We have five, grumbling volcanic systems on the Reykjanes peninsula, a UNESCO Geopark very close to Reykjavík. This often-overlooked region has a great deal of rugged beauty and gives you a glimpse of the raw power that slumbers beneath the surface that can awaken at any time.
The most recent evidence of this is the volcanic eruption at Fagradalsfjall, which began on March 19th, 2021, and has been attracting big crowds ever since.
Volcanoes and Hot Springs
Fagradalsfjall is not the only volcano that exists on this peninsula and while driving here you only have to look out of your window to be reminded of this area’s volcanic past. A large portion of the peninsula is lava, with fields that stretch as far as the eye can see. Before Fagaradalsfjall, there had not been an eruption here for 800 years, so as you can imagine, everyone is very excited to have such an incredible marvel of nature going on so close to the city.
The tranquil lake of Kleifarvatn is a beautiful sight to be greeted with, especially when glittering in the sun. Close to Kleifarvatn is the area of Krýsuvík and Seltún. This bizarre, Martian landscape is quite an experience for the senses. You are welcomed by the pungent aroma of sulfur and invited to walk the wooden paths between the popping, hissing, and bubbling mud pools and steam vents. There is a spectacular palette of colors here, from vibrant reds to burnt orange, copper, yellow, blue, silver, you name it.
Gunnuhver is another geothermal hot spot and Iceland’s largest mud pool. With its huge fumarole that billows sulfuric steam into the air, it is almost like someone left a humungous, eternal kettle steaming and doesn‘t know how to switch it off! There was once a bridge over the area, but the earth eventually claimed it. The area itself is named after a ghost, Guðrún (Gunna) and you can read her tale when you arrive.
The bird cliffs of Valahnúkur and Reykjanesviti lighthouse are other recommended stops. Here, you will find the statue of the Great Auk, a large flightless bird that once lived in Iceland and around the North Atlantic coast. Whilst they are not related to penguins, they do look very similar, and as such, this is where penguins get their name from due to their similarity. Sadly, they were wiped out in the middle of the 18th century, and it is believed that the very last of the species perished in Iceland. The statue itself stares out to sea towards the island of Eldey, where the last of its kind met their ultimate end.
Finally, the Bridge Between the Continents offers a unique opportunity. The bridge itself straddles both the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, so you are on a different continent on each side of it (no passport required)!
The Blue Lagoon
Of course, perhaps the most famous attraction on the Reykjanes peninsula is the world-famous Blue Lagoon spa.
The water that collects in this reservoir is rich in minerals and other good stuff, such as silica and algae. These have been proven to have curative properties to skin ailments such as psoriasis. It is absolutely recommended that you ensure the Blue Lagoon features on your schedule. As it is only 20 minutes from the airport, how could you not?
Museums and Activities
There are some interesting and unusual museums to visit on the Reykjanes peninsula. Viking World is home to a specially constructed Viking ship called The Icelander. This ship was built to commemorate the journey made by Leifur Eiríksson when he and his crew discovered America’s shores long before Christopher Columbus. This ship, in fact, sailed to New York in 2000 and now rests at the museum. The museum also gives a fascinating insight into Iceland’s settlement history.
Bringing things a little more up to date, you can also visit the Icelandic Museum of Rock n’ Roll. This is a fascinating journey that explores the modern music of Iceland and its inspirations. From internationally renowned artists such as Björk and Sigur Rós, to other less known artists who are megastars on this island and responsible for Iceland’s much loved and treasured anthems. The Icelandic Fire Museum is another interesting choice if you want to learn more about the history of fire fighting in Iceland.
Activities such as whale watching, mountain biking, or quad biking are also available, and there are also many hiking trails. You can visit Keilir mountain, the cone-shaped mountain that is visible from Reykjavík. It really isn’t as high as it looks from the distance, and it takes only 20 minutes or so to reach the top. However, there are several longer trails across rough, but rewarding terrain.
Because the Reykanes peninsula has had such a turbulent, volcanic past, it is no surprise that you can go under the surface to visit a lava cave. You can also visit the only dormant volcano that you can enter from the opening and descend 120 meters to the bottom and enjoy a kaleidoscope of colors: Þríhnúkagígur. It really is an out-of-this-world experience!
Not to mention that Reykjanes is full of charming little towns and villages, such as Grindavík, Sandgerði, and Garður, with wonderful ocean views and restaurants with fresh, local fish. It is no wonder that Reykjanes has started to gain in popularity, and we recommend you include it in your itinerary, especially if you have some free time before your flight home.
Trips to Reykjanes
If you would like to visit Reykjanes, then you should check out our signature guided tour, which dedicates one whole day to discover the area!