Iceland is perhaps best known for its “Land of Fire and Ice” nickname, earned from its long history of eruptions at volcanoes with tongue-twisting names. Eyjafjallajökull, anyone?
But keep in mind that like the northern lights, volcanic activity doesn't happen on demand. And if an eruption does occur, you don't really want to get too close to the action for obvious reasons.
So while you're unlikely to see a live lava flow on your trip to Iceland, there are plenty of sites to safely see the aftermath of volcanic eruptions in various places around the country.
Let's take a look at seven unique volcanic attractions to check out in Iceland.
The Volcano House in Reykjavik
Before venturing into the Icelandic countryside to see actual volcanic sites, why not take some time to learn about volcanoes in the capital city? Located right by the old harbour in the Reykjavik city centre, the small Volcano House museum feature exhibitions on Iceland’s geological history as well as a collection of volcanic rocks (that you can touch!).
It also screens two documentaries about famous eruptions: one about the sudden eruption in the Westman Islands (which you can read about below), the other covering the famous 2010 volcanic eruptions at Eyjafjallajökull and Fimmvörðulháls.
The Eldheimar Volcano Museum in Heimaey
Vestmannaeyjar, or the Westman Islands, is a stunning archipelago off Iceland’s south coast. Sometimes called “Pompeii of the North,” all of the archipelago’s islands have evolved from underwater eruptions.
Heimaey, the only inhabited island, was the site of an eruption in 1973 that buried 400 buildings under thick lava— some of which have been partially uncovered and preserved. The Eldheimar Volcano Museum in town focuses on this event, which is today considered one of Iceland’s largest natural disasters. The exhibit looks at the lives of the residents before the eruption that saw them evacuating their homes in the night and never being able to return.
The Lava Centre in Hvolsvöllur
If you came to Iceland to experience the Land of Fire and Ice, the Lava Centre museum in South Iceland is worth a visit. This innovative museum opened in 2017 not far from Mt Hekla, an active volcano that was considered to be the gateway to hell in the Middle Ages.
Inside, the interactive, state-of-the-art exhibit depicts millions of years of Icelandic volcanic activity, including earthquakes, eruptions, glacial floods, rift systems and the formation of Iceland's landmass. If all that tectonic rumbling makes your stomach rumble, you can grab a bite at the onsite Katla Restaurant — aptly named for one of Iceland‘s largest volcanoes.
Another bonus: The Lava Centre was awarded "Project of the Year 2018" by Iceland's English language magazine The Reykjavik Grapevine during Iceland's fashion-forward DesignMarch festival.
Snæfellsjökull National Park in West Iceland
Located at the tip of the Snæfellsnes peninsula in West Iceland, the terrain of Snæfellsjökull National Park looks as though it was ripped from prehistoric times. The park is named for the prominent, glacier-topped Snæfellsjökull volcano, which Jules Verne famously used as the setting for his classic novel Journey to the Center of the Earth.
This park boasts many other unusual volcanic landforms to explore, including Djúpalónssandur beach with its smooth black pebbles and "lifting stones", the beautifully secluded Dritvík cove, the jutting cliffs at Lóndrangar and extensive lava fields surrounding the volcano. For a closer look at the area's volcanic history, you can even join a guided tour of the Vatnshellir or Víðgelmir cave.
‘Inside the Volcano’ tour near Reykjavik
Not only can you walk into a glacier in the Land of Fire and Ice, but you can also go deep inside a dormant volcano. The Inside the Volcano day tour is a real-life journey to the centre of the earth, as you descend 120 metres via a cable lift into the ancient magma chamber of the Thrihnukagigur volcano. From the bottom of the cave, you’ll be able to marvel at the colourful lava-rock walls.
For a similarly adventurous experience not far from this volcano, we recommend a guided "Lava Tunnel" tour inside the Raufarhólshellir lava cave.
Hverfell volcanic crater in North Iceland
The Lake Mývatn area of North Iceland is a hotbed of unusual volcanic terrain and geothermal activity.
At one kilometre in diameter, Hverfjall is probably the biggest tephra crater in Europe, making it well worth a visit. Located nearby the popular Dimmuborgir lava formations, this enormous crater was formed in an explosive eruption some 2,500 years ago.
Krafla caldera in North Iceland
Another major Lake Mývatn area volcanic attraction is Krafla, a massive caldera with a diameter of 10 kilometres and depth of 2 kilometres. Situated along a 90-kilometre long fissure zone, it erupted a staggering nine times between 1974 and 1984, with 29 total eruptions in recorded history. Among these events is the “Krafla Fires,” a long-lasting eruption from 1977 to 1984.
On the northwest side of the Krafla caldera is Víti, an explosion crater 300 metres in diameter with a greenish-blue lake inside of it. The name Víti, meaning “Hell” in Icelandic, comes from the old local belief that the underworld was located under the volcanoes in this area.
From the Krafla parking area you can walk to the edge of the rim on a marked path, guiding you through sulphur vents and rocks that are still warm to the touch from the Krafla Fires.
Want more volcanic adventures?
It is possible to embark on guided day hikes at eruption sites, though this requires good hiking experience and an excellent fitness level. If you’re up to the challenge, ask your Nordic Visitor travel consultant about special volcano tours. NOTE: Never attempt to hike in the highlands or on glaciers without a professional, licensed guiding service.
Good to know: If by chance there is a volcanic eruption in Iceland, Nordic Visitor makes sure clients are informed about any potentional disruptions to travel plans and takes care of any itinerary rearrangments.
Learn more about the Land of Fire and Ice: contact us to book a trip.