Reykjanes is the Icelandic peninsula closest to the capital Reykjavík. If you imagine Iceland as a curly-haired monster (and let’s be honest, don’t we all?), Reykjanes is the lower front leg, the one with a fancy boot. Reykjanes is the seat of the International Airport in Keflavík and one of the most volcanic parts of the country with many hot springs and lava fields.
It is easy to do the peninsula in one day, even ending up at the airport or at the Blue Lagoon. You could choose from any number of day tours, but these instructions assume you want to rent a car and drive yourself, starting in Reykjavík. If you need help booking a car or finding a tour, don’t hesitate to contact us!
Starting in Reykjavík, you pass through the neighbouring town of Hafnarfjörður on the way to Reykjanes. Hafnarfjörður is a cute town which has a reputation as an elf-friendly place, it has a good local museum and a picturesque waterfront area, not to mention the Viking Village, where you can enjoy a real Icelandic meal served by people in period clothing as they recite traditional poetry and stories.
Driving: If you locate the main road in Reykjavík, Miklabraut, you should just be able to follow signage towards the airport, either via route 40 or route 41. These both merge into route 41 towards Reykjanes. If you wished to enter Hafnarfjörður, you would only need to drive straight on route 40 and you would end up at the heart of the city, the waterfront area.
If you have a 4WD vehicle (and ONLY if!), you can visit the beautiful Grænavatn, meaning “Green Lake” next. This is, as you might imagine, a lake which is green-blue in colour due to the mineral composition of this area.
Driving: You take route 41 by Hafnarfjörður, and then a left on route 42, right after the town. It’s kind of an awkward backward turn through an industrial area but it should be clear enough if you just look at the map. After about 6 minutes on 42, you can turn right onto a gravel road called Vigdísarvallavegur to the right. This takes you straight to Grænavatn. We don’t recommend this road if you’re not driving a pretty serious 4WD.
Route 42, cuts straight across the peninsula from Hafnarfjörður to lake Kleifarvatn. This is a beautiful lake in a volcanically active area. Since a large earthquake in 2000, the lake has been steadily diminishing in size and has lost about 20% of its surface area.
Driving: Drive back the way you came to route 42, then head south. Drive until you see the lake, you won’t miss it.
NOTE: If you’re making this drive in the winter, make sure to check the road accessibility, since it sometimes gets closed by snowfall.
Seltún is part of the Krýsuvík Geothermal area with many steaming fumaroles and bubbling mud pools. (A fumarole is a hot spring that is so hot that little liquid water at all at all, mostly just steam coming out of the ground like an underground locomotive). The mineral-rich ground is bright yellow, red and green in colour. Steam flows freely all over and the air smells like sulphur.
Driving: Keep driving along route 42, you’ll get to Seltún in a few minutes. You should be able to see the steam coming out of the ground from a distance.
Safety note: Please stay on the path and tread carefully. The steam working its way underground can erode and hollow out the soil and you could fall in a crack or get burned by steam.
Vincent van Zeijst via Wikipedia
Grindavík is a cute little fishing village that’s a perfect place to stop for some fish soup on your way around the peninsula. There’s even a little salt-fish museum there if you’re interested.
Driving: Drive to the end of route 42 and take a right-hand turn onto 427, and keep going until you’re in Grindavík.
Possible detour: you could visit the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa at this point in your tour, but we put that in at the end of your day (#9 on this list) so you can relax at the end of your drive. If you want to drive there from Grindavík you just drive north on route 43 from Grindavík, and then take a left on route 425 through the lava fields until you get to the lagoon.
Gunnuhver or “Gunna’s hot spring” is another steaming fumarole – but this one has a ghost in it. Legend has it that a woman named Gunna was sorely wronged, so after she died her ghost went around revenge-killing people until a local priest tricked her into the hot spring.
So, of course, he spread out a ball of yarn because apparently Icelandic ghosts are neat-freaks and have to pick up any random garbage they find lying around. He led Gunna to the hot spring and she’s stayed there ever since!
Please note: unless you want to join Gunna in the afterlife, note that this hot spring is too hot to bathe in. The steam coming up should be fairly safe, but keep your distance and be careful stay on the path and follow the signs.
Driving there: Continue west from Grindavík on route 425 for about 15 minutes. When that road curves off to the right, you will have a chance to turn to the left on a small trail, towards Reykjanesviti lighthouse. To the right, you will find Gunnuhver, with a little sign telling you what it is and the story behind it.
Reykjanesviti itself is the oldest in Iceland, having been built in 1878 and then replaced with its current incarnation in 1908 after the original was damaged by an earthquake.
Nearby you will find a pair of binoculars through which you can see Eldey, a small volcanic island off the coast with very steep edges.
Near that on the coastline you will find a strange sight; a statue of a clumsy looking bird. This is, in fact, a monument to the Great Auk, a large, now-extinct, flightless bird which was hunted to oblivion in the mid-19th century. They would reach 75-85 cm in height, were good for food and in the 16th century their down was very popular in Europe.
Ironically, when people realised they were disappearing, it led to increased interest in stuffed specimens, which accelerated their extinction. This situation actually led to the creation of some of the earliest environmental regulation, but to little avail. In the end, the last two known Great Auks were collected for scientific preservation on Eldey island in 1844 and the statue commemorates that.
Driving: Driving for a couple of minutes from Gunnuhver, you come to the magnificent coastline by Reykjanesviti lighthouse, with sheer cliffs dropping off to the tumultuous sea. It is a sight to behold.
Nick via Flickr
If the name of this town sounds familiar, that’s because the international airport (KEF) is located here. It’s also the 7th biggest town in Iceland, with a population of a whopping 8,169 inhabitants. Keflavík is the home of the Rock and Roll museum, and in the Reykjanesbær municipality to which Keflavík belongs you can also visit the Viking world museum, with its life-sized Viking ship replica amongst other exhibits.
The reason why Keflavík is the site of the Rock and Roll museum is because there was a US navy base situated nearby, so Keflavík became the entry point for many modern American things, pop music among them. For this reason, Keflavík is still sometimes referred to as the “Beatle-town.” The navy base was abandoned in 2006 and eventually was developed into the residential area Ásbrú, which is now also part of the same municipality.
Driving there: Continue north on route 425 and follow the signs to turn left on route 41. You are now in Keflavík. It’s small, you will find the museums.
The Blue Lagoon
Mixing your sightseeing with a soak in the world-famous Blue Lagoon is a great way to break up your day, and of relaxing your body from all the driving around you’re doing.
The lagoon is unusual in that the water was originally seawater which trickled down through the porous lava fields of Reykjanes until it got heated up geothermally underground. By the time it reaches the surface again, it has become infused with silica and other minerals from the lava. The unique salt-and-mineral mix is said to have healing properties for the skin, and the Blue Lagoon actually has a special area for the Icelandic psoriasis society to enjoy them.
The lagoon also offers what is arguably the fanciest spa we have in Iceland, so you can add an in-water massage and other treatments to your stay, and you can also eat at the fantastic on-site LAVA restaurant. We are happy to help you book and inform you about these and other extra add-ons, so just contact us in that case.
Make sure you book it in advance though – they often get fully booked out. To make a booking or find out more, find out more.
Driving there: From Reykjanesbær you drive east on route 41 towards Reykjavík until you get a chance to turn right on route 43 towards Grindavík. You drive this road for about 10 minutes and you will easily spot the lagoon steaming off to your right. You could also do this earlier on your drive, take a slight detour from Grindavík (number #5 on the list).
PLEASE NOTE: The street signs will say “BLÁA LÓNIÐ”, which is “Blue Lagoon” in the Icelandic language. That’s what we speak here in Iceland.
Back to Reykjavík
After a day-long drive and a relaxing evening in the Blue Lagoon, you’re ready to head back to your accommodations and rest.
Road signs to Reykjavík should be very straightforward – just take route 43 back north and take a right on the main route 41. This goes all the way to Reykjavík and eventually curves to the left and into the city centre. The drive from the Blue Lagoon to Reykjavík should take 40-45 minutes.