Reykjanes – Hidden treasures beyond the barren landscape

Reykjanes – Hidden treasures beyond the barren landscape

Reykjanes really does live up to its name. It literally means ‘the smoking peninsula’, and that’s exactly what it does. Intersected by multiple faults & fissures, the whole peninsula is basically one giant lava field. It was also the stage for the greatest show on Earth when the Fagradalsfjall volcano erupted in March 2021. But Reykjanes has more hidden treasures to discover.

The hidden treasures of Reykjanes

Reykjanes Peninsula is the first impression of Iceland you see after arrival. Keflavík International Airport is located on the northwestern tip of the peninsula, and you’ll travel along its northern shore on your way to Reykjavík.

Reykjanes may look barren and desolate on first sight, but there are a lot of hidden treasures to be discovered in its rugged interior. Beyond the famous Blue Lagoon spa there’s a myriad of steaming vents, bubbling mudpools, colourful rocks & mountains, tranquil lakes, faulty fissures and lava fields covered in thick fluffy moss.

Gunnuhver hot springs, Reykjanes hidden treasures, Iceland.
Gunnuhver hot springs in the southwest of Reykjanes.


2024 Grindavík state of emergency and eruptions

Update June 2024: Since December 2023, five short but intense eruptions have happened in the Svartsengi volcanic system just north of Grindavík. Sadly, these are not harmless eruptions in an isolated valley like the ones at Fagradalsfjall in 2021, 2022 and 2023.

Weeks of intense earthquake swarms and land uplift preceeded the eruptions. On 10 November 2023 a 15 kilometre long magma tunnel formed beneath the Grindavík area, and the entire town was evacuated. It remains uncertain if and when residents can return. RÚV English and Veður (the Icelandic Met Office) give frequent updates on the current situation.

Overview of the Svartsengi-Sundhnúkagígar eruptions

  • 18 December 2023: The first eruption started near the Sundhnúkagígar craters and cracked open a 4 kilometre long fissure. It quickly reduced and finished on 21 December.
  • 14 January 2024: The second eruption was closer to Grindavík. It lasted for just two days, but the lava flow cut off the main road to Grindavík (Road 43). Three houses were destroyed when a second small fissure erupted on the northern edge of the town.
  • 8 February 2024: The third eruption was again at the Sundhnúkagígar craters. Another lava flow went over Road 43, right at the turnoff to the Blue Lagoon. It finished within 24 hours, making it the shortest eruption in Icelandic history.
  • 16 March 2024: The fourth eruption was also at Sundhnúkagígar. The lava flow connected the two separate lava fields and advanced to just 200 metres from Road 427 (Suðurstrandarvegur), the main road on the south coast of Reykjanes. This eruption lasted much longer than the previous three and finished on 9 May.
  • 29 May 2024: The fifth eruption started again at the same spot and is the biggest one so far in terms of lava flow. It rapidly flowed to the west and south and blocked two of the three roads to Grindavík. Only Suðurstrandarvegur hasn’t been overflowed. The eruption finished on 22 June.


The Sundhnúkagígar eruption near Grindavík on 16 March 2024. Photo: Almannavarnir.

Lava barriers to protect against future eruptions

After the earthquakes and subsequent evacuation in November 2023, the Icelandic authorities didn’t waste time to build a lava barrier around the Svartsengi power plant and the Blue Lagoon. Another lava defense barrier is being cranked up around Grindavík. It withstood its baptism by fire on 14 January 2024 and proved to be very effective in diverting the lava flow from the main fissure, even though the barrier was only half-finished at the time. Almost the entire town is now surrounded by the defense barriers, as well as lava flows from the last eruptions. The area around Grindavík and the Sundhnúkagígar eruption site is closed.

This map below shows the Sundhnúkagígar lava fields from December 2023 to June 2024 and the current danger zone (updated on 24 June 2024).

Volcanic danger zone around Grindavík
Volcanic danger zone around Grindavík as per 24 June 2024. Source: Icelandic Met Office. For current road conditions and closures on Reykjanes Peninsula, see Umferdin.is.


Stafnesviti lighthouse, Reykjanes hidden treasures, Iceland.
Stafnesviti lighthouse, one of the hidden treasures on the northwest coast of Reykjanes.

Is Reykjanes safe to visit?

The volcanic and seismic unrest is concentrated around Grindavík. This area is currently off-limits. The rest of Reykjanes Peninsula is still accessible and safe to visit. Although some roads may be closed in winter due to impassable snow conditions and severe weather warnings.

Flights to Iceland are not affected by eruptions on Reykjanes, as these type of eruptions don’t produce ash clouds. The only exception would be if an eruption happens in the sea. Always check Safe Travel Iceland for the current situation and alerts.

Reykjanes south coast and lava fields, Iceland.
The south coast and lava fields of Reykjanes.

Spectacular south coast

Many of the Reykjanes treasures are hidden along the spectacular south coast of the peninsula. The Suðurstrandarvegur (Road 427) between Grindavík and Lake Kleifarvatn is especially beautiful. Colourful mountain ranges stretch along the fissure faults from southwest to northeast across the central part of Reykjanes.

On clear and sunny days, you can even see Eyjafjallajökull in the distance.

Krýsuvík colourful rocks and mud, Reykjanes hidden treasures, Iceland.
Rainbow mud and rocks.

Reykjanestá coastline, Reykjanes hidden treasures, Iceland.
The coastline at Reykjanestá, in the southwest corner of Reykjanes.

Fagradalsfjall volcano and lava fields

After more than a year of intense rumbling, Reykjanes kicked into action, and coughed up a new volcano in Geldingadalur, a secluded valley below Fagradalsfjall in March 2021.

The Reykjanes south coast is also where the Fagradalsfjall volcano unfolded its extensive lava fields. Suðurstrandarvegur was even under threat for a while, when the lava flow plunged down into Nátthagi valley just north of it in June 2021. Eventually it solidified and came to a halt just 600 metres from the road.


@ Read more about the extraordinary Fagradalsfjall volcano, its lava flow shenanigans, and how to get there.


Erupting craters and lava streams everywhere in Geldingadalur, Reykjanes, Iceland.
Fagradalsfjall volcano going crazy in April 2021.

Geological wonderland

But there’s more than ‘just’ the volcano. Reykjanes Peninsula is a geological wonderland and the most active part of Iceland. Large sections of it are within the Reykjanes Nature Reserve (Reykjanesfólkvangur) in the central highlands of the peninsula, and the Reykjanes Global Geopark, a Unesco geological heritage area in the southwest.

Krýsuvík green lake, Reykjanes GeoPark, Iceland.
Green-blue crater lake near Krýsuvík and Kleifarvatn.

Lake Kleifarvatn

The Krýsuvíkurvegur (Road 42) is a spectacular route through the Reykjanes Nature Reserve. It connects Hafnarfjörður on the north shore to the Suðurstrandarvegur in the south, winding its way through lava fields and elongated mountain ridges. About halfway down the road you’ll find the blue depths of Kleifarvatn, the biggest lake in the area.

Lake Kleifarvatn road, Reykjanes hidden treasures, Iceland.
The road to Lake Kleifarvatn.

Krýsuvík-Seltun geothermal fields

The bubbling mud pools and colourful mountains of Krýsuvík are just a little further to the south. A boardwalk leads to a platform and lookout point over the geothermal area. The hill behind the mud pools contains a myriad of striking colours and rainbow mud.

If you continue further to the top of the hill, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views over Kleifarvatn and the surrounding mountain ridges.

Mud pools at Krýsuvík-Seltun, Reykjanes GeoPark, Iceland.
Bubbling mud pools at Krýsuvík-Seltun geothermal fields.

Steaming heaps at Krýsuvík-Seltun, Reykjanes GeoPark, Iceland.
Colourful views and steaming heaps at Krýsuvík.

Mossy lava fields, Reykjanes hidden treasures, Iceland.
Mossy lava fields in the interior of Reykjanes.

Where the Mid Atlantic Ridge comes ashore

At the southern tip of the peninsula you can see the Mid-Atlantic Ridge – which runs underwater for nearly its entire length from Antarctica all the way to Iceland – rising above the sea and coming on shore near Reykjanesviti lighthouse.

Reykjanes is a volcanic playground well worth exploring.

Reykjanesviti lighthouse, Reykjanes hidden treasures, Iceland.
Reykjanesviti lighthouse, on an isolated green hill between various lava fields.

Bridge between the continents, Reykjanes hidden treasures, Iceland.
The ‘bridge between the continents’ on the west coast of Reykjanes.

Mount Keilir and Reykjanes lava fields, Iceland.
The vast lava fields of Reykjanes, with Mount Keilir in the background to the right.

Volcano-dotted landscape

Mount Keilir is the most dominant feature on this volcano-dotted peninsula. The signature triangular mountain is nearly 400 meters tall, and its pretty cone-shaped form can even be seen in the distance from Reykjavík across Faxaflói Bay.

Keilir was the most likely candidate for an eruption when volcanic tremor began at the end of February 2021. Over 50.000 earthquakes of various intensity rattled the area near Grindavík, until Fagradalsfjall finally erupted on 19 March 2021. However, Reykjanes keeps on rumbling at irregular intervals… In 2022 and 2023 the Fagradalsfjall saga continued with new eruptions at Meradalir and Litli-Hrútur in the same area. They both lasted for a few weeks.

Reykjanes volcanoes, Þorbjörn and Fagradalsfjall, Iceland.
Mount Þorbjörn and the new Fagradalsfjall crater, now clearly visible above the ridge on the left.

Drone view of Meradalir volcano, Fagradalsfjall Fires, Iceland.
Meradalir volcano, one of the latest additions to Reykjanes Peninsula in August 2022.

How to get around the Reykjanes Peninsula

As with many places in Iceland, driving a car is by far the easiest way to get anywhere, and visit the hidden treasures of your choice at your own time. If you’re based in Reykjavík, you can find various day tours to the highlights around Reykjanes.

Renting a car

I have rented cars with several companies in Iceland, and I’m really pleased with Blue Car Rental. It’s my go-to company now when I want to rent a car in Iceland. Blue Car offers good quality cars and hassle-free packages with zero deposit and all the main insurances included. They have an office just across the road from Keflavík International Airport and in Reykjavík at the Grandi harbour district. You can fill out your details and check in online, so picking up your rental car is quick and easy.

If you book through this link, you’ll also get a 5% discount on their car rental rates! 🙂

Brimketill lava rock pool, Reykjanes hidden treasures, Iceland.
The churning lava rock pool of Brimketill on the southwest coast of Reykjanes.

Reykjanes geological hotspots

This handy interactive map shows several hidden treasures and geological hotspots around Reykjanes Geopark. You can also zoom in for more details.

@ If you have any questions, let me know in the comment section below. I’d love to hear from you! Your questions, comments and suggestions can also be helpful for other readers. Thank you for sharing.

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Steaming ground, Reykjanes hidden treasures, Iceland.
The ground is still warm & steaming!

(*) This article contains some affiliate links for services I have personally used and recommend. When you book through these links, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. This helps me to run my website and keep on researching practical travel tips & information for you. 🙂


Videos

Reykjanes mud pools

The bubling mud pools of Krýsuvík.

The Night of 8 Erupting Volcanoes 🌋

The incredible Fagradalsfjall volcano, on the only night when all eight craters were erupting simultaneously.


More to explore & discover

La Palma – Cumbre Vieja Volcano Route

Kerlingarfjöll – Steaming valleys and surreal landscapes

Hawaii – Volcanic fields of fire

Thórsmörk – Útigönguhöfði and Hvannárgil canyon

Mountains & Volcanoes – 7 Epic mountains and volcanoes


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First published: 12 April 2017

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