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Why Reykjanes Peninsula Is Iceland's Best-Kept Secret for Adventurers

14-06-2024

Reykjanes Peninsula

Nestled at the southwestern tip of Iceland, the Reykjanes Peninsula, often overshadowed by the country's more famous attractions, remains one of its best-kept secrets. This rugged, volcanic wonderland is where you'll find a landscape so diverse and captivating that it feels otherworldly. 

It's the perfect spot for adventurers looking to explore beyond the typical tourist trails. Here at Iceland Cars, we've been guiding travelers through Iceland's hidden gems for over a decade, combining our deep knowledge with a passion for Icelandic adventures. 

This guide aims to unveil the magic of the Reykjanes Peninsula, showcasing why this remarkable area deserves a top spot on your Iceland itinerary. Trust us; with our expertise and love for everything Icelandic, we're here to make your encounter with the Reykjanes Peninsula unforgettable.

Reykjanes Peninsula

Volcanic Eruptions on the Reykjanes Peninsula

Oh, the Reykjanes Peninsula sure woke up from its long, quiet nap in style! Picture an 800-year snooze, and then boom, March 2021 rolls around, and Fagradalsfjall volcano decides it's showtime. This eruption wasn't a one-off party, though. It lasted a mesmerizing six months, drawing thousands of spectators eager to catch a glimpse of nature's fireworks. But, the earth beneath wasn't done; a second eruption flared up in August 2022, and the third sizzled to life near Litli-Hrútur mountain on July 10th, 2023. 

And guess what? A fourth eruption sparked up on December 18th, 2023, at the Sundhnúkagígar crater row. Since that fiery December day, we've seen a series of regular but brief eruptions near Grindavík, keeping the Reykjanes Peninsula on its toes as a hotbed of geological marvels. And earthquakes? Yep, those are part of the package, too. Remember the 2001 shaker beneath Lake Kleifarvatn? It shrunk the lake's surface area by 25% and ushered in a new era of hot springs. 

Speaking of hot, the main geothermal areas—Gunnuhver, Krýsuvík, and Svartsengi—are not just about boiling water; they're natural art exhibits showcasing mud pools, fumaroles, and springs painting the soil in a palette of vibrant hues. Discover more about the most famous volcanoes in Iceland and their spectacular eruptions that shape the landscape and capture the imagination.

Eruptions on the Reykjanes

Where Is the Reykjanes Peninsula in Iceland?

The Reykjanes Peninsula is a gem tucked away in southwest Iceland, just a stone's throw from Reykjavík. Stretching across 2,000 square kilometers (772 square miles), this area is where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge surges above sea level, displaying its might through the Reykjanes Ridge, from Esja in the north to Reykjanestá in the west. 

The Peninsula sits at the juncture of the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates, a rare and fascinating geologic feature that creates a landscape marked by fissures, rifts, and hot springs. The continuous divergence of these tectonic plates fuels the area's geothermal activity and has a profound impact on its geography, making it a hotspot for those interested in the dynamic processes shaping our planet. 

The Peninsula has been sculpted by the relentless forces of volcanoes, painting a landscape that's as dramatic as it is beautiful. And who could talk about Reykjanes without mentioning the Blue Lagoon? It's not just a spa; it's one of Iceland's most famous attractions. Plus, with Keflavík Airport International Airport nestled on its shores, the Peninsula is the first hello and last goodbye for travelers visiting this island country.

Where Is the Reykjanes Peninsula in Iceland?

How to Get to Reykjanes Peninsula

Getting to the Reykjanes Peninsula from Reykjavík or Keflavík is a breeze, with several transportation options tailored to every traveler's needs. Here's how you can kickstart your adventure:

  • Rental Cars: By far, the best way to experience the freedom and flexibility of Iceland at your own pace. Iceland Cars offers a wide range of vehicles to suit your adventure's scale and style. Nothing beats the convenience of stopping at every scenic spot that catches your eye.

  • Buses: The Reykjanesbær city bus goes to the Peninsula's key spots but runs only for certain times from Monday to Saturday. Check out the schedule before you go.

  • Tours: Perfect for those who prefer a bit of guidance and narration to their exploration. However, tours can't offer the same personalized experience as a self-driven adventure.

How to Get to Reykjanes Peninsul

10 Top Things to Do on the Reykjanes Peninsula

Now that you know how to get to the Reykjanes Peninsula, it's time to start planning your itinerary. To help you make the most of your visit, we've put together a list of the top 15 things to do on this must-see Peninsula: 

1. Bathe in the Blue Lagoon Spa

Oh, the Blue Lagoon! It's practically an Icelandic rite of passage. Nestled in the heart of the Reykjanes Peninsula, this world-renowned geothermal spa invites you to experience the zenith of relaxation amidst a surreal lunar landscape

Imagine yourself soaking in warm, milky-blue waters rich in minerals like silica and sulfur, healing your skin and soothing your soul. It's not just a dip in a hot pool; it's an immersion in a wonder of the natural world. 

Perfect for unwinding after a day of exploring, the Blue Lagoon is a must-visit spot, embodying the serene, breathtaking beauty that Iceland is famous for. Bring a swimsuit and leave your worries at the door; this experience is unforgettable.

 Things to Do on the Reykjanes Peninsula

2. Visit the Seltún Geothermal Area

Venturing just 40 minutes from Reykjavík, the Seltún Geothermal Area emerges as a breathtaking, alien-like marvel on the Reykjanes Peninsula. It's an otherworldly spectacle of bubbling mud pools and fumaroles, painting a vibrant picture of Earth's inner heat. 

Accessible with a short drive, it offers a unique glimpse into geothermal activity, with pathways leading visitors safely through steaming hot springs, showcasing the raw power beneath our feet. 

However, with temperatures soaring to 80-100°C (176-212°F), safety is paramount—stick to the boardwalk and marvel with care. For the adventurous, nearby hikes promise panoramic vistas that are simply unmatched.

Seltún Geothermal Area

3. Discover the mysteries of Kleifarvatn Lake

Nestled among volcanic rocks and a desolate, almost lunar-like terrain, Kleifarvatn Lake boasts the kind of striking beauty you'd struggle to find elsewhere. Covering about 10 square kilometers (nearly 4 square miles), it's not just the biggest lake on the Reykjanes Peninsula; it's a masterpiece of nature's artistry, sitting quietly in an active volcanic zone. 

This unusual position provides it with a unique appeal, enhancing its geological significance. What's equally fascinating is its air of mystery, given its lack of visible inflows or outflows, making one wonder about its depths. 

It's also a haven for anglers, offering tranquil spots for trout fishing. Adding a touch of intrigue, local folklore hints at a Loch Ness Monster-like creature residing in its depths, described as worm-shaped and mammoth, making Kleifarvatn a place of beauty wrapped in mystery.

Kleifarvatn Lake

4. Explore Grindavik's Coastal Charm

Grindavík, with its deep blue coasts hugging a unique volcanic landscape, offers more than just picturesque views; it's a community pulsating with the lifeblood of its vibrant fishing industry. Home to around 3,600 souls, this town is a testament to Iceland's rich maritime history, where the sea whispers tales of past adventures to those who listen. 

The area is renowned for its distinctive lava fields, setting a dramatic backdrop to an economy thriving on the bounties of the ocean. Yet, it's not just about the catch of the day; Grindavík is also a gateway to world-famous hot springs, inviting weary travelers to rejuvenate in its healing waters.

Grindavik

5. Visit the Iconic Lighthouses of Reykjanes Peninsula

Lighthouses, with their guiding lights and stoic presence, tell the tales of the sea, and the Reykjanes Peninsula hosts some of the most iconic ones in Iceland. Here's a little spotlight on them:

  • Reykjanesviti: Not just any lighthouse, it's Iceland's eldest, established in 1873. Standing proudly atop a hill near the steamy Gunnuhver hot springs, its first incarnation succumbed to an earthquake in 1887, only to be triumphantly rebuilt and relit in 1929. It's a testament to resilience and a beacon of history.

  • Reykjanes Lighthouse: Positioned commandingly on the southwestern tip of the Peninsula, it's perched atop an inactive volcanic peak. This lighthouse plays a crucial role in guiding ships toward the harbors of Keflavik and Reykjavik, ensuring safe passage through the North Atlantic's challenging waters.

  • Old Garður Lighthouse: Stepping back to 1897, this lighthouse holds its ground on the northern point of the Peninsula. Its historical presence is one of the first welcomes for travelers landing in Keflavik, symbolizing a gateway to the island's rugged beauty and rich maritime history.

Lighthouses of Reykjanes

6. Discover the Reykjanes UNESCO Global Geopark

Discover the Reykjanes UNESCO Global Geopark, a marvel that's been on the UNESCO list since 2015, spotlighting its profound geological importance. This active volcanic area is a live showcase of Earth's fiery power, uniquely presenting the Mid-Atlantic Ridge above water.  

It's a rare place where you can witness tectonic plates drifting apart, observable through the landscape's springs, ravines, and craters. Dramatic vistas abound, from sprawling lava fields and volcanic craters to steaming hot springs and intricate lava caves. 

The Peninsula hosts four volcanic systems and geological wonders, including shield volcanoes and formations like palagonite tuff, making it a pivotal site for both tourism and geology education.

Reykjanes UNESCO Global Geopark

7. Get Close to the Fagradalsfjall Volcano

Heading to the Fagradalsfjall Volcano from Reykjavík is a breeze, roughly taking a 45-minute drive, with your adventure starting in the town of Grindavík. Follow route 427 east to Suðurstrandarvegur, and look out for car parking signs about ten minutes in—remember, parking on the roadside is a no-go. 

Once parked, there's a kilometer's walk to the hiking trailheads, where two paths await, each promising a moderately challenging climb and a round trip of about four hours. For convenience, you can also park in Grindavík and catch a bus to the trails, running from 8 am to 10 pm, with tickets at just 500 ISK. And don't worry about missing your spot; there are five parking places, each clearly marked on this map, ensuring a stress-free visit.

Fagradalsfjall Volcano

8. Unwind at the Grænavatn Green Lake

Grænavatn Lake is a true natural wonder, a compact yet profound example of Iceland's dynamic geology, located just a few kilometers south of the Seltún Geothermal area at Krísuvík. This volcanic crater lake captivates with its unique emerald green hue, a visual treat that owes its vibrancy to the high sulfur content and the lake's notable depth of up to 45 meters (148 meters). 

Despite its relatively small diameter, a few hundred meters across, Grænavatn presents a picturesque setting for a serene 20-minute walk around its perimeter. Visitors are treated to a noticeable color gradient near the shores, where the green waters transition in intensity, highlighting the lake's depth and clarity. 

Grænavatn Green Lake

9. Feel the Spray of Gunnuhver Hot Springs

Ah, the Gunnuhver Hot Springs – they're like Earth's own tea kettle, wouldn't you agree? Nestled in the Reykjanes Peninsula, where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge does more than just pass through—it practically shows off, giving us a front-row seat to volcanic activity that's as fascinating as it is fiery. 

Now, talking about Gunnuhver, it's home to Iceland's largest mud pool and an array of steam vents that look like they're straight out of a fantasy novel. And if you're into lore, there's plenty of that too—legends has it that a lady called Gunna used to terrorize the nearby village, before getting trapped in the hot springs by a local priest. 

Just remember, while it's tempting to get close, these natural wonders are unpredictable. The path that once led visitors safely around has been swallowed by an expanding mud pool.

Gunnuhver Hot Springs

10. Check Out the Icelandic Rock and Roll Museum

Rolling into the heart of Iceland's vibrant cultural landscape, the Icelandic Rock and Roll Museum strikes a chord with visitors of all ages. Opened in 2014, this family-friendly venue reverberates with the rich sounds of Iceland's pop and rock music landscape, tracing a rhythm from the 1830s right up to today's chart-toppers like Bjork, Sigur Ros, and Of Monsters and Men. 

Featuring a comprehensive timeline, the museum offers an iPad-guided tour in five languages, making the history of Icelandic music an interactive experience. For those with a tune in their heart, the sound lab invites guests to jam on electric guitars, basses, and drum kits. 

Hands-on exhibits deepen the engagement, from mixing tracks on a board to belting out songs in a karaoke booth, not to mention the over 40 costumes on display. The collection of memorabilia, signed by the stars who've graced the museum, adds a personal touch to the saga. Notably, the Páll Óskar exhibit, shaped like a guitar pick, showcases this Icelandic icon's personal artifacts and videos, offering an intimate look at his life and career.

Best Time to Visit Reykjanes Peninsula

When planning to visit Reykjanes, timing is everything, and each season offers a unique slice of Icelandic life. 

  • Spring and Summer: Ideal for outdoor enthusiasts, thanks to longer days and milder weather. The landscape bursts into color, and hiking trails become more accessible. Expect a blend of exploration and midnight sun marvels.

  • Fall: Fall in Iceland brings stunning autumnal colors and fewer tourists. It's a sweet spot for those looking for a quieter visit, with still plenty of daylight to enjoy the outdoors.

  • Winter: Offers its own magic, especially for aurora hunters. The colder months transform the Peninsula into a snowy wonderland, albeit with shorter days. Prepare for a cozy yet adventurous experience featuring snowy landscapes and potentially the northern lights.

Time to Visit Reykjanes Peninsula

Tips for Visiting the Reykjanes Peninsula

Visiting Reykjanes Peninsula can be a blast—literally, considering its volcanic action! To make the most out of your trip and keep it as safe as it is thrilling, here are some tips:

  • Stay on Marked Trails: When exploring volcanic and geothermal areas, stick to designated paths. These spots can change rapidly, and staying on track ensures you're not taking unnecessary risks.

  • Wear Sturdy Footwear: Trust me, flip-flops won't cut it. Wear hiking boots or sturdy shoes to safely navigate the rugged terrain.

  • Check the Weather: Iceland's weather is as fickle as a mood ring. Checking forecasts can help you avoid being caught in a sudden storm.

  • Follow Local Guidance: Whether it's respecting barriers around Gunnuhver or heeding warnings at Fagradalsfjall, local advice is golden for ensuring safety while soaking in the beauty.

  • Pack Essentials: Bring water, snacks, and extra clothing layers. Being prepared means you can focus on enjoying Iceland's stunning natural wonders without a hitch.

Tips for Visiting Reykjanes

3-Day Itinerary: Unveiling the Best Attractions of the Reykjanes Peninsula

For those of you with limited time, here's a suggested itinerary to experience the best of Reykjanes in just 3 days.

Day 1: Exploring Volcanic Wonders (76 km/48 mi) 

Start your adventure at the Fagradalsfjall Volcano, where you can hike close to an active volcano and witness the power of Earth's inner workings. In the afternoon, head to the Seltún Geothermal Area to explore its vibrant, colorful terrain, a testament to the Peninsula's volcanic activity. Wrap up your day with a relaxing soak in the Blue Lagoon, enjoying the geothermal waters amidst a surreal landscape.

Day 2: Coastal Charms and Geoparks (92 km/57 mi)

Begin with a visit to Grindavík, a picturesque fishing village where you can enjoy freshly caught seafood and scenic views. Spend your afternoon wandering the Reykjanes UNESCO Global Geopark, discovering unique geological formations and learning about the area's rich geology. End your day by experiencing the tranquil beauty of Kleifarvatn Lake, shrouded in mystery and folklore.

Attractions of the Reykjanes Peninsula

Day 3: Cultural Insights and Natural Beauties (82 km/51 mi)

Kick off your final day with a stroll through the Bridge Between Continents, symbolizing the connection between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. Then, engage with Iceland's musical heritage at the Rock and Roll Museum. Conclude your trip with an evening of whale watching or bird watching, depending on the season, to witness the majestic wildlife that calls the peninsula home.

Saying Farewell To Reykjanes Peninsula

Bidding adieu to the Reykjanes Peninsula isn't just leaving a location; it's carrying with you the essence of adventure and the memories of unearthed gems. This corner of Iceland encapsulates why adventurers are drawn to its rugged, unspoiled beauty. 

From volcanic marvels to the whispers of the northern lights, Reykjanes deserves the top spot on your travel list. But don't just stick to the well-trodden paths; the Peninsula is laden with hidden treasures waiting to be discovered by those willing to explore beyond. 

For the ultimate freedom to uncover these secrets, consider renting a car in Iceland and exploring every nook and cranny at your own pace. So pack your bags, grab a camera, and get ready to fall in love with the captivating Reykjanes Peninsula.