Top 9 Volcanic Experiences in Iceland

Saturday, 20th March 2021

Eric Shadbolt

iceland snaefellsnes londrangar volcanic plugs rth

Iceland’s volcanic scenery is not only surprisingly subtle and beautiful, but it also exerts an irresistible pull on anyone keen to experience one of the most geologically active places on earth.

‘Hot’ off the press!
After weeks of tremors and thousands of earthquakes, a volcano finally erupted on the Reykjanes Peninsula on Friday evening, 19 March 2021. A fissure around 500 – 700 metres long opened up at Fagradalsfjall releasing red hot lava flows in a dramatic spectacle. It is considered a minor eruption at present with minimal disruption and posing no danger to inhabitants or infrastructure. In fact, the location in the Geldingadalur Valley is almost ideal – not only do volcanoes in this area produce considerably less ash than sub-glacial eruptions, but the lava is effectively contained.

The first priority for Icelandic officials was to ensure public safety and assess the impact. Since then, Icelanders have been flocking to view the spectacle. At present, this experience is limited to the locals, but this tourist-friendly eruption could last for months offering the unique chance to witness it this summer.

iceland fagradalsfjall eruption site 20mar2021 by rth sigurdsson

It seems Mother Nature is reminding the world that this North Atlantic island is a geological hot spot. Icelanders are used to dealing with volcanic and seismic activity and volcanoes here are some of the world’s most closely monitored. Potentially dangerous areas are closed off and every precaution is taken to minimise potential disruption.

As scientists and officials monitor the latest Iceland eruption, which is tourist-friendly, we’re taking a look at some of the country’s impressive geological and volcanic experiences.

1. Inside the Volcano

Dormant for 4000 years, Thrihnukagigur offers the unique experience of being lowered by elevator 120m into its cavernous magma chamber. Unusually for volcanoes, it’s almost as if someone pulled the plug on this unassuming volcanic cone 20km from Reykjavik on the Reykjanes Peninsula. The magma chamber drained away leaving behind an extraordinary cave with brightly coloured walls. Plan a visit as part of a self drive itinerary or join an escorted tour from Reykjavik.

iceland inside magma chamber of thrihnukagigur volcano vg

2. Eyjafjallajokull by Superjeep

Iceland’s most notorious volcanic site, Eyjafjallajokull, can be explored on a Superjeep adventure into Thorsmork Valley. Lurking beneath the icecap this volcano wreaked aviation havoc in 2010 when it last erupted. Superjeeps are pumped-up off-roaders that are inherently Icelandic and are perfect for exploring the rugged terrain that includes wooded valleys, ridges and canyons surrounded by three glaciers, Myrdalsjokull, Tindfjallajokull and Eyjafjallajokull.

south iceland superjeep safari sca

3. Visit Vidgelmir Lava Cave

Equally colourful, captivating and stone-cold dormant, the Vidgelmir lava tube snakes 1,600m down beneath an ancient lava flow near Husafell in West Iceland. Equipped with helmets and head torches, you can follow an elevated boardwalk deep underground, pausing to shine a light on lava stalagmites, as well as delicate ice formations.

iceland snaefellsnes vidgelmir lava cave rth

4. Astronauts at Askja

Follow a classic 4WD trail into the heart of Highlands on an epic journey that traverses boundless plains of lava and the 1,682m mountain, Herdubreid to reach the flooded caldera of Askja. A massive eruption in 1875 catapulted this region onto the world map and created the stunning lake, Oskjuvatn – one of the deepest in Iceland at 220m and the explosion crater, Viti meaning ‘hell’ in Icelandic where you can bathe in the tepid milky-blue lake. This fascinating area is where NASA trained Apollo crews for the moon landings and Icelandic outlaws hid out during the Middle Ages.

icelandic highlands walking around explosion crater askja rth

5. Hike Hekla

One of Iceland’s most prolific volcanoes, Hekla has erupted over 20 times since the island was settled in 874. As such it is closely monitored by scientists and sits brooding behind fields of lava from past eruptions. The 1,491m snow-capped peak is a ridge rather than a single cone and is a magnet to summer hikers with a 3-4 hour trail leading almost to the summit, best attempted with a guide. On a clear day, you can view Hekla’s peak from Road 1 along the south coast.

iceland hekla volcano behind farm rth

6. Immerse yourself in the marvels of Lake Myvatn

Lake Myvatn in North Iceland is the jewel of the north. Birders are lured by the promise of wildfowl in abundance during spring and summer, but it is the volcanic scenery that is truly mesmerising. Black lava fields, twisted basalt spires, hissing fumaroles and pseudocraters create an otherworldly landscape you could spend a week exploring on a leisurely self drive. Stroll past the lava formations of Dummuborgir keeping watch for the hidden people and hike up and around the rim of Hverfjall’s crater, approximately 1km in diameter.

north iceland dimmuborgir istk

7. Mud Pools and Hot Springs

Iceland’s geothermal energy is plainly evident in the geysers, bubbling mud pools and hot springs that pepper the countryside. This supply of naturally heated water means that you are rarely far from a relaxing bathing opportunity. With geothermal water ‘on tap’ in many parts of Iceland, it’s not surprising that most villages boast a heated outdoor swimming pool and many hotels have hot tubs perfect for relaxing after a day exploring or watching for the northern lights during winter.

iceland north east hverir namaskard istk

8. Journey to the Centre of the Earth

The striking cone-shaped peak of Snaefellsjokull dominates the skyline around the rugged Snaefellsnes peninsula. A glacier tipped strato-volcano, it is 700,000 years old and stands 1,446m above sea level. Serving as the inspiration for Jules Verne famous novel, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, published in 1864, it is one of the most iconic mountains in Iceland and steeped in folklore. The scenic drive around its base offers many side trips to enjoy the area’s abundant volcanic and coastal features, or venture onto the glacier on a snowmobile adventure.

iceland volcanic terrain around snaefellsjokull rth

9. Drop into the Lava Centre

Hosting the country’s largest volcano and earthquake exhibition, the Lava Centre was built in 2017. Around 100km from Reykjavik, it is easily accessible via the country’s famous Ring Road fitting seamlessly into a self drive itinerary. The centre offers a full multimedia experience, immersing guests into Iceland’s volcanic and seismic life. Learn all about the country’s powerful inner forces, from eruptions and lava flows to earthquakes, faults and glacial floods. All this and perhaps a spot of lunch in the restaurant or a light refreshment in the cosy coffee shop.

south west iceland lava centre exhibit

Feeling inspired?

Volcanoes are such a big part of Iceland’s unique appeal that we operate a Volcano Hotline notifying lava enthusiasts of potential trips to visit live eruptions at short notice – once travel resumes that is.

Find out more about how you can incorporate any of these experiences into an Iceland holiday, or if you want to start planning a tailor made trip, call us on 01737 214 250 or contact our travel specialists to start discussing your options.

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