Iceland is a country of varied and interesting landscapes, some of the most fascinating are to be found in its mountains. Iceland owes much of its character to these big giants, coming in various shapes and sizes, constantly bringing us back to the time of their formation, or simply calling to be photographed. Hvannadalshnúkur is the official highest summit of Iceland, stated to be 2110 metres, but what the others lack in size, they surely make up for in beauty! Here is a selection of emblematic mountains, clockwise, to bring along with you on your trip to Iceland!
1. Keilir, Reykjanes Peninsula
This classical cone-shaped mountain will be the first to greet you on your way from Keflavik international airport to the capital Reykjavik, on the East of the Ring Road. It looks like the typical volcano you would draw as a kid, and rightly so as Keilir formed from a volcanic fissure eruption beneath a 300-metre thick ice cap that covered the Reykjanes Peninsula during the last glacial period. The eruptive material piled up in a cavity of the ice, revealing this 378-metre high volcano to us today. One of these encounters you will long recall as it marks the start of your journey!
2. Snaefellsjökull, Snaefellsnes Peninsula
The infamous Snaefellsjökull, 1446 metres, offers a pretty sight from many locations across Western Iceland. Snaefellsjökull is a dormant glacier-capped volcano, part of a once active and powerful system of smaller volcanoes, as seen from the numerous lava flows and craters surrounding the mountain. It is best known for being the starting point of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Since 1900, the glacier has shrunk by about two-thirds, now occupying an area of 10km², and sadly likely to disappear in a mere 100 years...
3. Kirkjufell, Snaefellsnes Peninsula
Kirkjufell, along with Vestrahorn mountain in East Iceland, is probably the most postcard-like mountain in Iceland. Mount Kirkjufell differs from volcanoes in that it alternates sedimentary rocks full of fossils, and layers of lava. The mountain owes its actual shape to the pressure exerted by the two glaciers in the middle of which it was located, as an exposed glacial island, referred to as a nunatak. The combination of the mountain and Kirkjufellsfoss falls is a sight to behold. When are you coming?
4. Drangafjall, North Iceland
This sharp mountain ridge takes you by surprise on your drive through Öxnadalur Valley in direction of Akureyri. What sets Drangafjall apart is the impressive sword-like peak of Hraundangi (steeple rock), that rises 80 metres above the ridge, for a total height of 1.075 metres above sea level. A real needle as the summit is less than half a square metre wide! Hraundangi along with the ridge are the remains of a massive rockslide (berghlaup) from the original mountain, Háafjall, that took place many centuries ago, explaining the cluster of hills.
5. Herðubreið, Myvatn area
Heirdubreid, 1.200 metres high, carries an aura that you instantly feel when in the Lake Myvatn area. Icelanders have it that there exists a mountain world ruled by a king and a queen. While the king is still a question of debate, with Snaefell and Öraefajökull fighting for the title, you just met the Queen in Heirdubreid. This imposing, majestic, mountain also formed in a succession of subglacial eruptions where the volcanic material piled up in an enormous cavity in the ice, that has seen Herdubreid rise well above its peers.
6. Vestrahorn, Brunnhorn & Eystrahorn, East Iceland
Chris Burkard – Stokksnes, Vestrahorn © Chris Burkard
From its awe-inspiring mountain peaks to its grassy dunes and rich birdlife, Vestrahorn won’t leave you unmoved. Together with Eystrahorn and Brunnhorn, they offer the best settings for photography, especially when being reflected in the wet sands. Brunnhorn, East of Vestrahorn, is affectionately referred to as the Batman Mountains by locals, due to the shape of its three peaks somehow reminiscent of Batman’s signature. Do you see it? Geologically speaking, Vestrahorn is one of the rare mountains in Iceland made of gabbro, not basalt, which gives the mountain these shades of green and black.
7. Landmannalaugar, Highlands
Landmannalaugar is among the most popular destinations in the Icelandic Highlands, and undoubtedly one of the most photographed too. The rhyolite hills of Landmannalaugar present striking contrasts where various textures and shades of yellow, red, blue and green swirl together like on a painter’s palette. Its varied and complex geology history entices experts from all countries and provides a rich variety of hiking trails to the visitors in search of escapism and wilderness.
8. Lómagnúpur, South Iceland
Lomagnupur is a majestic 690-metre high rock wall, with a summit peaking at 765 metres, lying on the Southern Coast, not far East from Kirkjubaejarklaustur. Lava intermix with thick layers of sediments dating back to the early Ice Age, making for a dizzying beauty in all seasons. Lomagnupur was once a precipitous promontory standing tall against the raging North Atlantic Sea, back when the sea level was much higher than today. Its beauty and character have made Lomagnúpur a recurring theme of the Icelandic sagas.
9. Maelifell, Highlands
Maelifell, 200 metres above its surroundings, is arguably the most surreal scenery of our list! This vibrant green cone-shaped volcano stands in the middle of an infinite black sand desert behind Myrdalsjökull, the glacier that covers the threatening Volcano Katla. Maelifell was formed by eruptions underneath the Myrdalsjökull glacier and the magical beauty of its verdant vegetation is best revealed under stormy and low grey skies. The road leading to Maelifell is only accessible with a 4x4 vehicle from July to early October, the road being wet or entirely flooded the rest of the year. Iceland being Iceland!
10. Hekla, South Iceland
Hekla, 1491 metres high for a 5-kilometre long crest, proudly dominates the vast Southern Lowlands and is one of the most active volcanoes of Iceland, in the wait for next eruption. Although the last eruptions were relatively small, there was a time when the eruptions in Hekla were so dreadful that people believed it was the entrance to Hell, no less! There have been over 20 eruptions in historical times, the most recent eruptions dating from 1947-48, 1970, 1980-81, 1991, and 2000. Hekla could now erupt at any time!