Volcanoes in Iceland | The Amazing Facts You Need To Know

Svanhildur Sif Halldórsdóttir

Svanhildur Sif Halldórsdóttir

What are the most famous volcanoes in Iceland, and can they be visited on day tours? Why is Iceland so volcanically active? Is a volcano going to erupt in Iceland soon? Read on to find out all you need to know about volcanoes in Iceland; the land of ice and fire.

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Smoke and ash rising from the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull Volcano, Iceland.
The 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption. Photo: Boaworm / Henrik Thorburn

Welcome to the mesmerizing world of volcanoes in Iceland – a land where fire dances with ice in a dazzling spectacle of nature’s might. Nestled on the edge of the Arctic Circle, Iceland is home to some of the most captivating volcanic landscapes on Earth.

Over 30 active volcanoes dot this Nordic island nation’s rugged terrain, making it one of the most volcanic regions on the planet. They’ve shaped not only the country’s landscapes but its history and culture too. Volcanoes are a part of Iceland, just as much as its glaciers, waterfalls, and people.

Drone shot of the volcanic crater at Landmannalaugar in the Fjallabak Nature Reserve, the Highlands of Iceland
A volcanic crater at Landmannalaugar

But it’s not just the dramatic displays of molten rock that make this destination a must-see. The volcanoes in Iceland also offer unique opportunities for adventure and discovery, with hiking trails that wind through otherworldly landscapes, geothermal hot springs that provide natural spa experiences, and even the chance to witness the birth of new land.

So join us on an unforgettable journey as we dive into the world of Iceland’s volcanoes and unlock the secrets of this captivating natural wonder.

FAQ About Volcanoes in Iceland

Smoke and lava coming from a crater of Fagradalsfjall Volcano, Iceland.
From the Reykjanes Fires.

In the dramatic landscape of Iceland, volcanoes take centre stage. The allure of their fiery dance, their silent menace, and the awe they inspire. I’m sure you’ve got questions about these magnificent giants, and rightly so. From the frequency of their performances to the variety of their forms, let’s delve into the most pressing queries on everyone’s mind about Iceland’s volcanoes.

Why are There So Many Volcanic Eruptions in Iceland?

Ah, the age-old question! Well, perhaps not age-old, but it’s surely been on many a curious mind. Simply put, Iceland has so many volcanic eruptions because of the country’s unique position. It is on the boundary of two tectonic plates and over a geological hotspot.

Tectonic plates are pieces of land that cover the Earth’s outer shell and fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. They are constantly in motion, moving toward each other, sideways, or away from each other, in a perpetual dance. As a result of this tectonic tango, geological activities, such as volcanic eruptions, geothermal energy, and earthquakes, are frequent in areas on the plate boundaries.

Aerial footage of Almannagja Canyon in Thingvellir National Park, Iceland. Autumn colors.
Tectonic Plates meeting at Almannagjá Canyon at Þingvellir National Park.

Iceland sits atop the Mid-Atlantic Ridge that connects the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. And these plates are drifting apart, albeit at a snail’s pace. But in geological terms, it’s like a dance floor opening up for nature’s most fiery performance. As they pull away, magma from the Earth’s mantle seizes its cue, rising to grace the world with a volcanic spectacle.

Now, add to this mix the island’s location over a hotspot, a place where the Earth’s innards are especially hot and bubbly. Think of it as nature’s very own cauldron of molten rock.

So, between the plate movements and the hotspot beneath, Iceland is a bit of a geological celebrity, always ready for its next volcanic encore. It’s not so much that the land is restless; it’s just that with such geothermal drama brewing below, the show must, as they say, go on!

How Many Active Volcanoes Are There in Iceland? 

A map of the volcanic zones in ICceland
Volcanic System in Iceland. Photo: Pinpin, Wikimedia C.C.

Iceland boasts around 130 volcanic mountains. But not all are the attention-seeking type. Of these, a solid 30 have taken to the stage in the last couple of millennia, earning the title of “active.” And within this fiery group, about 13 have dazzled audiences in the more recent human history.

So, while not all of Iceland’s volcanoes are in the limelight, there’s always a handful ready for their next explosive performance. Quite the ensemble, wouldn’t you say?

What Types of Volcanoes are Found in Iceland? 

A church in front of Hekla Volcano in South Iceland, a lake in front, summer.
A traditional church in front of Mt. Hekla.

There are three major types of volcanoes: cinder cones, composite cones, and shield cones. Iceland happens to be home to all three.

The most common ones, and taking centre stage, are the divas: composite cones, aka stratovolcanoes. Stars like Snæfellsjökull, Eyjafjallajökull, and Hekla grace the stage, presenting explosive shows layered with lava, ash, and rock razzmatazz.

Then come the cinder cones, the understudies of the volcanic realm. Compact and rarely growing taller than 1,200 ft, places like Mt. Hverfjall near Lake Mývatn and Þríhnúkagígur in Southwest Iceland, proudly sport their signature bowl-shaped craters.

Aerial view of Hverfjall crater in North Iceland.
Hverfjall Crater near Lake Mývatn in North Iceland.

The shield volcanoes, with their expansive, gently-sloping profiles, resemble ancient warrior shields. Mt. Skjaldbreiður and the famed Surtsey Island play these roles to perfection.

But wait, there’s a twist in the tale: fissure vents. These flat, linear fractures, much like the one near Fagradalsfjall, ooze drama and lava. Sometimes, they might even birth a new shield volcano or a cinder cone series. Now, isn’t that a performance to behold?

Are Volcanic Eruptions Frequent in Iceland? 

A volcano erupting on the Reykjanes Peninsula in Iceland
From the 2021 eruption near Fagradalsfjall Volcano

On average, a major volcanic eruption occurs in Iceland every five years or so. While for some, that might seem a tad over the top, for Icelanders, it’s just everyday life. In the last 50 years, there have been over 20 recorded volcanic eruptions in Iceland.

Delving into the annals of history, since the settlement age (some 1,100 years ago), 18 different volcanoes have gone off, erupting in over 200 spectacular displays.

Fun fact: Icelandic volcanoes, generous beings they are, contributed a whopping third of the planet’s lava in the past five centuries. Talk about being productive!

Is There A Volcano Erupting Right Now?

From the 2022 eruption of Fagradalsfjall

Yes. Currently, there is an eruption in Iceland. It began on the 16th of March 2024, at around 8:20 PM.

Famous Volcanic Eruptions in Iceland

Lightning amidst clouds of ash of the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajokull Volcano in Iceland
Eyjafjallajökull. Photo Terje Sørgjerd, Wikimedia C.C.

In the land where ice and fire meet, Iceland’s volcanoes have long been the stuff of legends. These great fire-mountains have erupted with remarkable regularity, fascinating everyone from local shepherds to global scientists and even the occasional curious traveller. 

Let’s begin with Laki Volcano, also known as Lakagígar, which erupted in 1783. Not the friendly type, this one. It spewed lava and poisonous gases for eight months, killing a fifth of the Icelandic population, decimating livestock and causing a famine. The eruption even influenced Europe’s climate, causing a significant temperature drop. This, in turn, led to crop failures and widespread suffering. It’s safe to say Laki had a temper and wasn’t afraid to show it.

Then, take a ferry to the Westman Islands, where, in 1973, the Eldfell Volcano made headlines of its own. Overnight, this eruption forced the entire island’s population to flee their homes and left the town partially buried under ash and lava. Today, the island is a poignant testament to the power of nature and the resilience of the Icelandic spirit.

Fast forward to 2010, and Eyjafjallajökull burst onto the scene. Apart from the sheer delight of watching news anchors from around the world attempt its pronunciation, this eruption caused an enormous ash cloud that interfered with air travel across Europe for weeks. It was, for many, an unexpected holiday extension.

But, for a more recent spectacle, we head to the Fagradalsfjall Volcano on the Reykjanes Peninsula. After lying dormant for nearly 800 years, this region suddenly became a hotspot of volcanic activity. Three times in the last three years has the Fagradalsfjall Volcanic System gone off, the latest eruption in March 2024. Scientists speculate this region will continue its fiery dance for decades, even centuries to come.

Volcano Tourism in Iceland

A group of people watching a volcanic eruption in Iceland.
Watching a volcanic eruption.

In Iceland, where fiery giants slumber and occasionally stir under icy blankets, a new sort of adventurer is drawn—not away, but closer to the heat. It’s here that you can stand in awe as fountains of lava perform their mesmerizing, molten ballet, and it’s all just another Tuesday in this land of stark and stunning contrasts. Volcano tourism, as it’s quaintly known, isn’t just a fleeting trend in Iceland—it’s a journey into the raw and untamed artistry of our planet.

And who better to guide you through this geothermal wonderland than Traveo? With a knack for crafting the most immersive and bespoke tours in Iceland, Traveo isn’t merely about showing you the sights—it’s about creating the perfect volcano experience just for you. Whether you yearn for the thrill of a midnight lava trek or prefer a comfortable, scenic drive past smoking calderas, Traveo is your compass in this extraordinary land. Your dream volcano tour, designed exactly to your liking, is but a call away.

Popular Volcanoes to Explore in Iceland

Waves crashing on a cliff with a lighthouse with Snæfellsjökull Glacier in the background, Snæfellsnes Iceland.
Snæfellsjökull overlooking a lighthouse.

Alright, fire-worshippers and Iceland-enthusiasts, let’s embark on a merry jaunt around some of the country’s hottest (quite literally) spots.

You can see many of Iceland’s subglacial volcanoes while driving around the country. For example, the mighty Snæfellsjökull in West Iceland. You don’t even need to go that far to see it. It is often visible from Reykjavík on a clear day. Then there are the infamous Eyjafjallajökull and Katla Volcanoes, located on your left-hand side as you travel the south coast from the city. But if you’re keen on a closer peek, do rope in a seasoned guide. They’ll ensure you don’t accidentally recreate Frodo’s journey into Mount Doom.

A woman standing on the edge of Kerid Crater in Iceland on a summer's day.
Kerid Crater.

For those who fancy a bit of solo exploration, fear not. The Eldfell Volcano on the Westman Islands stands ready, an emblem of nature’s unpredictability after its unexpected 1973 eruption. On the mainland, the Eldhraun Lava Field stretches out like a rugged, mossy carpet, a testament to a past fiery rage. Kerið Crater, with its startlingly blue waters, and Grábrók Crater, the perfect spot for panoramic views, are both delightful stops.

Of course, the daredevils amongst us might venture to Víti Crater in the summer, but only if armed with a sturdy 4×4 vehicle. And the Fagradalsfjall Volcano? As of right now, you can only visit that with a helicopter tour.

Hiking and Adventure Activities around Icelandic Volcanoes

Female photographer at Landmannalaugar in the Fjallabak Nature Reserve, the Highlands of Iceland
Photographer at Landmannalaugar

If you’re the type who thinks a vacation without a little adrenaline is like a cake without frosting, Iceland’s volcanic landscapes are the sprinkles on your adventure sundae. Here, hiking boots and spirited hearts find their true calling.

First, Katla Volcano. Beyond its penchant for eruption gossip, Katla has a lesser-known icy secret. There’s a glacier sitting atop this volcano, and beneath it, the most magical of ice caves beckon. Exploring it is like walking through a frozen dream with a fiery heart.

Two people standing inside the Katla Ice Cave in Iceland.
Katla Ice Cave.

For those of you whose preferred mode of travel is a touch more ‘Fast & Furious’, might I suggest a snowmobile tour on Eyjafjallajökull? It’ll allow you to whizz across icy expanses with that delicious hint of volcanic peril beneath.

Now, ever fancied a peek inside a volcano? Þríhnúkagígur has your back. A dormant wonder, it welcomes visitors inside its belly. It’s like journeying to the centre of the earth without the pesky mole people. You could also visit Raufarhólshellir Cave to delve into the underworld of past eruptions.

Kaleo’s music video was filmed inside Þríhnúkagígur Volcano.

For trek enthusiasts, Hekla is your playground. Super jeep tours and hikes galore, each offering dramatic landscapes and a dash of legend, since Hekla’s been nicknamed the ‘Gateway to Hell’. But if you want to meld hiking with a rejuvenating dip, I recommend Landmannalaugar, with its colourful rhyolite mountains and steamy hot springs.

So there you have it, intrepid travellers. Iceland’s fiery wonders, each offering a unique slice of geothermal pie. Where will you start?

Safety Precautions when Visiting Icelandic Volcanoes

Couple watching volcanic lava at Fimmvorduhals, Iceland
Couple watching volcanic lava of the 2010 Fimmvörðuháls eruption.

Now, as entrancing as Iceland’s volcanic ballet might be, it’s not a leisurely stroll through a tulip garden. These are volcanoes we’re talking about, and while they’re brilliant performers, they do require respect.

  • First and foremost, always listen to the local Search and Rescue Team. I promise they’re not spoiling your fun; they just have a keen sense of when Mother Nature might be in a bit of a mood. If a path’s closed or a tour’s cancelled, there’s a fiery good reason.
  • Dress in layers, and I mean the kind that’ll shield you from both cold gusts and errant ash. Volcanoes are unpredictable, not unlike a toddler denied a nap.
  • Stay on marked paths. It might look like just another puddle, but that ‘puddle’ could be scalding hot. This isn’t the place to be breaking in new shoes or testing your luck.
  • Lastly, if you’re with a guide (like our pals at Traveo), listen up! They know their lava from their liquorice and are keen to get you home with all your bits intact.

Remember, thrill-seekers, nature’s theatre is best enjoyed with safety in mind. Enjoy the show!

The Impact of Volcanic Activity on Icelandic Culture & History

Smoke and ash coming out of the snow-capped Katla in South Iceland.
The 1918 eruption of Katla Volcano.

In Iceland, the fiery temperament of the earth isn’t just a geological footnote; it’s woven into the very fabric of the nation’s soul. Imagine growing up with stories not of fairy godmothers but, of fire-breathing mountains and lava-born lands. That’s Iceland for you.

The sagas, those ancient narratives of heroes and hardships, often weave in tales of explosive eruptions, showcasing both the reverence and resilience of early settlers. When a volcano spoke, it wasn’t just an eruption; it was history in the making.

Towns and communities sprouted and shifted based on the whims of these mountains. For example, the 1783 Laki eruption, while devastating, shaped socio-political dynamics and even influenced migration patterns to the New World.

Modern Icelanders, with their festivals, art, and literature, still nod to their geothermal guardians. Festivals light up in remembrance of past eruptions, artists draw inspiration from the ever-changing landscapes, and poets pen verses praising the raw beauty of their homeland.

But the volcanoes here aren’t just Mother Nature’s dramatic thespians; they’re also Iceland’s industrious workhorses. Thanks to these fiery wonders, the land bubbles with geothermal riches that power most of the nation’s homes and hearts.

In short, while most nations are built on foundations of stone and story, Iceland rises on tales of magma and memory. It’s a land where history doesn’t just shape culture; it erupts right through it.

Volcano Photography and Capturing the Beauty of Icelandic Volcanoes

A river of lava flowing from a smokey crater at Fagradalsfjall Volcano, Iceland.
A river of lava from Fagradalsfjall Volcano.

There’s a kind of magic in photographing Iceland’s volcanoes—an art that’s half patience, half daring, and wholly rewarding. Imagine your lens capturing plumes of smoke from an active giant, or the textured tranquility of cold lava fields, transformed by time into intricate sculptures of rock.

  • Active Volcanoes: Timing is everything. Seek the perfect vantage point at a safe distance, and let the eruption paint its portrait through your lens. Night shots, with lava painting the sky in its fiery hues, can be particularly spellbinding.
  • Inactive Volcanoes: These slumbering giants are no less photogenic. Capture their serene majesty against a backdrop of Northern Lights, or as they bask in the golden glow of a midnight sun.
  • Lava Fields: Think close-ups. The intricate, jagged formations of a cooled lava field, often covered with a soft blanket of moss, can offer abstract and captivating shots.

A colorful lava field by Leirhnjukur Volcano near Lake Mývarn in North Iceland. Cloudy sky.
Lava fields of Leirhnjúkur Volcano.

Whether it’s the high drama of an eruption in action, or the solemn beauty of a dormant caldera, there’s a shot for every keen eye in Iceland. Remember, though—nature here commands respect. Keep a safe distance, respect the elements, and your photographic sojourn amid the volcanoes of Iceland will be a tale worth recounting—and, of course, worth every shot.

Conclusion: Why Icelandic Volcanoes are a Must-Visit Destination for Nature Enthusiasts

Aerial shot of Fagradalsfjall Volcano in Iceland erupting, snow covered mountains in the back.

And there we are, having zigzagged our way through the fiery alleys of Iceland, coming face-to-face with Mother Nature’s scorching temper and her love for dramatic outbursts.

Now, why, you may ask, should one travel to this geothermal wonderland? Well, the answer lies woven throughout our journey – from understanding volcanic nuances to witnessing history penned in ash, from lacing up hiking boots for adrenaline-fueled treks to capturing nature’s inferno through the lens. The Icelandic volcanoes aren’t just landforms; they’re storytellers, artists, and the heartbeats of a culture.

So, come to Iceland, and let the land of fire and ice etch memories that blaze bright long after you’ve returned home. 

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