If you arrive in Reykjavík from Keflavík airport, it’s hard to miss the space-age-looking grey container tanks that sit at the top of the wooded hill, Öskjuhlíð, immediately south of Kjarvalsstaðir, across Miklabraut and southeast along Bústaðavegur. Each is capable of holding four thousand litres of water at 80°C for use in the capital’s homes, offices and swimming pools; it’s also from here that water has traditionally been pumped, via a network of specially constructed pipes, underneath Reykjavík’s pavements to keep them ice- and snow-free during winter. The whole thing is topped by a revolving restaurant. The structure is one of Reykjavík’s best-known landmarks and is the best place for a 360-degree panoramic view of the entire city; simply take the lift to the fourth floor and step outside. On a clear day you can see all the way to the Snæfellsjökull glacier at the tip of the Snæfellsnes peninsula, as well as the entirety of Reykjavík. Before leaving, make sure you see the artificial indoor geyser simulator that erupts every few minutes from the basement, shooting a powerful jet of water all the way to the fourth floor: it’s a good taste of what’s to come if you’re heading out to the real thing at Geysir.
Öskjuhlíð itself was also an important landmark in the days when the only mode of long-distance transport was the horse, as it stood out for many kilometres across the barren surrounding plains – and more recently served as a military base for the British army during World War II. Today, though, it’s a popular recreation area for Reykjavíkers who, unused to being surrounded by expanses of woodland, flock here by foot and with mountain bikes to explore the paths that crisscross its slopes. In fact, Öskjuhlíð has only been wooded since 1950, when an extensive forestation programme began after soil erosion had left the area barren and desolate. Today the western and southern flanks of the hill are covered with birch, spruce, poplar and pine.