If you love extremely slow walks and lying around in soft moss and grass, berry picking (or in Icelandic: Berjamór) is definitely a pastime for you. Plus, you’ll get sweet sweet berries! It’s nice to find out that you can go berry picking near Reykjavik and the best part is – It’s free!
The berry picking season in Iceland depends solely on the type of weather that has been predominant over the summer. Too dry and the berries won’t grow, too wet and the berries will be watery or even moldy, too cold and the berries will be small and underdeveloped, etc. etc. It sometimes seems that nothing can go wrong with the Icelandic weather without the berry season being ruined.
Despite a very delicate growing season where everything could go wrong, crowberries and blueberries are usually plentiful and ready for picking from mid-August until early September, sometimes even later. As long as there hasn’t been any night frost in the berry lands you can go berry picking.
Every single county in Iceland has a favorite berry picking place. Some of them are top secret, others you can only go to with permission from landowners and others are public and completely open to anyone. Whale Fjord offers great berry picking spots, however, not all berries are created equal.
The truth about Icelandic blueberries
If you’ve only ever tasted big, store-bought blueberries you are in for a surprise. Icelandic blueberries are usually much smaller than their store-bought cousins but completely packed with flavor. To be completely honest, Icelandic blueberries are not really blueberries but types of bilberries that in Icelandic are called either bláber or aðalbláber (both names that mean blue berries).
The more common type of blueberries you can find in Iceland is the bog bilberry (known to Icelanders as bláber or blue berries). These are purple in color with a matte skin and their pulp is green or white and deliciously sweet. The less common but more sought-after type is the bilberry or European bilberry (known to Icelanders as aðalbláber or superior blue berries). These are night sky blue or almost black in color with shiny skin and a dark red pulp. They are also sweeter and juicier than the bog bilberries.
For the sake of clarity, we’ll just keep on calling them blueberries because if you start asking Icelanders about bilberries they won’t know what you’re talking about.
Not as popular as their blue relatives, the pitch-black crowberries are still worth picking. They are tart and not as sweet or juicy as blueberries but very popular to use in jellies, liquors, and berry juice, or to just munch on by themselves or with some skyr and cream. The crowberries (in Icelandic: krækiber) grow on low shrubs with needle-like leaves and are very easy to both find and pick.
Both blueberries and crowberries grow wild on the sides of mountains and heaths in Iceland, preferably not too far from some source of water, such as a small stream. The most fruitful shrubs usually lie on or close to large rocks because they tend to heat up during the day and then keep the shrubs warm during the night. This is a useful fact to know if you want to forage for berries in Iceland.
Berry lands in Whale Fjord
Whale Fjord is a very popular berry picking spot close to Reykjavik and is considered a prime location for both blueberries and crowberries. If you’re driving along the Whale Fjord sometime between early August and mid-September and see a lot of cars parked in a particular spot, chances are it is a good place to pick either berries or mushrooms.
One of the most popular spots to go berry picking in Whale Fjord is Brynjudalur (Brynja’s Valley) and the area around Fossá River, both of which belong to, and are maintained by, the Icelandic Forestry Association.
But forests are not necessarily what you should be looking for when you want to go berry picking in Iceland. Our wild berries are heath plants so any place that looks like a heath is a possible berry picking spot. For example, you could find berries during a hike up Mt. Thyrill or at the bottom of Whale Fjord near Glymur waterfall hike. You can also drive to the north side of Whale Fjord and turn onto a small road close to the War and Peace museum (Route 520). This road eventually leads you into a small valley called Skorradalur (Skorri’s Valley) but there’s no need to drive all the way. Find a safe place to park your car shortly after you enter the road and head up to the surrounding hills on either side to start picking.
Berry picking in Iceland: What you need to know
- When: From early August to mid-September depending on the growing season and temperature. Night frost ruins the berries.
- Where: All around Iceland, usually on or close to heaths, moors and hillsides. If the land is open to the public, berry picking is free for anyone. If the hills belong to farmland a permission from the landowner is needed. However, if you are walking through privately owned farmland, you may pick wild berries to eat on the premises.
- How: All you really need for berry picking in Iceland is comfortable and warm clothes and some kind of container, preferably with a lid. Empty skyr or ice cream containers are great.
Recharging after a berry good day
To the victors go the spoils and if you go berry picking in Iceland you are automatically a winner. Although a leisurely pastime you can get sore muscles and a stiff back after berry picking for a few hours. It’s nice to know that you can finish the day with a nice soak and recharge at the Hvammsvik Hot Springs.