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Mar 16, 2024

Your Guide to Iceland's Volcanoes

The Reykjanes peninsula near Mt. Fagradalsfjall has seen increased seismic activity and eruptions in the past few years. The area is closely monitored by authorities and we highly recommend travelers visit safetravel.isLink opens in a new tab for detailed information before traveling to the area.

Further information about volcanic activity in Iceland can be found in the Catalogue of Icelandic VolcanoesLink opens in a new tab.

Iceland’s famous tagline is “The land of fire and ice”. You only have to look at the name or take a quick look at Iceland on a map to understand the ice part, but what about the fire? The fire is of course Iceland’s many and very active volcanoes, one of which has erupted annually since 2021.

Fun fact: the name for volcano in Icelandic is “eldfjall” or fire mountain. Put that Longbottom Leaf in your pipe and smoke it.

While the first eruptions in Fagradalsfjall were quite peaceful and picturesque, that is not always the case. The Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010Link opens in a new tab famously produced a huge ash cloud that devastated the farms in the area and disrupted international air travel for days. The name also proved to be quite the mouthful for newscasters trying to explain the situation. The recent eruption in Fagradalsfjall wasn’t much easier to pronounce and we’re sorry about that, but keep in mind that one of the simpler-to-pronounce volcanoes is also one of the most dangerous ones. We are of course talking about Katla, now the star of a Netflix series of dark Nordic mystery. So how many volcanoes are there in Iceland, how active are they, and what might happen if they erupt? Read on for an informative guide to our major volcanoes.

Volcanic activity in Iceland

Iceland is considered very geologically active which means that earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are frequent in these parts. Keep in mind that Iceland is the top of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and thus technically one big divergent plate boundary. These two tectonic plates, the North American and Eurasian plates, are slowly drifting apart by approximately 2 cm a year and this rift is visible in a number of places in Iceland, most famously at Þingvellir National Park. This tension of the plates causes a lot of seismic activity, particularly in the southwest of Iceland and the highlands.

How many volcanoes are there in Iceland?

That depends on what you mean. There are 32 volcanic systems in Iceland including around 130 volcanoes. Some are dormant, others are classified as “active,” and a few erupt frequently enough to be closely monitored. Take Snæfellsjökull glacier for example. It is one of the most picturesque volcanoes in Iceland. Standing proud on the other side of Faxaflói Bay, its quintessential volcano shape with a glacial ice cap is clearly visible from Reykjavik. Snæfellsjökull glacier was made world famous in Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth and in Iceland, the glacier and its surroundings are often associated with magic and an otherworldly atmosphere. Snæfellsjökull is considered an active volcano, but it is believed to have last erupted in or around the year 200. Its powers and magical presence are lost on no one, and this old stratovolcano is today a very popular hike.

How many active volcanoes are there in Iceland?

There are about 30 active volcanoes in Iceland but keep in mind that “active” means that they’ve erupted recently. Also keep in mind that “recently” in geological terms means any time in the past 10,000 years. That said, there are 6 very active volcanoes here, that have erupted regularly in recent memory and that’s not including the eruptions in the Reykjanes peninsula. Most of them have a history of small eruptions and minimal lava flow but others are more treacherous and some even quite notorious. opens in a new tab

When did a volcano last erupt in Iceland?

Fagradalsfjall in the Reykjanes peninsula erupted in March 2021 after a series of earthquakes leading up to the eruption. The eruption was met with a little sigh of relief by inhabitants in nearby towns who were more than a little tired of the earthquakes and buildup of tension. Despite its proximity to the town of Grindavík, the Blue Lagoon and Keflavik International Airport, a more picturesque and peaceful location was hard to come by. On August 3, 2022, a new eruption began in the Fagradalsfjall volcanic system in the Reykjanes peninsula and ended a few weeks later. The eruption was very visible in daylight and could be seen on a live webcam stream from the area. It posed no threat to infrastructure or inhabitants as the lava flow was in a similar uninhabited area as the previous eruption in 2021. This again happened in July 2023 in a very similar area. Following bursts of intense seismic activity, an eruption began in a different site on December 18, 2023, after the town of Grindavík had been evacuated. This eruption lasted only approx. 60 hours. Construction on protective barriers was prioritized as the lava flow from this new eruption site could reach local infrastructure. On January 14, 2024, the fifth eruption began, and while the brand-new protective barriers certainly proved their worth, lava reached three houses in the town of Grindavík. This eruption lasted only 44 hours but caused the most damage of the eruptions on the peninsula so far. A new eruption began on February 8, 2024, a little further away from the town and lasted for two days. On March 16, 2024, the seventh eruption began at 20.23 GMT in a similar area as the previous two. So far, in 2024 an eruption in these parts seems to be a monthly event. Ongoing seismic activity indicates that earthquakes and eruptions can be expected regularly for some time in this area and it is subsequently monitored closely by the authorities and access is restricted according to the activity. Further information can be found on the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue's official travel websiteLink opens in a new tab.

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Are the Icelandic volcanoes dangerous?

Most of them are not dangerous and Icelanders are quite laid back about their eruptions. Volcanic eruptions and earthquakes are usually regarded as exciting and newsworthy but nothing to be seriously worried about. This means Sunday drives with the family and hiking to see an active eruption and lava flow if you’re lucky. But frequent earthquakes leading up to volcanic eruptions are of course incredibly uncomfortable. Icelandic building regulations are very strict with regards to this seismic activity and buildings are generally considered very safe in Iceland. As the town of Grindavík became badly damaged in a swarm of earthquakes in November 2023, with pavements split by crevasses and holes, the buildings stood their ground. Volcanoes are however not rides at amusement parks and display terrifying natural forces at times, and eruptions are of course dangerous to a certain extent and some of the bigger volcanoes do pose something of a threat. One more than others…

The most famous volcanoes in Iceland


Katla is considered one of Iceland’s most dangerous volcanoes. It is a very large and very active volcano underneath a glacial icecap in the southern part of Iceland. It has an eruption cycle of about 100 years, and it last erupted violently in 1918. There have likely been smaller eruptions that didn’t break through the thick icecap of the glacier that covers it but a proper eruption in Katla is lost on no one in these parts. The main concern is the area south of Katla, which is expected to be hit with massive floods in the next eruption when the lava explodes through the icecap and melting glacier water comes rushing through the plains below. For this reason, the inhabitants of the towns and farms in the area are well versed in evacuation schemes, Katla is heavily monitored, and a huge cell network will track down anyone in the area in case of an eruption.

Fun fact: Eldgjá, the world’s biggest volcanic eruption in the past 10,000 years, is part of the Katla volcanic system.


Hekla is one of Iceland’s most active volcanoes, erupting approx. once every decade in the latter part of the 20th century. Its eruptions are so frequent that in the Middle Ages, Hekla was nicknamed “The Gateway to Hell”. While Hekla’s eruptions can be big, she is mostly notorious for giving little to no warning before an eruption. The mountain is mostly aseismic, and scientists estimate we’ll have approximately 30 to 60 minutes of evacuation time before the next eruption. Just to be clear, volcano warnings come in the form of earthquakes and tremors that form a pattern before an eruption. Oh, and hiking on Hekla is not recommended. For obvious reasons.


Just off the south coast of Iceland is a series of small islands called Vestmannaeyjar, or the Westman Islands. The largest of these and the only inhabited one is called Heimaey, or “Home Island”, and it is a sweet home to 4,500 people and about 8 million puffins. Heimaey is a breathtakingly beautiful island and its awesome landscapes are a sight to behold. But this place is best known for the 1973 eruption of its volcano EldfellLink opens in a new tab that took out half the town and significantly enlarged the island. In what can only be described as a miraculous moment in history, the entire island was immediately evacuated during the night. Today, visitors can walk around houses excavated from the ash in the Eldheimar volcano museum in Vestmannaeyjar and learn all about its geological superstar neighbor, Surtsey.


You know how new land is born in the middle of the sea from an underwater eruption when nobody is watching? No? Well, that’s how Surtsey islandLink opens in a new tab was formed in a submarine volcanic eruption between 1963 and 1967 in what is the longest continuous eruption in Iceland’s history. Very few people have set foot on Surtsey since it is a highly protected nature reserve and both vegetation and wildlife settlements are monitored closely. News from Surtsey is always interesting and this odd place off the coast of Iceland continues to teach us new things about how birds, insects, plants, and sadly, trash travel.


This is probably Iceland’s most notorious volcano because of the 2010 eruption that halted air travel in Europe for days. You may remember the commotion in European airports and the subsequent air travel reforms that were made for incidents like this. You may also remember newscasters all over the world trying their best to pronounce the name of this volcano but what you probably don’t know is that Icelanders were quite mortified about the whole thing. The huge ash cloud produced by this eruption posed a threat to air traffic all over Europe, and as days passed and news kept coming in from people stranded in airports all over the world, the soundbite kept coming back as “Iceland ruined everything”. Thankfully, the situation in Europe was resolved after 6 days, but locals were not as lucky. The focus soon shifted entirely to the farms in the vicinity of the volcano that were covered in ash and the following months were spent fighting ash fallout. If there’s one thing Icelanders do well, it’s forming a unified front when it comes to natural forces. Volunteers from all over Iceland showed up to help clean livestock, fields, and farmhouses but sadly, this situation eventually marked an end for some farmers who left their lands for good. If you’re driving the south coast of Iceland, take notice of these farms, their dramatic history, and their awesome perseverance.


Grímsvötn can be translated as “The Lakes of Grímur” and is probably one of the most mentioned place names in Icelandic news. The reason for that is that Grímsvötn is the most active volcano in Iceland. But it’s not your typical volcano, shaped like a cone with a nice spout of fire coming out of it. No, Grímsvötn is a subglacial calderaLink opens in a new tab so in a way, nobody has ever actually seen it. It lies underneath one of the world’s largest glaciers, Vatnajökull and is Iceland’s most frequently erupting volcano. Eruptions in Grímsvötn aren’t your typical picturesque “tourist eruptions” as Icelanders call them, and you’ll probably never see lava flowing from Grímsvötn. However, it is hazardous due to its subglacial location. When it erupts, it melts the icecap surrounding it, filling its caldera with glacial water until it all comes flooding down to the plains below. As a result, Grímsvötn is one of the most heavily monitored volcanoes in Iceland. Unlike some of its smaller volcanic siblings (we’re looking at you, Hekla), Grímsvötn gives plenty of warning. When these glacial floods occur, they have been known to sweep away huge bridges and long stretches of roads with their awesome powers. but road closures and evacuations are in place to keep everyone safe.


If anything can be said to be “in the middle of nowhere,” it’s probably Askja. This treacherous volcano lies to the north of Vatnajökull glacier in an area entirely inaccessible for most of the year, surrounded by the desert of the Icelandic highlands. Askja last erupted in 1961, but in 1875 an eruption in Askja devastated a large part of the Eastfjords of Iceland with extreme ashfall that killed livestock and ruined crops. Askja is currently stirring with evidence pointing to magma building up underneath the volcanic system. In the winter of 2022-2023, the ice covering Lake Askja was melting, which is considered very unusual over the winter months, indicating increased geothermal activity. Along with increased seismic activity, everything points to an eruption on the horizon. Askja is now under added surveillance and access to the area is restricted accordingly.

Iceland Volcano Highland River
Iceland Volcano Thrihnukagigur

Thrihnukagígur (Þríhnúkagígur)

This impossible-to-pronounce place is a dormant volcano, just 20 minutes outside of Reykjavík city. It is getting an honorable mention as one of our more famous volcanoes because of its incredible history and unique attraction. It was only discovered in 1974 by cave explorers and after substantial construction in the area, this volcano was opened as a tourist attraction in 2012. Don't worry, this volcano is as dormant as they come, and visiting the attraction isn't dangerous. It is aptly named “Inside the volcanoLink opens in a new tab” and offers visitors an incredible experience of descending into the volcano via an elevator and observing the enormous and lit-up magma chamber. If you think this is just another tourist trap, think again. This is literally the only place in the world where this is possible, and we’ll go for all the puns here and state that a more groundbreaking experience is hard to come by.

Iceland Cave Elevator
Iceland Lava Flow Fagridalur

Is there a volcano near Reykjavik?

Yes. Lots of them. The entire peninsula of Reykjanes is a volcanic system that extends far out to sea. This volcanic system is however mostly dormant with the exception of the Fagradalsfjall volcanic system which began stirring in 2021.

Final thoughts

While the Icelandic attitude towards these awesome natural forces is quite relaxed, we do respect the massive powers that lie beneath our land and treat them with caution. Rest assured that Icelandic authorities, rescue services, and scientists are not just experts in their field but we'd argue they are world champions in reacting to Iceland, and Icelanders subsequently respect their authority when it comes to these matters.

Don’t hike on a volcano, don’t walk on fresh lava, don’t jump into a geyser, trust the science, follow directions, and you’ll be just fine.

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