotta itself, but also see more of Iceland’s natural scenery as you walk along.

Keep an eye out for the tide prediction, since traveling through Grotta may be difficult at high tide, when the sandy strip linking to the island becomes submerged.

This tidal table could come in handy for checking the tide prediction.

Things To Do and Best Times to Visit Grotta

Birdwatching in the Summer

Summer is literally where it shines for Grotta. The birds are in high spirits from the sunny day, so you will hear their happy chirps and catch a glimpse of flocks either roaming on the ground or flying freely across the sky.

With the clear weather, you’ll also have an unobstructed view of Reykjanes and Snæfellsnes Peninsula further amped up under the glow of the midnight sun.

Since the days are longer with ample sunlight, it is the perfect time to witness the flourishing of nature and Grotta is dotted with over 140 species of higher plants for you to admire.

There are about 106 bird species recorded to be sighted within the vicinity of Grota. Among them, Arctic Terns are the spot regulars, often seen lazing around the beach or on the grounds of the crossing golf course.

It’s no wonder birdwatching is the most known activity done here. But the fun doesn’t end with just the birds. As a bonus, seals also show up from time to time as delightful surprise guests.

Just take note that from 1 May to 15 July, Grotta is not open to the public to make way for the bird’s breeding season.

Northern Lights Catching in the Winter

With less light pollution and no obstructions lying around, Grótta is one of the go-to places near the capital for visitors to catch the Northern Lights in winter. While it is already a magical experience seeing the light dance through the limitless sky, just imagine how it looks while being reflected on the peaceful ocean.

The whole experience is made even more charming by a geothermally heated pool just off the parking lot where visitors can dip their feet and relax.

For those who want to add a touch of romance to their Northern Lights hunting trip, the car park has become increasingly popular as a romantic hideaway from formerly being a hidden gem for local couples.

Keep in mind that no one holds the button for when the Aurora decides to show up, so first check the prediction and don’t be too bummed if the beautiful lights decide to stay hidden.

Nearby Attractions

The fun does not end inside Grotta alone. There’s also a lot of other attractions to visit for different kinds of experience.

If you like golf, a golf course is built right across Grotta. There, you can hang around or maybe try hitting a few golf balls while peeping at Grotta in between swings. The good thing about this is that the golf course has the best zoomed-out view of the beautiful Grotta.

If golf’s not your thing, then the nearby museum might sound more like your style. The museum’s all about Icelandic Medical History. It’s a cool place to learn some interesting facts and more about the history of Iceland.

If you are still feeling energetic after walking around Grotta, you can channel that energy to go around various hiking and biking trails. There are a number of them around the area, but if you want to get to some of the best locations, we recommend the Kvika footpath and Norðurströnd walking path.

Since you are already in Seltjarnarnes where Grotta is located, why not consider going for a swim in their pool? Don’t worry you are not gonna freeze. The pool is pretty warm, with the water being a mix of geothermal water and saltwater. But what is even better, it’s said to be good for your skin.

If you could not be bothered to go swimming, Seltjarnarnes also has a large park where kids (or adults) could chill around.

What Should You Know Before Visiting?

Skipping the flood and tide prediction check is not an option. Although we understand the fun in spontaneous adventures, it’s just not worth it. As mentioned, Grotta Ccn only be reached by crossing a narrow strip of sand connecting it to the rest of Iceland. During high tide, that strip of sand gets easily flooded by the rising ocean water.

By not checking the forecast, you are not only playing with the possibility that you will back away in disappointment of having no paths to cross, but you are also making yourself at risk of being stranded when the high tide swallows the path while you’re on the island. In fact, Grotta has seen its fair share of stranded travelers in the past, and all parties involved will probably agree that it’s not the best memorable experience to go home with.

So to protect yourself and the locals that will probably rescue you if you get stuck, check the tide prediction. It’s not that hard, but it’s definitely worth your safety.

Second, don’t invade the bird’s spaces. Yes they are cute, but birds, especially the Arctic Terns, have quite a reputation for being aggressive when protecting their young (fair enough). Getting too near the bird’s ground can easily turn your peaceful birthwatching into a full-on bird attack, so make sure to watch at a safe distance. You can always zoom in on your camera to take their beautiful photos anyway, and getting too near will just steer them away.

Thinking about what to pack in your luggage? Just remember two things: one, you’re in Iceland (and its moody weather is ever present) and two, you’re strutting along a breezy shore, it’s very easy to get cold. As always, layering up is a good idea. This applies no matter what time of year you decide to visit Iceland. Layering clothes does not only make you well-equipped to adapt to the fluctuating weather, it is also a fun way to mix up really cute outfits and stay fashionable during your Icelandic getaway.

Now, let’s talk about Grotta’s majestic lighthouse,- the photographer’s pick. Sadly, for those curious about what it looks like inside, you might keep it up to your imaginations, since it’s usually off-limits to visitors, which is probably why most photos online are taken from the outside. But this should not be a problem. The lighthouse is already gorgeous from the exterior anyway. Against the backdrop of the sky and the sea, it just pops better. Take as many photos as you want and don’t be too let down if you don’t get to see the lighthouse from the inside.

Robert Robertsson

Hey, I'm the founder of Airmango. My love affair with travel and entrepreneurship kicked off in 1994 in Iceland. Fast forward through two decades, and I've been lucky enough to weave my career through five different countries. Each place has left its mark on me, not just in my personal life, but in how I approach business too. With Airmango, I'm bringing all those global insights and experiences to the table – it's like seeing the world through a business lens.