Our Here, Now column looks at trends taking hold in cities around the world and gives you the low-down on how to experience them the next time you’re in town.
“It felt like a music festival,” says Tomas Gustafsson, a college student who has traveled to Iceland twice since the spring.
He was in Iceland on day four of the eruption of the Geldingadalur volcano, to witness the crater spewing out bright red, bubbling lava onto the rocky valley below. Gustafsson expected to see a mind-blowing natural feat—an eruption hadn’t occurred in this part of the country, the Reykjanes Peninsula, in 782 years, after all—but what was less anticipated was the bustling social scene he would encounter.
“There were all these cars parked on the street, and tons of people were just walking toward the volcano,” he says. “We grilled hot dogs on the lava and drank beer. We met the people around us, and some said they had heard groups singing Icelandic folk songs. Everybody was so happy, like they couldn’t believe they were there.”
In Iceland the volcano, which started erupting on March 19th and is still going, has become a reason to party. At the site locals and tourists, vaccinated and emerging from lockdowns, are eating, drinking, and mingling with strangers. Vendors, including one selling fish and chips, have set up shop to feed hungry revelers. “There was this one guy selling lamb soup out of his trunk,” says Danny Manzouri, a New Yorker who held his bachelor party in Iceland at the end of June. “He was cleaning up.”
To no surprise, the tourism industry is benefitting from it, too. “We joke that we are having our own version of the Fyre Festival,” says Ryan Connolly, co-owner of Hidden Iceland, a tour company known for small, personalized trips. (With none of the implications that name brings, of course; though the nickname is undoubtedly catchy.) He has visited the volcano around 15 times since it began erupting—and his company has brought more than 300 Americans since mid-May.
Tourists in front of the Geldingadalur volcano
The volcano’s crater
From March—when the Geldingadalur volcano started erupting—through June, visitors could get within 500 feet of it via a walking path, says Connelly. Though cold temperatures across Iceland typically prevent people from staying outside for extended periods of time, even in the summer, that proximity to the lava delivered enough heat to keep visitors there for hours. Connelly went with his friend Simon who was celebrating getting his master’s degree. “He brought about six bottles of champagne,” says Connolly. “Everyone was popping bottles.”
Lava has since covered that access path—which required a two-and-a-half hour walk from start to finish—and now, visitors can only see the crater from afar, after taking a steep, strenuous hike up a mountain along one of several alternate routes. (A new lava flow field that formed at the end of July is also accessible, by a two-hour walk.) The new routine is to make the big climb to see the volcano’s crater—and to then spend the night celebrating in bars, restaurants, hotels, and even lagoons afterward.
Given the intensity of the hour-and-a-half-long hike, Manzouri had assumed his group of nine would go straight to bed after leaving the volcano at 1 a.m. Instead, thanks to an adrenaline high, they stayed out until 5 a.m. “We went to this club called Sólon and got bottle service and toasted to the volcano,” he says. “We were so proud of ourselves for making it.” Strangers came over to share their own volcano stories over shots.