Delve deep underground on this adventurous lava tunnel tour, just 30 minutes from Reykjavík. Raufarhólshellir is an ideal tour for geology buffs and adventure-seekers. You will see the inner workings of a volcanic eruption while walking in the path of lava that flowed thousands of years ago. This is an easy, guided tour with no caving experience required
Nature, culture, and history prevail in this combination tour, which takes you to the sites of the Golden Circle and inside the Lava Tunnel Raufarhólshellir cave. Experience a new world of Iceland's natural wonders -- Gullfoss waterfall, the Geysir geothermal region, Þingvellir National Park and the raw beauty of a lava tunnel. This is an easy, guided tour with no caving experience required.
Visit the Lava Tunnel at Raufarhólshellir
What is the Raufarhólshellir lava tube?
The Raufarhólshellir Lava Tunnel is a lava tube in the southwest of Iceland. It’s Iceland’s fourth-largest lava tube, but thanks to its proximity to Reykjavík, it’s probably one of the most frequently visited.
Lava tubes are tunnels that are formed by flowing lava. During a volcanic eruption, lava is forced out from deep in the Earth—and it has to go somewhere. As a result of the really high pressure, it punches these holes beneath the surface of the Earth, which turn into caves when the lava flows elsewhere.
The lava performs a neat trick here. As it is molten rock itself, the lava cools at the edges as it moves through the Earth, hardening into the smooth walls of the tunnel. Then, over time, as water slowly begins to seep through from the surface, stalactites and stalagmites form in the tunnel.
Raufarhólshellir itself was formed over 5,200 years ago, when the volcano known as Leitahraun erupted. It created this cave that is 1,360 metres (4,500 feet) long, 30 metres (98 feet) wide, and 10 metres (33 feet) high. It’s truly an enormous space.
What’s interesting about Raufarhólshellir is that it’s also really close to the surface. Along the tunnel there are moments where the roof has fallen in, some time over the last five millennia. Snow piles up in winter and rain drips down whenever it’s wet on the surface. That said, Raufarhólshellir keeps a stable temperature throughout the year—and is often even warmer than the air outside.
Over the years, the cave had become damaged by the number of visitors to the area, who were once allowed to freely visit. As a result, the tunnel was closed in 2016, when it was cleaned up and a new pathway was added. These days, it’s a much more protected space, and all visitors are asked to treat this special place with respect.
How to visit Raufarhólshellir, Iceland
Raufarhólshellir is located in the southwest of Iceland. Halfway between the towns of Hveragerði and Þorlákshöfn, it’s in a really convenient place to visit from the capital, Reykjavík.
In fact, most visitors will come directly from the city. It’s just over 40 kilometres (25 miles) away from the city centre, and can be reached in just over half an hour by car. Join route 1 when you leave the city and, after about 20 minutes, take the junction to route 39. You’ll reach Raufarhólshellir in another 10 minutes.
While many people will hire a car on their trip to Iceland, that’s not for everyone. In winter in particular, the conditions can be a little difficult, with volatile weather and low light levels. There’s also the challenge of navigating in a different country.
If you prefer not to drive, you can still see the wonders of Raufarhólshellir. For example, you can join a guided group tour that leaves from Reykjavík and takes you straight to the Lava Tunnel. This way, you can sit back and relax and visit the tunnel without the hassle. What’s more, you can even combine a trip to Raufarhólshellir with a visit to other sights in the area, such as the famous Golden Circle.
What to expect from your visit
However you choose to get there, visits to the Lava Tunnel last for about one hour.
You’ll be led up the length of the tunnel by a local guide, who will explain to you how it was formed and show you some of the most interesting features along the way. Then, you’ll have the opportunity for photographs, before heading back to the entrance.
Along the way, you’ll follow the path that was built through the tunnel during its closure in 2016. It makes it an incredibly accessible sight, however there are some steps along the way.
Generally, visitors are encouraged to wear walking shoes and a waterproof jacket. This way, you’ll be able to handle the sometimes unstable terrain and you’ll be protected by any drips from the water that leaks through the ceiling.
One of the most common questions about visiting Raufarhólshellir is whether you need any specialist gear. You don’t. A torch and helmet are included in the price of entry.
Other sights nearby
Raufarhólshellir lava tube is in the centre of one of the most scenic areas in Iceland. When you visit, you’ll be surrounded by other sights that are just as easy to visit.
For example, you’re really close to the Golden Circle, one of the most famous travel itineraries in all of Iceland. Combining three of the country’s best sights—Þingvellir National Park, Geysir, and Gullfoss waterfall—it’s an unmissable insight into the history and landscapes of Iceland.
You can easily combine a trip to Raufarhólshellir with a tour of the Golden Circle, to make for a breathtaking day out.
Alternatively, there’s the Reykjanes UNESCO Global Geopark to the west of Raufarhólshellir. Here, you’ll continue your exploration of Iceland’s volcanism, with steam vents, hot springs, and even a live, active volcano—the legendary Fagradalsfjall.
There’s plenty to do. And whatever you want to see, it’s easy with Icelandia. With our guided tours, you can meet on site or benefit from a transfer from downtown Reykjavík—whichever suits you best.
Frequently asked questions
The Lava Tunnel tour lasts for about an hour. That includes the time it takes for you to walk deep into the cave, learn about the processes that caused it, and take enough photos to remember it by.
But it doesn’t include transport from Reykjavík, if you’ve booked a transfer. You should budget 3 hours in total if you’re visiting from the city.
The Lava Tunnel is perfectly safe. You’ll just need to stick to the path, ensure that you’re wearing the right gear, and do what your guide asks of you.
You will be walking underground, after all. There have been rockfalls in the past, but no one has ever been hurt. The more likely risk is that you’ll stumble over something. Just watch your step and you’ll be fine.
Raufarhólshellir is a difficult word to pronounce. But no Icelander will judge you if you don’t get it right. In fact, you can just call it the Lava Tunnel and you will be understood.
If you want to try, it’s pronounced a little like this: ray-var-hol-shet-lir.
The Lava Tunnel is open year round and is a fantastic experience whichever season you choose to visit.
As it’s underground, you won’t really be aware of what’s going on outside—meaning it’s just as good an experience in winter as it is in summer. In fact, it’s often warmer in the Tunnel than it is outside in winter!
So, there’s no best time to visit—just book a tour whenever it suits you.
Raufarhólshellir, the Lava Tunnel, is easy to reach from Reykjavík. It’s just over 40 kilometres (25 miles) away from the city centre.
If you’re driving, the journey should take you little more than half an hour. You’ll leave the city on route 1—Iceland’s “Ring Road”—before later joining route 39.
Many people don’t want to drive in Iceland, because the weather can be so volatile. You can still reach Raufarhólshellir with a guided tour from Reykjavík. Explore your options among the tours above.
The Lava Tunnel is cold inside, but it is not too cold. It is at a stable temperature of about 0–4°C (32–38°F), meaning that on many days in winter it could be warmer even than outside.
Bring a waterproof jacket, but you don’t need to go over the top with warm layers. As you’ll be walking in this sheltered environment, you will warm up naturally.
You can walk deep into the Lava Tunnel at Raufarhólshellir. You’ll venture between great walls of rock and see the light make strange patterns on the ceiling.
The Raufarhólshellir Lava Tunnel is about 1,360 metres (4,500 feet) long in total, and you’ll be able to venture 900 metres (3,000 feet) into it. After that point, it splits into smaller tunnels.
It’s one of the longest tunnels in Iceland, as well as being 30 metres (98 feet) wide and 10 metres (33 feet) high.
You don’t need to bring any special equipment when you visit the Lava Tunnel—just hiking shoes and a waterproof jacket.
When you arrive, you’ll be supplied with anything else you need, such as a flashlight and a helmet.
Raufarhólshellir tunnel is thought to have been originally formed about 5,200 years ago, during the volcanic eruption of the nearby Leitahraun.
But over that time, it has changed its appearance dramatically. For example, the stalactites that you see in the tunnel would have gradually formed over many years.
Raufarhólshellir is a private property, and access is exclusively with a guide. In previous years, unsupervised visitors removed rocks and stalactites, causing significant harm. Furthermore, Iceland's fluctuating terrain and frequent earthquakes make it perilous to explore any cave without expert guidance. Only caves with official guided tours undergo safety checks, ensuring a secure exploration. At Raufarhólshellir, guides are essential, directing visitors along safe paths and explaining the geologic phenomena observed.
There is no longer any actual lava to be seen at the Raufarhólshellir Lava Tunnel. If there were, it would be simply too dangerous to visit.
The space was created over 5,000 years ago by flowing lava, but that has long since disappeared. It’s still an incredible sight nonetheless.
There are few places in the world where you can walk through a tunnel carved out of the earth by lava. It’s an awesome sight and a testament to the power of this fiery element. It’s definitely worth seeing when you’re in Iceland!
If you’re visiting the Lava Tunnel, it’s best to come prepared with sturdy outdoor shoes and a waterproof jacket.
The shoes are advisable even though you’ll be walking on a well-established path. You are in a rocky, underground environment after all. Meanwhile, the waterproofs are to protect yourself from the water that drips from the ceiling. Then, you’ll need to stay warm, so bring some warm layers that you can take off too.
Everything else will be supplied by your guide when you enter the tunnel, such as a helmet.
In Icelandic, the word “hellir” means “cave”. “Raufar” means something like “grooved” or “slotted”, while “hóls” translates as “hill”. Put the separate words together and Raufarhólshellir means something like “the cave of the grooved hill”.
The Lava Tunnel tour is one of the most welcoming attractions in Iceland. It’s budget-friendly and accessible to pretty much everyone.
All you need to do is be able to walk a short distance. There is an established path that travels the length of the tunnel, so the terrain is really easy. There are just a few steps along the way.