Iceland is where fire and ice coexist and form otherworldly landscapes. Whether you explore the mossy Reykjanes Peninsula or large icy areas of southern Iceland, you’ll find hot magma bubbling below. Volcanic activity formed Iceland’s dramatic basalt peaks, vast lava fields and the island itself. According to Earth magazine, Iceland should be under the sea, but luckily for residents and visitors, a hot spot has lifted it above water.
If you’re fascinated by volcanoes and steamy geothermal terrain, Iceland is a must-see. In this post, we explore Iceland’s many volcanoes to help you plan your expedition.
Table of contents
- How Many Volcanoes Are in Iceland?
- Why Does Iceland Have So Many Volcanoes?
- Is It Safe to Visit Iceland’s Volcanoes?
- The Volcanoes of Iceland
- 1. Askja
- 2. Baroarbunga
- 3. Eyjafjallajokull
- 4. Grimsvotn
- 5. Gunnuhver
- 6. Hekla
- 7. Helgrindur
- 8. Hengill
- 9. Hofsjokull
- 10. Hromundartindur
- 11. Hveravellir
- 12. Katla
- 13. Krafla
- 14. Kverkfjoll
- 15. Laugarfjall
- 16. Oraefajokull
- 17. Prestahnukur
- 18. Snaefell
- 19. Snaefellsjokull
- 20. Snaehetta
- 21. Tindfjallajokull
- 22. Torfajokull
- Other Icelandic Volcanoes
- Visit Iceland’s Volcanoes With Windstar
How Many Volcanoes Are in Iceland?
Iceland is home to about 33 active volcanoes and 100 dormant and extinct volcanic systems. You’ll find almost every type of volcano and eruption style in Iceland, making it a volcanologist’s dream come true. However, the most common type of volcano in Iceland is the stratovolcano, recognizable by its cone-shaped peak.
Why Does Iceland Have So Many Volcanoes?
Iceland is remarkably geologically active because it is on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which separates the North American Plate and Eurasian Plate. These tectonic plates drift apart a little more each year. As they pull away from one another, molten rock called magma rises and collects in magma chambers. When enough magma builds up, it erupts as hot lava. After the lava flow cools down, it hardens and forms rock or the mountains we call volcanoes.
Is It Safe to Visit Iceland’s Volcanoes?
It’s generally safe to visit Iceland’s volcanoes because scientists closely monitor seismic activity for early signs of an eruption. Still, when visiting Iceland, you’ll want to keep an eye on local forecasts and listen to warnings. You can check the Icelandic Meteorological Office’s website for the latest weather and natural hazard news.
The Volcanoes of Iceland
Iceland’s many magnificent volcanoes are awe-inspiring in more ways than one. The country’s volcanoes provide an endless supply of clean and natural geothermal energy, making it one of the least polluted countries in the world. Its volcanic landscapes also draw visitors who want to witness geothermal activity firsthand.
For instance, people have been flocking to Iceland to watch the Fagradalsfjall volcano, which started spewing lava in April. Fagradalsfjall is a shield volcano in the Krysuvik-Trolladyngja volcanic system located on the Reykjanes Peninsula.
Here are more of Iceland’s notable volcanoes worth visiting up close or viewing from afar.
Askja is a large central volcano that forms the Dyngjufjoll mountains in Vatnajokull National Park. Three overlapping calderas have replaced the mountain’s peaks due to past volcanic eruptions.
A massive eruption in 1875 destroyed much of the surrounding land’s food supply, forcing locals to leave and start new lives elsewhere. This eruption formed a smaller caldera that’s now full of icy blue water, known as Oskjuvatn Lake. Askja’s last known eruption took place in 1961, creating lava flows near the lake.
Though the area is wild and remote, travelers can visit the region on hiking and jeep tours during the summer. You can also bathe in the nearby Viti crater, filled with warm, turquoise geothermal water. Be sure to take in the steep black dunes as you enjoy your bath.
Baroarbunga is a subglacial volcano hidden underneath the Vatnajokull ice cap — the largest glacier in Iceland. It last erupted in 2015 as one of the most significant eruptions in the past 200 years. Baroarbunga’s six-month-long eruption produced little ash but formed a large lava field and ejected 12 megatons of sulfur dioxide.
Eyjafjallajokull is an ice-capped stratovolcano located in southern Iceland. Eyjafjallajokull last erupted in 2010, propelling a cloud of ash into the sky and disrupting air travel to and from Europe. Today, visitors can safely see the volcano by touring Iceland’s south coast or riding in a plane or helicopter for a spectacular view.
Grimsvotn is a subglacial volcano located mainly beneath the western side of Vatnajokull, and it’s Iceland’s most frequently erupting volcano. Grimsvotn consists of a caldera lake covered in a thick ice shelf, of which you can only see a small part. Various fissure systems stretch out from the volcano, including the infamous Laki fissure. Laki produced the largest lava flow in recorded history when it erupted in 1783, leading to a devastating famine and the loss of a fifth of Iceland’s population.
More recently, Grimsvotn erupted in 2011. Like the Eyjafjallajokull eruption, Grimsvotn affected flights to Europe. Visitors can now take a scenic air tour of Grimsvotn to see the eruption site and the surrounding Vatnajokull National Park.
Gunnuhver is an active geothermal area located on Iceland’s Reykjanes Peninsula. Travelers can tour Gunnuhver, which is part of Reykjanes Geopark, to see a large bubbling mud pool and steam vents. Named after a female ghost named Gudrun, who legend says became trapped in a hot spring, Gunnuhver offers an eerie, sulfurous atmosphere.
Located in the southwest part of the county, Hekla is one of Iceland’s most active volcanoes. Hekla has erupted repeatedly throughout history, earning it the title “Gateway to Hell.” Its most recent eruption, which happened in 2000, was relatively minor, and most of the ash fell into uninhabited areas. Still, Hekla is one of the country’s most dangerous volcanoes because it has proven to be less predictable than others.
Visitors who want to see Hekla up close and enjoy breathtaking scenery can take a guided hike to its summit.
Helgrindur is one of the smallest volcano systems in Iceland, consisting of cinder cones and vents. It’s unknown when the last eruption occurred at Helgrindur, though it was active during the Holocene period.
Located in west Iceland on the SnaefellsnesPeninsula, you can see Helgrindur from Grundarfjorour – a small fishing town.
Hengill is a volcanic system spanning Thingvallavatn Lake and consisting of shield volcanoes, crater rows and vents. The last known eruption there took place more than 1,800 years ago. Today, power stations use the area to produce energy for Reykjavik.
Travelers who visit the region can enjoy scenic hiking trails lined with hot springs and steamy fumaroles.
Hofsjokull, located in the highlands, is a subglacial volcano with its central caldera beneath the Hofsjokull ice cap. Scientists don’t know when the volcano last erupted, though several small eruptions have occurred there over time. People can trek to Hofsjokull to explore ice caves formed by geothermal activity. The area is also popular for taking glacial hiking tours.
Head east of Hengill and south of Thingvallavatn Lake to find Hromundartindur, a small volcanic system. Nobody knows when or if Hromundartindur has erupted in the past, though it shows a high level of geothermal activity at the Olkeduhals geothermal field.
Hveravellir is a subglacial volcano existing under the gigantic Langjokull ice cap in the central highlands. It’s also a stunning geothermal area and one of the most beloved places in Iceland.
Hveravellir’s most recent eruption took place in 950, when a small shield volcano blew. Today, the region is famous for its glacial views and colorful hot springs, some of which travelers can swim in. The area has long been an oasis for travelers venturing through the remote highlands.
Scientists keep a close eye on Katla, which is overdue for an eruption. Katla is a subglacial volcano hidden underneath the Myrdalsjokull icecap in southern Iceland. It connects to Eyjafjallajokull’s volcanic system and typically erupts not too long after Eyjafjallajokull goes off. However, its last eruption took place in 1918, despite Eyjafjallajokull’s 2010 eruption. Since this volcano is underneath a glacier, it can lead to extensive flooding after it erupts.
Krafla is the central volcano of the Krafla volcanic system, located northeast of Myvatn Lake. Krafla erupted multiple times in the past 300 years, with the last eruption occurring in 1984. Presently, visitors can take a short hike from a parking area to view its crater filled with milky blue water.
Kverkfjoll is a giant subglacial volcano situated at the northeastern edge of Vatnajokull. Multiple subglacial eruptions have taken place here since the 17th century.
Large magma chambers exist beneath Kverkfjoll, which cause glacial melting and form magnificent ice caves. Travelers can explore some of these ice caves on a guided tour.
Laugarfjall is a volcano in the Geysir volcanic system. This popular area in southwest Iceland is where people go to view the Geysir geothermal field, which is what geysers worldwide take their name from. Visitors can hike to the top of Laugarfjall and gaze at the emerald valley and geothermal area below from an observation platform.
Located at the east end of Vatnajokull in Vatnajokull National Park, Oraefajokull is Iceland’s tallest peak. This stratovolcano is capable of a massive eruption, making it one of the country’s most dangerous. It last erupted in 1728, leading to devastating consequences such as jokulhlaups, or glacial outburst floods.
As one of the largest volcanoes in Europe, Oraefajokull draws adventurous travelers eager to hike and explore.
Prestahnukur is a subglacial volcano set at the southwest end of the Langjokull ice cap. It consists of rhyolite, a silica-rich rock, which is a valuable material in construction and roading. However, Prestahnukur is no longer an active rhyolite mine, and instead, the “peak of the priests” adds dramatic scenery to western Iceland.
Travel northeast of Vatnajokull, and you’ll find Snaefell — a glacier-topped stratovolcano and one of Iceland’s highest volcanic peaks. Though Snaefell might look intimidating, it hasn’t been active for thousands of years.
With the right equipment, travelers can climb to Snaefell’s summit and take in bird’s-eye views of east Iceland. If you prefer to stay on the ground, you can look out for the area’s reindeer herds.
Towering over the tip of the Snaefellsjokull Peninsula in western Iceland, Snaefellsjokull is the only large central volcano in the region. This well-known ice-covered volcano creates a stunning backdrop in Snaefellsjokull National Park. When visitors aren’t admiring the mountain’s icy beauty, they can explore an extinct crater, lava tubes, black-sand beaches and lava fields, sampling many of Iceland’s geological wonders in one trip.
Snaehetta is a central volcano and large caldera in the Esjufjoll volcanic system, located at the southeastern portion of the Vatnajokull ice cap. Scientists have not confirmed any eruptions here, but they suspect the Esjufjoll system had something to do with a jokulhlaup in 1927 and an ashfall event. Though ice buries most of the volcano, a ridge exposes parts of it.
Tindfjallajokull is a glacier-capped stratovolcano in Iceland’s eastern volcanic zone. Scientists speculate that Tindfjallajokull is the oldest active volcano in the region and likely last erupted thousands of years ago. Hikers can climb to the summit and marvel at the views.
Torfajokull is the central volcano of southern Iceland’s Torfajokull volcanic system. It’s home to a massive geothermal area where you’ll find steaming vents, hot springs and mud pools. Torfajokull stands out from other volcanoes in the country due to its rare silica-rich rhyolitic lava.
Other Icelandic Volcanoes
We covered some of Iceland’s most famous volcanoes, but there are plenty more to see as you explore. Other volcanoes that might sneak up on you during your travels include:
Visit Iceland’s Volcanoes With Windstar
Iceland is at the top of many travelers’ bucket lists because it is unlike anywhere else in the world. Its vast volcanic landscapes are breathtaking, capable of filling the most seasoned travelers with awe. If you’ve always dreamed of exploring Iceland’s volcanoes, hot springs, geysers, glaciers and other treasures, we can help your vision become a reality. At Windstar Cruises, we make it easy to reach Iceland’s remote beauty with our small, intimate ships and exciting excursions.