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Snaefellsjokull Snæfellsnes self-drive - Copyright Rögnvaldur Guðmundsson

Driving in Iceland: Snæfellsnes self-drive tour

The Snæfellsnes peninsula has some of the most diverse landscapes in Iceland, with waterfalls, caves, black and yellow beaches, cliffs, mountains, lava fields, a glacier, and more! What’s better, it takes under two hours to drive from Reykjavík to Snæfellsnes, so it is easy to make a day out of this stunning part of Iceland.

Eldborg Volcano – The “Fire Castle”

On the way to Snæfellsnes, this unique oval-shaped crater rises 60 m (200 ft) from the lava field around it. It’s 200 metres (650 ft) from side to side, and you can walk right up onto the crater walls.

“Eldborg” means “fire castle,” and its picturesque shape explains the name – it looks like castle walls shaped from the fiery lava flow below.

Driving to Eldborg:

Drive route 1 north out of the city for about an hour until you reach Borgarnes, which is a beautiful town and a great place for a pit stop. Borgarnes is where you turn off route 1 and find your way west on route 54 towards Snæfellsnes. Drive 25 minutes or so to get to the farm Snorrastaðir. This is a great place for horseback riding and also where you start your walk to Eldborg.

 

From there, you walk about a half hour through a lava field to the top of the crater, where you can look into its depths and imagine what it looked like when it was being formed.

Gerðuberg Basalt Columns

When volcanic basalt cools rapidly, it can take the shape of hexagonal formations, known as basalt columns. Gerðuberg is a massive wall of basalt columns and well worth the visit. And it’s easy to spot from the road.

Driving to Gerðuberg:

From Eldborg, you continue just a little further up route 54. There’s a sign, but you should also see the wall on the right from the road.

Lýsuhólslaug Swimming Pool

Driving and sightseeing can take a toll on your body. So the next stop is a pool full of mineral-rich water to soak in. Don’t worry about the green colour of the water – it is just natural algae, and it’s really good for your skin!

 Driving to Lýsuhólslaug:

From Gerðuberg it’s just 30 minutes further on route 54.

Rauðfeldargjá – “Red-Fur Canyon”

This canyon’s name comes from the Icelandic saga “Bárðar saga Snæfellsás,” the events of which took place nearby. The eponymous Bárður had two nephews: Rauðfeldur (Red-fur), and the less colourfully named Sölvi, both of whom accidentally pushed Bárður’s daughter adrift on an iceberg. Thinking they had killed his daughter, Bárðar murdered his nephews. He threw Rauðfeldur into the canyon named after him and pushed Sölvi off a cliff which from that moment was known as Sölvahamar, or Sölvi’s cliff. Unbeknownst to Bárðar, however, his daughter had drifted to Greenland on the ice and was alive and well.

Rauðfeldsgjá looks like the mountain was cut down the middle and you’re walking between the two halves. It’s a very narrow ravine with a stream running through it and a lovely waterfall hidden deep inside.

Driving to Rauðfeldargjá:

From Lýsuhólslaug, drive about 15-20 minutes along route 54, then take a right-hand turn on Útnesvegur, (route 574). There is a road sign for Rauðfeldargjá right before you get to Arnarstapi. There’s a place to park and then a little walk to reach the canyon.

Arnarstapi Village

Arnarstapi is a picturesque little fishing village which is more or less completely abandoned in the wintertime but fills up with fishermen and travellers in the summertime.

There are some incredible rock formations by the harbour and various species of birds nest there in the summer. A short walk from there there’s a huge sculpture half-troll Bárður Snæfellsás from the aforementioned Icelandic saga.

From Anarstapi,  it’s a pleasant, easy 2.5 km hike along the shore to Hellnar, the next village. Or, you can jump back in the car for a 10-minute drive to Sönghellir Cave, which is famous for its acoustics.

Driving to Arnarstapi:

From Rauðfeldargjá keep driving west on route 574. You will find a sign for left hand turn to Arnarstapi.

Snæfellsjökull National Park

Driving in Iceland: Snæfellsnes self-drive tour
Snæfellsnes self-drive: Vatnshellir© Jac. Janssen

Around this time, you’re getting close to Snæfellsjökull glacier. Underneath the glacier’s ice is an ancient volcano, which last erupted 1800 years ago. The crater of the Snæfellsjökull volcano is the entrance to a lost world in the Earth’s hollow centre in Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864). In Iceland, Snæfellsjökull is also known as a landing place for visiting aliens and/or a powerful centre of mystic spiritual energy. While we cannot verify this aspect of the glacier, we can guarantee that Snæfellsjökull glacier is a beautiful mountain and well worth the visit.

Within the national park, you will also find one of the best caves in Iceland: Vatnshellir, which is cool 200 metres (650 ft.) long. With an experienced guide, you will go 35 metres (115 ft.) underground for about a 45-minute tour of the cave, its rock formations, and amazing colours.

Driving to Vatnshellir:

From Arnarstapi, continue on route 574 for about 10 minutes. The cave will be on the right of the road. Remember that you need a guided tour and you really should book ahead.

Djúpalónssandur

Driving in Iceland: Snæfellsnes self-drive tour
Snæfellsnes self-drive: Djúpalónssandur

Djúpalónssandur is a black beach – similar to Vík on the south coast – but full of little black pebbles instead of sand. The pebbles have been eroded by the ocean until they’re beautifully round, and are often called the Pearls of Djúpalón.

 

Throughout Iceland’s history, fishermen would come to the beach and its surrounding waters for some excellent fishing. Many years ago, some fishermen left behind four lifting stones on the beach which are there to this day. They used the stones for strength competitions in ages past, and the heaviest stone is about 150 kilos (330lb.)!

PLEASE NOTE: Be careful and don’t get too close to the sea here. There is a powerful rogue wave and people have been hurt or even killed before.

Driving to Djúpalónssandur:

From Vatnshellir it’s just 5 minutes up the road on 574 until you get to a left-hand turn for Djúpalónssandur. From the turn, it’s about five minutes further driving.

Rif village and the Freezer

Driving in Iceland: Snæfellsnes self-drive tour
The Freezer in Rif, Snæfellsnes© the Freezer

Rif is a tiny little fishing village made up of about 130 people and two streets.

It’s also the home of the Freezer – a theatre, artist residency, hostel, bar and café all in one. Its owner, Kári, a local actor, built it from scratch in an abandoned fish factory (hence the name).

The Freezer has lots going on in the summertime: plays, one-man shows and concerts by both local legends and famous Icelandic bands.

Driving to Rif:

From Djúpalónssandur, find your way back to route 574, and then drive about 30 minutes further north.

Mt. Kirkjufell

Driving in Iceland: Snæfellsnes self-drive tour

Kirkjufell, or “church-mountain” is one of the most distinctive mountains found in Iceland. It has made plenty of rounds on the internet as one of the most beautiful spots on the island – but even more recently, it appeared on the HBO hit show Game of Thrones.

Hiking to the top is only for experienced hikers, but you can walk around the mountain in approximately three hours.

Driving to Kirkjufell

From Rif, you drive 10 minutes further along until route 574 merges with route 54. Head north-east on route 54 for another 20 minutes and you will be at Kirkjufell. You won’t miss it. It’s the big, mountain-shaped thing.

Historic Stykkishólmur village

Driving in Iceland: Snæfellsnes self-drive tour

Stykkishólmur is certainly one of Iceland’s most charming villages, full of colourful old wooden houses that give it a timeless feel. The Norwegian house, now a local folk museum, gives you an insight into everyday life through the ages. Be sure to check out the Narfeyrarstofa restaurant which offers a wide selection of local dishes.

 

The village has lots to offer: a lively harbour, a quick climb up Súgandisey hill where you can enjoy the view of the town, a fantastic geothermal swimming pool, and the Library of Water, which houses water samples from Iceland’s many glaciers. You can also go 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 Mt. Kirkjufell, continue on road 54 until you can take a left on route 58. You will see a sign saying “Stykkishólmur”. In all it’s about a 35-minute drive.

Driving back to Reykjavík:

Find your way back to route 54 and then cut across the peninsula by taking a left on route 56. Then it’s a left when you get back to route 54 and a straight shot to Borgarnes, and from there due south to Reykjavík on route 1.

While these are some of the highlights of the peninsula, it does not cover everything it has to offer! And you’d be hard-pressed to see all of this in one day, so we recommend booking accommodations for 2-3 days, or even taking a two-day guided tour, to properly explore this incredible part of Iceland.

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