All who have considered a visit to Iceland and started researching have quickly found that the country is very far from a flat island covered in a giant sheet of ice. In fact, the entire country is truly full of natural wonders to behold, including its many beautiful mountains.
Due to the origins of Iceland’s explosive beginnings, you cannot go far in Iceland without seeing a mountain, lava field or volcano. You will likely want to plan part of your visit to the island nation with an eye bent toward how to incorporate some mountain hikes or sightseeing trips. We have thoroughly combed through the many many peaks that dot the Icelandic landscape in search of the best mountains for you, the visitor, to experience.
If you are a true adventurer at heart and love to climb mountains, you will surely find a few special gems on our list of the most beautiful mountains in Iceland. But, even if you would rather glimpse the views of what Iceland has to offer, there are many opportunities to either join tours or drive the country in your rented 4×4 vehicle. Either way, our mountain list will surely hit the spot for those at all spots along the spectrum of curiosity. We hope that you are excited about diving into one of the most unique and extremely breathtaking countries in the world—we hope to provide you with all you need in your research journey.
The Mid-Atlantic Ridge
Iceland is situated atop the divergent boundary called the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The Ridge runs through the center of Iceland, and much tectonic activity occurs because two plates, the North American Plate and the Eurasian Plate, are pulling away from each other. Probably the most famous recent eruption occurred in April 2010 when Eyjafjallajökull (also known as E15 or Charley) erupted and caused ash to spew into the air, the thickness and drift of which affected airports and grounded flights in most of northern Europe.
It is Iceland’s unique position on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge that is the reason for so much volcanic activity, as well as its stunning landscape, from its mountains and valleys to its hot springs, waterfalls and glacial formations.
In the northwest, volcanic activity left cooled lava flows called tertiary (the time period from 66 million to 2.58 million years ago) flood basalts. These look like stepped plateaus of rock formations. The layers of lava are said to be almost 2 miles thick. In the central, southwest and east parts of the island, quaternary (2.5 million years ago until now, the most recent time period of rock formations) flood basalts and hyaloclastites (rock formations formed when lava and magma erupts under water) are found. The quaternary rocks are home to the most recent rifted areas that contain most of the active volcanoes. The rift zones have spread about 100 feet in the past 3,000 to 5,000 years.
If you’re visiting the Westfjords, you will find some high tabletop-shaped mountains that will attract your interest. Erosion and tectonic activity have shaped these mountains over tens of millions of years. In the east portion of the country, the mountains and volcanos are more recently formed, and because of this, they are thus more rugged and rough.
What Are The Famous Mountains of Iceland?
If you are a photographer, your list of famous Icelandic mountains will likely be different than those of an active mountain climber, or even a local Icelander. Your famous list might include those nearby where you live, whether you’re from the Capital area or the East. That is to say, the list is different for everyone!
We have put together our list of the most visited, most beautiful and most famous mountains in the country. In order to make things easier, we have grouped them based on their locations, hoping that will be more convenient instead of making a list of the tallest mountains. We have given locations and heights of each of the mountains as well as tips for visiting. Happy researching and we hope you find everything that will help you plan the trip of a lifetime.
Height: 5,466 feet (1,666 meters)
Location: Southwest region
If you have a keen eye and memory, you might recognize the name Eyjafjallajökull from the news. This highly active volcano is also known as E15 or even Charley, and it became world famous in April 2010 when it erupted and caused chaos in air transport in most of northern Europe. If you want to enjoy one of the most picturesque day hikes in the world, you have picked the right volcano to climb. You have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to blend a day of fun mountain climbing with an eye to see what remains after one of the most famous eruptions in recent years.
It’s highly recommended that you take a local guide company for this hike, as you will be crossing snow and ice and you will need cramptons. The trail isn’t always obvious for non-locals. And for your safety, you’ll need to be on ropes for most of the hike, as the climb is very steep. You will not encounter any specialized technical areas of mountaineering, but the top of the hike will be across a glacier and crevices. The payoff for your hard work will be breathtaking views of the coastline and the rocky Vestmannaeyjar Islands.
You will drive about 2.5 hours from Reykjavik to get to Eyjafjallajökull. If you’re staying in the capital city and you get an extra early start, you should be able to hike the 4-mile trek in one day, returning later in the evening.
Height: 1,240 feet (379 meters)
Location: Southwest region
If you are looking for a mountain to climb that is in the Reykjanes peninsula, look no further than Keilir. We have also included Keilir on our list to give some variety in the size and climbing abilities of visitors to Iceland. Keilir translates as “cone,” which makes perfect sense once you have seen this almost wonderfully symmetrical mountain. While not as tall as some of the other mountains on our list, its beautiful shape and its status as a landmark on the peninsula pushed its notoriety and made our list of the most beautiful mountains in Iceland.
Keilir is actually quite close to the world-famous Blue Lagoon. So if you would like to be extra adventurous, plan a trek up the mountain, and then a nice unwinding time to relax sore muscles afterward in the luxurious waters. It should take roughly 3-4 hours to hike to the top, and you will find a spectacular panoramic view from the summit.
Keilir is an imperial landmark between Reykjavik and the international airport at Keflavík. Many ships use Keilir as a guide point when approaching Iceland, and Icelanders view it as a national point of pride and recognition. You will find Keilir a short 25 minute drive from the small town of Hafnarfjörður.
Height: 4,882 feet (1,488 meters)
Location: Southwest region
Now here you will find one of Iceland’s most loved active volcanoes. Hekla means “hood” and was probably named that because there is often a dense fog around the top, making it look rather ominous. In fact, in Icelandic lore Hekla was feared and referred to as the “gates of hell” because it was so often hidden. Hekla’s easy ascent allows many to visit—but be sure to always check local conditions, because the volcano doesn’t give much warning before eruption. Its last eruption in 2000 only gave 30 minutes warning before it blew. Some scientists say magma buildups show that it could be due to erupt at any time.
The gradual hike to the peak does cross snow, but will only take about 3 to 4 hours. You might want to take a guided tour, just to ensure your safety on the volcano, but it is doable as long as you’re prepared and stay on the marked path. You will be very well rewarded for your efforts when you get to the top and get to see the breathtaking view stretching across the ridge and the land before you that was designed by the eruptions of the hot spots in the surrounding area. Across the sandy landscape and lava fields you will find much that attracts the eye, in this land that is unlike any other in the world.
Location: Southwest region
This is a must-visit area for anyone traveling to Iceland. While not a specific named mountain, the Landmannalaugar area is so extraordinary, it simply must be mentioned. You might think we often say this, but it truly is a hidden gem of the country. Landmannalaugar is renowned for its intensely colored (red, yellow, orange, white, black, blue, green and purple) rhyolite mountains, along with amazing waterfalls in basalt rock formations, and of course its geothermal bathing pool surrounded with steep black lava fields. Especially after hiking around this vast landscape, a nice relaxing dip in the perfect temperature water is just the ticket.
The reason behind the vivid and intense colors around the mountains is the acidity of the volcanoes. This hot spot activity has stained the rhyolite mountains around it many different colors, from black to blue to ochre and red.
Accessible from mid June to end of September, Landmannalaugar is best visited when the roads are safe. You may take a bus tour to get there, or drive in your rented 4×4. You could easily spend a full 6-8 hour day hiking in Landmannalaugar. If you are already in the southwest area to hike Hekla, it’s worth including Landmannalaugar in your plans for a second day.
Height: 6,900 feet (2,110 meters)
Location: Southeast region
If you are a true adventurer at heart, then you likely have Hvannadalshnúkur on your list of must-dos while visiting. Across mountain climbers’ top lists, the ascent of the highest peak in Iceland is a once-in-a-lifetime chance. A great day of weather will allow you to look out over some of the most breathtaking views in the world.
In order to reach the peak, you will start over Europe’s biggest glacier, the Vatnajökull glacier inside Skaftafell National Reserve. Vatnajökull glacier is so expansive, it is almost unbelieveable. This view will definitely be one of the highlights of your trip. You will find Hvannadalshnúkur on the northwestern rim of the Öræfajökull volcano. Once you reach the summit, the panoramic views are simply unforgettable. Your view over outlet glaciers of Vatnajökull glacier or over the sandy areas of the glaciated rivers that drain off the glacier are as unique as the journeys that brings visitors to the peak.
In order to climb the highest peak of Iceland, you must be in very good physical condition. An experienced mountain guide will have the necessary gear to traverse the glacier, so you do not have to buy any special equipment. You do not have to be an experienced mountain climber, but you must be prepared for a about 14-15 miles of walking, including some rough terrain. The whole climb will likely take 10-15 hours.
6. Hrútsfjallstindar Peaks
Height: 6,150 feet (1,875 meters)
Location: Southeast region
On the same Svínafellsjökull glacier as Hvannadalshnúkur, but just to the north is a very impressive alpine hike to the Hrútsfjallstindar peaks. This is quite a challenge for both active mountaineers as well as those visiting the area on a vacation. Those who have made it to the top might even tell you that Hrútsfjallstindar has more magnificent views than Hvannadalshnúkur. Remember that mountain climbing is quite strenuous on the body and will likely give you some sore muscles in the days following, unless your body is very used to hiking.
If you have the time and can plan it correctly with rest and overnight stays, the Hrútsfjallstindar Peaks are well worth your time. There are four total peaks, the highest of which is 6,150 feet. There are several well established routes to the top, which have been quite a task for climbers over the past decades. Will you attempt to join those who have scaled these peaks?
You could say that physically, this hike is demanding, and mentally as well, as it lasts anywhere from 14 to 16 hours. The way up proffers amazing views of the Öræfajökull group of mountains (or massif) as well as the Skaftafellsjökull and Svínafellsjökull valley glaciers. No special mountaineering skills are required to scale the Hrútsfjallstindar Peaks, as far as using ropes, open rocks to scale, and more. Please be sure to plan accordingly for your water and food needs, packing enough for a long trek. We’ve also mentioned elsewhere how important it is to have the proper outdoor clothing and quality footwear.
Height: 4,744 feet (1,446 meters)
Location: Northwest region
If you would like to head to the north and west and explore one of the most beautiful glaciers in Iceland, head out to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. On this adventure you will find Snæfellsnesjökull, the crown jewel of the peninsula. If you are an acute fan of classic literature, you will recognize the name as the volcano featured in Jules Verne‘s epic dive into the underworld, “Journey to the Center of the Earth.”
The cone-shaped dormant 700,000-year-old stratovolcano last erupted in 250 AD. It is surrounded by layers of lava fields, some of which hardened on the west and provided extra strength and stability against the ferocious surf of the coast. The ascent is easy to climb, about 4.5-5 miles, but is also pocketed with crevices, so hikers must be very careful. Once you reach the top of the glacial volcano, you will be able to spin 360 degrees for some awesome panoramic views like toward the Reykjanes Peninsula in the south and to the Westfjords in the North.
You will begin your journey by taking a drive through Snæfellsnes National Park. The park fully encapsulates all that Iceland as a whole has to offer— with surprise waterfalls, hidden caves, black sand beaches, lava fields covered in moss, as well as the lovely possibility of some wildlife sightings.
Height: 1,519 feet (463 meters)
Location: Northwest region
Kirkjufell is probably one of the most photographed mountains in Iceland. If you do end up heading north from Reykjavik searching for adventure, you have likely already included West Iceland and the town of Grundarfjörður as one of your destinations.
The jagged profile of Kirkjufell fills many photographer’s camera lenses because it is beautifully placed right on the edge of the sea. Not only is it a photographer’s paradise, the scenery surrounding this mountain is simply unmatched anywhere else. In the summertime, the sloping green sides make the cone-shaped peak very enticing. If you are a serious mountain climber, you will be proud once you have crossed Kirkjufell off your list of peaks.
If you do want to climb Kirkjufell, you must either be a very experienced climber, or hire a guide to take you to the top. It is very steep in parts, and has several rope sections that mustn’t be taken too lightly. Plan on about 2 hours to get up the mountain, if you have a spot of dry summer weather. Rain will make the grass-covered slope fairly difficult, if not dangerous. The top is actually quite roomy for a group, and the sights surrounding you are quite magical indeed. Watching the wildlife, taking in all of the peaks nearby, and even the sea itself is simply marvelous to behold.
Height: 3,507 feet (1,069 meters)
Location: East region
If you have plans to drive the Ring Road in search of adventure, perhaps you are searching for something wonderful in the east-northeast of Iceland. Without a doubt, the village of Djúpivogur lays claim to one of the most beautiful mountains in the country, Búlandstindur.
Búlandstindur is a very picturesque, symmetrical and pyramid-shaped mountain. Once you’re in the fjord of Berufjörður, or in the tiny village of Djúpivogur, you can can easily recognize the towering sentinel of Búlandstindur, standing guard over the fjord. Many say it is the highest mountain rising straight from the sea in the country.
If you are interested in local folklore and historical mystery, Búlandstindur is home to that as well. Búlandstindur is thought to be an energy center in the country, and many travel to Búlandstindur for its centering and calming effects. Legends also claim that it can make wishes come true in the summer solstice time. For those who would like to scale this beauty, you can find local guidance up the peak. Check the village of Djúpivogur while you’re there, ask around for a friendly and experienced climber, and plan an adventure of your own making.
Height: 5,518 feet (1,682 meters)
Location: Northeast region
If you have been searching for one of Iceland’s national treasures, look no further than Herðubreið. It is often known as the unofficial national mountain in many local minds. Those who have viewed the dominant and regal-looking peak will surely understand why Herðubreið is easily referred as the queen of Icelandic mountains. Its peak is a circular table-style mountain, so its crown-like shape also lends more theory to its royal nickname.
Herðubreið is located just to the north of Vatnajökull, Iceland’s largest ice cap (and one of the largest in Europe). As you have probably gathered, Herðubreið was formed from an eruption within the glacier, hence the expansive lava fields surrounding it and the crater at its top. It is quite a feat to even access Herðubreið, as you must have a heavy-duty 4×4 vehicle to cross the lava fields and ford several rivers. For many thousands of years, Herðubreið was believed to be impossible to climb. If you’re unsure of your outdoorsmanship skills, hire a guide or service to take you there.
Physically, Herðubreið is an imposing mountain, rising up from the surrounding area with steep sides of scree and vertical cliffs near the edge of the tabletop. Once you set foot up on top of the table area, it is a fairly flat lava flow with a small 600 foot high cone around its crater. If you plan to hike Herðubreið to the summit, it does not require much technical skill, but you will be on loose rock for much of the very steep climb. Be sure to bring a hiking helmet, especially if you are visiting during the summer months with other climbers. Loose rock falling down on top of you from climbers ahead of you can be very dangerous.
Without a doubt, the natural geological forces that created the island of Iceland have provided a sincerely unique landscape that is without match in the world. Our goal is to help you find your way through the country with all the information you can about the beautiful mountains of Iceland. Whether you are planning a visit with your mountain climbing club or a group of active friends and family, you simply won’t be disappointed with the varied options of easy hikes and summit ascents.
We must also point out that Iceland is not a country to visit with your suitcase packed lightly with vacation attire. The weather can change in an instant, so we always want our visitors to be prepared with the proper outdoor gear. In general, you will want to use layers of outdoor climate clothing to stay warm and stay dry. Always use a moisture-wicking fabric for your base layer (avoid cotton, as it will stay wet and chill you), and go from there with combinations of fleece, wool, and of course something waterproof and weather-appropriate. Visiting Iceland in the winter will obviously cause you to pack different outer layers than the summer months.
Some enjoy coming to Iceland in the summer months to take advantage of the sunlight and lush landscapes. There are also advantages to visiting during winter—ice-covered peaks are lovely to behold as well as frozen rivers or waterfalls. Another point to mention, is that the interior gravel roads in Iceland are not always passable in the winter months. Ice and snow can easily cause roads to be closed until spring, so please be aware and plan appropriately before your visit. Any of the local mountain guide companies can offer you ideas for what months are the best to visit for the specific mountains you’d like to climb.
We hope that you bring a high-quality camera and have lots of space for hundreds of pictures during your visit. A trip to Iceland is probably going to be very different from other trips you have taken. From mountaintop peaks and volcano craters, glaciers and river runoffs, it’s simply stunning to view the variety of natural wonders. Without a doubt, you have chosen to visit Iceland for its rugged landscape and beauty, and it will surely not disappoint.