One of the greatest things about Reykjavík is that you can be enjoying the bustling atmosphere of life in a cultural capital, and in less than half an hour, be immersed in a tranquil natural setting that feels a million miles away from an urban epicentre. Nowhere in the city is this truer than at Grótta.

Now it should be mentioned that technically, Grótta is not part of Reykjavík city itself, but part of the Greater Capital Area. It is located in the town of Seltjarnarnes, on the tip of a peninsula of the same name. Regardless, it is close enough to the centre and easily reached by buses from the main station of Hlemmur.

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Grandi has a special place in my heart for being where I first encountered two classic Icelandic experiences: watching the Northern Lights, and being dive-bombed by nesting Arctic Terms (obviously, the former was the more pleasant surprise). It is a fantastic location for getting in touch with this country’s wonderful nature without having to book a tour or drive for hours out into the countryside.

For the Northern Lights, you want to avoid all light pollution. Thus, as counterintuitive as it may sound, the best place for this around Reykjavik is at Grótta’s picturesque lighthouse. There are no other buildings for a fair distance, and other than the beacon above, you’ll be consumed in almost complete darkness for optimal viewing potential.

Northern LIghts by the lighthouse in the Grotta area of Reykjavik.
I was lucky enough to go down there for the first time with a local, who took me to a little-hidden hot-pool by the coast. There, we could keep our feet warm as we marvelled over the magnificent display above. When I came back with my family, I found it with ease by myself.

In terms of the Arctic Tern attack, I was entirely oblivious to the fact they nested in such numbers here. I, apparently, got too close, and thus got precisely what was coming to me. In spite of it feeling like something from the Hitchcock movie ‘The Birds’, it was rather amazing to sight. The colony took flight and assailed the threat to them as one, even though it was me.

See also Wildlife and Animals in Iceland

Of course, don’t tempt them to come for you in the same way; not only could you cause harm to the eggs and terns themselves, but running panicked over the craggy shoreline of the Seltjarnarnes Peninsula is fraught with its own dangers.

Nowadays, there are warnings posted around, and certain areas are cordoned off in mid-summer. As with everywhere in Iceland, it’s simply safest to stick to the paths.

Arctic Tern in the air
After getting my breath back and moving from these defensive creatures, however, I was delighted to find the many other animals that call Grótta home. In the ocean, you can see an array of seabirds circling overhead and plunging beak-first into the waters, and just a little inland is Bakkatjörn, a lake home to many freshwater avian species.

My time, however, was particularly lucky. Standing before the ocean’s waves crashing on the jagged black rocks, I was able to see three or four seals bobbing and diving just offshore. This was made even more beautiful by the weather; the clear skies meant that the silhouette of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula served as a perfect backdrop to my experience.

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Any time at Grótta is sure to be a serene, revitalising experience. To add a little something extra, however, it is recommended to finish a visit with a trip over to the nearby Grandi.

This harbour area has recently exploded as an attraction with its lovely views, cute shops and many great restaurants. I finished my day at the Coocoo’s Nest, which, with its affordable prices, quaint atmosphere and veggie-friendly options, I couldn’t recommend more. For those seeking seafood or something more luxurious, there are plenty of choices available.