Often referred to as “Iceland in miniature”, the Snæfellsnes Peninsula is the one area in Iceland you simply cannot miss if you want to taste everything the island nation has to offer.
With a volcano, a glacier, towering mountains, sandy beaches, and small fishing villages, this peninsula has plenty to offer. Read on to discover the area’s highlights and our top tips for travelling to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
Situated in western Iceland, the Snæfellsnes Peninsula (or simply Snæfellsnes) is a 90-kilometer long peninsula with an incredibly diverse and unique landscape. This magical area is where you will find Snaefellsjokull National Park, along with the stunning Djupalonssandur ‘Black Lava Pearl’ beach and the Londrangar cliffs.
The most notable feature of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula is that it is home to the Snæfellsjökull volcano, one of the most well-known volcanoes in Iceland. At an impressive height of 1446 metres, the Snæfellsjökull volcano can sometimes be seen all the way from Reykjavik, about 120 km away. With a glacier at its peak, the mystical Snæfellsjökull volcano attracts thrill seekers and nature lovers alike.
Perhaps the best part of visiting the Snæfellsnes Peninsula is that it allows you to get a taste of Iceland’s incredibly beautiful and unique landscape – perfect for travellers who have just a short amount of time to spend on the island. The area is easily accessible, has excellent cell phone coverage throughout, and (unlike many areas in Iceland) you are never very far from the nearest rural fishing village.
- Snæfellsnes plays a key role in Iceland’s history. The peninsula is said to be the birthplace of Bolli Bollason, a key Norse figure in Icelandic sagas. These sagas are believed to be records of Iceland’s settlement from the 9th to early 11th centuries.
- The Snæfellsnes Peninsula is the first EarthCheck certified community in Europe, meaning it is championing sustainable tourism.
- Snæfellsjökull volcano has not erupted in nearly 2,000 years. Nobody knows when the next eruption will take place. No wonder it is one of the most famous volcanoes in Iceland.
- Many people report having difficulty sleeping when visiting Snæfellsnes due to the magnetic energies of the Snaefellsjokull glacier, which some people claim to be one of the world’s seven chakras (energy centres). If you experience insomnia on your visit, know you are not alone!
- Despite its small size, the Snaefellsjokull glacier is considered to be one of the most popular glaciers in Iceland.
- The book Journey to the Centre of the Earth, written by Jules Verne in 1864, is set at the crater of the Snaefellsjokull glacier.
- Climb up to the top of the basalt columns of Gerðuberg
- Drink carbonated water fresh from the Rauðamelsölkelda spring
- Snap a photo of the Kirkjufellsfoss with Kirkjufell (Church Mountain) towering behind it
- Sing a song inside Sönghellir, the Cave of Song
- Climb to the summit of the Snæfellsjökull glacier (with a trained guide)
- Follow the path to see the Búðahraun lava field up close and personal
- Keep an eye out for the seal colony living on Ytri-Tunga beach
- Cross the stone bridge at Arnarstapi to visit the Arnarstapaviti lighthouse
It is easily accessible and not too far from Reykjavik. Perhaps the easiest way to visit Snæfellsnes is to rent a car in Reykjavik. The town of Borgarnes, usually identified as the starting and finish point of the peninsula, is just a two-hour (70-kilometre) drive from Reykjavik.
A trip from the capital city, around the entire peninsula, and back again amounts to about 475 km and will take approximately six hours to complete without stopping. In other words, the Peninsula can be seen as part of a day trip; however, be sure to wake up early to allow yourself plenty of time to see everything on your list.
Snæfellsnes is a perfect day or multi-day outing that won’t necessarily push you out of your comfort zone, yet will reward you with incredible sights. The peninsula is full of stunning towns and villages, so you are bound to find accommodation options from hotels to camping sites if you would like a multi-day visit to the area.
- The Snæfellsnes Peninsula begins and ends in the town of Borgarnes. From here, head west along route 54, towards the southern half of the peninsula.
- After about 30 minutes of driving, you will come across your first sight: the Gerðuberg cliffs. You need to drive a short distance on a gravel road to access the cliffs, but it is well worth it for the incredible views. Continue along this road to find the Rauðamelsölkelda mineral springs, where you can drink fresh carbonated water!
- Just under 60 kilometres away, you will find Ytri-Tunga beach and it’s well-known seal colony. Stop here for a pleasant walk down the sandy beach before heading to nearby Langaholt beach for stunning views of the Snæfellsjökull glacier.
- As you continue along route 54, take a left turn to detour down Útnesvegur road (route 574). At the end of this road, you will find the Búðahraun lava field. You can follow a path that leads through the lava – but do so carefully, as lava fields are full of dangerous holes and grooves.
- Continue along Útnesvegur road for incredible views of the Rhyolite mountains and the majestic Rauðfeldsgjá gorge. If you’re feeling active, hike up the short hill for a peek inside the gorge.
- Drive another 4 kilometres before turning right onto route F570. Stop off at Sönghellir, the Cave of Song, for a quick visit before continuing north towards the Snæfellsjökull glacier, one of the most beautiful glaciers in Iceland. It is sure to be the highlight of your visit to the peninsula, so allow for plenty of time to stop here!
- After your visit to the glacier, retrace your steps south for a stop in Arnarstapi. This small harbour town offers incredible views of the area. While there, cross the stone bridge to the tiny lighthouse on the coast.
- Rejoin Útnesvegur road and drive until you meet Bárðarlaug pool, about 3 kilometres away. Here you can walk down to the lake-filled crater – but don’t swim, as the pool is protected (and cold!). In the parking lot, you will find a stone pile that marks the burial of Axlar-Björn, Iceland’s most notorious serial killer.
- A further 8 kilometres down the road, you will find Vatnshellir Cave, where you can descend 115 feet down a staircase into the dark depths of the ground.
- From the caves, you will begin to head north around the peninsula. Stop off at Djúpalónssandur, the Black Lava Pearl beach, to see its black volcanic sand before continuing around the perimeter of Snaefellsjokull National Park.
- After leaving Djúpalónssandur, drive north for about 25 minutes until you pass the village of Hellissandur. Turn right to reach Ingjaldshóll, where Christopher Columbus once met with the Vikings before travelling to America. The site’s church is also the oldest concrete church in the world.
- Turn back onto Útnesvegur road and follow it for just over 30 kilometres to reach the famous Kirkjufell: the Church Mountain. You’ve undoubtedly seen this cone-shaped mountain in photographs, or perhaps on the TV show Game of Thrones.
- Having seen all the major sites of the peninsula, you can now begin your roughly 80-minute drive back to Borgarnes. On the way, depending on your schedule, you may wish to stop at Stykkishólmur, the capital of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and home to many museums, including The Library of Water and The Norwegian House.
Winter months are not ideal for visiting Snæfellsnes. While the area is incredibly beautiful in the winter months, services, tours and activities can be limited, particularly from January to March. Parts of Snæfellsnes are also known to be windy and icy during the winter, so driving conditions are not ideal.
The best time to visit the Snæfellsnes Peninsula is between May and September. The summer months allow the area’s vegetation (including its incredible lava moss) to flourish. This time of year also ensures the asphalt and gravel roads are clear and easily driveable.
The main downside of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula is its sheer size. While most travellers are tempted to tackle the area in a single day trip, the reality is that a single day will never allow you to see everything you want to see. No matter what you choose to see and when you decide to visit, these tips are sure to help you have a memorable visit to the sparkling Snæfellsnes Peninsula.