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Surtshellir: Why This Lava Cave Is a Must-Visit Near Reykjavik

Imagine Iceland's rugged landscapes, a symphony of natural wonders where the dance of earth's raw power is on full display. Among these marvels sits the Surtshellir, a hidden gem not far from the bustle of Reykjavík. 

This isn't your typical tourist attraction; it's a portal to the past, an underground marvel formed from the fiery heart of the earth itself. In this blog, we're not just giving you facts; we're sharing a piece of Iceland's soul.

Surtshellir is more than a destination; it's an experience, a must-visit for anyone drawn to the mystery and beauty of the natural world. Step into the adventure with us and see why Surtshellir deserves a spot on your Icelandic itinerary.


What Exactly is the Surtshellir Lava Cave?

At the heart of Iceland's rugged wilderness lies the Surtshellir Lava Cave, a spectacle that captures the imagination and stirs the soul. Covering an impressive 1,970 m (6,463 ft), Surtshellir isn't just any cave; it's Iceland's best-known subterranean marvel and a key player in the country's longest lava cave system alongside Stefánshellir, which stretches for an awe-inspiring 3,500 m (11,482 ft). 

This cave is steeped in Norse mythology and named after Surtr, a fearsome Norse fire giant. It even snagged a mention in the famous book by Eggert Ólafsson called Landnámabók. Beyond its geological significance, Surtshellir has a colorful history as a hideout for outlaws and sheep rustlers, adding a touch of the mystical with tales of hauntings and legends suggesting Surtr himself might have had a hand in its creation.

How Was the Surtshellir Lava Cave Formed?

Surtshellir's formation is as cool as it gets, literally stemming from a fiery furnace beneath the earth's crust. Imagine, if you will, a major volcanic eruption around the year 900, right beneath the massive Langjokull Glacier. 

This fiery outburst opened vents that spewed lava over a whopping 240 sq km (about 93 sq miles) of land, with some areas buried under 20 meters (around 65 feet) of molten rock. Fast-forward through time, and this liquid inferno carved pathways through the earth, creating conduits for magma from the vents all the way to the edges of the lava field, stretching over 50 km (31 miles) westwards.

These passageways, including the magnificent Surtshellir, acted like underground rivers of molten rock, eventually cooling and solidifying into the awe-inspiring cave we're drawn to explore today. Loaded with lavacicles and lava stalagmites, and sadly, a bit of human-induced wear and tear, it's a unique geological wonder offering a glimpse into the awe-inspiring power of nature.

surtshellir lava cave

Where Can You Find This Remarkable Cave in Iceland?

Nestled in the expansive Hallmundarhraun lava field within the scenic Borgarfjordur district of West Iceland, the Surtshellir Lava Cave awaits adventurers and curious souls alike. It's strategically situated about 2 hours away from the vibrant city of Reykjavík, making it an ideal day trip for those yearning to explore the depths of Iceland's geological wonders. 

Renting a car in Iceland is a smart move to truly capture the essence of this region's raw beauty. It not only gets you to Surtshellir with ease but also offers the freedom to meander through the surrounding areas. 

Nearby attractions abound, ensuring your drive is peppered with scenic stops and breathtaking views that encapsulate the enchanting allure of Iceland's wilderness.

How to Explore the Surtshellir Lava Cave?

Exploring the Surtshellir Lava Cave demands a bit of prep to make the most of your adventure. Here's a rundown to ensure you're geared up and ready:

  • Bring the Correct Equipment: Safety first! A helmet and headlamp are non-negotiables when visiting Surtshellir Lava Cave. They're essential not just for your safety, but also for appreciating the intricate lava and ice formations within.

  • Consider Guided Tours: There's no substitute for local expertise. A guided tour of Surtshellir adds layers to your experience, with insights into the cave's geology, history, and lore that you might miss on your own.

  • Wear Appropriate Clothing: The terrain around Surtshellir is no joke. Sturdy hiking shoes are a must, along with warm, comfortable, and preferably waterproof clothing. The cave can be damp, and Iceland's weather is famously fickle.

  • Check Weather and Road Conditions: Never underestimate Icelandic weather. Before you head out to Surtshellir, a quick check on the day's forecast and road conditions can be the difference between an adventure and an ordeal.

Icelandic lava caves

What Other Treasures Lie Nearby?

Surtshellir isn't the only gem in this part of Iceland. If you're making the trek to explore the Surtshellir Lava Cave, you're in for a treat with the other attractions that this region has to offer. Here's a glimpse into what other treasures await:

  • Hraunfossar and Barnafoss Waterfalls: Just a stone's throw from Surtshellir, these waterfalls offer breathtaking views where clear, cold springs seep through the lava field, creating a stunning visual spectacle.

  • Deildartunguhver Thermal Spring: Known as Europe's most powerful hot spring, it's a must-visit for a unique glimpse into Iceland's geothermal activity.

  • Vidgelmir Cave: Another geological marvel, slightly more accessible than Surtshellir, Vidgelmir is one of the largest lava tubes in Iceland, filled with rich colors and fascinating formations.

  • Langjokull Glacier: For the bold and adventurous, a guided tour of Iceland's second-largest glacier provides an exhilarating experience, with options for ice cave exploration and snowmobiling.

Plan Your Visit to Surtshellir and Beyond

Venturing into the Surtshellir is far more than ticking a box on your Icelandic itinerary; it's an odyssey into the very essence of Iceland's volcanic soul. This remarkable natural wonder is not just a geographical highlight but a portal to the past, offering a tangible connection to the raw, untamed forces that sculpted this magnificent landscape. 

Exploring Surtshellir is a reminder of the power and beauty of our natural world, making it an unforgettable part of any visit to Iceland. It's an experience that encapsulates the spirit of adventure and the profound awe that comes with standing on the edge of creation.



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