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Where Can I See Erupting Volcanoes in Iceland?

Volcanoes exploding. Lave being spewed up in a line from a crack. 

Where Can I See Erupting Volcanoes in Iceland?

By Lucky Byfleet

UPDATE!

Since March 2021 a volcano has been erupting near Grindavik and the Blue Lagoon. By volcano standards it is small, but to those of us lucky enough to visit it is huge! Whilst it is an easy hike (for those used to hiking – hiking shoes, waterproofs, windproofs, food and drink, are required and there is a steep gravel climb) and so many people have been to see it – us included! – it is still extremely dangerous and people should follow instructions from the authorities.

A live feed from RUV.is can be seen here. Please check on www.safetravel.is to check for weather forecasts and dangerous gas levels in the area before going.

You can see volcanoes in the awesome themed visitor centres all year round…and in the wild they go off about every five years, but that doesn’t mean you can, or should go and get up close and personal with them. Find out more here.

Without volcanoes, Iceland simply wouldn’t exist, and even our nickname, the land of Ice and Fire, is a nod to them and the glaciers which take up just over 10% of land in the middle of the North Atlantic. Because of them, our island continues to grow 2 to 3 cm every year, the lava pushing its way up through the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a fault line between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. In fact, since the middle ages, a third of the lava that has covered the Earth’s surface has been here in Iceland!

Visitors to our rocky shores often want to visit volcanoes, and we are delighted to show them! You can literally see volcanoes from Reykjavik, and on our whale watching tours, we can frequently see all the way to Snaefellsjokull, a glacier on top of a volcano! It doesn’t get more Icelandic than that! On Iceland Discover’s South coast tour they drive over one, the energy beneath it is used to power an electric plant, and great columns of steam, shooting up from the ground!

volcanoes created this strata in the rock
The volcanic heritage of Iceland can be seen all over the country in the colourful rock strata.

However, a lot of people are imagining the volcano spewing lava at the time. In Iceland, we have eruptions pretty regularly, every five years or so, but this doesn’t guarantee it, certainly not nearly enough for to book a holiday to view one! And even if they did erupt at the perfect time for your holiday many are in inaccessible places, such as the Central Plateau.

Whilst there are between 30 and 40 that have erupted there in the last few centuries there are three times that – over a hundred that haven’t erupted during the past thousand years. That said the highlands are a glorious place to go – but a challenging drive so you are probably best booking a trip into the highlands during summer in a 4×4 with Iceland Discover.

Even if a volcano erupts during your holiday safety must be your top priority. Volcanoes are dangerous, bringing noxious gases, flash floods, earthquakes, mudslides and more with them. Therefore our first advice about a live volcano is to stay away! At least until the Search and Rescue squad have decided if it is safe. If you want to see lava up close we thoroughly recommend the Icelandic Lava Show in Vik. They create lava from the rock here and teach you all about it as they pour it in front of you. You can feel the heat and really see it up close from perfect safety.

We cannot in good conscience tell anyone to go anywhere near a live volcano, but it is awesome to explore the lava tunnels! There are huge caves across the country, some of which you can go inside and see the marks of the lava flowing through it millennia before. Very cool!

Some people worry about visiting Iceland because there may be a volcanic eruption, but rest assured the chances of one starting whilst you are here are not high, and especially not in the areas that most tourists frequent. The volcanoes are also all monitored constantly, you can see earthquakes (a sign of movement in the crust of the Earth) and how active or inactive they are on our national weather website.

This monitoring gives us lots of forewarning if there will be an eruption, so we can evacuate any areas required. If you are worried that you won’t be alerted because you are exploring our beautiful wilderness solo do not worry, all mobile phones, both Icelandic and foreign will be messaged if an eruption is imminent, giving you time to come to safety.

We hope we have convinced you to come and enjoy the wonders of Iceland that are given to us by our volcanoes – the geysers and hot springs, the dramatic landscape, the lava tunnels, the environmentally friendly electricity and hot water, without wanting to go and touch some lava with your bare hands! And we hope you feel confident that our response to natural disasters is excellent, that we deal with them often and totally calmly. For example here is our Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir being interviewed when the strongest earthquake in 17 years, with a magnitude of 5.6 hit. She was shocked, then continued answering the question.

As Icelanders say, “þetta reddast” no worries, it will all work out fine!

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