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The Reykjanes Peninsula is an active volcanic area west of Reykjavik with large lava fields under the surface giving rise to steam vents and large lava fields.
For more detailed information incl. links to google maps locations, more reviews, website links, etc., check out our Iceland Highlights Purple Guide.
Get your rental car at the airport and either go to your hotel or drive to the first destination. Some hotels may have early check-in available and some even allow you to eat breakfast if you arrive before breakfast closes.
Coming from the US, we find it beneficial to do our sightseeing right after arrival in Iceland which is hours before we start to get tired. You may find it better to go to the hotel first, sleep for a few hours and then do sightseeing. Do whatever is best for you, but DO NOT put your and other people’s safety at risk!
If you don’t feel comfortable then you can move today’s activities to Day 4.
Before you drive to your first destination, make sure to buy groceries and drinks in Keflavik. Food is expensive in Iceland, but there are budget supermarkets like Bónus which have comparably low prices, but unfortunately they only open at 10am or 11am and close between 6 and 7pm. So, if you need to get groceries, there are Extra24 markets, which are open 24h per day.
For Pinterest users, here are some pins that you can use:
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Our Iceland Travel Guide has detailed information about the individual destinations, links to their locations in google maps, reviews and websites (if available).
Please see the Backpack & Snorkel Travel Store for more information.
Built in 2002 and originally named the “Leif the Lucky bridge”, this 60ft (18m) bridge spans the Álfagjá rift valley, which is the boundary of the Eurasian and North American continental tectonic plates.
This is a good photo spot and can be visited in 30min or less.
The drive from the KEF airport takes about 25min. Drive up to the parking lot and walk on the 650ft (200m) marked path to the bridge.
Admission and parking are free.
Because the Mid-Atlantic rift runs through the Reykjanes Peninsula, you will see many signs of volcanic activity, including hot springs.
At Gunnuhver Geothermal Area you can find mud pools, boiling hot springs and steam vents. There are parking lots east and west of the main feature, the Gunnuhver Hot Spring. Access to the hot spring is on short wooden boardwalks. The hot spring generates large amounts of steam containing sulfur-chemicals that give it a distinct sulfur smell.
Admission and parking are free.
Located on a hill half-way between Gunnuhver Geothermal Area and Valahnúkamöl and visible from both attractions, this is only a photo stop as you cannot access the lighthouse.
The lighthouse that you see today was built in 1908 and it replaces an older lighthouse from 1878 that was damaged by an earthquake in 1905. The original lighthouse stood in a different location and it was the first lighthouse in Iceland. A survey in 2007 found that the current Reykjanes Lighthouse was the most popular lighthouse among Icelanders.
It is only 86ft (26m) tall, but the tall Bæjarfell hill on which it sits elevates the light signal height to 230ft (69m) above sea level.
Please drive slowly, as the street in front of the lighthouse and this general area is very popular with local birds. Some of them are fearless and may not move when you approach them in your car.
Valahnúkamöl has its impressive Valahnúkamöl cliffs, a beach covered with round boulders and views on a sea bird colony and several volcanic rocks in the Atlantic Ocean. You may want to spend about 1 hour over here.
The road that passes by Reykjanes Lighthouse ends at a large flat rocky area that acts as a parking lot. Be careful when you drive on the parking lot if you have a low clearance vehicle.
If you have children or pets, make sure they stay away from the edge of the cliffs as there are no barriers.
Admission and parking are free.
The first thing you may want to do is to go straight ahead to the edge of the cliffs (south) from where you have a beautiful view of the Atlantic Ocean and several large volcanic rocks in it.
Brimketill means “whitewater cauldron” and this perfectly describes what it is at high tide: a cone shaped basin made from volcanic rock that was formed by erosion and that is often flooded by the ruthless waves that constantly hit it at high tide. During low tide, it looks like an elevated swimming pool next to the ocean.
Brimketill’s original name was Oddnýjarlaug, which means “Oddný’s Pool”. According to Icelandic folklore, Oddný was a female troll who bathed and washed her clothes here on a regular basis.
Because it looks harmless, countless people have injured themselves when they slipped and injured themselves on sharp rocks. Other people lost their lives when they climbed the rocks and fell or when waves topped the rock pool at high tide and dragged them out to sea or pushed them against sharp volcanic rocks. Therefore: Please stay away from the pool! Enjoy it from the platform that was constructed for tourists so that they can safely enjoy this attraction.
With its light blue waters, the Blue Lagoon has become such an iconic landmark that many visitors come here directly after landing at the Keflavik airport. In 2017 the lagoon counted 1.3 million visitors.
The Blue Lagoon is man-made. It formed from the run-off waters of the Svartsengi power plant that opened here in 1976. The superheated water (464F, 240°C) comes from deep in the ground near a lava flow and the power plant uses it to run turbines that generate electricity. The steam and water then go through heat exchangers where they provide heat for the municipal water heating system. Afterwards, the warm water is discharged into the lagoon.
It is said that, in 1981, a psoriasis patient bathed in the waters and found that his symptoms were relieved. The Blue Lagoon company was then established in 1992 and studies in the 1990s showed that the lagoon does indeed have a beneficial effect on the skin disease psoriasis.
The water temperature of the lagoon is at around 99–102F (37–39°C). You can find the behavioral rules for Thermal Pools that must be obeyed below the photos.
The lagoon is wheelchair accessible, but not suitable for children under 2 years of age.
Located in Álftanes outside of Reykjavik, Bessastaðir is the official residence of the President of Iceland.
Bessastaðir was settled since 1000AD and in the 13th century it was one of Snorri Sturluson's farms. Snorri Sturluson was an Icelandic politician, poet and historian who was elected law speaker to the Icelandic parliament (Althing) twice.
After his assassination in 1241, Bessastaðir was claimed by the King of Norway who housed his highest-ranking Icelandic officers here. In the 18th century, Bessastaðir was briefly converted into a school and then used as a farm which was purchased in 1867 by statesman and poet Grímur Thomsen. In 1940, Bessastaðir was bought by Sigurður Jónasson and donated a year later to be used as a residence for the regent and then President of Iceland.
There is really nothing to do here, except for a little sightseeing. We found it interesting that you can drive up close to the residence of the president of Iceland without ever seeing anyone, no guards, no nothing.
Now get back in your car and drive to Fjörukráin - The Viking Village for dinner and entertainment.
The Viking Village is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Iceland. Fjörukráin, the Viking Restaurant that seats up to 350 guests, opens for dinner at 6pm every day.
When you enter, you will be transported back into the Viking era ... except for the many tourists that take photos and videos that will remind you that we are in the 21st century.
The restaurant is decorated Viking style and you will be served a Viking feast with traditional meals served in old-fashioned Viking-style trays and you will be entertained by singing Valkyries and Vikings.
This ends your self-guided tour of the Reykjanes Peninsula of Iceland.
If you still have a day available and enjoy hiking, then you can consider hiking to the lave flow of Fagradalsfjall which started erupting in March 2021. The parking lot can be found here. There are different trails that you can take and they range from 3-4h each way and are rated medium to difficult.
Here are more Iceland destinations to explore:
Another good place to see this tectonic fault line is in Þingvellir National Park.
The drive from Bridge Between Continents to the next stop Gunnuhver Geothermal Area is less than 10min.
Origin of the name Gunnuhver
The name Gunnuhver comes from classic Icelandic folklore. About 400 years ago, the story claims, an impoverished woman called Gunna lived on a farm in the Reykjanes Peninsula. When one day, she was unable to pay her rent, her landlord took away her cooking pot as payment. She demanded the pot back or else she would starve herself to death. Unfortunately, neither one gave in and so she died of hunger.
When her coffin was carried to her grave, it suddenly grew light and a voice was hear whispering: ‘No need deep to dig, no plans long to lie’.
Later, her landlord’s body was found mutilated and people suspected that Gunna’s ghost had killed him.
Then, the landlord’s wife was brutally murdered and people all over the peninsula were driven to madness by her haunting.
When priest Eirikur arrived at the peninsula, people begged him to help. Eirikur came up with a plan. He told the locals to take a ball of yarn, leave one end where Gunna was known to haunt and take the other end to a nearby hot spring (now: Gunnuhver Hot Spring) and toss it in. It worked. Gunna picked up the yarn, followed their trail and right into the hot spring. She is now captured inside the hot spring and folklore claims that you can still see her fighting to escape in the pool.
The drive from Gunnuhver Geothermal Area to the next stop Reykjanes Lighthouse is about 2min.
The drive from Reykjanes Lighthouse to the next stop Valahnúkamöl is about 2min.
To the left side of the parking lot, you will see a bird statue. It is a part of The Lost Bird Project by artist Todd McGrain and depicts a Great Auk. Great Auk were flightless, 33 inches (84cm) tall, weighed 11 pounds (5kg) and were the largest members of the Alcid family to which the famous puffins belong too.
The last Great Auk was killed in 1844 on Eldey Island which is located about 9 miles (15km) to the south west from here and whose outline you can see on a clear day.
Today, Eldey Island houses Iceland’s largest Gannet colony. There are no tours to this 77m tall island rock that I am aware of and only a few fishing boats capitalize on the rich fishing grounds in this treacherous part of the ocean.
Depending on when you come, to your left (east) you can see a large cliff with a bird colony. I believe we mostly saw sea gulls, but I am not sure.
To the right (west), you will see several paths that lead you down to the rock covered beach. The heavy surf has abraded and thus rounded the edges of the rocks.
The drive from Valahnúkamöl to the next stop Brimketill lava rock pool is about 10min.
Admission and parking are free.
Now get back in your car and to one of the major tourist attractions in Iceland: The Blue Lagoon.
For everyone who has not been at a thermal bath in Iceland, there are certain rules that need to be obeyed. So, please read them carefully:
As of September 2021, the min. admission is US$53 per person (more expensive packages are available) and the opening times are typically from 9am to 9pm. Please verify the opening times on their website.
After the relaxing bath, drive towards Reykjavik and your next destination, the Presidential Residence at Bessastaðir.