Snaefellsnes Peninsula (Snæfellsnes)
Snæfellsnes taken literally means “Snow Mountain Peninsula,” named after Snæfellsjökull, the glacier-topped volcano. The Snæfellsnes peninsula in Western Iceland is often called “Iceland in miniature” because it has so many of the different ecosystems and sights that have made Iceland so popular in one compact area. There are beautiful deep blue fjords, golden and black beaches, tall glacial mountains, and Mars-like lava fields within the 90km long arm of land. It is also historically important, being one of the earliest settled parts of Iceland.
Snæfellsnes is an easy two-hour drive or bus trip from Reykjavík. Although it only takes about 3 hours to drive the entire peninsula (without stops), I spent two days in the area hiking and sightseeing on the shores. It was a little detour from the Ring Road but so worth it. It is accessible during all seasons.
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The best way to explore Snaefellsnes is by car on Route 54 and Route 574. The 54 is easy to access from the Ring Road and can be driven by any car, including 2-wheel drive. Half-day and full-day bus tours also run from Reykjavík.
Try this Day Tour from Reykjavík!
This full-day tour from Viator from Reykjavík which hits many of the highlights shown in this guide. It has over 4.5 out of 5 stars and hundreds of reviews.
Where to stay
I stayed in the most lovely little tiny home on a private farm that I rented via AirBnb. You can find similar cottages within a 20 minute drive of the largest nearby city, Stykkishólmur. Stykkishólmur is a great base to return to if you circle Snaefellsness.
What to eat and drink
I recommend renting a place with a kitchen so that you can cook meals at home before venturing out to explore the rest of the peninsula. There is a Bonus supermarket so stock up on anything you need, and refill your gas in town.
As we walked around town we stopped in at the small cafe attached to the Harbor Hostel for hot tea and a freshly baked tart.
What to do
There are so many activities on this little peninsula. Hike a glacier in the National Park, stroll along black sand beaches, watch birds in their natural habitat, or delve deep into the heart of a lava tube. Here are some activities to plan and things to see in Snaefellsnes.
Stykkishólmur is the largest city on the Snaefellsnes peninsula and a great base from which to explore. It is a harbor town on the north coast with a population of 1,100. There are a number of bright, photogenic buildings, many of which are from the late 19th century. You can visit the island of Flatey (literally “Flat Island”) from here via ferry.
Volcano Museum (Eldfjallasafn)
Located in the town’s old cinema, this museum features art depicting volcanoes and has artifacts like ‘magma bombs’ from previous eruptions.
See museum reviews on Tripadvisor.
Norwegian House (Norska Húsið)
The oldest house in Stykkishólmur, built by the trader and amateur astronomer Árni Thorlacius in 1832. It has been fully restored and is now a regional museum filled with local antiquities. The second floor is a recreation of an upper-class 19th century bedroom featuring some of Thorlacius’s original things. I have a soft spot for goth-looking black houses and buildings like this one. See visitor reviews on Tripadvisor.
Library of Water (Vatnasafn)
Library of Water is a weird little installation by American artist Roni Horn that features 24 glass pillars filled with Icelandic glacier water.
Stykkishólmskirkja is a futuristic-looking Lutheran church designed by Jón Haraldsson and constructed in 1990. The bell tower that is supposed to look like a whale vertebra. You can see the mass schedule and learn more at the church’s website.
Once you’ve had your fill of the little city, head back out to Route 54 and drive West. Make sure to get gas before you enter the National Park – there is no gas in the park itself. This road is much like the Ring Road and doesn’t require a 4-wheel drive. Be ready for stops along the way, there is a lot to see!
Past the intersection of Route 54 and Route 56 lies a giant lava field known as the Berserkjahraun. The little crunchy, mossy spikes were created by a flow of lava 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. According to the Icelandic sagas, two Swedish berserkers (elite Viking warriors) forged Iceland’s first road through this lava field.
Grundarfjörður Information Center (Eyrbyggja Heritage Centre)
The Grundarfjörður Information Center is tourist info center, cafe, library, internet point, and tiny museum. I recommend that you grab a free walking map of the area here, use the bathroom, and grab a quick snack. The staff can help you find and book a guide if you want to climb Kirkjufell (I didn’t so I can’t speak to how it is).
Kirkjufell literally means “Church Mountain” in Icelandic. A local I met nearby called it “dessert mountain” because it looks like a giant pastry with powdered sugar on top when coated with snow. It is said to be one of the most photographed spots in Iceland. Seriously, just Google it and see the results pile up. When we stopped there were at least five people with super impressive cameras and $10k lenses posted up around the mountain patiently waiting for humans to leave the shot. I felt like a total fraud with my dinky DSLR, but such is life. You may notice it as a film location for Game of Thrones. If you are an experienced hiker you can hire a guide to take you 463m to the top. In the photo above you can see the relatively small and peaceful Kirkjufellsfoss waterfalls in the foreground.
If you’re not driving, try the Snaefellsnes Peninsula Day Trip from Reykjavik which includes a stop at Kirkjufell Mountain.
As the name implies, this is the waterfall next to Kirkjufell. You can easily climb to the top and look down to the water and surrounding valley. Watch out for slippery, wet rocks when climbing or crossing the small stream.
Yet another small fishing village (are you sensing a theme here?) and Iceland’s oldest trading town, est. 1687. The first “modernistic” architectural Lutheran church, Ólafsvíkurkirkja, is an interesting triangular monument to the surrounding landscape. The Bæjarfoss waterfall is nearby.
Hellissandur is the “Street Art Capital of Iceland.” It used to be a major fishing center but is now a small fishing village with wild, colorful murals gracing many of its buildings. It is an important arctic tern (a small bird) nesting center. The Maritime Museum displays the oldest intact row boat in Iceland built in 1826. It is adjacent to the Fisherman’s Garden (Sjómannagardur) which includes tiny renovated turf houses.
Snæfellsjökull National Park
From Kirkjufell we continued on into the Snæfellsjökull National Park, one of three National Parks in Iceland. The protected area covers the western tip of the peninsula. Within the park there are deep lava tubes, protected lava fields, important native Icelandic fauna, and coastal bird watching spots. This area is an important part of conserving habitats for many indigenous bird species.
Try this Snaefellsnes National Park and Natural Wonders from Reykjavik Tour if you don’t have a ride.
Shortly after you enter the park there is a free parking site for Skarðsvík Beach. This is a rare golden-sand beach surrounded by large black lava rocks and boulders. From there you can hike to the bright orange Svörtuloft Lighthouse, which has been guiding ships in the area since 1931.
You can see the glacier-topped volcano, Snæfellsjökull, from pretty much anywhere in the National park. Apparently you can hike the glacier with a professional guide: the trip takes 8 to 10 hours and you climb 1446m high. Jules Verne made this natural wonder famous when he wrote A Journey to the Center of the Earth in 1864. The characters find the entrance to the center of the earth on Snæfellsjökull.
On this black sand and pebble beach you can see the ruins of a deadly shipwreck. In 1948 the Epine GY7, a British trawler, broke up in the waves near the shore and the pieces of the ship washed ashore. You can see the remains there to this day. Consider it like a natural landmark and don’t mess with the shipwreck parts and absolutely do not take anything home as a souvenir. There used to be a number of large boulders on the beach that men would pick up to test their strength. Men who couldn’t lift at least the 54kg rock (called the Hálfsterkur) were thought to be unfit to be fishermen.
Just a bit down the road from the beach, you’ll find the Lóndrangar Cliffs. These are huge basalt rocks, and the two large pillars are said to be a pair of trolls over 60m high. In the summer months puffins may make their nests here. Take a long walk atop the cliffs to see all sorts of ever-changing views of the coast. Birds play and do harrowing stunts all through the air right up against the basalt.
For these beautiful photo opportunities try the Small-Group Day Trip to Snaefellsnes National Park with Viator.
This is an activity I wish I hadn’t missed, but I didn’t book it in advance. This cave is actually a lava tube that is 200m deep, created by an volcanic eruption 8000 years ago. You can venture into the tunnel on a winding spiral staircase into the darkness. There are tours available in both the summer and winter, but you need to book in advance. You can only enter the cave with a professional guide.
Book your tour with Viator.
Hellnar is another small fishing village that was home to a much larger fishing station in the 18th century. There are tons of archaeological remains from that boom era found here. About 15 acres of land and sea around Hellnar and Arnarstapi were designated as nature reserves in 1979, protecting the cliffs themselves and the habitat of the native kittiwake bird.
Once you exit the National Park you’ll quickly come to Arnarstapi, a small fishing village on southern coast of the peninsula. From the town you can see the tall basalt column formations along the coast. Arnarstapi was an important trading port in the early 18th century, but as Iceland’s industries changed and moved away from fishing on the southern coast, the population of Arnarstapi suffered. There are many summer houses in the area but few people live there year-round. There is a huge statue made out of local volcanic stones by the Icelandic sculptor Ragnar Kjartansson. It depicts Bárðar Snæfellsás, the mythical protector of the peninsula. Check this guy out! He’s definitely one of my favorite public sculptures in Iceland.
This gorgeous gorge (see what I did there?) is a short drive from Arnarstapi. During the summer, if you are adventurous, you can enter the narrow gorge and scramble over a few wet rocks to get to the waterfalls deep within. Make sure you have sturdy shoes and that you don’t mind getting them wet. There is water flowing underfoot pretty much the entirety of your mini-climb.
Goth dreams come to life with the Búðakirkja. This imposing church is painted jet black and stands out harshly against the landscape. It was originally built in 1848 and then reconstructed in 1987. It is still an actively used church and is not open to visitors, although it is a very popular spot for photographers and tourists.
- Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum – You can see the harpoons and hunting boats used by shark hunters in the past and today. If you’re bold and want to test your palate, you can taste fermented shark meat (hárkarl) and see the shark drying room where the meat is cured. The museum has exhibits on the uses and making of shark meat, family fishing boats, and processing tools.
- Saxhóll Crater – This small crater is about 100m high, and a short, easy walk up some stairs easily takes you to the summit.
- Landbrotalaug – a natural hot springs, but there are no facilities. You can hop in the water for a quick, warm swim.
I am so glad that I decided to visit the Snæfellsnes Peninsula on my road trip around Iceland. I recommend it to anyone driving the Ring Road, add a day a bit off the beaten path to see a huge range of environments in one smallish area. If you are based in Reykjavík it is quite easy to catch a bus tour to the Snæfellsnes for a day of exploring. This tour is a great way to spend a day, and lunch is provided!
Have you been to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula? Leave a comment of your favorite places there below, and share this post to Pinterest!