Iceland Travel Planning: Reykjanes Peninsula and the South

While the Reykjanes Peninsula and South Iceland attracts the most tourists out of any region, it still feels untouched and exotic in many places—a hiker’s paradise.

Glaciers, mountains, and two active volcanoes (Katla and Hekla) beckon tourists to visit. A wide and diverse region, the south is home to well-known sights like Þingvellir National Park and the Geysir hot springs, both on the popular Golden Circle tour, and lesser-known gems like the Laugavegurinn hiking trail, an area with colorful mountains, waterfalls, and lava-shaped landscapes.

A sunny day at Gullfoss Falls in Iceland.
Gullfoss Falls. Photo © Kjersti Jorgensen/123rf.

The terrain is rugged and even desert-like in some areas, with most of the ground consisting of heather, moss, and lichen covering lava stones for miles. Visitors have an uninterrupted view of the landscape due to the lack of trees. But the hiking trails are well developed and the land mostly level, making for a relatively easy hiking locale. The trails are situated in picturesque regions with plenty of bird-watching opportunities in the summer.

Steeped in history, Þingvellir National Park is commonly referred to as the site of the world’s first democracy. It’s said that a group of settlers first gathered and met as a democratic legislature here close to a millennium ago. Geology buffs will be thrilled to visit the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a fault line that lies in Þingvellir. Visitors can literally plant one foot on Europe’s side and the other in North America. Outside of Reykjavík, Þingvellir is the most visited site in Iceland.

Home to Iceland’s only international airport, the Reykjanes Peninsula is one part of the country that visitors are sure to see. Reykjanes is also home to the famous heated waters of the Blue Lagoon, where you can soak away your jet lag.

Along the coast of the Reykjanes Peninsula.
Along the coast of the Reykjanes Peninsula. Photo © tomas1111/123rf.

Planning Your Time in the Reykjanes Peninsula

The dynamic Reykjanes Peninsula and southern coast region is defined by its vast lava fields, numerous hot springs, geothermal energy, and rugged landscape. Most tourists plan to visit at least two sites other than Keflavík airport—the Mid-Atlantic Ridge at Þingvellir National Park and the glorious Blue Lagoon, where you can soak in geothermally heated water.

If you are planning to spend one night in the region, it’s recommended to base yourself in Keflavík, where there are several guesthouses and hotels, as well as the largest selection of restaurants and shops on the peninsula. From Keflavík, you are close to attractions such as the Blue Lagoon, Garður lighthouses, and the Viking World museum.

The southern coast is home to the Golden Circle, arguably the most popular tour on the island. It takes you to three sites: the towering Gullfoss waterfall, Þingvellir National Park, and Geysir. The Golden Circle can be accomplished in one day, either by a bus tour or independently using a rental car.

Plan to spend at least an afternoon on the Reykjanes Peninsula (likely, at the Blue Lagoon) and at least one day exploring the coast.

Highlights of the Reykjanes Peninsula

  • Bláa Lónið (Blue Lagoon): This gorgeous, geothermally heated spring heals the skin and soothes the body.
  • Þingvellir National Park: This park appeals to both geology buffs and history enthusiasts, as it’s home to the rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge as well as the site where Iceland’s first parliament gathered.
  • Geysir: Make a trip to the Geysir site to see the Strokkur geyser shoot steam and boiling water up to 30 meters. The natural phenomenon occurs every 10 minutes or so.
  • Gullfoss: This towering waterfall is 32 meters high, with white water tumbling over basalt rocks amid a lush green backdrop in the summer or stark white snow in the winter. If you have time to see only one waterfall in Iceland, this should be it.
  • Hiking Mount Hekla: One of Iceland’s most active volcanoes offers stunning views. On clear days you can see as far as the ice-capped Vatnajökull glacier.
  • Hiking the Laugavegurinn Trail: This 55-kilometer, four-day hike is one of the most popular trails on the island. Hikers will see vast glaciers, bubbling hot springs, and towering mountains.
  • Heimaey Boat Tour: Take a tour from the harbor of lovely Heimaey, the only inhabited island in the Westman Islands, to see rocky lava coastline, bird cliffs, and ocean caves.
Travel map of Reykjanes Peninsula and the South HIghlights
Reykjanes Peninsula and the South Highlights

Related Travel Guide