Favourite experience on my one-day Iceland stopover

On a recent one-day Iceland stopover, I rented a car and toured the Reykjanes Peninsula. One of two solo trips to Iceland in less than a month, I had created an itinerary of all the sights I wanted to see. The recently active Fagradalsfjall volcano, in the Geldingadalur Valley, was one of the main sights I wanted to see. What I didn’t expect was for it to become the highlight of my Reykjanes Peninsula tour and my favourite experience on my one-day Iceland stopover.

First of two solo trips—a long-awaited one-day Iceland stopover

I recently travelled solo to Iceland, visiting this North Atlantic country twice in less than a month. On my travel bucket list for a while, my first trip was a long-awaited (due to COVID) one-day Iceland stopover on my way to the United Kingdom for a family visit—my second trip was on the way back from the UK. I had booked a rental car for both trips and would be picking them up from the airport as soon as I landed. On my first trip, I had planned a tour of the Reykjanes Peninsula, the location of Iceland’s only UNESCO Global Geopark, followed by some sightseeing in Reykjavik, before checking into my airport hotel for my overnight stay and onward flight to Gatwick.

Among the many sights on my itinerary that I wanted to see was the recently active volcano, Fagradalsfjall, in the Geldingadalur Valley. Having never witnessed an active volcano before, seeing the results of the lava flow from the Fagradalsfjall volcano, which had stopped erupting a few months before, would be the next best thing. Despite the cold and windy weather, my visit soon became the highlight and my most favourite experience of my one-day Iceland stopover.

Off-the-beaten-track tour of Iceland’s UNESCO Global Geopark

On my one-day Iceland stopover in April, I drove from the airport towards Reykjavik. However, after a few kilometers I headed in a different direction to the majority of the other tourists arriving in Keflavik that morning.

Although paved and in good condition, the route I took was more off-the-beaten-track and the road was now empty of traffic (bliss). The narrow winding road took me south of the airport and westwards away from Reykjavik towards the west coast of the Reykjanes Peninsula. Continuing south and then eastwards towards Grindavik, the route hugged much of the coastline of the peninsula. At Grindavik, I stopped for brunch at Cafe Bryggjan (a planned stop), before continuing along the south coast then heading north-east to Reykjavik via Kleifarvatn Lake, (the deepest lake on the peninsula).

On my approximately 7-hour journey of Iceland’s UNESCO Global Geopark, I visited the Bridge Between Continents, stopped to view craters, explored geothermal hot springs with bubbling pools and steaming mud pots and visited jagged coastal cliffs with views of iconic rock stacks covered in white sea birds (there’s a Great Auk Memorial marking the extinct bird’s demise at this view point). I walked to ruins of an abandoned fishing village just outside Grindavik, stopped to take photos of lighthouses, a 19th century farm church, and maars (explosive craters) with stunning aquamarine lakes up to 150 ft deep (still covered with snow on their north facing rims). I explored more hot springs, saw various other interesting volcanic landforms and stopped at various view points along the rocky shores and black sand beaches of Kleifarvatn Lake which was surrounded by stunning mountains, before finally heading to Reykjavik.

Fagradalsfjall Volcano Lava Field—a must-see sight on my Reykjanes Peninsula Tour Itinerary

Marked on my itinerary of must-see sights on this tour of Reykjanes Peninsula was the lava field from the recently active volcano, Fagradalsfjall, in the Geldingadalur Valley which is located not far from Grindavik and the Blue Lagoon. After stopping for brunch at Café Bryggjan (which didn’t open until 11 am), the volcano was next on my sightseeing tour (I’d gone to the fishing village while I waited for the cafe to open) and there were a few parking lots to choose from. I had marked parking lot 2 on my itinerary as my stopping point, which should give me a good sighting of the volcano—and hopefully the results of its recent eruption.

Although the volcano had stopped erupting back in September 2021, the first glimpse of the now cooled and hardened black lava (igneous rock) cascading down the side of the volcano took my breath away. Even at a distance, it was an amazing sight (I have better close-up photos but no way to get them off my camera at this time – that’s another story).

Originally only intending to stop for a quick pic or two, I decided to carry on walking the trail to the base of the crater to have a closer look—approximately 1/2 km from my first sighting of the lava rock. I couldn’t leave with just a glimpse of it!

My first glimpse of the lava flow
View of the lava field from the trail

Wishing I had a drone to view the lava field from above

Another visitior to the volcano had a drone with him which he flew over the steaming lava field and even up the sides of the volcano crater. I was a little jealous that he was able to see how big the depression was and possibly see inside the crater from where the lava had flown. I was tempted to ask if I could look at his video, but he was standing a way off from me.

There was actually another option to see the lava field from above, and that was to hike a steep trail to the top of another nearby mound (possibly an older crater). However, this was the first day of my four-week trip, and I had not done any practice hikes at this point (these would be done in the UK and Rome during the next three weeks of my vacation). I also had not planned to spend so long at this particular spot and had more geothermal wonders of the Reykjanes Global Geopark to see. So, if you have the time when exploring the Reykjanes Peninsula, and if you’ve done some pre-trip hiking practice, be sure to hike to the top of the nearby crater.

Standing on the edge of the lava field
Teddy posing on the edge of the lava field

Steaming lava field from the recently active Fagradalsfjall Volcano

As I rounded the bend of a hill, the lava appeared to have flown over the rim of the volcano’s crater at several points, cascading down the slope in rivers of lava and then spreading across the barren valley floor. The now-hardened lava field was still-steaming in some spots— clear evidence of the recent volcanic eruption and that, underneath the surface of the black lava field, the resulting igneous rock was still cooling. I wondered if any of the rock near the centre was hot, or or at least warm, to the touch.

There were signs informing visitors not to walk on the lava field—not only to avoid the possibility of getting burnt from the steam, I imagine, but also to avoid the danger of falling down cracks and crevices that formed where the lava shrank as it cooled to form igneous rock (I could see evidence of several cracks and crevices around the edges). As much as I wanted to, being a responsible traveller, I did not explore the newly formed rock (although I did stand on the very edge for a quick photo of my feet on the rock and one of Teddy, my travelling companion, sitting on the edge of the lava field).

From where I stood, I could see the rim of a large depression on the surface of the rock and wondered how deep the indent and surrounding cracks were. I wanted to see the formation so badly but it was still steaming and could be dangerous. I tried to take pics with my camera from where I stood (I’m yet to see how they turned out—hopefully later I will be able to share).

Interesting shapes and rope-like patterns in the rock

As the lava flowed and cooled over the valley floor, you can see from the following pictures, the various shapes, undulations and rolls of hardened rock (such technical terms laughing) as well as rope-like patterns created as fresh lava flow pushed its way over already-cooling and hardening layers of lava rock. You can also see several cracks caused as the lava cooled to form the resulting igneous rock. What a sight this would have been to see it flowing back in 2021.

Despite the fact the Fagradalsfjall Volcano was no longer erupting, it was still a thrilling experience to see the expanse of the black, now-hardened lava field, the interesting patterns and shapes it had created as it flowed across the valley floor, and to witness the steam still rising from hot spots under the surface. Of all the sights I saw and experiences I had on my one-day Iceland stopover, this was the hightlight and my favourite. In future posts, I will share my five favourite experiences on my 6-night Iceland road-trip as well as pics from Reykjavik, Icelandic food I enjoyed and pics of the waterfalls and other sights from both my trip.

Folds in the lava rock
Crack in the lava rock
Edge of the lava field
End of the lava flow

The weather was cold, windy and cloudy during my tour of the Reykjanes Peninsula. I didn’t see the sun until I neared Reykjavik, after which it was a beautiful sunny afternoon and evening.  All the above photos were taken with my iPhone SE which takes better pics when the sun is out. I am not a professional photographer and photos from my “good-ish” camera, which has a telephoto lens, are stuck on the SD card (I left my reader in the UK) so my pics are grainy and “dull” and do not do the volcanic landscape justice (I had to crop a couple to remove the foreground). You really do need to experience it to appreciate it.

(PS: I was accompanied by my travelling companion, Teddy, during my entire 4-week trip, so you may occasionally see pics of him.)

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