Boasting some of the most diverse landscapes in Iceland, the Snæfellsness peninsula has a little bit of everything: waterfalls, caves, black and yellow beaches, cliffs, mountains, lava fields, not to mention the Snæfellsjökull glacier. Given its proximity to central Reykjavík, the Snæfellsnes peninsula is the perfect destination for travellers considering a free-flowing road trip. Below, you will find some areas of interest on the peninsula (too much for one day).
The Eldborg Crater – The “Fire Castle”
Driving north to Snæfellsnes, Eldborg is a convenient first stop. This unique oval-shaped crater rises 60 m (200 ft) from a desolate lava field. It’s 200 m (650 ft) across and you can walk right up onto the crater walls.
“Eldborg” roughly translates to “fire castle,” and its picturesque shape explains the name; it’s as if castle walls were shaped from the fiery lava flow below.
Driving to Eldborg:
Taking Route 1 north from Reykjavík, drive for about an hour until you reach Borgarnes. Borgarnes is a nice town and a great place for a pit stop. Upon reaching Borgarnes, exit Route 1 and find your way west on Route 54 towards Snæfellsnes. After a ca. 25-minute drive, you will arrive at the farm Snorrastaðir, which is an excellent place for horseback riding, and also where your hike to Eldborg begins. It takes about half an hour.
Upon traversing the lava field, ascend to the top of Eldborg, where you can look into the crater and let your imagination run wild.
The Gerðuberg Basalt Columns
Basalt columns are cool hexagonal formations created when volcanic basalt cools rapidly. Gerðuberg is a massive wall of basalt columns and well worth the visit. It’s easy to spot from the road.
Driving to Gerðuberg:
From Eldborg, continue just a little further up Route 54 until you see a sign (you should also see the wall on your right from the road).
Ytri Tunga – Spot the Seals
Unlike the famous black sand beaches of Iceland, the beach next to Ytri Tunga farm is golden. What makes the beach truly special, however, is that it’s an excellent place to observe seals. The best time to spot the seals is in June and July.
Driving to Ytri Tunga:
From Gerðuberg, continue on Route 54 for about 35 minutes. When you reach a sign marked Ytri Tunga, turn left. Drive past the farm and arrive at a parking lot close the beach.
The Black Church in Búðir
Situated next to the lava field Búðahraun, Búðakirkja is one of Iceland’s famous black churches. It has become a popular subject among photographers over the past years, owing primarily to the contrast between the church’s black colour and the white of the Snæfellsjökull glacier in the background.
While there, we suggest enjoying a pleasant stroll through the lava field and down to the coastline.
Driving to Búðir:
From Ytri Tunga, drive about 20 minutes along Route 54. Take a left on Útnesvegur, (Route 574) and continue driving until reaching Búðavegur. Once there, take a left and follow the road until arriving at the church.
The Arnarstapi Village
More or less completely abandoned in the wintertime, Arnarstapi is a picturesque little fishing village that is crowded with fishermen and travellers during summers.
By the harbour, incredible rock formations can be seen. Various species of birds nest there in the summer. A huge sculpture of the half-troll Bárður Snæfellsás, from the eponymous Icelandic saga, is located a short walk from Arnarstapi.
From Bárður, travellers can embark on a pleasant, easy 2.5 km hike along the shore to Hellnar, the neighbouring village. In Hellnar, we suggest visiting the cave Baðstofa – “living room” – and enjoying some refreshments at the Fjöruborðið café.
Driving to Arnarstapi:
From Búðakirkja, drive west on Route 574 until reaching a sign on your left marked Arnarstapi.
The Snæfellsjökull National Park
Next stop, the Snæfellsjökull National Park. Beneath the glacier’s layer of ice rests an ancient volcano, which last erupted 1800 years ago. Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth” famous begins at the crater of the Snæfellsjökull volcano, the passageway through which the adventurers enter on their way to the Earth’s hollow centre. In Iceland, Snæfellsjökull is renowned (tongue-in-cheek, mostly) as the landing place of aliens and/or a powerful centre of mystic spiritual energy. We don’t know about all that, but we can tell you that it’s certainly a beautiful place.
Within the national park, you will find Vatnshellir. Of the many, many lava caves in Iceland, this is definitely one of the coolest. As it is situated within the national park, you will need a guide to enter the cave. The 50-minute tour takes you about 35 m (115 ft.) underground, where you will see amazing colours and rock formations.
The cave is 200 m (650 ft.) long, and at the end of the tour, the guide will sometimes ask everyone to turn off their flashlights and be quiet. When we visited the cave and followed the guide’s instructions, we think it was seriously the first time in my life that we experienced absolute darkness and silence.
Driving to Vatnshellir:
From Arnarstapi, continue on Route 574 for about 10 minutes. The cave will be on the right side of the road. Remember that you can only enter the cave on a guided tour, so you really should book ahead.
You may have heard of the black-sand beaches of Vík … well, this similar, but different. Djúpalónssandur is a black beach, but instead of sand, it’s full of little black pebbles. The pebbles, eroded by the ocean, are beautifully spherical, and are often referred to as “the Pearls of Djúpalón.”
Djúpalónssandur is also interesting from a historical perspective; fishermen from all over Iceland used to travel to the beach to engage in seasonal fishing expeditions. These ancient fishermen left behind four lifting stones on the beach, which are still there to this day. Besides being used in strength competitions, the stones were also a way of determining each fisherman’s share of the catch (those who lifted the heaviest stone, about 150 kilos (330lb.) would be entitled to a greater proportion of the earnings than someone who could only manage to lift the lightest stone).
PLEASE NOTE: Be careful and keep your distance from the sea. Powerful rogue waves are common in the area and people have been hurt or even killed before.
Driving to Djúpalónssandur:
It’s a mere 5-minute drive to Djúpalónssandur from Vatnshellir. Follow Route 574 and take a left turn for Djúpalónssandur (it’s about a five-minute drive to the beach).
The Rif Village and the Freezer
Rif is a tiny little fishing village home to about 130 people and two streets. It’s also the home of the Freezer: a theatre, an art residency, a hostel, a bar and a café all in one. The Freezer was built from scratch, in an abandoned freezing plant (hence the name), by local actor Kári.
The Freezer generally boasts a tight schedule during summers: plays, one-man shows, and concerts held by local legends and famous Icelandic bands alike.
Driving to Rif:
From Djúpalónssandur, return to Route 574 and drive further north for about 30 minutes.
Mt. Kirkjufell, the “Church-Mountain”
Internet-famous, Mt. Kirkjufell is by some considered one of the most beautiful mountains in the world. We have to agree; it is pretty perfect, with its distinctive shape and ocean foreground. The pictures speak for themselves.
Hiking to the top of Kirkjufell should only be undertaken by experienced hikers; you can, however, circumnavigate the mountain in approximately three hours.
Driving to Kirkjufell
From Rif, drive 10 minutes until Route 574 merges with Route 54. Heading northeast on Route 54, you will arrive at Kirkjufell in roughly 20 minutes. You won’t miss it. It’s that big, mountain-shaped thing.
The Historic Village of Stykkishólmur
It’s easy to see why Ben Stiller chose Stykkishólmur as the location for his film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. It’s certainly one of Iceland’s most charming villages: full of old colourful wooden houses that imbue the village with a timeless quality. The Norwegian House, a local folk museum, affords patrons insight into everyday life in Stykkishólmur through the ages. Be sure to check out the Narfeyrarstofa restaurant, which offers a wide selection of local dishes.
The harbour is really nice, too: you can walk to the top of the Súgandisey hill and enjoy the view of the town. You can also embark on a cruise of the bay from the harbour, explore Breiðafjörður bay with its countless islands, or take the ferry to Flatey island where you can explore or even spend the night.
Driving to Stykkishólmur:
From Kirkjufell, continue on Route 54 before taking a left on Route 58. Before long, you will see a sign marked Stykkishólmur. It’s about a 35-minute drive, in total.
Driving back to Reykjavík:
Return to Route 54 and cut across the peninsula by taking a left on Route 56. When you arrive back to Route 54, take a left and continue straight to Borgarnes. From Borgarnes, head due south to Reykjavík on Route 1.
As we mentioned, the above list of highlights, which doesn’t even cover all of the things you can do in Snæfellsnes – not by a long shot! – is still too much for one day. So, if you really want to take it all in, you can spend the night and earmark at least two days to explore.
We also recommend booking tours by minibus - that way you'll cover the most important sights on the peninsula, including some secret spots and a visit to a farm, giving you a taste of local experience.