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Reykjanes Peninsula: the Gateway to Iceland

The Reykjanes Peninsula has always been an eventful area throughout Iceland’s history. In modern days, the shift has been from celebrating serene nature to observing the forces of nature. Icelanders do both things respectfully and love to show off their natural wonders to visitors.

In this article, we deep dive into everything Reykjanes Peninsula. No lava stone is left unturned, but the moss stays in place. Stay tuned and learn all you need to know to plan your next big adventure in Iceland.

Reykjanes Peninsula

About the Reykjanes Peninsula

When the eagle has landed, and you put your feet on the ground in Iceland, chances are you will step out on this thrilling piece of the country. The Reykjanes Peninsula is the gateway to the rest of Iceland, and since 2020, it has been giving visitors a welcome they will remember forever.

Riddled with seismic activity, lava, and the brute force of nature, the Reykjanes Peninsula has been the home of the Icelandic Vikings since the start of the settlement era. The area’s name actually comes from when the Vikings first came and saw massive smoke columns rising from the coast. 

The name “Reykjanes” means “the peninsula of steam”, which also means that “Reykjanes Peninsula” literally translates to “the peninsula of steam peninsula”. It’s just like how we say “chai tea”, even though “chai” means “tea” in Hindi.

The Flora and Fire of the Reykjanes Peninsula

The Mid-Atlantic Ridge comes up from the ocean in the western parts of the Reykjanes Peninsula and continues through the area with long and proud mountain ridges across the landscape. The peninsula consists of basalt rock in colors shifting from light brown to the darkest black.

Reykjanes Peninsula flora

A Tough Vegetation for a Tough Landscape

The type of rock you’ll find here gives the area its characteristic look, which is why you sometimes encounter large areas without any vegetation. Some lava fields on the Reykjanes Peninsula are young enough not to have withered down to proper soil, making it hard for vegetation to take root and grow. Other areas have just enough freshly made soil for some hardy flowers and soft moss.

Fair warning, though: the moss in Iceland looks amazing, but you’re not allowed to disturb the moss. It’s a classic situation of “see, but don’t touch”.

A lava field can take between 1,000 and 25,000 years to erode and create deep enough soil for proper vegetation to return to the area. Sometimes, a couple of hundred years can be enough, but it’s more an exception than a rule. 

Given the harsh weather from the North Atlantic and the exposed position of the area, the lava fields of the Reykjanes Peninsula erode quicker than they would in other areas of the world. This has allowed some plants to have enough soil to form shallow roots and start reclaiming the ground.

Due to the relative closeness to the magma underground, plenty of geothermal pools and springs are in the southern half of the peninsula. The most famous one is the Svartsengi Thermal Area where the geothermal power plant allowed for the famous Blue Lagoon to be built.

Other areas include the southern part of the Kleifarvatn Lake, Gunnuhver, and the Krýsuvík Geothermal Area. Even though Iceland is well known for its many hot springs, the pools on the Reykjanes Peninsula should not be viewed as possible swimming locations. These pools contain much more than just warm water and won’t be good for anyone who decides to take a dip.

Gunnuver geothermal area

Many pools will have different colors in and around them and a very distinct smell. This is because they are filled with many different chemical compounds, often strong acids, that have seeped into the water from the crust. On top of that, they are also often very muddy, making them incredibly dangerous in case someone falls in. 

The acids and other chemicals are what give the pools their colors, making the hot springs and mud pools on the Reykjavík Peninsula pretty to look at but dangerous to touch. So, better keep on the marked paths and behind the railings.

The Reykjanes Fires

When the area was formed, there were plenty of volcanic eruptions spread over several million years, but in modern times, this area has been pretty quiet. Due to its name and legend, we know that there were some volcanic activities at the Reykjanes Peninsula when the Vikings came in the 800s. 

However, between around 950 and 1240, there were multiple eruptions over several hundred years that eventually led to a roughly 30-year-long intense period of eruptions that caused massive damage to the area. These last 30 years of eruptions were called the Reykjanes Fires and are very similar to what happened there again in the 2020s.

The New Reykjanes Fires

For nearly 800 years, this part of the island has been more or less volcanically dormant, not making much noise or making anyone nervous. In 2020, however, the Fagradalsfjall volcanic system came to life and has been consecutively erupting ever since the second half of March 2021. Since some time before the volcanic system woke up, Icelandic experts have been preparing for this area to crack open and spew out lava, so not much has come as a surprise.

Reykjanes eruptions

For most of us, a volcanic eruption would be a cause for concern and not something to be taken lightly. The Icelanders, however, have had a different approach to the whole situation. Experts predicted that the initial fissures would be unlikely to pose any threat to settlements or people, so the worry was kept to a minimum. However, much like the end of an M. Night Shyamalan movie, an unexpected twist occurred as seismic activity around Grindavík became more and more prominent.

The latest bout of eruptions came from the Sundhnúkur Volcano, which lies much closer to Grindavík. This immediately got people on their toes, as this could pose a threat to the town. Earthquakes started at the end of 2023 and the town was therefore evacuated. It turns out that this was the right move since Grindavík has suffered some infrastructure damage with lava flows partially inside town limits.

The forecast is that the volcanoes in Iceland that are erupting on the Reykjanes Peninsula will continue for a very long time – just like the old Reykjanes Fires. This means that this will be a (relatively) permanent attraction that our generation and the next will be able to see.

Viking Brothers and the Start of a Country – The History of Reykjanes Peninsula

Historians can’t agree on how Iceland was first settled and by whom. Multiple theories and arguments exist for different groups of people from various parts of northwestern Europe. The only thing everyone agrees on is that regardless of who came there first and who stayed for how long, the first person to travel to Iceland with the sole purpose of settling the land and staying there permanently is a peculiar man named Ingólfur Arnarson.

He and his foster brother Hjörleifur Hróðmarsson managed to get themselves into trouble back in Norway and decided it was time to leave. This was most likely due to a blood feud they started and then promptly decided not to stick around and find out how it ended. 

Ingólfur Arnarson

Unfortunately for Hjörleifur Hróðmarsson, the journey ended when he got murdered by his Irish slaves. Ingólfur managed to hunt the slaves down in the Westman Islands and take his revenge before he continued to Iceland. That is, oddly enough, how the Westman Islands got their name (West men = men from the west, a.k.a. the British Isles).

Ingólfur had previously decided to chuck two pillars overboard and proclaim that wherever these pillars would drift ashore is where he would claim his land. For the modern man, this is an odd way of choosing where to live. It was also bizarre back then, which his slaves continuously reminded him of.

These pillars were eventually found in the northern part of the Reykjanes Peninsula, at the southern border of what is now Reykjavík. This is where Ingólfur settled his farm in 874. When news about his success spread in Northwestern Europe, it only took a couple of decades for Iceland to be fully populated with over 1,500 farms. It was also around this time that Iceland formed the first version of its parliament.

The Stunning Reykjanes Peninsula Nature Reserve

Even though the ground might be a scorching hot liquid in certain places, plenty of areas on the Reykjanes Peninsula are as safe as they come for a lovely tour of the land. Just ensure you keep up to date with the volcano news from the state website so you don’t plan a picnic in the wrong spot.

Spanning a whopping 300 square kilometers, the Reykjanes Nature Reserve is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to see an outlandish landscape without having to drive for hours on end. You can easily reach most of the nature reserve from the neighboring towns, making it an excellent option if you decide to sleep over in the area. It’s, therefore, perfect if you want to explore Reykjavík and only have a day trip or two in nature.

Reykjanes Peninsula Nature Reserve

The high quality of this part of the Reykjanes Peninsula is well confirmed by its popularity among the locals, even in the tumultuous New Reykjanes Fires. In fact, volcanic eruptions are now one of the many attractions you can see here, and the locals will likely keep an eye on you to ensure you’re safe and not get too close to the lava.

Towns and People of Reykjanes Peninsula

Despite the awe-striking force of nature that has recently shown its face, the Reykjanes Peninsula is still the most densely populated area in Iceland. There are a couple of fast-growing communities that have much to offer.

Reykjanesbær (and Njarðvík)

The most rapidly growing town in the Reykjanes Peninsula is next to the most heavily used airport in the country. This is the hustle and bustle of the Reykjanes Peninsula and has everything you need to start your Iceland holiday in the best possible way. In fact, this little town has been growing so fast that it has practically grown together with the neighboring town, Njarðvík. In the early 2000s, these two towns used to be completely separate, and they didn’t get along very well.

In Reykjanesbær, you’ll find a multitude of restaurants and a healthy number of hotels, which is perfect if you want to find the best hotels near Keflavik. You’ll also find the Icelandic Museum of Rock ‘n’ Roll, some art exhibitions, and a couple of other museums with different themes.


Before lava threatened the town and people had to be evacuated, Grindavík was a bubbly little town with many attractions and a rich culture. We have no doubt that the town will be back to its former glory in no time!

Grindavik, Iceland


Iceland has a strong fishing community, and the Reykjanes Peninsula is no different from the rest of the country. Sandgerðisbær is one of the most prominent fishing communities in Iceland and is one of the best places to visit if you want to connect with the spirit of Iceland. 

Unfortunately, you won’t find much in terms of accommodation or restaurants here, but it’s very close to Reykjanesbær, so that isn’t anything you need to worry about.


A small and picturesque fishing village on the northern shore of the Reykjanes Peninsula goes for quality over quantity when it comes to service. In Vogar, you can enjoy golf, swimming, and the classically friendly Icelandic culture.

Things to do on the Reykjanes Peninsula

As you might already have guessed, there is no shortage of things to do on the Reykjanes Peninsula. Everything from long and thrilling hikes in the lava fields (the cold ones) to relaxing in a world-renowned spa with close-to-magical effects, Reykjanes Peninsula has a good selection of activities and attractions.

From Hiking the Land to Volcano Spotting

Even though there are areas that should be approached with caution, the Reykjanes Peninsula is still a hiker’s paradise. The entire peninsula is riddled with trails, and we strongly recommend taking at least a day to explore one or two of them. Read about the volcanoes near Reykjavík if you feel a little uncertain (it all sounds worse than it is before you get the info down).

Volcano hiking, Reykjanes

If hiking is your thing, you should check the Reykjanes hiking trail map and plot out your own adventure. Walking with a guide is not for everyone, and exploring the nature reserve on Reykjanes Peninsula in a more intimate setting is encouraged. The only thing you need to remember is to stay clear of any areas affected by the eruptions.

If you rather want to listen to some fun facts and walk with an experienced guide, there are plenty of options to choose from. Guided lava tours have become increasingly popular (for obvious reasons). They are the best option if you want to get up close and personal with the geological events in the area.

Regardless of what you choose to do, having the right hiking gear will be key if you want to enjoy Icelandic nature. The environment is harsh on the Reykjanes Peninsula, so check out our guide to hiking in Iceland for some tips and tricks and pack accordingly!

Taking a Day at a World-renowned Spa

Despite the seismic activities and volcanic eruptions not far from the establishment, The Blue Lagoon has persisted with operations. If nothing dramatic happens, you can still pop by to enjoy those magical minerals and rejuvenating waters. The restaurants and hotels are also up and running, but it’s wise to keep an eye on the Blue Lagoon website before visiting just to make sure everything is still okay.

Blue Lagoon Iceland

Experience the Reykjanes Peninsula on Your Own Terms

Regardless of how you plan your holiday in Iceland, having your own wheels when exploring the Reykjanes Peninsula will make everything much easier. You don’t have to do a hardcore 2-week road trip around the country to justify renting a car in Iceland. Exploring the Reykjanes Peninsula can take you a whole week, and being able to drive between locations on your own terms will be the best way to ensure a stress-free holiday.

So, what are you waiting for? Go on and explore one of the cornerstones in Icelandic history and see what hides beneath the surface (just look carefully; lava is hot!). Rent a car in Iceland and start your adventure!



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