Click on the picture to watch an audio slideshow of one of the most frequented public parks in Reykjavík, Laugardalur, where you’ll find a swimming pool and botanical gardens among other attractions. The park offers a variety of recreational activities and also has historical significance: women used to wash their laundry in its hot springs.
Photos and narration by Jennifer Zoltek.
The public park Laugardalur in Reykjavík offers a variety of recreational activities, in the Reykjavík Zoo & Family Park, the sports centre which includes Laugardalsvöllur stadium, the swimming pool and the Botanical Gardens (Grasagardurinn).
Laugardalur can be translated as “Hot Spring Valley.” Until the 1930s this area served as Reykjavík’s main source of hot water.
The idea of creating a recreational and sports area in Reykjavík came from the artist Sigurdur Gudmundsson in 1871. He considered Laugardalur the perfect spot to cultivate plants and relax. His idea was finally realized in 1943 and today most of Reykjavík’s sports and recreational facilities can be found in Laugardalur.
If you enter the valley through the northern entrance, you’ll notice the remains of brickwork washbasins. This is where the women of Reykjavík washed their laundry in the hot springs for centuries—up until the 1930s.
Carrying the laundry from their homes to the hot springs was the best way to scrub off the dirt because the houses weren’t connected to any water pipe system. There is only one working washbasin left, fenced off with iron bars to prevent people from falling into the hot water.
Next to the washbasin, you can salute the statue Thvottakonan (“The Washerwoman”) by Ásmundur Sveinsson. An open-air exhibition explains the history of the Laundry Springs (Thvottalaugarnar) with interesting pictures and articles.
The Laundry Springs also mark the end of the famous street Laugavegur, “Hot Springs’ Road,” which starts in the centre of Reykjavík and is the capital’s main shopping street. The construction of the three-kilometer long road began in 1886 to make it easier for the women to walk with their laundry to the hot springs.
Further to the south, the Reykjavík Botanical Gardens (Grasagardur Reykjavíkur) open up in front of you with picturesque ponds, chirpy birds and a wealth of plants.
It was established in 1961 and is home to approximately 5,000 Icelandic and foreign plants. The flowers and trees are labeled with their English and Latin names and here you’ll find the tallest trees in town.
Apart from seagulls, ducks and pigeons, geese are the primary local residents of the Botanic Gardens in Laugardalur. You can see them swimming in the ponds, searching for food on the greens and sometimes posing for tourists like professional models.
It is advisable to stay on the paths, because bird droppings are recklessly left behind everywhere. When you move on to the Botanical Gardens summer café, try to avoid crossing the path of the flock of wandering geese—unless you want to draw attention to yourself. The geese protest loudly against trespassing.
If you’re keen on getting to know other local animals, visit the Reykjavík Zoo & Family Park (Fjölskyldu- og húsdýragardurinn). It is situated next to the Botanic Gardens and is especially suitable for families with young children.
Typical Icelandic farm animals can be seen at the zoo, as well as wild native species. The zoo also has an entertainment park, where young and old can take boat trips, train rides or go horseback riding.
A multimedia slideshow about the Reykjavík Zoo & Family Park will be posted soon.
JZ – [email protected]
Jennifer Zoltek is studying online editing in Germany and will be working as an intern for Iceland Review Online until mid-June.