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If you’re looking for something to do in Reykjavik I urge you to visit the lava caves, boiling mud pots, and volcano-swept landscapes of Iceland’s southwestern peninsula. Located a short half-hour drive from Reykjavik, the Reykjanes Peninsula makes for a great day-trip. The Reykjanes Peninsula in NOT part of Iceland’s Ring Road and offers so hidden gems that most tourists don’t get an opportunity to visit. So, rent a car, pack a lunch, and get out there!
This is how we spent our amazing first day on the road in Southwest Iceland. I recommend getting an early start (leaving by 9 am) so that you’ll have time to enjoy all the destinations. This itinerary can also be used as part of a longer day trip.
Map and Itinerary:
|Name of Destination
|km from last Destination
|Driving time from last destination
|Recommended time spent here
|1) Leiðarendi Lava Cave
|3) Eldborg Crater
|4) Krisuvikurberg Cliffs
|5) Arnarker Cave
|6) The Lava Tunnel
|at least 1 hour
|7) Hveragerði/Kjöt og Kúnst
What to See:
Stop 1: enjoy scenery in Reykjanesfólkvangur Reserve and peer into lava tunnels at Leiðarendi Cave
From Reykjavik, begin heading east on the great Ring Road. Turn right onto 417 which will eventually become a gravel path. Enjoy the dramatic volcanic swept landscape as you drive through Reykjanesfólkvangur Reserve. Keep an eye out for the Leiðarendi cave pull-over which will be on your left. The informational marker mention the dangers of caving. As responsible tourists we heeded the warning, but enjoyed the short hike to the openings as we peered into the depths of our first lava tunnel. Although we did not book a tour, both Extreme Iceland or Arctic Adventures offer guided tours of the Leiðarendi lava cave. Remember to please stay on the lined paths.
After your visit, continue along 417 then turn left onto 42, going south. You’ll pass the beautiful Lake Kleifarvatn as you approach your second stop. Krysuvik at the Seltún Geothermal Area.
Side-note – this was our first trip out into the wilderness of Iceland and I fear it was stunning simply due to its novelty. If you’re pressed for time, I recommend leaving Reykjavik on 41 south, then turning left on 42 south to access Krysuvik, skipping this stop. If you’re not pressed for time, it is a beautiful drive and I’m thankful we took it.
Stop 2: observe boiling mud pots at Krysuvik, part of the Seltún Geothermal Area.
Look for a car park on your right off of 42 South. If you smell sulfur – you’ve arrived! This area was an active sulfer mine till 1880, afterwhich the land was left relatively undisturbed until an explosion in 1999 significantly changing the landscape. This explosion bust the aquifer causing the pond to form that we see today. Here, boardwalks observe boiling mud pots and steaming springs from the provided boardwalks. Stay on the pathway as these geothermal areas can be hazardous. For more information on this site visit Guide to Iceland.
Upon leaving turn right from the carpark and continue south on 42.
Stop 3: hike up the sides of Eldborg Crater for panoramic views
Next you’ll visit Eldborg, the highest crater in the area. Turn left on Road Strandarvegur Nr. 427 toward Eldborg. The gravel road is a bit challenging and unless you’re in a 4 x 4 I recommend parking your car by the paved road and walking. The short hike up is well worth the view as you peer straight into an old volcano or take in the sweeping panoramic scenes of the dramatic landscape.
Stop 4: Detour to the colorful and rugged seaside Krisuvikurberg Cliffs
Krisuvikurberg Cliffs are colorful lava-rock sea cliffs about one and a half miles off route 427. Turn right off 42 onto 427 and look for parking on the side of the road. When parking, keep an eye on Google Maps to make sure you’re parking closest the coast as route 427 can be windy. Expect to hike at least 45 minutes each way.
Stop 5: Climb down the ladder into mysterious Arnarker Cave
Turn onto 380, a gravel but easy road. The cave is about a 10-15 minute walk through the lava fields off of 380. Upon arrival you’ll notice a permanent ladder reaching out of the cave, whose bottom sits about 45 meters below. Like the rest of Iceland…be careful!
Stop 6: Take a guided tour at The Lava Tunnel
Next you’ll head to The Lava Tunnel, the only part of the day with a fee, but it is definitely worth it! Tours leave ev
ery hour on the hour and start at 6,400 krona. We did the basic tour and I highly recommend it! Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and taught us a lot about the local geology. Longer, more challenging excursions are also available. Book your tours here.
Stop 7: Experience the geothermally-active town of Hveragerði
We end our day in Hveragerði the hot springs capital of the world!
Visit Kjöt og Kúnst or “Earth Cooking” where food is prepared using the planet’s hot steam! Their website hours say they’re open till 11 pm, but I recommend double-checking their hours as they closed at 8 pm the evening we visited. Reservations were recommended and made, though I’m not sure if they were necessary. I ordered the stuffed chicken and candy cake, delicious! For an after dinner stroll, head to the Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River Trail.
If using this guide as a day trip. it is a short half an hour drive back to Reykjavik.