Iceland’s Eldhraun lava field covers an area of 565 square km (220 square mi), making it the largest of its kind in the world. Nowadays, this peaceful spot in South Iceland is blanketed in soft green moss. But if you’d been standing here between June 1783 and February 1784, the scene would have looked completely different.
In fact, you’d have been right in the heart of the 8-month-long Laki eruption. During this volcanic event, so much lava flowed out of the Lakagígar fissures that it diverted the Skaftá river. It’s thanks to a system of lava tubes, that this molten rock was able to cover such a vast area.
Along with huge amounts of lava, the eruption spewed out toxic ash and gases, which caused crop failure across the Northern Hemisphere. The hardships and food shortages caused by the eruption are even thought to have contributed to the 1789 French revolution!
You’ll find Eldhraun between the villages of Vík and Kirkjubæjarklaustur in South Iceland. As you venture along the south coast, you can glimpse the lava fields from the Ring Road (Route 1).
For the best views of this alien-looking landscape, turn off the Ring Road into the parking lot for Eldhraun. The area is so otherworldly that NASA used it as a training site for astronauts in the 1960s.
During your visit, it’s worth bearing in mind that you’re not allowed to walk on the lava fields. This is because, despite their tough appearance, the surface is unstable. Plus, the wooly fringe moss covering the ancient lava is delicate and will take around 100 years to grow back if damaged.