If you’re staying in the capital city or along the south coast of Iceland, you may want to add an extra region to your tour, the Reykjanes peninsula. Ideally located near Reykjavík, it’s an area that you may not realised is already on your itinerary.
Reykjanes is home to Iceland’s main airport, Keflavík, and to one of its top attractions, the Blue Lagoon. Beyond these two stops, the peninsula has much to offer.
As you travel between the airport and Reykjavík, you may notice the striking backdrop of churning seas and expansive lava fields. It’s well worth exploring off the beaten path in this region to discover its hidden gems and magnificent landscape.
We’ve put together this guide to one of Iceland’s most overlooked regions to inspire you to take a day trip and dive deeper into the culture and scenery of Reykjanes.
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Why visit the Reykjanes peninsula?
It’s convenient location is one of the biggest reasons why you should take some time to discover the highlights of the Reykjanes peninsula.
It’s an easy detour when you fly into Iceland. If you’ve already picked up your rental car, you could go for your first few Icelandic excursions. Or while you’re staying in Reykjavík, drive the short distance to Reykjanes to explore on a day trip.
Need more convincing? In 2015, UNESCO recognised Reykjanes as a Global Geopark where landscapes and sites are of geological significance.
This means there are now 55 geosites on the peninsula that you could visit. The land that makes up this region is some of the youngest in Iceland and, as it’s set along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, is very active.
Come to Reykjanes to experience the geothermal activity of Iceland, from bubbling mud pools to geothermally heated spas, as well as from lava fields to volcanoes.
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As so many of the sites are natural, it’s also a great budget-friendly day out.
Below we’ve listed the top Reykjanes peninsula attractions:
1. Kleifarvatn lake
Kleifarvatn is the largest lake in Reykjanes and a sight to behold. Explore this corner of the peninsula and you’ll enjoy the viewpoints as much as the drive.
The road hugs the shore of the lake, and you can admire towering mountains on the other side. We recommend you stop at Syðristapi, where you can climb atop a massive rock resembling a sea turtle. It gives unobstructed views over the lake and surrounding area.
Fun fact: Kleifarvatn lost 20% of its volume in 2000, when an earthquake opened a fissure on the lake's floor. This caused the lake to drain into the nearby ocean through a subterranean channel. It has since recovered its volume almost entirely.
2. Bridge Between Continents
Along Iceland’s rugged landscape, you can really see the rift between the active tectonic plates. As the Eurasian and North American plates meet here, they create the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
It is also called the Leif the Lucky Bridge and acts to symbolically connect the two land masses. Cross the small footbridge which offers a nice view of the rift.
3. Krýsuvík & Seltún geothermal areas
You won’t want to miss Krýsuvík, which lies atop a fissure zone created by the separation of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
Within this area, you’ll also find the dramatic Seltún geothermal field, where volcanic fumaroles, mud pools and hot springs have formed.
The spectacular landscape looks painted with shades of bright yellows, reds and greens. This is the result of sulphur interacting with the other minerals in the soil. You’re in for a colourful time at Seltún and Krýsuvík.
It’s worth noting that a visit to Seltún is an adventure for all the senses. You’ll for sure notice the smell of sulphur that escapes from the geothermally active area.
Reykjanes was even named “smelliest tour in Iceland” thanks to sites like Seltún and Gunnuhver (further down our list). But don’t worry it’s safe and will make for a memorable visit!
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4. Reykjanestá cliffs
The southwesternmost tip of the Reykjanes peninsula is called Reykjanestá. It is home to stunning cliffs and sea stacks that are constantly battered by the sea.
Alongside the towering sea cliffs you’ll find the hill Valahnjúkur. It is an easy climb to the top along a marked path and gives a good vantage point over the breathtaking coastline.
You could also try to find the Last Great Auk statue by sculptor Todd McGrain. It is in memory of the last breeding pair of Great Auk killed on Eldey island in 1844.
Nearby take some time to visit Reykjanesviti Lighthouse. It is Iceland’s oldest lighthouse and a great area to go for a stroll or have a picnic on a nice day.
If you're a keen birdwatcher, you'll enjoy spotting them along the sea stacks just offshore. They are home to numerous colonies of sea birds. The largest stack, Karl, is home to a large colony of kittiwakes. Karl is also thought to have been a troll caught out by the sunrise.
Please note: Be careful when it comes to nesting birds along the coast, especially Arctic Tern. They are notoriously territorial and very effective when it comes to defending their nests.
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5. Gunnuhver hot spring
Not far from Reykjanestá, you could wander through the mud pools and steam vents of Gunnuhver.
Gunnuhver is the largest mud pot in Iceland, and the degree of its activity changes depending on the geothermal and volcanic activity underground.
The gases emanating from the ground turn the surrounding lava rock into bubbling clay and the water to acid. It’s a very impressive sight if you're intrigued by geology.
Did you know? The area was named after a ghost, Gunna. The story goes that some 400 years ago she was apparently causing disturbances in the area until the local priest set a trap and she fell into the hot spring. Ouch!
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You could visit the village of Grindavík if you have the time or want to stop for a spot of food. It is best known as the nearest village to the Blue Lagoon, and since March 2021, to the Fagradalsfjall volcano.
It is a charming small community that can be a good base for a day out in the area. Explore the many hiking trails with dazzling panoramas and the local swimming pool. You could also try your hand at golf as Grindavík is home to one of south Iceland's best golf courses.
7. Fagradalsfjall volcano and lava fields
What people always notice when passing through Reykjanes are the lava fields. As this region makes up some of the youngest parts of Iceland it means it is very volcanically active and so features lava fields of varying ages.
The rule of thumb when scoping out lava fields is that any field with vegetation starting to grow is likely older than 2,500 years. If you can't find any vegetation, then that's a young lava field you're looking at.
In 2021, Reykjanes experienced its first volcano eruption in 800-900 years old. This means not only will you be able to witness fresh lava fields but also an active volcano spurting out molten lava (while it lasts).
As this new volcano is located so close to Reykjavík and the international airport, it means it is very accessible to visitors. You could pop by during your day tour to witness this incredible feat of nature.
Fagradalsfjall volcano is located in the Geldingadalur valley near Grindavík. If you’re up for it and the weather allows, hike along the marked paths to go see it from up close.
8. Blue Lagoon
We couldn’t mention the top places to visit on the Reykjanes peninsula without suggesting you stop by the Blue Lagoon. This geothermal spa is renowned for its iconic milky blue pools and is well worth a visit.
Enjoy a soothing moment of relaxation along the sprawling complex of hot pools full of mineral-rich water.
There are different tiers of entry packages depending on how much you want to treat yourself. If you fancy a luxury experience, why not book a stay at the Retreat Hotel? You’ll even get access to the exclusive lagoon and spa ritual.
When adding this highlight to your itinerary make sure to plan at least 90 minutes to 2 hours to take advantage of all the benefits of the Blue Lagoon.
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- Related: Your complete guide to the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa
Finally, it's good to remember this list doesn’t include some of the cultural tourist attractions you’ll find on the Reykjanes peninsula. Things to do in this region are surprisingly plenty and diverse when you look into it.
Pair your exploration of the dramatic landscape with a visit to the Icelandic Museum of Rock ‘n’ Roll or Viking World for a full day trip.
If you’re keen to experience Reykjanes, you can add a day tour or extra day with your rental car to your Iceland itinerary.
Book with Nordic Visitor and you’ll get the personal service of a local travel expert based in Reykjavík. We also arrange your accommodation, transport and activities for you. All you have to do is enjoy your time in Iceland!