Guide to the Geysir Geothermal Area in Iceland

The Ultimate Guide to the Geysir Geothermal Area in Iceland

The Geysir Geothermal Area is one of Iceland’s top tourist draws. Together with Thingvellir National Park and Gullfoss waterfall, it’s one of the main trio of attractions that form the Golden Circle, a scenic loop relatively close to Reykjavik that you might say epitomizes Iceland’s landscape in one easily accessible package. Want to know more? Read our ultimate guide to the Geysir Geothermal Area in Iceland.

The History of the Geysir Geothermal Area

The origin and historical eruptions of the Great Geysir

The Great Geysir is considered historically significant, not least because it’s where we get the term “geyser.” It was the first geyser in the Haukadalur geothermal area to crop up in written records, first mentioned in 1294. 

The year 1630 was also important, as the geysers erupted with some force – enough to be considered out of the ordinary. Another landmark eruption came in 1845 when steam and boiling water shot around 170 meters in the air; the following year, it had settled down to less than a third of that. By comparison, the average height of today’s jets is between 10 and 20 meters. 

The influence of earthquakes on geothermal activity and the creation of new hot springs

While an earthquake doesn’t shake a geyser into action per se, the two processes do have a certain correlation. Historical accounts suggest that 13th-century earthquakes created some new hot springs in the area. In 1896, a sizeable tremor caused Geysir to wake from a dormant period and begin erupting again. 

Initially, it would send water into the air a few times a day, but this gradually tailed off. In an attempt to disturb it again, locals dumped tons of soap to trigger an eruption. While the science behind this method works at first, the geyser soon becomes clogged; this is precisely what happened to Great Geysir.

The dormancy of the Great Geysir and attempts to stimulate eruptions

By 1915, activity had pretty much completely subsided. Silica deposits can build up around the geyser vent, acting as a plug; if it’s shaken violently enough to be dislodged, water can escape once more. In 1935, a channel was dug around the rim of Great Geysir. In the process, the water table was lowered, and so activity began again for a time. Today, it’s inactive, and attention now focuses elsewhere.

The Modern Geysir Geothermal Area

Today, the main geyser is Strokkur, whose name translates as “the Churn.” It is located about 50 meters from the site of Great Geysir. The first reports of its activity date from 1789, when it was unblocked by an earthquake; by 1815, you’d have seen jets of water spurting up to 60 meters into the air. In the 21st century, it’s still a regular performer, having been cleaned out in the early 1960s. 

Other geothermal features in the area

Geysir Geothermal Area contains more than geysers; you’ll also see mud pots, fumaroles, hot springs, and steam vents as you stroll around this geothermally active valley. Mostly, the water is dangerously hot, so it’s unsafe to test the temperature with your bare hands, and this most definitely isn’t the place to take a dip.

How to experience it

The unique experience of watching Strokkur erupt

You’ll see Strokkur kicking off about every 6 to 10 minutes, forming a turquoise blue dome on the ground, which bursts to send water in the air. While most often the eruption is 10 to 20 meters high, occasionally, water can reach double that height. It’s never reached the lofty heights of its predecessor, but while that lies dormant, this understudy is enough. Its reliability is one of the main reasons a crowd gathers, encircling the geyser at a safe distance, to watch the show.

The buggy tours with Amazing Tours

If you’re keen to experience Haukadalur Valley in a more interactive way, then sign up for Amazing Tours’ exciting Geysir Buggy Adventure. The excursion begins as you drive over rugged terrain and make your way from the geysers to the Icelandic highlands. There, take in a remarkable view of Langjökull Glacier and Skjaldbreið Volcano before returning to base camp. Along the way, you’ll ford rivers and most likely end up splattered in mud, but that’s all part of the fun.

Tips for visiting and preserving the area

Be mindful of your impact

As with any pristine natural environment, the old adage is correct: leave no trace. Areas such as the Geysir Geothermal Area are more fragile than they appear, and to preserve them for future generations, we have a responsibility to look after them during our visit. Be careful where you tread, don’t drop litter, and leave the place as you found it. It’s also imperative that you are careful not to step into the hot water by accident, as it could cause a nasty burn.

The no-drone policy 

That respect for natural landforms extends to the way you record your visit, too. The whine of drones is intrusive and spoils the experience for many visitors. For that reason, the use of drones at Geysir Geothermal Area is strictly prohibited by the landowners. Occasionally, if there is a good reason to do so, filmmakers can secure special permission to fly a drone here, but it’s not common practice. 

Geysir Geothermal Area FAQs

How active is the Geysir, and when did it last erupt?

To answer this question, we need to define what we mean by “the Geysir.” For Strokkur, we’re talking minutes: if you’ve spent more than a quarter of an hour in the Haukadalur Valley, chances are you’ve already seen it erupt at least once. If you mean the original Geysir, then decades ago, with no chance of seeing it burst into life in the near future, as far as scientists are aware. But never say never…

What is the best way to experience Geysir

The Geysir Geothermal Area receives more than a million visitors in a typical year. Most of them arrive on coach or minibus tours or drive themselves. Once there, people usually spend around an hour walking around the site, gathering around Strokkur to take pictures and inspecting the other geothermal landforms. Numbers are highest during the summer months, of course, and the greatest volume of tourists can be seen during the middle of the day. If you’ve hired a car, come early or late when you’ll enjoy a bit more space. Activities such as mountain biking, snowmobile, and buggy tours, such as those offered by Amazing Tours, are also increasingly popular. 

What are the other attractions around the Geysir Geothermal Area?

The Geysir Geothermal Area is located close to Laugarvatn. A geothermal spa called Laugarvatn Fontana sits on the shore of this large lake about a 25-minute drive away. Taking a dip in its warm water followed by a bracing dash into the colder water of the lake is a popular activity. There’s also the opportunity to watch as bread baked in the hot sand is dug up and sliced. As the steam rises, you’ll get a whiff of it – and it tastes even more delicious than it smells.