Many people coming to Iceland will visit the Reykjanes peninsula without even realising it. If you are visiting Iceland's capital Reykjavik, chances are you're flying into Keflavik International Airport, but there’s so much more to see.
Keflavik alone has the Icelandic museum of Rock and Roll, the Viking World Museum and the Duus Museum. Then there’s the eerie primaeval landscape of the rest of the peninsula, with its long lava tunnels, black volcanic rock landscapes and geothermal pools like the iconic Blue Lagoon.
It’s a convenient addition to any Iceland itinerary; an easy drive from Reykjavik or a non-city stop on the way back to the airport. Although there’s plenty to do, the Reykjanes peninsula doesn't see the crowds of Iceland's Golden Circle or the iconic ring road drive. It’s wild, rugged and untamed. Here’s some of the highlights of the Reykjanes Peninsula.
In 2015, UNESCO recognised Reykjanes as a Global Geopark, a site where landscapes are of geological significance to the planet. The whole area is volcanically active, lying on a drift zone that was created by the meeting of two different tectonic plates.
A great thing to do in the Reykjanes peninsula is to visit the Bridge Between Continents, marking the fault line between the North American plate and the Eurasian plate. You can also visit hot springs, lava fields, geothermal geysers, and volcanic craters.
Gunnuhver is a geothermal park at the southwest tip of Reykjanes containing the largest mud pot in Iceland. Visit mud pools and fumaroles, climb Gunnuhver Volcano and smell the putrid sulphur rising from the lungs of the earth.
While you're here you can also visit the dramatic coastline at Valahnúkamöl, the Reykjanes Lighthouse and Brimketill lava rock pool. Another option to marvel at otherworldly landscapes is Seltún Geothermal Area, located next to the vast Kleifarvatn Lake.
See molten lava flowing along the earth's crust at the Fagradalsfjall Volcano. The volcano began erupting on 19th March, 2021, and has been quietly active on and off ever since. Locals have deemed it safe to visit and now run tours to the surrounding area - you can decide whether you're comfortable visiting yourself!
Visit neighbouring Geldingadalir Volcano and you may get the chance to see a live eruption! The volcano in Fagradalsfjall is called a tuya, meaning a flat-topped volcano with steep sides. Of course, it’s best to do a tour and avoid wandering into any active fumaroles!
Arguably Iceland's most famous tourist attraction, the Blue Lagoon was initially just a mud pool filled with wastewater. It is an offshoot of the Svartsengi geothermal plant filled with silica and sulphur, creating strange milky bright-blue pools. One day a local decided to take a bath and came out revitalised, the relaxation and healing qualities of the lagoon have been world renowned ever since.
Nowadays the Blue Lagoon attracts visitors from around the world with high quality spa facilities, and dining options like the LAVA restaurant and the Blue Café. The pools keep a constant temperature of between 37°C to 39°C year round, and are the perfect way to relax in complete luxury.
For something a bit further off of the beaten path visit a natural thermal pool in Iceland. A 45 minute drive from Reykjavik, Reykjadalur Thermal Pools are surrounded by rolling green hills and abundant nature. You can only access the pools by hiking through the picturesque valley. The hour-long walk takes you past sights like the Queen’s borehole, Djúpagilsfoss waterfall and the Djúpagil Canyon.
Temperatures vary depending on the geothermal activity beneath, ranging from 36°C to 40°C. There is a simple boardwalk for changing, while toilets and a cafe are located back at the car park. It’s a very different experience to the Blue Lagoon, but much closer to nature and the traditions of the Icelandic people.
Everyone visiting Iceland dreams of seeing the Aurora Borealis. The majestic dance of blue-green hues in the vast night sky has lured many travellers to Icelands shores. But the light pollution in Reykjavik makes it impossible to see the Northern lights in the city.
Head out to the Old Garður Lighthouse in the Reykjanes peninsula to find a beautifully clear night sky. The striking white and red coloured lighthouse is no longer active, replaced in 1944 by the neighbouring Garðskagaviti Lighthouse - which is the tallest in the country standing at 24 metres.
For the chance to visit a small Icelandic community head to the fishing town of Grindavik. With just over three thousand inhabitants, Grindavik is a friendly place where everybody knows your name. It’s a great base to stay in to see all of the highlights of the Reykjanes peninsula - we recommend the Lighthouse Inn, well known as a great spot to see the Aurora Borealis.
The food in Iceland is packed full of flavour, with local crops grown in glacial water and seafood harvested from the ocean the same day that it’s served. There’s very little pollution or food miles when it comes to Icelandic cuisine. Try a lobster bisque from Café Bryggjan, one of the most popular spots in town, and enjoy views over the colourful harbour.
The Reykjanes peninsula boasts some amazing wildlife too. There are three mammal species living here; the arctic fox, mink, and the small field mouse. But the main attraction is the bird life, expect to find Ptarmigans, Northern Wheaters, Snow Buntings, Golden Plowers, and Whimbrels amongst the sparse otherworldly landscapes.
The Krýsuvíkurbjarg Cliffs are a huge draw for birders as they are home to around 80,000 seabirds in summer, including Fullmar, Guillemots, Razorbills, Peewits and Kittiwakes. The best time to visit is between May and September when the birds are nesting on the cliffs. The scenery is stunning and you may just find that you are the only ones there! To get there you will need a 4-wheel drive as the 4km track to the cliffs can be uneven and rocky in places.
If there’s one thing Iceland is not known for, it’s perfect weather. Storms can batter this small island at any time of the year, so it’s good to have a back up plan for a rainy day in Iceland. Luckily there are a lot of things to do in the Reykjanes peninsula when it’s raining. Visit Rokksafn, the Icelandic Museum of Rock and Roll in Keflavik. Learn about local legends like Björk, Sigur Rós, Of Monsters and Men, and Kaleo in what’s known as the “Beatles town of Iceland”.
For another look into Icelandic culture visit the Viking World Museum. It’s home to the Viking Ship ‘Íslendingur’, or the Icelander, a perfect replica of the Gokstad ship. It’s famous for bringing the first vikings to North America under the command of Leif Erikson around a thousand years ago. Another great boating museum to visit is the Duus Museum in Keflavik, mostly focused on fishing boats, the models were all created by one retired sea captain.
Visiting the Reykjanes peninsula is a great way to explore the path less travelled in Iceland. It epitomises Iceland's nickname, the land of Ice and Fire, alive with volcanic activity just inches beneath the surface. Just be careful where you tread!
Planning a trip to Iceland? Read our guides on where to stay in Iceland, a 10-day itinerary and what to budget for your trip.
Last Updated 12 November 2022