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  • Einar Páll Svavarsson

Reykjanes Peninsula drive from Reykjavík

Updated: Dec 19, 2022


Reykjanes Peninsula has recently had an eruption
Reykjanes Peninsula has recently had an eruption

Reykjanes, or the Reykjanes Peninsula, in southwest Iceland, is one of the most accessible parts of the island all year round. It offers many fascinating natural wonders and, from a geological point of view, is one of the more exciting parts of Iceland. Here, the rift between the two tectonic plates, the North American and Eurasian, comes ashore, and there are two active geothermal areas with hot springs and blowing steam. It is home to various kinds of craters and has a number of large lava fields that surfaced only a few hundred years ago. It is also a place where we had a recent eruption that produced the latest lava field in Iceland, Geldingadalahraun. If you are interested in hiking, the Reykjanes Peninsula also has some spectacular short hiking trails and small mountains to climb and enjoy a beautiful view. The shoreline also offers dramatic cliffs and a view of powerful waves crashing against cliffs and the lava. It is a place of spectacular places, pleasant small towns, villages, and a beautiful scenic drive.


Reykjanes Peninsula location on the map of iceland
Reykjanes Peninsula

Least-mentioned in sagas

A view from Spákonuvatn lake towards Mt. Keilir
A view from Spákonuvatn lake towards Mt. Keilir

In medieval times, Icelandic scholars, monks, and writers wrote sagas of Icelanders — stories about how the settlement of this Nordic island from 870 to 1070 happened about two hundred years earlier. There are about 40 stories, all great epics describing the land, farms, people, their families, life, friendship, and disputes. Most of the regions in Iceland have reasonably detailed documentation of the settlement, except the Reykjanes Peninsula, which is rarely mentioned for a reason. At the time of settlement and until medieval times, the Peninsula had many eruptions that made farming impossible. If there was a farm to grow and harvest in the beginning, it was most likely covered with glowing lava soon after the first settlement.

The making of new landscapes at Reykjanes Peninsula
The making of new landscapes

Thus, almost no one lived there at that time. Furthermore, most parts of the country are usually packed with small streams, creeks, and rivers, but in the Reykjanes Peninsula, you will only find a few tiny and almost dried-up streams. The peninsula is very porous and leaky; most of the water is groundwater. Large chambers of fresh water can be found more or less under the lava in Reykjanes. Therefore, finding a place for farming and agriculture is challenging. During settlement, it was almost uninhabitable.


The many interesting places

Seltún geothermal activity
Seltún geothermal activity

Today, conversely, the Reykjanes Peninsula has many exciting qualities and places for visitors. If you are staying in Iceland for a few days or are on a short stopover, visiting the Reykjanes Peninsula is an excellent choice. Driving the circle from Reykjavík to Kleyfarvatn to the tip of the southwest through the charming small village Garður and back to Reykjavík is a grand day tour. Close to Lake Kleyfarvatn, you will find the colorful geothermal area, Seltún, with boiling clay and small, smoking hot springs. Nearby, you can stop at the explosion crater, Grænavant Lake, and Eldborg, which erupted in historic times. From the volcanic footprints, you can stop by the magnificent Krísuvíkurberg cliff to view the many layers of lava molded by the mighty forces of the Atlantic Ocean. On your way to the mysterious Gunnuhver hot spring, you can stop by the lava from the recently erupting volcano at Geldingadalir; you can also dip into the groundwater pumped up by the geothermal power plant at the Blue Lagoon, not to mention the famous bridge between continents where you can walk from the North American tectonic plate to the Eurasian one in only a minute. If you are still game for an adventure after visiting the old lighthouse in Garður, you can stop along the way to Reykjavík and drive the 10-kilometer gravel road to walk through the Lambafellsgjá narrow ravine (not for those of us who are claustrophobic).


The peninsula of fishing and fertile fishing grounds

Grindavík fishing town and torist service center
Grindavík fishing town and torist service center

If you are interested in history, you can also visit Selatangar, a fishing station that started to provide fish and work as early as the 14th century. Like many places that had rich fishing grounds right outside the shore and a good landing place, Selatangar was, at the time, a prominent place to provide food for the islanders. However, probably due to the harsh lava environment, it never became a town or village like some other fishing stations, such as Grindavík, Keflavík, Njarðvík, Hafnir, Garður, and Sandgerði, which developed during the 19th and 20th centuries. These are all interesting small towns and villages to visit on your tour around the Reykjanes Peninsula.


The gate to Iceland and the modern-day

The bridge between continents
The bridge between continents

Although not mentioned as an exciting place to live early in Icelandic history, the Reykjanes Peninsula became vital around the middle of the 20th century. As the chosen location for the US naval base after WWII, the small, isolated island in the north became a breeding ground for international culture and relations. As the airport grew larger and tourism increased, it also became the gateway to Iceland. Today, it is the home of Iceland’s international airport, where you land if you visit the country.


The perfect stopover drive

Krísuvíkurberg cliff
Krísuvíkurberg cliff

If you are planning a short visit to Iceland and want to see some fantastic sites and natural wonders without taking a long ride to other regions, you should consider the Reykjanes Peninsula. Even if you are staying for a few days, it is convenient to visit and a good option if you are looking for places to spend a day. It takes less than 40 minutes from Reykjavík, the capital, to start the tour. You can visit most of the areas in the peninsula the whole year round. Along the way, you will also find museums and good restaurants. It is a geological wonderland, a good place for hiking, and a wonderful place to visit a typical Icelandic town or village.



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