Iceland demands much from the imagination – the country itself is teeming with a remarkably magical history, culture, and sweeping landscapes; but there is little tangible evidence to show any of it (except maybe the last). There are no famous pyramids or paintings, no legendary statues or abbeys. Sometimes, there isn’t even sunlight. But what Iceland lacks, it makes up for with an abundance of spirit and quirk. It will not take you long to figure out that Icelanders are generally a compelling mix of wit, creativity, candour, and dark, wintry humor.
The weather in Iceland is unpredictable. If you’re renting a car, taking a hike, or simply plan to walk around and sightseen, be prepared to possibly experience a bit of wind or rain on any given day. Packing waterproof pants, a windbreaker jacket (with a hood!), gloves, and of course an umbrella are all smart items to find room for in your suitcase, that’s why it is recommended to hire a private volcanoes tour for a more personalized experience.
Over the centuries, consistent lava flow created amazing sites dotted around the island, such as towering spires made out of black lava and huge fields covered in moss. Check out Dimmuborgir in the North of Iceland, the name of which translates to ‘Black Castles’ in English.
Iceland is responsible for more than a third of the fresh lava that exists on Earth. Eruptions can even happen under a glacier, which occurs quite regularly as Iceland’s surface is covered by many glaciers. In this type of eruption, the fast-cooling lava does not crystallize into normal, rocky lava but instead, it becomes shiny volcanic glass.
Iceland is home to roughly 30 volcanoes, 18 of which have been active in the past 100 years. The country is rich in geothermic activity thanks to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia meet. After Eyjafjallajökull’s flight-grounding incident of 2010, tourism in Iceland has erupted with a sense of adventure and wonder. But enough information and great puns, time for some adventures!
Despite being one of the smaller ice caps of Iceland, Eyjafjallajökull volcano is one of the most famous volcanoes in Iceland and the world. This is thanks to its most recent eruption in 2010 that resulted in the evacuation of 800 people, caused electrical storms and earthquakes and grounded flights across Europe. Fortunately, another nearest volcano, Katla, that shares its geology did not erupt this time around. Historically speaking, when Eyjafjallajökull erupts Katla often follows suit.
Eyjafjallajökull is a stratovolcano that is completely covered by an ice cap that covers 100 square km. The volcano is 1651m tall and has a partially open crater of just under 4km in diameter with three main peaks. Eyjafjallajökull is found in Southern Iceland and is a great diversion for anyone driving the south shore road. The south of Iceland is easily accessible via road.
It is thought that Eyjafjallajökull and Katla are somehow geologically related. Often, when Eyjafjallajokull erupts, Katla follows with more force and destruction. It is located within the Mýrdalsjökull glacier in south Iceland and it’s penchant for frequent and forceful eruptions have gained it the reputation of being Iceland’s most dangerous volcano. Thankfully, Katla didn’t erupt after Eyjafjallajökull in 2010. It’s a challenging hike or a helicopter ride to get to Katla, though if you hike from Skógafoss to Thórsmörk, via the Fimmvorduhals hike trail, you will cross over Eyjafjallajökull and get an impressive view at Katla at the same time.
Snæfellsjökull is another famous Icelandic volcano. This picturesque stratovolcano appeared in the novel ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ by Jules Verne in 1864. Snaefelljokull was the chosen entrance for the center of the Earth! The ice-covered mountain is surrounded by striking lava and picture perfect vistas, however, the glacier has been receding in recent years due to global warming. Snæfellsjökull is in west Iceland and reaches 1446 m above sea level. It is part of a national park of the same name and, as a result, there is easy access and multiple tours to be taken. You can also plan and hire private tour for Snæfellsjökull.
Askja is a popular volcano in Iceland.
Askja, a popular volcano in Iceland flaunts two crater lakes
If you need a little warming up after all the ice, Askja is the perfect volcano to visit. Though an eruption in 1875 caused massive destruction and resulted in many Icelanders choosing to emigrate, Askja is now known for its famous hot spring. Found in an aptly named, small caldera called Víti, or hell, Askja’s hot spring will warm your bones while you take in the impressive surroundings. Askja is in the north of Iceland and tours are available by bus or by 4×4.
If you’re heading to the north of Iceland, Krafla is another volcano that cannot be missed. Also famous for its eye catching lake called Víti, this lake caldera is cold and a shocking teal color. The caldera is 10 km in diameter and Krafla as a whole is only 818 m high. There is a road that leads to the caldera and once there, a 30 minute trail that also leads to a hot spring.
Only 2 hours from Reykjavík and with a hefty reputation as ‘The Gateway to Hell’ – Hekla is an active Icelandic volcano that ticks all the boxes. Hekla has a long history of horrific eruptions since the settlement of Iceland in 874. While the last eruption in 2000 caused little trouble, past eruptions have caused tsunamis and covered the land with poisonous gas. No wonder it has such a hellish nickname. Hekla is a relatively short ride from the capital and car tours are available.
Hverfjall is one of the most popular volcanoes in Iceland.
An aerial view of the popular Hverfjall volcano in Iceland.
Despite being a very popular volcano to hike, no one can decide on the correct name: Hverfjall or Hverfell. Situated right next to Lake Mývatn, Hverfjall is a small, extinct volcano whose crater is only 1km in diameter. This makes it a fantastic option for families with younger children or people looking for an easy hike. In total, it should take no longer than an hour to circle the rim of this Icelandic volcano. Hverfjall is easily spotted in the Lake Myvatn area in northern Iceland. A bump in the landscape, it is actually one of the best preserved circular volcanoes in the world. Drive up to the volcano along Road 1 and park at its foot.
Grímsvötn volcanic system is Iceland’s most active volcanic area at 60 recorded eruptions and counting! But don’t expect a traditional mountain-like volcano. Grímsvötn is a volcano of 15m diameter and 900m above sea level in North-East Iceland, yet is hidden below hundreds of meters of ice. There are three cabins around Grímsvötn that have been built by The Icelandic Glaciological Society. They serve as base camps for scientific research as well as visitor centers.
Þríhnúkagígur or Thrihnukagigur is a dormant volcano less than 30km from Reykjavík. Don’t let its dormant nature fool you, Thrihnukagigur offers a volcanic adventure like no other. The volcano was only discovered in 1974 and opened to the public in 2012. Visitors can enter the volcano via an elevator, that takes them down into the magma chamber. Don’t worry, the lava has all drained away, revealing the underground rift. Thrihnukagigur is easily accessible from Reykjavík and official private guided tours are available for those wanting to go inside the volcano.