After nine days of driving around Iceland’s majestic Ring Road, our very last stop was where it all began, in Keflavik, home of the international airport, the infamous Blue Lagoon, Iceland’s newest volcano and to our delight much more. For more visitors, Keflavik is used as a launching off point for day tours or avoided all together as tourists head straight to Iceland’s trendy capital, Reykjavik right after landing. That is exactly what we did. Immediately after landing, we rented our car and drove forty minutes to our hotel in downtown Reykjavik where we would spend our first night.
However, a bit of unexpected bad luck actually turned into a spontaneous opportunity for us to spend an afternoon exploring Keflavik and the surrounding Reykjanes Peninsula. Those few hours gave us a taste of all the magnificent natural sites the southwestern corner of Iceland has to offer, with non-existent crowds and surprisingly delightful sights. As long as you steer clear from the volcano and the Blue Lagoon, you are bound to have these special destinations all to yourself and trust me, after experiencing the heavy crowds in the South of Iceland, you will be relieved and overjoyed to not see another soul.
The very first day we landed in Iceland, we hit the Reykjanes Peninsula’s most exciting destination fresh off the plane. After checking into our hotel in Reykjavik and taking a short two hour cat nap, we got back in our car and drove back to the Reykjanes Peninsula where we revved up our energy to hike up to see the Fagradalsfjall volcano. While this could possibly be down with the itinerary below in one very long day, if you want to truly see the volcano and get the chance to witness an eruption, you should plan on spending at least 5-7 hours there, exploring, hiking and marveling at its delight. While you can do it completely on your own, we chose to hire a local guide who was knowledgeable on the landscape and volcanic activity. It was an incredible experience and one that cannot be missed.
Another site that is extremely popular in is Reykjanes Peninsula is the Blue Lagoon. I had went there 13 years ago during my first visit to Iceland and enjoyed it, yet found it a bit touristy. I can only imagine what it is like today as since my visit, the Blue Lagoon has explored with popularity thanks to heavy albeit effective marketing strategy to oversees tourists who can easily be shuttled after their transatlantic flight to the Blue Lagoon for a jet lag soak and relaxation.
We decided to pass on the Blue Lagoon however if you are curious to learn more you can check out my old blog post or else visit the official website here. Quite honesty for a family of four, it would have been a rather expensive bath at $67 per person, and at the end of a nine-day trip, we had already spent a lot given how expensive Iceland is. Furthermore, while we had initially planned to find a more local geothermal pool during our travels, our teenage kids decided they couldn’t stomach the smell of sulphur enough to enjoy a hot, geothermal bath. So the Blue Lagoon was not meant to be for us but for many people it is a must-do and see experience with rave reviews.
So, you may be wondering what else is there to do on the Reykjanes Peninsula besides the volcano and the Blue Lagoon? The answer: A surprising lot! If you have 3-4 hours before catching your flight back home, then you are in luck! Here is list of the top non-touristy natural wonders to explore.
Why the Reykjanes Peninsula?
29 miles northeast of Reykjavik lies the fascinating Reykjanes Peninsula which literally means “smoky point”. As soon as you enter this geothermal, wondrous landscape you will see why. There is steam rising up into the air above barren black lava fields that coat the landscape. This area is one of Iceland’s most volcanic regions where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge splits the North American and Eurasian Plate in half, resulting in tremendous amount of volcanic activity.
The Reykjanes peninsula volcanic zone has four volcanic systems that become active approximately ever 1,000 years, with each volcanic episode lasting around 200 – 350 years. The area has been dormant for 800 years until the latest The latest episode began on March 19, 2021 of at Fagradalsfjall volcano and continues to display its wonder ever since.
The Reykjanes Peninsula is filled with endless plains of black, barren lava fields, dramatic seascapes, smoky geysers misting up into the air and cone-shaped volcanoes off into the distance. It is one of the craziest landscapes we had ever seen and uniquely beautiful in its own right.
What to do and see with an afternoon in Keflavik: Exploring the Reykjanes Peninsula
First thing to do is pick up a copy of the Reykjanes Peninsula map which clearly states “Your Adventure in Iceland Starts Here”. Most hotels and rental car shops will have a free hard copy for you. If not, you can check out the official website for the region here. Click on map below to enlarge.
As you can see on the map, a lot of the sights are closely grouped together so it is easy to see them all in an afternoon. We focused primarily on the bottom lefthand corner of the map. There are many more incredible things to see in the peninsula so if you have an entire day or more, check out all the sites and attractions here.
The Bridge Between Continents
The first stop of the afternoon as at the Bridge Between Continents, where one of the world’s major plate boundaries, the Mid Atlantic Ridge cuts through the heart of the Iceland. While there is nothing earth-shattering about the sight, it is mind-blowing to realized that you are standing atop the place where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates are slowly drifting apart. You can read the official placards at the sight and cross a small footbridge over one of the fissures that surrounds some of the oldest rock formations in the earth’s crust.
Stampar Crater Row
A stop along the road at Stampar Crater Row is quite extraordinary as you can see for miles and miles the remnants of old volcanoes.
As you continue heading south down highway 425, you will find a variety of amazing sights all located relatively nearby: Gunnuhver, the Reykjanes Lighthouse, Valahnúkur and Brimketill.
Iceland is known for its folklore and almost every place has some kind of legend behind it. Gunnuhver is not exception. Icelandic lore believes that the area around Gunnuhver, which is a highly geothermal spot, is named after a female ghost who had caused a lot of mischief in her days until a priest laid a trap for her, caught her and she fell into the spring. Gunnuhver lies in the heart of the Reykjanes UNESCO Global Geopark where the North Atlantic ridge rises from the ocean and results in all sorts of bubbling mud pools and steam from a boiling geothermal reservoir. There is a footbridge that guides you through the site where you can get up close and personal with the mud pools and sulfuric smell of rotten eggs.
I didn’t take a ton of pictures because by this stage in our trip I’d taken enough photos of bubbling mud pots especially in Krafla. While it doesn’t hold a candle to Krafla, it is still worth a visit and doesn’t take too long to explore.
After checking out Gunnuhver, it is a short walk over to the Reykjanes Lighthouse.
Reykjanesviti is home to the oldest lighthouse in Iceland and if you are daring, you can hike up the road to the top for a glorious view. We had noticed a sign in Icelandic with a picture of birds on it but had no idea how aggressive they would become as you walked up the road, passing their nesting grounds, to the lighthouse. We had seen people literally running at full speed down the hill in panic and decided to find another way up to the top of the lighthouse, avoiding the birds as best we could and of course not disturbing them.
Valahnúkur is another must-see stop. This beautiful place is composed of stunning sea cliffs formed by volcanic ash and erosion. Like most of Iceland’s coast, it is also home to seabirds.
Brimketill is a small, naturally carved pool, by marine erosion, at the lava shore edge west of the town of Grindavik. During a sunny day when the pool fills with water it looks like a hot tub perched high above the sea. Brimketill and its nearby pools formed from the endless crashing of the waves against the rocky coast, eroding the rocks over time. It is estimated that the lava field around this area formed in the Reykjanes Fires in 1210-1240. This impressive unworldly landscape is a constant reminder of Iceland’s volcanic activity.
A short video I took of the beautiful coast gives you a feel of what this place is like.
After a few hours of exploration, it was time to grab some dinner back in Keflavik and then settle in before our early morning flight back home. The receptionist at our hotel recommended we dine at Kaffi Duus, a local place known for its fresh seafood and panoramic views of the ocean.
My husband and I split the seafood platter which did not disappoint and was a proper send off to home.
As I snuggled into sleep that night, I reflected on what a great trip it had been and also how fortunate it was that I got back into Keflavik in enough time to retake my Covid test after receiving a false positive a few days earlier. I was free to go home and also the bit of bad luck that got us back to Keflavik earlier so I could take another Covid test ended up in an opportunity to see a place not on our list. What a delightful surprise. Oftentimes that is the best part of traveling. Uncovering the unexpected.
Dreaming of the next dream….seeing Greenland from outside my plane window.
If you go:
These are just some of the many sites around the R P. For more check out the official website.
Want to learn more about my trip around Iceland? Check out these posts!
- Ring Road Trip Around Iceland: Hike to Skaftafell Glacier
- Travel During the Pandemic: A Visit to Jökulsárlón
- A Stay in Seyðisfjörður, Iceland
- Iceland: Two days in Mývatn and Krafla, Iceland
- A Hike up to Iceland’s Newest Volcano: Fagradalsfjall
- Ring Road Trip Around Iceland: The Beauty of Vik
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