The beauty of going on a road trip in Iceland is that you have access to a wide selection of jaw-dropping natural attractions. All within a very short distance from the capital, Reykjavik. West Iceland is a little less known and certainly less visited than the South and North, frequented mainly by tourists. If you are planning a trip to Iceland, be sure to include the Snæfellsnes Peninsula on your itinerary. It is often underrated despite its unique and picturesque attractions, including; hot springs, waterfalls, caves, basalt columns, black sand beaches, a volcano, and out-of-this-world lava fields. It is also one of Iceland’s most beautiful places for photography.
As you might know already, Icelanders have a descriptive way of naming places. This is why Snæfellsnes loosely translates to the “Snow Mountain Peninsula.” The word “snae” means snow, “fells” means mountain or hill, and “nes” is short for the Peninsula. When you get to the Peninsula, you will immediately understand why it is named that way. It is no wonder that its dramatic landscape, which includes a volcano and a glacier, is also known as Iceland in Miniature.
Snæfellsnes has gone to great lengths to integrate sustainable travel into its tourism agenda. It was the first municipality in Europe to get the EarthCheck environmental certification, an international benchmarking system for sustainable travel and tourism. This confirms its eco-conscious commitment. Snæfellsnes was also selected among the Top 100 global Sustainable Destinations in 2014.
Can you visit Snæfellsnes Peninsula as a day trip from Reykjavik?
Absolutely. If you get up early enough, you are guaranteed to be in Snæfellsnes in time for a hearty, healthy breakfast. The Peninsula is located in western Iceland, west of Borgarfjörður. The furthest end is reserved for the gorgeous Snæfellsnes National Park. It is less than two hours northwest of Reykjavik, precisely 135 km away. There are plenty of options for Snæfellsnes Peninsula tours leaving Reykjavik daily, but it is also possible to rent a car and drive out there by yourself. Just plug in your GPS, some good road trip music and get ready to explore the striking contrasts of nature that the Peninsula has to offer.
While it might look obvious to wade your way aimlessly around the Peninsula, some good planning can help you make efficient use of your time and make your trip more enjoyable. If you are looking to create your own Snæfellsnes Peninsula itinerary, there is no shortage of captivating ways to spend your time. Here is a list of the best things to do in the area and a brief itinerary:
1) Kirkjufell mountain and Kirkjufellsfoss waterfalls
As one of the most photographed mountains in Iceland, visiting Kirkjufell is undoubtedly one of the best things to do on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. The classic Kirkjufell viewpoint, most commonly seen in photos, is at the car park next to the Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall (GPS coordinates 64.9262° N, 23.3114° W). The bonus is that the waterfall is also a mesmerizing sight in its own right. It is worth noting that Kirkjufell is made to be admired but not to be climbed by amateur hikers as it can be pretty slippery and dangerous. It takes experienced climbers about an hour to hike.
Tip: During peak tourist seasons, especially in the summer, the viewing point tends to get very crowded. Plan to get there early.
2) Búdir Black Church
Búðakirkja, or the Budir black church, is the most photographed in Iceland. The church owes its existence to a Danish trading community that lived in the area and still contains some artefacts from 1703 when it was first constructed. It has been demolished and reconstructed several times since then. It is surrounded by lava rocks, which makes for magnificent folklore-like scenery. If the weather permits, you can also visit the nearby Rauðfeldsgjá canyon.
3) Snæfellsjökull and Rauðfeldsgjá Ravine
Everywhere you go on the Peninsula, you will be spellbound by the views of the snow cupped Snæfellsjökull mountain. An ancient stratovolcano covered with a glacier. On a clear day, you can even see it from Reykjavik. It is a popular hiking destination in Iceland. It takes approximately 3 to 5 hours for an experienced hiker to reach the top.
For the adventurous types, the Rauðfeldsgjá ravine is worth checking out. Located south of the Snæfellsjökull glacier. It is pretty much just a crack on the rock, but it is not an easy climb. If you are a fun of Icelandic sagas, you will be glad to know that the ravine is featured in a famous 600-year-old Icelandic saga named Bárðar Saga Snæfellsáss.
4) Arnarstapi coastal cliffs and its famous Gatklettur stone arch
Arnarstapi is a charming fishing village at the foot of Mt. Stapafell. It’s one of the most scenic places on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and the perfect setting for some surreal hiking in the Icelandic landscapes, which explains why it is very popular.
Iceland is known for its rock formations that come in interesting shapes and sizes. It is one of the reasons why Game of Thrones is filmed in Iceland. Arnarstapi is home to some of these interesting photography locations, for example, the Gatklettur stone arch. This spectacular anomaly has to be seen to be believed. However, finding it is no mean feat. We used these Google Maps link and GPS coordinates (64.7659° N, 23.6226° W) to find it.
5) Hellissandur graffiti town
Driving by Hellissandur, it looks like any ordinary town, but you soon discover why it prides itself as Iceland’s graffiti capital. The town’s walls are full of colourful murals painted by local and international artists. Make sure you spare about 10 to 15 minutes to drive through the town and maybe stop here for lunch.
6) Skarðsvík Beach
If you have time, stop by this unique beach that boasts beautiful views of the ocean and rock formations. It is unique for Iceland because the sand on the beach is brown, which is rare for Iceland, where most beaches are black because of lava. It is generally not a touristy spot and is often less crowded, making its ice-cold sea mile beach the perfect place to enjoy peace and quiet.
7) Saxhóll Crater
Saxhóll is an extinct volcanic crater that is about 100m tall. The walk to the top is accessible through the stairs on one side of the crater. The enthralling views of dried lava fields below and the Atlantic Ocean on the horizon make the hike worthwhile.
8) Lóndrangar Basalt Cliffs
Did you know that Iceland has more basalt columns locations than anywhere else on earth? Because of its frequent volcanic activity, Iceland carries the crown for the most basalt column sites than any other place on the planet. Snæfellsnes’ Londrangar basalt cliffs are not as dramatic as the famous ones on the Reynisfjara Black sand beach in South Iceland or the new Instagram darling Stuðlagil Canyon, but they are emblematic of the Peninsula’s rugged coast and worth a visit. If you also plan to visit the South, read this article on breathtaking things to do in the South of Iceland.
9) Djúpalónssandur Beach
Djúpalónssandur Beach, believed to be haunted, is also known as the Black Lava Pearl Beach. It was a famous fishing dock in the past but is currently uninhabited. Its massive lava formations make this beach an uncommon sight.
10) Landbrotalaug hot springs
Landbrotalaug hot baths are definitely the highlight of a trip to Snæfellsnes. They consist of two baths that are not very large; one is just a hole in the ground with just enough room for one person. The other can accommodate at least four people. In addition to the relaxing sensation of soaking in the wild, Landbrotalaug enjoys an interrupted view of the Eldborg volcanic crater as a background.
The baths are located on an abandoned farm and are a bit challenging to find. We used these GPS coordinates (GPS: N64°49.933 W22°19.110) to locate them.
Tips for visiting:
- Bring some snacks and drinks to the hot springs to make the most of the experience.
- There are no changing facilities on the premises, come prepared, perhaps already wearing your swimsuit.
- The hot springs are not managed by anyone like other commercial hot baths like Iceland’s famous Blue Lagoon. So the water may not be treated or changed frequently.
If you would like to visit other hot springs and nature baths in Iceland, read my post on the 15 best hot springs and geothermal pools you can experience in Iceland
11) Öndverdarnes Lighthouse
Lighthouses are other fixtures that are also synonymous with Iceland. The picturesque Öndverdarnes lighthouse is located on the westernmost point of the Peninsula. However, getting to it is pretty rough, and it is recommended to use a 4×4 vehicle. The Svörtuloft Lighthouse is also close by, and you can visit it on the same trip.
12) Bjarnarfoss Waterfall
Bjarnarfoss is a stunning waterfall on the river Bjarná. It is 80 metres high and falls in two tiers from basalt cliffs. You can access it from road 54 leading to Ólafsvík town, or from Arnarstapi, Hellnar and Lóndrangar. There is a hiking trail that will take you right in front of the waterfall for those seeking extra adventure.
13) Vatnshellir Cave
Take a scenic journey to the centre of the earth by walking through this 8000-year-old lava tube. A fascinating journey that can only be experienced in a place such as Iceland. You can only visit Vatnshellir on a guided tour. You can book a Vatnshellir Cave Tour all year round. Tours leave every hour, from 10 am to 6 pm and lasts approximately 45 minutes. If this sounds like something you would like to do, book your tour in advance because they do sell out quite fast.
Iceland is a global exporter of fish and is also known for its many small coastal towns. While in Snæfellsnes, visit Hellnar, an ancient fishing village near Arnarstapi with signature old-style houses and buildings. If you are lucky, you might even spot some seals from the shore.
15) Svöðufoss Waterfall
Another waterfall worth exploring is Svöðufoss, a 10-meter-high sensational waterfall located on river Laxá. On a sunny day, the Snæfellsjökul glacier can be seen in the background of the waterfall.
Where to stay in Snæfellsnes Peninsula
If you plan to stay overnight in Snæfellsnes, book your stay at Hotel Budir. A cosy, family-run boutique hotel whose rooms boasts views of the Snaefellsjokull glacier, the lake and the vast lava fields in the area. The hotel has been built so that it is not interfering with the beauty and the landscape of its surroundings.
The hotel’s eco agenda complements that of the wider Snæfellsnes community and is ramped up by its purely organic menu. Everything they serve, they grow themselves on their farm. The hotel also happens to be a magnificent spot for watching the northern lights.
Tip: Try their Carpaccio with pickled mushrooms and thank me later.
Snæfellsnes Peninsula one day itinerary:
- The best way to start your tour is to drive to the end of the Peninsula and visit Kirkjufell mountain.
- Stop by Svöðufoss Waterfall before going to Hellisandur, the street art town, which is also an excellent spot to have breakfast if you are there early.
- If you are up to it, climb Saxhóll Crater.
- Take the tour of Vatnshellir Cave, then visit the Londragar Cliffs.
- Visit the scenic Hellnar area, then drive to Arnarstapi. This is an excellent place to stop for lunch before exploring the area, including the Gatklettur stone arch
- Spend a few minutes at the stunning Bjarnafoss waterfall
- Visit Budir Black Church and perhaps drop by hotel Budir for coffee
- Finish your tour at the soothing Landbrotalaug hot baths
Have I convinced you to visit Snæfellsnes? For more tips on visiting Iceland read this post on Things to do in Iceland in the summer