Krafla in Iceland: A Traveler’s Guide

Dive into the depths of Krafla volcano fissure in Iceland, where fiery landscapes meet otherworldly beauty.

Krafla

blog authorBy Johanna Sigurðardóttir shield verificationVerified Expert

Unveil the mystique of Krafla with our comprehensive traveler's guide to this captivating destination in Iceland. Krafla usually adorns tourist postcards as a caldera with bright blue waters that look deceivingly inviting. But while Krafla is not known as a local swim spot, many other things make it an exceptional natural wonder and offer an unforgettable adventure for explorers.

So, if you’ve got an upcoming trip to the island and would like to add a stop to your outdoor adventure to-do list, our guide reveals why Krafla should be one of your top picks and tells you everything you need to know to plan your trip.

Overview of Krafla 

Krafla is a renowned volcanic system in the captivating Mývatn region of Northern Iceland. The Krafla Caldera is almost a type of epicentre, with the caldera being surrounded by the Krafla Lava Fields with its boiling mud pots and fumaroles. Krafla Volcano seems to be supervising this landscape as it towers roughly 818 meters above it. 

The Krafla Caldera is roughly 10 kilometers wide, but the actual volcanic system and fissure zone encompasses more than 90 kilometers. It is one of the island’s most active volcanic systems, boasting 29 eruptions since the first settlers arrived. This is because Krafla actually sits along the Ridge of the very reason Iceland has so much volcanic activity: the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. 

This Ridge essentially splits Iceland in two, all the way from the north to the south, where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates are pushing apart from one another. Therefore, Krafla is a geological marvel, and a prime example of the untamed forces that shape the Land of Fire and Ice, exhibiting a stark and rugged beauty that attracts visitors from far and wide. 

Krafla, Iceland

Geology and Formation of Krafla

It’s important to remember that Krafla is a volcanic system consisting of a volcano (Krafla Volcano) and a fissure swarm. Krafla is also spread across so much land that any volcanic events, especially eruptions, have a significant impact on the landscape surrounding it. This is also how the Krafla caldera was formed. A caldera is a large depression or crater formed after a volcano erupts and collapses in on itself. 

It’s not quite the same as our fiery volcanoes here on the island, but imagine stuffing one of your socks with cotton wool till it can stand up. If you remove the cotton wool and try to have it stand up by itself again, it will simply fold in on itself. This is pretty much what happens to some volcanoes when the magma (called lava once it erupted) that was holding up the structure is expelled. 

The Krafla Crater was created in such an eruption about 100,000 years ago, during the last interglacial period (aka Ice Age). Wherever there is volcanic activity, one can find incredibly interesting minerals and rocks. At Krafla, this includes Hyaloclastites, Basalt Rock, Rhyolite, Tuffs, Domes, and much, much more. So, if geology and rocks get you all excited, Krafla is not to be missed.

Krafla fissure

Eruptive History of Krafla 

As mentioned, Krafla has had about 29 eruptions since Iceland began being populated. Eruptions at Krafla are effusive and fissure eruptions. That means that there is no cinematic magic that happens when Krafla erupts. Although there might still be some “sparks” being sent up in the air, nothing is going to be spewing or catapulted out. Lava will simply start flowing down the volcano’s sides or out of the fissures. 

There have even been eruptions with lava flowing from the volcano into the fissures. Each and every eruption on the island changes the landscape around it, either by adding rock formations, creating basalt cliffs, and more. In Krafla’s case, while you have elements of these too, it’s more the fact that the landscape is pretty barren. You won’t find lush vegetation here due to the types of volcanic “residue” in the ground. 

Since Krafla is technically constantly expanding as the tectonic plates keep pushing further and further apart, this area will only become more and more uninhabitable. Volcanic activity also impacts the underground water supply, where certain acids and sulfur compounds make it dangerous for humans (from actual consumption to irrigation, etc.).  

Although there have been many full-blown eruptions and other fissure events at Krafla, there were two that have been most significant: 

Krafla fires

The Myvatn Fires (1724 – 1729)

This is the closest Krafla has ever gotten to movie-like eruptions, with almost the entire fissure length coming alive and shooting massive lava fountains into the air - so much so that they could be seen from all over the Highlands of Iceland. This eruption completely destroyed three farms, and although no one died, it’s hard to gauge what type of long-term damage the ash and toxic fumes had on locals. 

Major Krafla Eruptive Period (1975 – 1984)

This actually marked a period that consisted of 9 major eruptions that caused absolute chaos within the tourism and industrial sectors of Iceland, and also caused severe disruptions in service delivery. It also changed the landscape around it forever. 

For example, the Grjotagja hot spring (yes, the one featured in Game of Thrones) was once open to the public if they wanted to have a soak. After the eruptions, you never know when you’ll turn into a Kentucky Fried Human if you dare dip a toe in that water because the temperatures are too volatile. 

volcano krafla

Exploring Krafla's Geothermal Wonders

As we mentioned earlier, Krafla has a lot to offer in terms of geological and geothermal wonders. These are just a few of the most significant:

Krafla’s Geothermal Power Plant

Krafla plays a big part in Iceland’s green energy drive. Its geothermal power plant powers towns in North Iceland. The power plant was established in 1977 and was fully operational by 1978. A second unit was completed in 1997.  This means that Krafla Geothermal Power Plant can generate up to 500 GWh per year! 

Krafla geothermal power plant

The Krafla Lava Field

A lava field is exactly what it sounds like: a field of lava. Lucky for us, these fields of lava are after the lava has already hardened and turned into sediment and rock (normally basalt). But in the case of an active volcanic system such as Krafla, this lava field still has bubbling mud pots, hot springs (the kind not suitable for swimming in), and fumaroles (vents that release steam and gases, many of which are sulfurous). So, the Krafla Lava Field is definitely a place you want to keep an eye on where you walk. 

Krafla lava field

Leirhnjúkur Peak 

Leirhnjúkur Peak, also known as ‘Mud Peak’ to locals, is another active volcano in Krafla. It stands 525 meters high and is surrounded by fumaroles and mud pots. Leirhnjúkur actually offers visitors a small hike to explore the area.

Víti Crater

Viti Crater is that picture-perfect volcanic lake with vibrant blue-green waters displayed on so many tourist postcards and brochures. It is not to be confused with the other Viti Crater in Iceland, though (hence why so many refer to Krafla’s Viti Crater as Krafla Crater). Swimming in the Viti Crater at Krafla will also end tragically, of that you can rest assured. But swimming at the Viti Crater at Askja is actually allowed at certain times.

Viti crater, Asjka

Planning Your Visit to Krafla in Iceland 

There are various ways one can visit Krafla: 

Via Plane

Many opt to catch a flight from Reykjavík Airport (not to be confused with Keflavik International Airport) and fly to Akureyri (the so-called capital city of the north). The flight will take just 45 minutes. If you rent a car upon arrival at Akureyri, it’ll only be another 1.5-hour drive to get to Krafla. This is a great option if your time on the island is limited.

Via Bus

If you’ve got a tight budget, this might be the way to go. Take bus 57 from the capital city of Reykjavík to Akureyri. The trip will be seven hours, after which you’ll still have to rent a car and drive the 1.5 hours to Krafla. 

Via Road Trip

This is our favorite option since it allows you to really explore the island and all it has to offer. By going on a Diamond Circle road trip, you’ll see many of our interesting attractions and experience many exciting activities. 

Just take note that this road trip can become extremely challenging during the winter season. On a Diamond Circle road trip, you’ll be coming from Akureyri if Krafla is one of your next stops. You’ll simply be driving clockwise on the Ring Road for 1.5 hours before reaching Krafla. 

Car rental Iceland

Via Tour

You will find many tour operators and private guides offering trips to Krafla. Sometimes, they come in the form of day tours, and other times, Krafla is a stop on multi-day tour packages. You can also organize your own private custom tour. The following tours come highly recommended:

Places to Stay Near Mývatn, Krafla Volcano 

If you want to make Krafla a pitstop on your road trip or just want to sleepover after a day trip, you’ll find plenty of accommodation options to pick and choose from. For a more luxurious stay, you can book a room at Fosshotel Myvatn. For an affordable yet comfortable stay, you can book at Dimmuborgir Guesthouse. And for the ultimate budget-friendly stay, you can book a spot at Camping Myvatn

Krafla lava fields

Places to Eat Near Krafla

If you’re feeling peckish after exploring Iceland’s famous caldera, the following eateries come highly recommended, and their menus range from light meals to some of the best lamb dishes you’ll ever have:

Safety Precautions for Visitors at Krafla

Krafla is a breathtaking place, but it can also be extremely dangerous if one doesn’t follow the safety regulations. The following helpful tips will keep you safe and guarantee a memorable trip (for all the right reasons!) at Krafla: 

  • Stay on designated trails and pathways. Wondering off here or one wrong step can have you end up in hot water - literally. Ed Sheeran’s burnt foot is proof of how important it is to watch where you step in Iceland. 
  • Keep safely behind marked safety barriers and at least a couple of meters away from mud pots or fumaroles. The boiling hot droplets of just one bubble bursting or one blow of that steam will have you howling. 
  • Driving the Diamond Circle and to Krafla during the winter is not for the nervous driver. You will be contending with strong winds, snow, and ice on the road. It’s for that reason that you will also need to keep a close eye on the Iceland road conditions, as the weather can cause sudden road closures. Any/all F-roads will also be closed during this time, so don’t even include them in your winter trip planning. 
  • As a standard rule of thumb, you need to have Iceland’s emergency number, 112, saved in your phone for emergency situations. This includes any mishaps at Krafla. 

krafla caldera

Additional Information and Resources

Need some more assistance or have further inquiries? The following might be able to help you out:

Krafla – A Powerful Tourism Combo

Whether you’re after the volcano at Krafla, the lava fields, or the crater, Krafla is a (literal) hot spot for tourism. With so much to do and see in just a few kilometers, it will leave you awe-struck and with a new respect for the power of nature. We recommend renting a car in Reykjavik and going on a Diamond Circle road trip with Krafla as a highlight along the way. It’s the best way to explore the island and will leave you in full control of your Krafla adventure

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