Iceland is an incredibly popular winter travel destination thanks to its unique natural landscapes, hot springs and the opportunity to witness the elusive Northern Lights. It’s typically regarded as a super safe place for travellers and expats – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t susceptible to natural disasters.
Seismic activity in one region of the country has increased significantly over the last few weeks, and the country has been on high alert warnings for an eruption. Finally, on Monday December 18, a volcano on the Reykjanes peninsula erupted, just after 10pm. Here is everything we know about travelling to Iceland following the eruption.
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Is it safe to travel to Iceland?
While December is a typically good time to visit Iceland, given it’s not peak season and the conditions are usually favourable for a chance to catch the Northern Lights, the country has been under a state of emergency since November 11.
Despite Monday night’s eruption, neither the UK Foreign Office nor the Iceland Travel Advisory are recommending against travel – though the former has warned against travelling near the affected region.
However, it’s worth noting that on Wednesday December 20, residents were warned to stay indoors and close their windows to protect against the toxic fumes billowing from the volcano. It’s thought pollution from the eruption could reach Reykjavik.
Where was the volcanic eruption in Iceland?
Thousands of earthquakes were recorded in the area around Mount Thorbjörn and near Grindavík, a town in the Reykjanes Peninsula, throughout November. Grindavík is around 42km away from the Icelandic capital, Reykjavik, and it’s 4,000 residents were evacuated by mid-November.
According to the Met Office, the eruption was around 4km from the town. The crack in the volcano is estimated to be around 3.5km long, and is visible from Reykjavik.
Is the Blue Lagoon open?
The Blue Lagoon, one of Iceland’s most popular tourist attractions, was ‘proactively’ closed from November 9, along with the accompanying Northern Light Inn. The attraction reopened its doors to visitors on Monday December 18, but has since closed again following the eruption.
Have flights been cancelled?
Flights to and from Iceland are operating as normal. Icelandair and the Icelandic government have said flights should remain unaffected.
Your best bet if you have a flight booked to or out of Iceland is to keep an eye on your airline’s website for updates on whether your journey will be affected. Multiple airlines have said they’ll contact passengers if and when the situation changes.
What is the UK Foreign Office saying?
Despite the eruption, the UK Foreign Office has not yet advised against tourists visiting Iceland.
The statement on the website reads: ‘A volcanic eruption started on the Reykjanes peninsula in south-west Iceland on the 18 December. The location is Sundahnúkagígar, 3km north of the town of Grindavík. All roads to Grindavík are closed and you should stay away from the area.
Keflavik International Airport is operating as normal, but you are advised to check for latest updates. The capital city Reykjavik, and the rest of Iceland has not been impacted by this eruption. You should monitor local media for updates and follow the authorities’ advice on travel to the area.’
What are your rights if you’ve booked a trip to Iceland?
As the UK Foreign Office has not advised against travel, it’s likely your trip will go ahead as normal. Unless the advice changes, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to cancel your trip without a penalty.
The Blue Lagoon is closed, so the case might be different for visitors who had booked a stay in the site’s hotel. Contact your travel provider directly for all the up-to-date info about your trip.
How common are earthquakes in Iceland?
Earthquakes are very common in Iceland. The country sits on the boundary of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. That’s why Iceland has a load of fascinating natural attractions and 33 active volcanoes. However, the frequency of tremors over the last few weeks was considerably higher than usual.
This volcanic eruption is not expected to be as disruptive as the one which took place in 2010, which halted European air travel.
When was the last eruption in Iceland?
The last volcanic eruption in the area was in 2021, but before that, the Reykjanes Peninsula was dormant for 800 years. This eruption is expected to mainly release magma, and not ash.
In 2010, an ash cloud from the Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption was responsible for the biggest halt to European air traffic since World War Two.
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