The Natural Wonders of the Reykjanes Peninsula
Updated: Dec 14, 2020
The Reykjanes peninsula is temptingly close to Keflavik International Airport, and to Reykjavik for that matter. Nevertheless, many of those who come for a short break pass up this interesting part of the country in favor of visiting the attractions of the Golden Circle or looping the ring road. But the Reykjanes peninsula attractions shouldn’t be overlooked – here’s why.
A region of pretty fishing villages
Like much of the coast of Iceland, Reykjanes is home to plenty of fishing villages such as Grindavik, but it also has the advantage of being close to the capital. That’s useful if there’s a strong aurora forecast during your stay. The lack of light pollution on the peninsula compared to that which you’ll experience in the capital means you have a much better chance of spotting the Northern Lights if they make an appearance. One of the best places to do so is on the shore of Lake Kleifarvatn, the largest lake on the Reykjanes peninsula. It’s easy to reach if you rent a car in Iceland; simply follow route 42 south after Hafnarfjordur. It’s also worth a visit in the daytime when the lake attracts bird watchers, hikers and joggers.
The meeting of the tectonic plates in Iceland
Most visitors to Iceland are well versed about its volcanic scenery – the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull and the disruption its ash cloud made to global air traffic made sure of that. But though tourists can see the plate boundary at Thingvellir National Park, there’s something raw and wild about seeing that same plate boundary on the Reykjanes peninsula.
This is what’s known as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a land created as the tectonic plates diverge. Here, the Eurasian and North American plates are pulling apart at a rate of a few centimeters a year, slow enough for engineers to maintain the bridge between continents. Leif the Lucky’s Bridge gets its name, aptly enough, from Leif Ericsson, who was the first Icelander to set foot in North America.
Take a walk from Europe to America
If you cross the bridge, you’ll be able to tell your friends that you walked from Europe to America, in the country where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge rises from the ocean. Well signposted for rental car drivers off the 425, this rift in the landscape is one of the peninsula’s must-see sights and as such, you may wish to have a souvenir. If so, you won’t find gift stores in the usual way. Instead, pop into the Duushús in the nearby settlement of Reykjanesbær, a short drive away. There, you can pick up a certificate to remind you of your visit. For a decade, the fishing town of Reykjanesbær has also been home to Viking World. It displays the Íslendingur, a replica of the Gokstad Viking ship. Íslendingur was the vessel that sailed across the Atlantic in 2000 as part of the Leif Ericsson voyage celebrations that took place in Newfoundland.
Reykjanes Peninsula day trip
The landscape surrounding the bridge is as rugged as anywhere in the county. The extensive lava fields have a stark beauty that is acutely felt on windy days. If you’re planning a Reykjanes peninsula day trip, you are likely to experience that wild weather. This is one of the windiest regions of Iceland, but somehow that only adds to its appeal.
Reykjanes is, geologically speaking, one of the youngest parts of Iceland. It’s what’s known as a geothermal hotspot, giving rise to underground chambers of naturally heated water and on the surface, hot springs. At Gunnuhver, you’ll discover plopping mud pools as well as plenty of steaming vents and fissures. So the legend goes, centuries ago the spirit of a female named Gudrun was trapped by a priest in the hot springs. As you can imagine, she wasn’t best pleased by his actions and has let off clouds of sulfur gas and steam in protest ever since.
But unlike other parts of Iceland, this one’s a little different. Here, the groundwater is seawater. Despite that, water temperatures can still rise to well in excess of 300°C so stick to the marked trails and be very careful where you walk. Boiling water is dangerous and you definitely don’t want to be the area’s next angry ghost. Krýsuvík is another geothermal area located on the Reykjanes, the most famous of its geothermal fields being Seltún. Wooden boardwalks allow visitors to get up close to the boiling water and mud pools without risking an accident.
Visitors wishing to find out more about geothermal power will be interested in the Hellisheiði Geothermal power plant. Learn about geothermal energy, how it’s used and how it’s a sustainable source of power at the visitor center. There are plenty of interactive exhibits and the chance to book a tour with one of the center’s knowledgeable guides. When you come out, there won’t be much you don’t know about the geothermal activity and the role it plays in making our planet a greener place.
Reykjanes peninsula attractions
Of course, there’s one place on the Reykjanes peninsula that’s just perfect not just for learning about geothermal energy but experiencing the warm water first hand. In the famous Blue Lagoon spa, bathers can luxuriate in naturally heated water. The white silica mud is great for the complexion, and you’ll find little pots of this magic substance in and around the pool ready for you to slap on your skin. There’s a wade-up bar where you can grab a glass of wine and then relax in the soothing waters.
The Blue Lagoon is situated in a very convenient location not far from Keflavik International Airport and a stone’s throw from the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik. Regular scheduled buses stop off on their way to and from the airport and there’s plenty of parking for those that have hired a car for their stay. Suitcase-sized lockers, fluffy towels and hairdryers mean there’s no excuse for missing this out as you arrive or leave. If you only do one thing on the Reykjanes peninsula, then it surely has to be this.