A list of the world’s most famous volcanoes and volcanic eruptions, with locations, pictures and facts.
- You can find out more about volcanoes and why they erupt on this page: Volcano Facts
Famous Volcanoes: Introduction
(Scroll down to see the volcanoes!)
Volcanoes are mountains formed by magma (molten rock) emerging from cracks in the Earth’s thin outer crust.
Most volcanoes appear along the sides of the huge plates (known as tectonic plates) that make up the surface of the world – either where the plates are moving apart, or where they are moving together and one plate is forced under the other.
During a volcanic eruption, molten rock, ash and toxic gases are expelled from a magma chamber under the ground, often with great force.
A deadly cloud of rock fragments and hot gas known as a pyroclastic flow can flow from a volcano at up to 430 mph (700 km/h), wiping out everything in its path.
Unsurprisingly, volcanic eruptions can be extremely destructive, especially when they occur near cities or towns.
In the list of famous volcanoes below we’ve included not only famous volcanic eruptions from history, such as that of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79, but also recent eruptions, such as those of Mount St Helen in 1980, and Eyjafjallajökull (an Icelandic volcano) in 2010.
List of Famous Volcanoes
1. Mount Vesuvius, Italy
Located near Naples in Italy, Mount Vesuvius is perhaps the world’s most famous volcano.
Almost two thousand years ago, in the late summer (or early autumn) of AD 79, Mount Vesuvius violently erupted. The eruption continued for two days, causing huge amounts of volcanic ash to rain down on the surrounding area.
(At times during the eruption, molten rock and hot ash were being ejected from the volcano at a rate of 1.5 million tons per second.)
The nearby city of Pompeii, together with several other settlements, was buried under the volcanic fallout. Many people were trapped inside the city, unable to escape.
Watch the animation below to get an idea of what it must have been like living in Pompeii on that fateful day:
Under the deadly blanket of ash Pompeii was preserved as it was on the day of the eruption. This has given historians a valuable insight into what life was like in Roman times.
Today, Mount Vesuvius is a national park and popular tourist destination. Judging by the video below, it is a far more peaceful place now than it was in AD79!
2. Krakatoa, Indonesia
The eruption of the volcanic island Krakatoa, now part of Indonesia, is almost as famous as that of Vesuvius.
The main eruption occurred in August 1883. For several months prior to this the island, which at the time was under Dutch rule, had been the scene of increasing volcanic activity.
On the days leading up to the final explosion the activity intensified, with a near-continuous series of explosions and eruptions.
Finally, on 27th August, the eruption reached its peak with four tremendous explosions, the third of which could be heard on islands 4,800 km (3,000 miles) away! It is still thought to be the loudest sound in history.
The explosions destroyed most of Krakatoa and caused tsunamis (tidal waves) to cover many surrounding islands. Over 36,000 people drowned as a result of the eruption.
Clouds of ash emitted by the volcano caused the sky to darken all around the world. The average global temperature dropped for three years after the eruption due to the volcanic ash in the atmosphere. The ash also caused strikingly colorful sunsets in many parts of the world.
3. Mount St. Helens, United States
Mount St. Helens is an active volcano located in Washington State, USA. It is part of the Cascade Range, a mountain range running along the western side of North America from British Columbia in Canada to northern California, USA.
Mount St. Helens was named after a British diplomat by explorer George Vancouver.
The volcano is most famous for its devastating eruption on May 18, 1980.
An earthquake immediately preceding the eruption caused a large landslide on the North face of the mountain (the largest landslide ever recorded).
As a result of the landslide, there was less rock on the volcano to contain the immense underground pressure, and the volcano erupted almost immediately.
The huge explosion caused ash, lava and other debris to be expelled from the side of the mountain. 57 people lost their lives as a result of the eruption, which also caused the destruction of buildings, railways, forests and crops.
4. Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland
Eyjafjallajökull is a volcano located in the south of Iceland. Compared to those of other famous volcanoes, its eruption in 2010 was not particularly powerful.
Its worldwide fame is due to its relatively recent occurrence, and the fact that it affected the lives of many thousands of people.
Eyjafjallajökull erupted on April 14th 2010. The eruption, which continued for a week, caused a vast cloud of ash to fill the sky. The cloud spread southwards and covered much of Europe.
Because it is dangerous for a plane to fly through an ash cloud (ash can solidify on moving parts or clog up an engine) the volcano prevented millions of people from travelling.
5. Mount Pinatubo, Philippines
Mount Pinatubo is a volcano on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. Its eruption on June 15th, 1991 was the second largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century.
For several months prior to the main eruption there had been earthquakes and smaller ash emissions from the volcano.
Luckily, these served to warn people that Pinatubo was about to erupt. Over 58,000 people were evacuated. Although over 800 people were killed by the eruption, the disaster could have been much worse.
6. Mount Etna, Italy (Sicily)
Mount Etna is the tallest active volcano in Europe. It is located on the Italian island of Sicily, which lies in the Mediterranean Sea to the south west of mainland Italy. (Sicily is the ‘ball’ being ‘kicked’ by Italy on a world map).
Mount Etna is the largest of Italy’s three volcanoes. It is over 2.5 times taller than Mount Vesuvius.
Living in the shadow of an active volcano actually provides some benefits to the people who live on Sicily. Not only is the volcanic soil good for growing crops in, but the volcano also attracts tourists, who spend money in the local economy.
Mount Etna has erupted regularly for thousands of years, and is still a very active volcano. Eruptions as recently as 2014 caused air traffic to be affected. You can see a news story about these eruptions here.
7. Mount Tambora, Indonesia
Mount Tambora is an active volcano located on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa.
Mount Tambora famously erupted on 10th April 1815, after a series of smaller eruptions. It was one of the largest volcanic eruptions in history. Explosions from the volcano could be heard over 1,600 miles away.
Many thousands of people were killed not just by the eruption itself, but also by the ash cloud and the tsunamis caused by the volcano. The eruption affected the weather all around the world.
8. Mauna Loa, Hawaii
Hawaii has two famous volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Kilauea. Mauna Loa, which means ‘Long Mountain’ in Hawaiian, is the largest active volcano in the world.
Although Mauna Loa does not erupt as violently as other volcanoes, it does produce a large amount of lava. Luckily, this is usually relatively slow-moving (usually slower than walking pace).
9. Mount Pelée, West Indies
Mount Pelée is a volcano located on Martinique, an island in the West Indies.
Its eruption in May 1902 killed over 40,000 people, most of whom lived in the nearby city of Saint Pierre. Most of the fatalities were caused by fast-moving pyroclastic flows from the volcano.
(A pyroclastic flow is a deadly cascade of hot gas and ash that flows from a volcano).
Only two people in Saint Pierre survived the deadly flow; one of whom was a murderer who was serving time in the city’s prison.
10. Cotopaxi, Ecuador
Cotopaxi is a famous volcano in Ecuador. Part of the Andes mountain range, Cotopaxi is the second highest peak in the South American country.
Cotopaxi is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. It has erupted more than 50 times since 1738. Despite this, it remains a popular destination for mountaineers.
Famous Volcanoes: Conclusion
A thin crust is all that separates us from a fiery world of molten rock and unimaginably strong natural forces. Occasionally, in the shape of a volcano, those forces break through into our world.
Although more is known about volcanoes today than at the time of Vesuvius, they still serve as a powerful – and sometimes deadly – reminder of the power of nature. Despite knowing all that we know, we can’t prevent a volcano from erupting!
We hope that you’ve enjoyed reading about these famous volcanoes. This list is by no means exhaustive; there are many more volcanoes around the world, many of which are active today.
Let us know in the comments below if you’ve ever been to any of the volcanoes listed above, or if you know of any that aren’t on the list; we’d love to hear about your volcano adventures!