The Best of Iceland’s Reykjanes Peninsula
Updated: Jan 16
The often-overlooked Reykjanes Peninsula in Southern Iceland is ripe for discovery. In actual fact ‘overlooked’ might not be quite the right term here. In truth nearly everyone who visits Iceland will visit the Reykjanes Peninsula. But more often than not this will be quite a fleeting visit. The peninsular is home to Keflavik International Airport and is just a short hop from the capital city Reykjavik.
Most visitors to Iceland will do just that. Hop on an airport transfer and head straight for the capital. The Reykjanes Peninsula’s other claim to fame and a huge draw in itself is the famous Blue Lagoon hot springs. Visiting this mesmerising blue pool surrounded by dark volcanic rock is a must-do experience for most. But aside from these two busy spots the rest of the peninsular feels almost off the beaten path. This is somewhat strange as the area really has so much to recommend it.
There are incredible landscapes of mossy lava fields and bubbling mud pots to gaze at. There is a wild coastline and some fascinating fishing villages to discover. And there are some excellent museums to enjoy too. In fact this southern peninsular is absolutely perfect for a really varied and very manageable short road trip. So if you are hiring a motorhome you might like to make a foray into this less explored area. Read on for our guide to some of the top sights of the really rather special Reykjanes Peninsula.
The Bridge Between Continents
Iceland is perched on the mid-Atlantic ridge at the meeting point between two continents. These are the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. These two landmasses are very slowly moving away from each other. It is just this factor that creates quite so much volcanic activity in Iceland. Amazingly it is possible to see the meeting of these plates and walk or even swim between them in Iceland. One such place is on the Reykjanes Peninsula where visitors can step across the ‘Bridge Between Continents’. If you are driving in Iceland then the bridge can be found on road 425 about 6km south of Hafnir.
Also just south of the old fishing town of Hafnir you will find the high Hafnarberg Cliffs. The drama of these dark volcanic cliffs battered by the wild North Atlantic waves is a sight to behold. The thrilling views make for some exciting photo opportunities. As well as this the area is frequented by birdwatchers. Many sea birds visit the coast here in season and there are some bracing walks to be enjoyed too.
Gunnuhver Geothermal Area
The piping hot and bubbling pools of the Gunnuhver Geothermal Area are an essential stop on the peninsular. The distinctive smell of sulphur drifts through the air and there is a plethora of geothermal activity to observe. Mud pots gurgle and hot springs of boiling water give off steamy vapour. Walkways crisscross the pools and pots keeping visitors at a safe distance to enjoy the surreal scene. This geothermal delight lies just a short drive from the Bridge Between Continents.
Viking World Museum
This excellent museum offers an immersive insight into Viking history. It is housed in a beautifully designed building on the edge of the sea at Reykjanesbær. There are fascinating films to see as well as many interesting artefacts. The jewel in the crown is the impressive full size replica of a 9th Century Viking ship.
The ship is housed in a huge glass atrium overlooking the water. If viewed from the right angle it appears that the boat could almost float off into the ocean. This is in fact just what happened back at the turn of the Century in the year 2000. The boat was built by the ship builder Gunnar Marel Eggertsson and completed in 1996. In the year 2000 it sailed out from Iceland to New York and back again. This impressive voyage was made to mark the millennial celebration of the adventuring Leifur Eiríksson’s journey to North America.
This impressive pool on the edge of the ocean looks manmade but incredibly it is actually naturally formed. Lava flow created a perfect natural swimming pool at the ocean’s edge. Legend has it that a giantess used to come here to bathe and wash her clothes. Today though brave visitors are the ones to take the rather icy plunge.
Right in the heart of the Reykjanes Peninsula in the midst of all that geothermal activity is the beautiful Kleifarvatn. This lovely wide lake is surrounded by hot springs, volcanoes and moss-covered lava rocks. The lake lies at the meeting of the tectonic plates and visitors can dive between continents here. Scuba diving tours take divers through the bubbling hot springs right at the point where the ridge rises up. Other popular activities around the lake are hiking and caving in fascinating volcanic tubes.
The Reykjanes Nature Reserve
The lovely Reykjanes Nature Reserve covers an area of around 300 square kilometres. Within its borders you fill find Lake Kleifarvatn and the Seltún Geothermal Area. It is a varied nature reserve with high hills reaching some 600 metres above sea level. On the tops of some of the hills you will find beautiful coloured pools. As well as these higher reaches there are low lying hot springs and lava landscapes. The whole reserve is perfect for hiking with plenty of excellent trails to follow. In fact it is a wonderful place to catch sight of the Northern Lights within relatively easy reach of Reykjavik. The reserve stretches all the way to the ocean. Here is encompasses the Krýsuvíkurberg Cliffs that are thronged with seabirds at the right time of the year.
There is a lot more to discover and experience in the region besides. If sea kayaking appeals then this is a great place to try a guided tour. If you’re renting a motorhome and exploring by road then there are some excellent rainy day options too. How about a visit to Iceland’s Rock and Roll Museum or the Reykjanes Maritime Centre? Kids will love the interactive Power Plant Earth Exhibition too. There is much more besides so do make the most of this hidden treasure right on the doorstep of Reykjavik.