In the past few years, I have taken up a new interest - visiting the caves of Iceland. And I have discovered the most colourful lava tubes in different parts of my country, and extraordinary beautiful ice caves, which envelop you in all shades of blue colours.
In this travel-blog, I want to show you my most favourite caves, which I have visited on my travels in my country. Along with many other caves in Iceland.
Top image: Raufarhólshellir lava cave
Among the largest lava caves in Iceland is the huge Víðgelmir in Hallmundarhraun lava field in West-Iceland. It is simply referred to as The Cave. Víðgelmir lava cave has been made easily accessible and guided tours are available into this very colourful lava cave - or lava tube. It is extraordinary really to be able to visit these lava tubes imagining the utter forces of nature which created them.
Víðgelmir is 1,585 km long, 16.5 metres at its widest and the highest point of the lava tube is 15.8 metres! Víðgelmir is not only amongst the largest lava caves in Iceland, it is also one of the largest in the whole world in the cubic measure, 150,000 cubic metres!
These lava tubes were formed when lava from volcanic eruptions created a forceful river of lava. The lava on the surface began to cool down and created a crust above the lava river. After the eruption stopped an empty lava tube was left behind filled with beautiful colours and lava formations. And that is what makes a visit to these lava tubes so popular.
Víðgelmir contains myriads of stalagmites, stalactites and beautiful icicles and the walls are decorated with beautiful lava in a wide range of colours.
Find Víðgelmir tours by The Cave here
Find guided tours to The Cave from Reykjavík here
Find the combined Into the Glacier and Into the Cave tour here
You can read much more in my travel-blog and see many photos of this beautiful cave:
The Extraordinary Lava Formations and Colours in Víðgelmir Lava Cave in West-Iceland and find out how it became to be haunted.
The colourful Raufarhólshellir lava cave - the Lava Tunnel - is Iceland's 4th largest lava cave. In June 2017 it was made easily accessible with stairs and footbridges and guided tours are now offered into the cave.
Raufarhólshellir is 1,360 m long, 10 m tall at its tallest and some 10-30 m wide. The roof has got a couple of openings, through which snow piles up making this cave look very characteristic. Raufarhólshellir is extraordinary colourful as you can see in my photos and the ice in some places makes the lava colours iridescent and sparkling, which is ever so pretty and makes for such beautiful photos :)
A scene from the Hollywood blockbuster Noah was filmed in this lava cave, where the Cave of Noah is - Raufarhólshellir!
I am glad that it was made more accessible as even though I had visited this cave on several occasions I had never been able to enjoy the extraordinary beauty of it to such an extent before as it was very rocky.
Guided tours depart into the cave from 09:00 until 17:00 every hour on the hour. I have joined the standard tour, but there is an extreme 4-hour tour where the guides take you to the end of the tunnel where much more beautiful lava formations and colours can be seen.
Find Lava Tunnel tours here
Read more and see many more photos in my travel-blog:
The Lava Tunnel: the Extraordinary Raufarhólshellir Lava Cave in South Iceland, where you will also see that the lava cave has a secret.
Vatnshellir - Into the Underworld is a very special lava tube on the Snæfellsnes peninsula in West-Iceland, right below the mystical Snæfellsjökull glacier. The guided tour will take you some 200 metres into the lava tube which reaches 35 metres into the ground!
Vatnshellir cave is located in the Purkhólahraun lava field, in which there seem to be loads of lava caves, 4 of which belong to Vatnshellir cave. Seeing that they are so deep in the ground spiral staircases have been fitted to make it easier to visit these beautiful caves.
Vatnshellir means the Water cave and it got its name from the fact that water for the cows at nearby Malarrif was fetched in these caves. The collective name of the caves is Undirheimar or the Nether Regions, but the individual names are: Vatnshellir, Bárðarstofa, Vættargangur and Iður.
You can join guided tours into Vatnshellir cave all year round; 3 tours per day in the wintertime and 9 tours per day on the hour in the summertime from 10:00-18:00. The duration of the tour is 50 minutes.
Find Vatnshellir tours here
Find Vatnshellir tours from Reykjavík here
Read more in my travel-blog:
Lofthellir cave up north in Mývatn is a magical lava cave - deep inside it, you will see the largest ice sculptures yet discovered in any cave in Iceland! To see these ice sculptures you will have to crawl on your stomach through a narrow opening and swing on a rope on ice - it is both fun and so worth it :)
Lofthellir, which is 3,500 years old is 370 meters long with a height of some 10-15 in the main chamber and on a 70 metres long part the width of the ice floor is some 15 metres! So after crawling and swinging, we were rewarded with a beautiful lava chamber.
Saga Travel GeoIceland is the only tour operator which offers guided tours to this spectacular cave. I would recommend joining one of their tours, as even though a visit to Lofthellir looks demanding it is not - it was so much fun, and since I could do it most people can :) Unfortunately, Saga Travel went bankrupt in April 2020 due to COVID-19.
Find Lofthellir cave excursions from Mývatn here
Find Lofthellir cave excursions from Akureyri here
Read more in my travel-blog:
The Extraordinary Ice Sculptures in Lofthellir Cave in Mývatn North-Iceland where you can see many more photos inside and outside the cave.
I am not only a fan of the lava caves in Iceland, but I am also crazy about the ice caves as well. Visiting ice caves has become increasingly popular in the wintertime in Iceland and I have visited 2 beautiful ice caves myself. The crystal ice cave in Vatnajökull glacier took my breath away.
The ice caves vary from year to year, but the ice cave I visited was huge and had all the shades of the colour blue as you can see in my photos. During our visit we were totally emerged in the most bright sapphire and aquamarine colours, giving us an out of this world experience.
The other ice cave I visited was a beautiful aquamarine ice cave in Fláajökull glacier (see my photo below).
If you want to visit an ice cave then you can join the ice cave tour, which takes you into an ice cave in Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, which is an outlet of Vatnajökull glacier, Iceland's largest glacier.
Ice caves can only be entered with a trained glacier guide, who knows the conditions of these caves. These seasonal ice caves can be visited in the wintertime only, but Katla Ice Cave can be visited all year round.
The Katla ice cave is to be found in Kötlujökull, a glacier tongue from Mýrdalsjökull glacier, Iceland's fourth largest glacier. The Katla ice cave is breathtaking, darker than the ice caves I visited earlier, as there is black ash from volcanic eruptions pressed between layers of the glacier. This ash came from Katla itself, the most dreaded subglacial volcano in Iceland.
Inside the Katla ice cave
The departure for the Katla ice cave is from Vík, which is closer to Reykjavík than the other ice caves, some 187 km compared to 372 km to Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon. You can also choose departure from Reykjavík for the Katla ice cave.
Find the ice cave tour here
Find the Katla ice cave tours here
Find a 2-day road trip to Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon with ice caving here
Check out Perlan Museum Glacier & Ice Cave Exhibition where you enter a man-made ice cave in the capital city.
Read more in my travel-blog:
Also check out Nanna's article: Ice Caves in Iceland - the Ultimate Guide.
Inside Iceland's second-largest glacier, Langjökull glacier, you will find the Ice cave tunnel - Into the Glacier. This man-made ice cave tunnel, which is 500 metres long, will take you some 30 metres down into Langjökull where you will find 5 man-made chambers, one of which is a chapel!
It is both an exciting and a strange experience finding yourself all of a sudden inside a glacier walking through white and blue corridors of snow and ice, after being driven on the glacier in huge monster trucks.
The floor of the ice cave tunnel is relatively even so everybody can visit this cave, but you will be provided with crampons as you enter the cave for a better grip. I asked the tour company if the cave is wheelchair accessible and they said yes, but then you will need an assistant with you.
Find the combined Into the Glacier and Into the Cave here (Víðgelmir included)
Remember to dress warmly as you are entering a real glacier - have fun :)
Read much more and see many more photos inside the ice cave tunnel and of the monster trucks in my travel-blogs:
Apart from the lava tubes, you can visit several smaller lava caves, which are sometimes called churches, like the lava caves in Dimmuborgir and Hljóðaklettar. I am just going to tell you a little bit about Hljóðaklettar - Echo Rocks in the ruggedly beautiful Jökulsárgljúfur canyon up in North-Iceland.
In Hljóðaklettar you will feel like you entered another world when you hike between volcanic plugs which take on all kinds of forms. Here you will see columnar basalt aplenty by the massive glacial river Jökulsá á Fjöllum, which has eroded these formations into all kinds of beautiful forms, all of which have a name, like the Castle, the Troll, the Man and woman trolls and the Church.
The acoustic church is extraordinary - shaped in a symmetric arch, which makes it look like it were man-made. Be careful of falling rocks though while visiting this lava cave. The sun was right behind me in my photo below so this was the best I could do, but you can take some very dramatic photos on this spot.
You can read much more about Hljóðaklettar and Jökulsárgljúfur canyon in my travel-blog:
Jökulsá á Fjöllum glacial river in Jökulsárgljúfur canyon, including all the majestic waterfalls in this massive river.
Another interesting cave is Laugarvatnshellir Cave in which two families lived in the last century and two children were even born in this cave.
According to written sources, then 8 of the Icelandic caves were lived in for some period of time, but Laugarvatnshellir is the best known of these caves (source: Manngerðir hellar á Íslandi).
Last year Laugarvatnshellir Cave was restored and opened up to the public and you can get a guided tour from the Cave People. The Cave People of Iceland will show you how the inhabitants of the cave lived not so long ago.
You pay a small entrance fee and will be given a 20-minute tour and get to know all about the living conditions of the cave people and the folklore connected to the cave.
You can read much more and see photos from the inside of the cave in my travel-blog:
Laugarvatnshellir Cave & the Cave People of Iceland, where I tell you about the folklore and elves by the cave.
Now I have shown you my 8 most favourite caves in Iceland, but I cannot write about lava caves in Iceland without mentioning the longest one of them all, Surtshellir, where outlaws resided. This cave has got 5 openings. There is something about its name that makes me shiver, but that is only me because I had a bad experience inside this cave.
I have only entered it once and the lady in front of me fell flat on her face, well, she actually fell on her face and stuck her head in a hole in the lava - and one of her feet in another hole! And she was not wearing a helmet, which is a must when entering these rock-ribbed caves.
After she was rescued from this dreadful predicament she was understandably quite bewildered, so I accompanied her out of the cave.
Now I only ever visit the Íshellir - the Ice cave part of Surtshellir, in which you will find pretty icicles as you see in my photo below. The moral of this story is: Never enter such caves without the necessary equipment. I removed my helmet for the photo below only because I look like a mushroom in a helmet ;)
There are so many caves in Iceland, several of which I have visited, but most of them I have yet to visit. Many of them are man-made and some of them have crosses carved on the cave walls, some of which might even date back to the time the Irish monks inhabited Iceland - before the Settlement of Iceland by the Vikings.
I have written a travel-blog on one man-made cave in Iceland, which has got an interesting history and a cross carved on the wall: the peculiar Rútshellir cave. You can find out in my travel-blog why it was believed that this big tuff pillar of rock was a heathen temple in Viking times.
In Þjóðsögur Jóns Árnasonar - the Compilation of Folklore by Jón Árnason, which I often refer to in my travel-blog, I found an account on Rútur, who lived in the cave and was killed there in his stone bed by his enemies.
Read more in my travel-blog. The peculiar Rútshellir cave
I have noticed that Loftsalahellir cave by Dyrhólaey island has become popular for a photoshoot, but this tuff cave was earlier used as an assembly place for the farmers of this area in Mýrdalur. Loftsalahellir is located opposite Dyrhólaey island in South-Iceland, which is a very popular attraction.
Find South-coast tours here
In some of the sandstone caves, I have found a lot of carvings on the cave walls. You will see initials and dates, some of which are hundreds of years old, like the ones you see in my photo above, which I took inside a small cave in South-Iceland by Þakgil.
The cave below is called Stórihellir - Big cave - and is also to be found in South-Iceland. Dances were held inside the cave for the people living in the vicinity of the cave.
Stórihellir cave is located by the road leading to Þakgil but cannot be seen from the road - but after our visit to the cave we found out that we had actually parked the car on top of the cave!
You can see more photos of this cave in my travel-blog Þakgil and Remundargil Canyons - Beautiful Hidden Gems in South-Iceland.
Sönghellir - the Singing cave is located on the Snæfellsnes peninsula in West-Iceland and is another cave with carvings of this sort, but this small cave has also got great acoustics.
We have got several Sönghellir caves in Iceland, but this one is believed to be the first one by this name in Iceland, as it got named by the first settler of the Snæfellsnes peninsula, Bárður Snæfellsás, which is the Protector of the peninsula. Bárður apparently stayed with his men in this small cave, while he was building his settlement farm at Laugarbrekka close by.
Like in so many of the sandstone caves in Iceland you will find old dates and initials and a cross on the walls of the cave. These initials were left in the cave by the people who sought shelter there through the centuries. The oldest carving found on a cave wall is in Sönghellir, the date 1483! Such carvings are important to the history of Iceland and it is not allowed to change them or add to them.
You can read more about Snæfellsnes in my travel-blog:
And about Bárður in my travel-blog:
An interesting lava cave is to be found at Dimmuborgir - the Dark Cities up north in Mývatn. It is called Kirkjan - the Church and is the best-known lava formation at Dimmuborgir. It is a cave which looks like it is man-made.
It is open in both ends forming a high-dome shaped lava roof and resembles a Gothic church a bit. It looks totally different from the outside, where you will think that this is just a small cave.
To find this lava cave at Dimmuborgir you follow a route called Kirkjuhringurinn - the Church Route.
In Dimmuborgir, you will find another interesting cave - the cave of the 13 Icelandic Yule Lads! The Icelandic Yule Lads are the offsprings of the terrible trolls, Grýla and Leppalúði and thus they are ill-mannered and mischievous, so woe to those who are snooping around in the cave when the Yule Lads return ;)
Inside their furnished cave, you will find natural, made-up lava beds and the personal belongings of the Yule Lads. Their laundry is hanging up to dry and it looks like they just popped out for a minute. Well worth a visit - if you can find it ;)
You can read more in my travel-blog:
Grjótagjá is a very interesting lava cave close to Dimmuborgir. It has got two openings and is half-filled with hot water. Before the eruptions of Mt. Krafla in 1975-1984, it was used for bathing, but nowadays the water is still way too hot for bathing and forbidden by the landowners.
Grjótagjá is such a mystical cave and as such Game of Thrones supposedly used it as one of their film locations; the Jon Snow and Ygritte's cave and love scene. Although parts of that scene were filmed in a studio from what I could see when I watched the scene.
The difference between these 2 photos is that the first one is taken with flash and this one without flash
To my dismay, I read in our morning paper (July 2018) that the landowners, who had gracefully allowed guests to have a look into Grjótagjá and take photos, had to close a part of this beautiful cave. Some people had shown such great disrespect as bathing and sleeping inside the cave, washing their shoes and their dishes in the water and some had even defecated there :(
Read more in my travel-blog:
Mývatn in North-Iceland - Part III - Grjótagjá, Stóragjá & the Mývatn Naturebaths, with many more photos of Grjótagjá and its neighbouring Stóragjá rift.
I find the opening of the cave to be so distinctive, as there are 2 separate openings one on top of another with a kind of a bridge between them. Photos from both outside and inside are really cool and I have heard that this cave is rented out for photo-shoots.
Can you spot Yoda?
Just recently this cave has been nicknamed the Yoda Cave as from the inside the openings look like a huge Yoda :)
You can read more about Hjörleifshöfði in my 2-part travel-blogs:
The lava caves which are closest to Reykjavík are Maríuhellar caves, which are 3 lava caves; Vífilsstaðahellir, Urriðakotshellir (in my photo above) and Draugahellir (Ghosts-) caves. Such caves were often used to keep sheep.
Maríuhellar - the Caves of Mary, might be named after the Blessed Virgin Mary as the caves belonged to the Viðeyjarklaustur monastery, which was dedicated to Mary.
The famous magician Silly Billy disappearing into the cave of the ghosts!
The entrance to Draugahellir is really narrow, just a hole in the ground, and it is totally dark inside. Enter if you dare... My husband pulled me down into this cave before we got married, without telling me that it is called Draugahellir - the Cave of the Ghosts!
I would never ever have stepped into a hole in the ground to enter a pitch-black cave had I known that it is connected with ghosts!
We always take our visitors to Maríuhellar caves and into Draugahellir and sometimes as far as Búrfellsgjá lava gorge. I now opt out of entering the ghosts' cave, so my photo below is from my only visit inside this cave. Ignorance is bliss ;)
I am just going to show you the view from one historical cave in South-Iceland, which is the much lesser-known neighbour of a large basalt-column cave, which most tourists in my country visit, Hálsanefshellir cave in Reynisfjara beach. This cave is referred to as Hellir Eldklerksins - the Cave of the Pastor of Fire. It has got two names Baðstofuhellir and Bæjarhellir.
In this hidden-away cave Jón Steingrímsson (1728–1791) spent the winter of 1755 with his brother, Þorsteinn. He expanded the cave and put in it his bed, a table and a bench. The cave is a little over 6 metres long, almost 3 metres wide and 2 metres high according to the book "Manngerðir hellar á Íslandi", which is an excellent book about manmade caves in Iceland.
Inside the cave
Jón was later referred to as Eldklerkurinn - the Pastor of Fire after he delivered the Mass of Fire during the Skaftáreldar volcanic eruption in Lakagígar back in 1783.
The view from the cave is on the east side of Dyrhólaey island, which I told you about earlier.
Another haunted cave is to be found in Hellisskógur forest by Selfoss town in South-Iceland. It is called Stóri-Hellir or the Big Cave. A ghost with a blue scarf was often spotted here. It is a sad story, as a young man with a broken heart reportedly hung himself in this blue scarf while grieving for his lost love :(
This cave is ancient and the basalt is around 0.7-3.1 million years old! It was used to keep sheep and store hay, but as you can see from the photo above then it is now used for picnics and gatherings.
A cave in the highlands of Iceland was inhabited for a while by one of our best-known outlaws, Fjalla-Eyvindur - Eyvindur of the Mountains (1714-1785) and his wife Halla Jónsdóttir. The cave is named after him - Eyvindarhellir Cave. The entrance to the cave is just a hole in the ground, but it is relatively roomy on the inside.
I have visited an interesting exhibition in Blönduós town on Fjalla-Eyvindur and his cave, which is well worth a visit. You can also have dinner at their restaurant at Eyvindarstofa, but the dining hall is decorated in Fjalla-Eyvindur's outlaw style, which is a unique experience.
This is the Cave of Eyvindur at Eyvindarstofa, not the dining room ;) Halla is preparing dinner.
You can see what the entrance to this cave looks like in my travel-blog:
Hveravellir the beautiful Oasis in the highlands of Iceland, where you can also see the beautiful geothermal area and the hot spring where Eyvindur cooked his meals.
Photo from the tour: Thrihnukagigur Volcano
Least I forget the most popular cave of them all; Þríhnúkagígur - go inside a Magma Chamber, which apparently is a really cool experience where you enter the chamber via a lift journey. I have not visited it yet, but really hope that they are going to invite me for a visit one day so that I can experience it and write about it.
There are several other (probably a couple of hundred) caves, which I have yet to visit in Iceland, some of which are close to Reykjavík, like Leiðarendi cave and Arnarker. This travel-blog is my take on the Icelandic caves, and with time I will hopefully add more interesting caves to my travel-blog.
Also check out Nanna's article: Caves in Iceland for more information on this subject.
Have a lovely time exploring the caves of Iceland :)