The Reykjanes Peninsula, Iceland’s southwestern extremity, provides many visitors with their first look at the country, as they exit Keflavík’s international airport and follow the multi-lane expressway Route 41 east towards Reykjavík. Unfortunately, local vistas are unremittingly barren – rough, contoured piles of lava and distant peaks, the rocks starkly coloured by lichen and mosses – and most people leave Reykjanes behind without a second thought. But if you’ve a few hours to fill in – before a flight, perhaps – the peninsula has plenty to offer, and is conveniently close to the capital: there’s the Blue Lagoon, Iceland’s most renowned hot spa; a museum at Grindavík to that great Icelandic icon, the cod; a trans-continental bridge near Hafnir; plus plenty of wild, rocky, surf-streaked coastline with associated birdlife and lonely ruins.
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Buses run daily all year from Reyjavík to Keflavík and the airport, and from Reyjavík to the Blue Lagoon and Grindavík; elsewhere you’ll need your own vehicle or to arrange a tour from the capital.
Lava tube tours
Reykjanes is riddled by a subterranean network of lava tubes, formed when the sides of a deep lava flow cool and solidify, allowing the still-liquid centre to drain away after the eruption ends. Pick of the local tubes include kilometre-long Raufarholshellir; the similarly scaled Buri Cave, only discovered in 2005; Þríhnúkagígur, though this is actually a drained magma chamber; and Leiðarendi, perhaps the most accessible. With the exception of Þríhnjúkagígur, you can only visit these as part of a tour offered by Extreme Iceland.
The Bridge Between Two Continents
About 2km south from the Hafnaberg car park, the Bridge Between Two Continents is a thin steel span in the middle of nowhere, supposedly crossing the rift separating the North American and Eurasian continental plates. The bridge is decked in steel mesh, so you can look down into the shallow ravine below; “contrived” doesn’t begin to describe the site, but the idea is fun and it’s perked up by “Welcome to America” and “Welcome to Europe” signs at either end.
Top image: Seltun geothermal area, Krysuvik, Reykjanes peninsula in Iceland © Olga Gavrilova/Shutterstock