Caves in Iceland
In Iceland you will find many caves of all shapes and sizes. Some are well-known, others you have never heard of.
What kind of caves are there in Iceland?
Caves are important in Icelandic history. Most of them have served as shelters for people or animals in harsh winters. Some of them are still used as storage or curing sheds or barns for sheep.
Some caves in Iceland are lava tubes, long tunnels formed when flowing lava cooled and solidified. Melting ice took care of the rest and thence formed glacier caves. Others have formed due to the volcanic activity.
The following are some of Iceland’s most known and visited caves.
Maríuhellar caves (Maria’s caves)
The closest caves to the capital, Reykjavík, are Maríuhellar caves in Heidmörk Nature Reserve. It is a 15 minute drive to the three caves that comprise the Maria caves. These are actually 3 caves named after Mary the Virgin Mother because it was once owned by a convent dedicated to Mary. Maríuhellar has large openings serves as the lava tube’s entrance and a whole above that allows tourists a small view of the sky.
Leidarendi cave (End of the Journey)
This is the most famous cave in South Iceland. This cave is also close to the capital and is a lava tube located in the Tvibollahraun lava field, close to the Blue Mountains. It can be very narrow at places and you need to crawl through the cave, it is not possible to walk through it. It has diverse and colorful scenery. The cave walls are polished with lava formations along with beautifully sculpted stalagmites and stalactites. During winter, you can witness glistening ice sculptures which add to the wonders you can see inside the cave. The cave was named Leidarendi meaning End of Journey because a sheep carcass has been found inside the cave.
Gjábakkahellir cave (Helguhellir or Stelpuhellir (‘Girl cave’))
This cave can be found at the national park, Thingvellir and is famous for caving activities in South Iceland. Like any other lava tubes in Iceland, the impressive forms of stalactites made from lava from the lava field while it cooled off makes the cave special. Gjabakkahellir is however primarily known for being the last cave people lived in Iceland.
Thrihnjukagigur cave is east of the Blue Mountains in southwest Iceland. The volcano has been dormant for the last 4000 years. Thrihnukagigur offers a fascinating adventure into through a magma chamber and deep spelunking.
Búri cave is located on the Reykjanes peninsula but wasn´t discovered until 2005. It is 10 meters high, 10 meters wide and 1 kilometer long in its largest chambers. It is said that here you will find the deepest lava pit on earth.
Lofthellir cave (Air cave)
Lofthellir, which translates as Air cave, is a 3,500 year old lava cave filled with wonderful natural ice sculptures. It is on the north coast and you can drive from Lake Myvatn for 45 minutes to reach the skirts of Mt. Hvannfell passing by Hverfell volcano. Then you need to hike for about 30 minutes across a lava field to reach the cave. Different stunning colors that reflect from the ice formations can be witnessed inside the cave.
This cave is known for being uniquely 5000 years old and the 3rd largest lava cave in Iceland that is 1500 meters long. It has a wide collection of ice and lava formation as well as endless tunnels.
Vatnshellir cave (Water cave)
This is found on Snæfellsnes peninsula and is accessible through a guided tour. The entrance goes down a circular staircase and there is a 200 meter long cave that’s very wide with a high ceiling. Unlike the other caves, this cave is very cold which warrants warm clothing. If you are travelling on the Snæfellsnes peninsula and reach the Snæfellsnes glacier, then you will be able to find the Singing cave.
Glacier caves in Iceland
There are numerous glacier caves in Iceland. The difference between glacier caves and ice caves is that ice caves are bedrock caves that contain ice all year round, whereas glacier caves are formed within the ice of a glacier. Most of these caves are unstable and can collapse, which make it very dangerous for tourists. The best-known glacier caves in Iceland are formed because of geothermal heat, Kverkfjöll glacier caves in Vatnajökull being one example. Never go alone, always with an experienced guide!
The Westman Islands
If you visit the Westman islands off the south coast then you should definitely take a boat tour around the islands. On the sailing tour you will visit many nice sites, one of them being a cave formed in one of the islands.