Discover the Reykjanes Peninsula
All travelers coming to Iceland will land at the Keflavik International Airport, located in the south-west part of the country in the Reykjanes península. It‘s a wonderful area but still remains as an unknown gem that many visitors skip when they arrive, choosing instead to go straight to Reykjavík or to start the ring road, so they miss out on this amazing place!
Reykjavík Outventure offers their Reykjanes tour both from the capital or from the airport, which is a great option for a layover or just as a day activity when staying in Iceland. For me, it was a great way to discover the peninsula, learn more about the culture and enjoy some typical Icelandic treats.
In terms of wildlife, there are great fishing areas just off the coast and therefore this area has diverse bird life. Marine mammals like seals or dolphins also sometimes swim near the shore.
This area is also very interesting geologically, and you will see endless lava fields, many hot springs and sharp cliffs. You can also walk in gap between the tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia. There are 55 geosites in the Reykjanes UNESCO Global Geopark.
This tour is a wonderful opportunity to discover Iceland during a layover, or just to enjoy Reykjanes before traveling around the country.
Image: Map of Iceland, Reykjanes is surrounded by a red circle.
I joined the tour one windy day in August when our guide Jóhann picked us up in a minibus, and we started the journey!
Image: Our guide, Jóhann, welcoming us on the bus
The first stop, Gardur:
The first stop was Garður, a fishing village that was once the most populated in the peninsula, with white sand beaches, lots of birds, especially arctic terns, and not one but two lighthouses!
Image: The old lighthouse at Garður
Image: The old lighthouse and the beach
Image: The new lighthouse, taller than its predecessor
Jóhann told us about the area and I personally liked the old lighthouse the best, it was smaller but more charming.
It was also a great opportunity to see the arctic terns in action, since it was late breeding season and the
adults were very active fishing for the chicks.
We also got our first taste of Iceland: a piece of hákarl, or fermented shark in English, followed by a shot of Brennivin (Icelandic schnapps).
The schnapps is made from fermented grain or potato mash and flavoured with caraway. The bottle once had a white skull on the black label, in order to warn against consumption, later replaced by the map of Iceland. Therefore, it was sometimes called “svarti dauði” (black death).
The fermented shark is also a very Special traditional Icelandic food, made from the Greenland shark. It contains a large amount of ammonia and has a strong smell. First-timers are advised to pinch their nose while taking the first bite, as the smell is much stronger than the taste.
Additional information on the production and cultural background of eating fermented shark in Iceland, by National Geographic:
We got back on the bus and our guide showed us the wooden structures used to dry fish, using the north Atlantic wind, always close to the sea.
Hafnir, another fishing village, was our next stop. We parked by its charming black church to taste some Icelandic beer.
Image: Black church at Hafnir
Image: Big anchor at Hafnir, traditionally a fishing village.
Image: Beer tasting.
A cabin in Hafnir abandoned between 770 and 880 provides the earliest known archaeological evidence of settlement in Iceland.
And the wonder continued, as Jóhann drove us to a very special place: the bridge between two continents,
this platform connects the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates!
After tasting some excellent Icelandic cheese and marinated meats, we took a few pictures holding the bridge.
Image: Our group holding the bridge between continents.
The Reykjanes Lighthouse:
Then we drove to the Reykjanes lighthouse, which is the oldest lighthouse in Iceland, called Reykjanesviti. The building is situated on the southwestern edge of the peninsula.
This coastline is very sharp, and we could enjoy beautiful views. A lot of birds, especially northern fulmars, were resting on the cliffs.
There was also a sculpture of a great auk, a relative of the north atlantic puffin that is now extinct. These birds were much larger than the puffin, which is the reason they were hunted to extinction by the first settlers. The last pair was caught on Eldey, a small islet near the shore.
Image: Reykjanesviti, the oldest lighthouse in Iceland
Image: Sculpture of a great auk
Image: Jóhann in front of Eldey.
We also visited Gunnuhver, a series of mud pools and steam vents near the lighthouse. This is one of the geosites of the Geopark.
The hot spring was named after a female ghost that was laid there. She had caused great disturbance until a
priest set a trap for her, and she fell into the spring, about 400 years ago.
When you are there it’s easy to imagine the story and believe the tale. Check out this video of Gunnuhver from #visitreykjanes:
Surrounded by these amazing views, we could enjoy another gem: a cinnamon roll from the famous Icelandic bakery Braud&Co.
Image: Cinnamon roll
One more stop: Brimketill, a natural swimming pool, at the lava shore just west of the town of Grindavik. Jóhann is passionate about cold water bathing. This is one of his favorite places, but it is important to avoid risks. Since there is no safety supervision of the area and the waves are unpredictable. This time we didn’t bathe but enjoyed the views.
The folklore about this area tells that the pond had regular visits by a giantess named Oddný. So perhaps it’s just as well that we didn’t jump in the pond!
Image: Brimketill in a rough sea day.
*** We didn’t go to the Blue Lagoon, so I don’t have images nor know what to say, maybe something like this, or just skip it:
We did a last stop before going back home: we walked around the Blue Lagoon area, we enjoyed the views of the white small rivers, colored by the silicates deposited at the bottom, contrasting with the black lava. A beautiful ending for a beautiful day at Reykjanes Iceland!