Volcano at sunset

Your Guide to Exploring Iceland’s Volcanoes

Iceland is known as the ‘Land of Ice and Fire’, the former being defined by the country’s glaciers, and the latter of which is represented by its multitude of volcanoes. Erupting from the ocean over 18 million years ago, Iceland’s terrain has changed little since, scattered with moss-covered lava fields, black sand beaches, and jagged mountainous peaks. Exploring Iceland’s volcanoes has become a popular holiday choice for adventurous people looking for a new way to discover one of nature’s most powerful and amazing features.

Here, we’ll go over some of the most pertinent questions about volcanoes in Iceland and the best way you can explore them.

How many volcanoes are there in Iceland?

Iceland has the fourth-largest number of volcanoes of any country in the world, with 130 in total and 30 volcano systems beneath its surface. However, not all of them are active. The reason for this huge number of volcanoes lies in Iceland’s unique geology; it sits on the Mid Atlantic Ridge which separates the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, and these volatile foundations have bred the conditions for numerous volcanoes to form. 


Can you visit volcanoes in Iceland?

Seeing a volcano up close and personal can be a humbling experience. Visiting these ancient structures is an exciting way to take in one of Iceland’s most ubiquitous natural elements. Volcano experiences come in many forms, including self-drive journeys where you can dictate your own itinerary, or you can choose to hike the many trails that surround these immense formations, such as Hverfjall’s crater.

For a more intense experience, you can go deep inside a dormant volcano to explore its inner workings! The ancient magma chamber beneath Thrihnukagigur is at the bottom of a 120m cable lift; your descent takes you through layers of colourful lava-rock walls giving you an unprecedented glimpse of a rarely-seen subterranean world. It’s also the only volcano in the world that visitors can enter.

Volcano in Iceland with horses

Is the volcano in Iceland active?

There are many active volcanoes in Iceland, the most famous of which is Hekla. Its last eruption was in 2000, the eighteenth since 1104. Katla (coming from the Icelandic for kettle) is also an active volcano, with an average of two eruptions every 100 years. It is actually covered by the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, means that eruptions cause an exploding plume of ice as well as ash.

When it comes to Iceland’s response to these eruptions, they are as well prepared as they can be. Some eruptions last just a couple of days, but some can continue on for several months, as is the nature of these unpredictable behemoths.


What is the closest volcano to Reykjavik?

Thrihnukagigur is just thirty minutes drive from Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik. This gives visitors the unique experience of going from a bustling town to a veritable antique of nature. Holidaymakers can make this journey in a car, making it a perfect stop for a self-drive holiday. It is also possible to book this excursion with transfers from Reykjavik.

What type of volcano is Thrihnukagigur?

Thrihnukagigur is a dormant volcano that last erupted in the second century. It is 3270 square metres and has a depth of 219m. Visiting Thrihnukagigur is a once-in-a-lifetime experience as it’s the only volcano in the world that offers visitors a peek inside. The chamber beneath the volcano, which would have once been filled with magma but is now drained, is a gargantuan reminder of the sheer scale of a volcanic system. The chamber itself is tall enough to fit the Statue of Liberty.


What is the biggest volcano in Iceland?

Öræfajökull is the tallest volcano in Iceland, with an elevation of 2119m. Its peak is called Hvannadalshnúkur and is a popular summit for experienced hikers. Located in the northwestern rim of the volcano, Hvannadalshnúkur has some of the most breathtaking views in Iceland. It is physically gruelling and not for the faint of heart, but the payoff is second-to-none. 

Coming a close second is Bárðarbunga at 2005m (located under the Vatnajökull glacier) and the third tallest volcano in Iceland is Kverkfjöll at 1920m, which lies on the north-eastern border of Vatnajökull.

Beautiful landscape of volcanic Iceland

Can you climb a volcano?

Yes, you can climb many of the volcanoes in Iceland and each one offers something a bit different in terms of both difficulty and scenery.  

Eldfell, known as Fire Mountain, is a volcano located in Heimaey on the Western Islands. It is a simple climb with some fantastic views. Rust red lava chunks litter the mountain, and in some places, the ground is still warm to the touch – nearly 50 years after its last eruption! This is also the location of the famous Elephant Rock, which has become a much-photographed landmark, created by the power of Eldfell.


Can you see flowing lava in Iceland?

Although Iceland is heavy with volcanic activity, it is rare that visitors will get close enough to see actual lava flowing. However, there are a number of museums across the country that give an insight into how these volcanoes behave during an eruption.

If you are looking to experience the closest thing you can to flowing lava, try the Lava Centre in Hvolsvollur which has an immersive multimedia museum that simulates earthquakes, eruptions and other amazing natural wonders. It is located just off Road 1.


Do you want to see Iceland’s volcanoes for yourself? Take a look at our Iceland volcano holidays for more inspiration, or speak to our team on 01737 214 250.