Unearthing 11 Best Lava Caves Iceland Has to Offer, Including Cave Tours

Lava Caves in Iceland

blog authorBy Johanna Sigurðardóttir shield verificationVerified Expert

    Imagine standing at the entrance of an Icelandic lava cave, the cool, crisp air enveloping you as a reminder of the fiery natural processes that once sculpted these subterranean wonders. Iceland's lava caves, born from molten Earth, present a mesmerizing blend of beauty and geology that beckons adventurers and scientists alike. 

    With our intimate knowledge of Iceland, we're here to guide you through these natural marvels. Our mission? To introduce you to the best lava caves Iceland has to offer, including Vidgelmir, Raufarhólshellir, and the enchanting Grjótagjá, among others. 

    In this blog post, we're diving deep into the heart of Iceland's most spectacular lava caves and unveiling the top cave tours that promise an experience like no other. Join us on this journey to explore the hidden depths of Iceland, where adventure awaits at every turn.

    Understanding Lava Caves

    Diving into understanding lava caves in Iceland is akin to peeling back the layers of the Earth's most fiery secrets. Picture a river beneath a frozen surface; that's how most lava caves form. A molten river of lava flows, cooling on top to form a crust, while beneath it, the liquid fire keeps moving. This leaves a hollow, cave-like tunnel in its wake. 

    But not all lava caves are crafted from this alone. Some emerge where lava meets water, cooling rapidly to form eerily beautiful underground rivers and streams. Beyond their geological allure, these subterranean marvels have historical significance too. 

    They've provided shelter from Iceland's biting winds and cold, serving as havens for people and animals alike. Today, these caves, from Grjótagjá to Vatnshellir, are not just natural wonders but part of the land's living history, occasionally still offering refuge or storage.

    A Guide to the 11 Best Lava Caves in Iceland

    Alright, buckle up because we're about to embark on an adventure to the best lava caves in Iceland. You might be thinking, 'What makes these 12 caves stand out among the 500 known lava tubes dotted across Iceland?' Well, you're about to find out. 

    1. Víðgelmir: The Behemoth of Darkness

    Venturing into Víðgelmir cave feels like stepping into an ancient world, one where Vikings once roamed. Nestled in the western part of Iceland, Víðgelmir is not just any cave—it ranks as one of the longest lava caves in Iceland, stretching over 1,585 meters (about 1 mile) in length.

    Its grandeur doesn't stop there; with its width extending to 16.5 meters (54 feet) and height peaking at 15.8 meters (52 feet), it stands among the most voluminous caves globally in terms of cubic measurements. 

    Created from the Hallmundarhraun lava flows around 1100 years ago, the cave's history is rich, hinted at by fascinating archaeological finds like bones and ancient pearls. Inside, it's a spectacle of nature's artistry with an array of rock formations flaunting hues unseen above ground, crystalline ceilings, and remnants of frozen lava flows. 

    Lava Caves Iceland

    2. Mariuhellar: Whispers From the Past

    Nestled in the Heidmork Nature Reserve, just a short, 20-minute drive from the bustling life of Reykjavík, lie the Mariuhellar caves. Known collectively as 'Maria's Caves,' these formations stand as a testament to Iceland's fiery underbelly, with their origins dating back some 4,600 years.

    Carved by relentless lava flows, Mariuhellar offers an extraordinary peek into the best lava caves Iceland has so proudly preserved. Inside, the caves are a spectacle: large open tubes where the sky peeks through small natural skylights, walls polished to a sheen by ancient flows, and a tapestry of rock formations—including stalagmites and stalactites—that tell tales older than time.

    And should you visit in the winter, you might find the caves adorned with natural ice sculptures, transforming into a frozen wonderland. Educational placards dot the landscape, offering visitors a rich narrative of Iceland's geological history.

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    3. Raufarholshellir (The Lava Tunnel): The King of Caves

    Stepping into Raufarhólshellir lava feels like entering another realm. Not just any cavern, it's the fourth largest in our guide to lava caves Iceland showcases, stretching about 1,360 meters (0.85 miles) and peaking at a width of 30 meters (98 feet). 

    But it's not its size that's most captivating; it's the kaleidoscope of colors painting its interior. Imagine walls draped in hues of red, green, and gold, all naturally lit through a celestial ceiling hole that, come winter, sculpts snow into abstract art forms. 

    This cosmic display becomes a magnet for photographers chasing the Northern Lights, framing shots that seem plucked from dreams. Even Hollywood couldn't resist its charm, choosing it as a backdrop for 'Noah.'


    4. Lofthellir: The Icy Heart of Fire

    Lofthellir Lava Cave is a bucket-list dream for those craving an underground adventure. Picture this: a 3,500-year-old lava tunnel stretching 370 meters (1,214 feet) long and standing 10-15 meters (33-49 feet) tall, home to the largest and most stunning ice sculptures in any Icelandic cave

    But here's the twist—getting to the heart requires a mix of crawling and swinging on ropes. Sounds like an adventure, right? With the guidance of an experienced guide, this safely navigated tour unveils a magical world of iridescent ice formations contrasting beautifully against multicolored lava rocks. True thrill-seekers welcome to your paradise!

     Lofthellir lava cave, Iceland

    5. Surtshellir: Where Fire Giants Roam

    Welcome to Surtshellir, the legendary lava tunnel steeped in myth and history. Nestled in Iceland's rugged west, Surtshellir Cave is not just famous; it's an icon. It stretches an impressive 1310 meters (0.81 miles) and has been the backdrop of tales since Eggert Olafsson's documentation in 1750.

    Named after Surtr, the Norse mythology fire giant, it once provided shelter to outlaws and sheep rustlers hiding from the law. Today, it captivates adventurous tourists—those equipped to traverse its icy winters or rocky summers.

    With solid magma walls and basaltic floors, Surtshellir has borne witness to tales of yore, even serving as a 10th-century hideout for bandits. A stone's throw away, just 60 km (38 mi) north of Borgarnes, it remains a tangible slice of Icelandic lore, easily explored with a 4x4 vehicle from Reykjavík.

    Surtshellir cave, Iceland

    6. Vatnshellir Cave: A Journey to the Center of the Earth

    Dive 35 meters (115 feet) below the surface into Vatnshellir Cave, a fascinating lava tunnel extending 200 meters (656 feet) located on Iceland's Snæfellsnes peninsula. Part of the Purkhólahraun lava field, this subterranean marvel surprises visitors with its vivid red and orange hues of frozen lava—a vibrant relic of its fiery origins.

    A spiral staircase descends into the cave, revealing a horizontal path for exploration. Once a vital water source, an eruption from the nearby Purkhólar crater family transformed it into today's breathtaking 'water cave.' Its colors and formations showcase nature's artistry, frozen in time.

    Iceland vatnshellir

    7. Þríhnjúkagígur Cave: Into the Volcano's Belly

    Þríhnjúkagígur Cave isn't your typical destination; it's an epic saga beneath the Earth. This dormant volcano, silent for 4000 years, offers a jaw-dropping descent into the bowels of the Earth.

    Located in the Blue Mountains, just a hop from Reykjavik, it covers 3270 square meters (35,200 square feet) and plunges 213 meters (699 feet) deep, with a bottom wide enough to house three basketball courts.

    What's more? An elevator whisks you down into a world painted with a palette unseen in standard lava caves Iceland boasts about. Here, vibrant colors narrate the Earth's fiery past, making it a must-visit for adventurers yearning to peek into a volcano's heart.

    8. Búri Cave: The Serpentine Depths

    Discovered not too long ago but dating back around 5,000 years, Búri Cave is a mesmerizing highlight among the best lava caves Iceland boasts. This underground marvel stretches for 1 kilometer (0.62 miles), with its towering dimensions reaching about 10 meters (33 feet) in both height and width.

    Notably, it features a stunning 17-meter (56 feet) vertical pit, thought to have been formed by a cascading lava waterfall. The entrance greets explorers with ice sculptures, enhancing its natural beauty. 

    Nestled within the Leitarhraun lava field, Búri is recognized globally for its vastness and complex terrain, presenting a unique challenge involving crawling and climbing.

    9. Leiðarendi Cave: The Enchanting Lava Tube

    Nestled near the hustle and bustle of Iceland's capital and snugly positioned by the Blue Mountains in the Tvíbollahraun lava field, Leiðarendi Cave stands as a captivating hallmark among the lava caves of Iceland. Traversing this 900-meter-long (2953 feet) wonder reveals a realm where nature's artistry is on full display.

    The walls, polished by time and elements, shimmer with an almost ethereal gleam, highlighting the cave's unique feature—lava flakes that have gracefully succumbed to erosion, lying scattered like forgotten treasures. Within its depths, explorers are greeted by a diverse array of geological formations, from delicate stalactites and stalagmites to the seasonal sophistication of ice sculptures in the colder months. 

    While Leiðarendi can be ventured independently, wearing sturdy hiking boots, a dependable headlight, and a helmet transforms this exploration into a secure trek through the heart of Icelandic natural beauty.

     Leiðarendi Cave

    10. Grjótagjá Cave: Between Ice and Fire

    Grjótagjá Cave, a lava tube in Iceland, is a marvel that effortlessly blends the elements of ice and fire. Seated on private land, this hidden sanctuary houses an active natural hot spring within its stunning lava cave walls. 

    Famous for its thermal waters, Grjótagjá gained additional fame as a Game of Thrones filming location, capturing the hearts of fans worldwide. While the entrance is modest, the interior's warmth contrasts with the snowy exterior. 

    Although volcanic eruptions in 1975 raised the water's temperature to 50°C (122°F), making it unfit for a dip, its beauty alone is a compelling reason to visit.

    Grjótagjá Cave

    11. Hljóðaklettar: The Symphony of Stones

    Hljóðaklettar, famously known as one of Iceland's "lava churches," offers an unmatched sonic experience, standing out amid the trio of rock formations in an area ripe with lava landscapes. 

    Uniquely, it's the only cave among them, featuring mesmerizing basalt columns adjacent to a vast glacial river, differentiating it from other lava caves. Renowned for its incredible acoustics, it's a dream spot for singing enthusiasts. 

    Visiting the lava tunnel demands readiness—hiking boots, warm jackets, and waterproof gear are essentials for navigating this awe-inspiring 900-meter-long (2953-foot) natural wonder with ease and comfort.

    Hljóðaklettar lava cave

    3 Best Lava Cave Tours in Iceland

    Now that you're familiar with some of the most captivating lava caves in Iceland, it's time to explore them through the best tours available. Here are some of the best lava cave tours we can vouch for: 

    1. Evening Lava Tunnel Tour

    The Evening Lava Tunnel Tour is an absolute game-changer for adventure seekers. Imagine blending the thrill of exploring Raufarhólshellir—one of Iceland's longest and most renowned lava tubes—with the magic of chasing the Northern Lights or delighting in a scenic dinner along the south coast.

    These tours, lasting around 1 hour, offer a perfectly timed escape for a quick yet unforgettable exploration. Just a 30-minute drive from Reykjavík, Raufarhólshellir is an easily accessible marvel, but remember, you'll need to book at least 8 hours ahead to secure your spot. 

    With special staff availability extending to winter evenings (up until April 15th), evening slots are not just convenient but an extraordinary way to experience the lava tunnel. 

    Caving in Leidarendi 

    2. Caving in Leidarendi

    Ready to peek beneath Iceland's surface? Adventure Vikings are your trusted guides to the hidden depths of Leiðarendi Cave, offering a unique lava cave tour that's nothing short of spectacular. Imagine venturing through a 900-meter (almost 3000 feet) subterranean passage aptly named 'The End of the Road.'

    This circular cave system is a treasure trove of geological marvels, showcasing ancient lava formations that'll have you stopping in your tracks. And don't worry about the dark; you'll be equipped with helmets and headlights, making your passage through the cave safe and enjoyable.

    Traverse through narrow passages with ease and get up close with over 2000-year-old stalactites and stalagmites. Despite a few spots where you'll need to hunch and crawl, Leiðarendi Cave provides an accessible yet adventurous gateway to unearth Iceland's volcanic legacy.

    3. Vatnshellir Cave Tour

    Eager for an adventure that's both up your alley and beneath your feet? The Vatnshellir Cave Tour takes you on a remarkable journey 200 meters (656 feet) into and 35 meters (115 feet) below the Earth's surface, right into the heart of an ancient lava flow. 

    It's a trip that's as accessible as it is awe-inspiring. Given its status as one of Iceland's most welcoming lava tubes, it attracts a diverse crowd. Nonetheless, here's a slice of advice: come prepared. The tour involves navigating narrow, spiral staircases and trekking on uneven terrain in dim light—a small price for the vast beauty and educational richness this 8,000-year-old natural wonder offers.

    Over the course of 45 minutes, you'll get an educational yet straightforward overview of the cave's geological formation, suitable for both novices and veterans of cave exploration. It's clear why this one ranks as a top-tier choice for visitors.

    Enhancing Your Lava Cave Adventure Tour

    Enhancing Your Lava Cave Experience in Iceland involves a mix of timing, photography skills, and an appreciation for folklore:

    • Best Times to Visit: Aim for the late spring or early autumn months to avoid the crowds and capture the natural light filtering through cave openings.
    • Photography Tips: Use a tripod for stability in low light and experiment with long exposures to illuminate the cave's intricate details. Consider a wide-angle lens to capture the vastness of the caverns.
    • Cultural Significance & Legends: Many lava caves in Iceland are shrouded in myths, from hidden treasures to elves and trolls. Engaging with these tales can add a rich layer of wonder to your visit, making each photo and step through the caves a journey through both geological and mythical history.

    Discovering the Secret Voices of Iceland's Lava Caves

    Our voyage through the lava caves of Iceland has shed light on some of the most surreal subterranean landscapes Earth has to offer. From the acoustic wonders of Hljóðaklettar to the historical depths of Leiðarendi, these lava caves offer more than just a glimpse into the geologic past; they present an otherworldly adventure.

    This adventure, while captivating, underscores the convenience and cost-effectiveness of choosing to rent a campervan in Iceland. Not only does a campervan provide the flexibility to chase the northern lights at a moment's notice, but it also offers a unique solution to Iceland's high accommodation costs. 

    By combining transportation and lodging, adventurers can immerse themselves fully in the experience without breaking the bank.

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