The peninsula that contains the natural wonders closest to Reykjavik often gets overlooked when people aim for the top crowd pleasers in Iceland. Just half an hour drive from the capital, or even closer to the airport, this hidden gem of a peninsula has escaped mainstream attention until recently, when our latest volcano in Fagradalsfjall decided to show itself to the world in March 2021. Even though you don’t need a guide like this to tell you that you should experience the two most attention-seeking attractions out here; namely the volcano and the Blue Lagoon, there are still many hidden gems that make up for a great one day tour from Reykjavik. So if you have a car and a few hours to kill, look no further.
- Driving distance approximately 150km
- Geothermal activity, volcanic formations, sea cliffs and birdlife
- Get away from the crowds
- Fantastic landscapes and lava fields
Reykjanes is where the North Atlantic tectonic ridge rises from the ocean due to its volcanic activity, with its six volcanic systems filling in the gaps when the tectonic plates drift apart. This gives rise to a great array of geothermal properties with moss-covered lava fields, boiling geothermal hot springs, movement in the ground (aka. earthquakes), and at the time of writing, even an erupting volcano. Even if your main goal out here is to visit the volcano or the Blue Lagoon, it’s worth dedicating a few hours to see these surrounding sights too.
Heading out from Reykjavik, you’ll quickly be engulfed by the astonishing lava fields on the way to Kleifarvatn. The road is a short 30-minute drive from downtown, but it’s packed with everything Iceland has to offer. The lake is the largest on the peninsula and one of the deepest in Iceland. Towering rock formations, volcanic beaches, and an epic coastal road make this a compact version of the Island, all packed into one spot. Great for photographers, great for hiking, and a great start for a day trip.
Next up, close to the lake, is a small, arguably the prettiest and definitely the coziest geothermal area in the country. There are a few like this around the island, but seeing the intensity of boiling mud pots and steaming vents, all while feeling like walking on a Mars-looking studio set truly feels otherworldly. It might smell a bit like the inside of the earth has eaten something rotten, but the valley, containing all the colours of the rainbow in its rocks and soil, is definitely worth the 10-minute walk up and down the path through the geothermal steam.
Enjoy the cliffs along the drive down to the coast, just before reaching Grindavik town. It’s along this road where the trail to Fagradalsfjall volcano starts if you’d like to include that in your itinerary, otherwise, keep on heading to the cozy little family-oriented fishing village of Grindavik. It’s a great place for lunch, adventure tours like horseback riding, and for a bit of local culture.
Driving down to southwest Reykjanes, this little area is jam-packed with beauty. Gunnuhver is a viciously smoking hot spring named after Gunn the witch. Once again, you will find yourself walking on Mars here, and can witness both the destructive power of volcanism as well as the way we have learned to harness its power.
The fantastically picturesque lighthouse on the hill is the oldest lighthouse in Iceland, first built in 1878. It’s definitely worth a photo both from the parking lot below, from Gunnuhver, and from the top of the Reykjanestá cliffs.
A favourite on the Reykjanes Peninsula, and with good reason. Here you can catch some amazing views over both the area and the Atlantic ocean. It’s rich in birdlife, and in combination with the roaring sea and majestic sea cliffs, it’s a fascinating place for a walk up the cliffs. Just be careful not to go too far. The formation that steals the show here is Karlinn (The Man), which is a 50-60m tall sea cliff standing high and mighty in the ocean. Also, definitely bring your camera (or phone camera) with you up here for some great compositions.
Have I mentioned there’s a roaring volcano that’s currently erupting on this peninsula? Read our previous blog post on how to get there!
Also, there are a few more places that are worth a visit if you still have time, energy and light:
- Bridge between continents
- Raufarhólshellir cave tour
- The Blue Lagoon
- The Sky Lagoon
- Brimketill tidal sea pool
What to bring
- Warm clothing, waterproof layers (both jacket and pants), hat and gloves. The weather can be cold and vicious all year round
- Good shoes, preferably hiking boots. It can be icy or muddy
- Swimming clothes and towel
- Book the Blue Lagoon in advance if you can
- Car (regular or 4×4 if it’s winter season)
- Camera or enough memory on your phone for lots of pictures
- Gas mask if you are going to the volcano