A Guide to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

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Tourism in Iceland has skyrocketed in the past decade, thanks to an apparently endless stream of travel guides, online lists and international TV coverage. While most visitors take the road to the iconic Golden Circle or see the stunning waterfalls along the south coast, a less explored part, but by no means less impactful, awaits in the west.

The Snæfellsnes Peninsula receives a fraction of the travelers that you will find elsewhere. Still, this desert area has beautiful hiking trails, a gigantic glacier, picturesque fishing towns and Iceland's most iconic wooden church. Are you planning your trip to Iceland and thinking about exploring Snæfellsnes? We present an overview of the highlights of this pristine peninsula.

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Where is the Snæfellsnes Peninsula?

The Snæfellsnes Peninsula does not have a clear starting point, but you head towards the wild void of this cape, from where road number 54 divides into road 55. It is 120 kilometers north of the Icelandic capital Reykjavik. The enchanting route west on Highway 54 takes you immediately at first sight. The basalt cliffs of Gerðuberg are a little bit away from the main road, but they are certainly worth the small detour. A natural wall of almost square and perfectly shaped basalt pillars rises up to 14 meters towards the sky; they are proof of the great strength of nature and the landscapes it is capable of creating.

Cliffs of Gerðuberg, Iceland

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The south coast

Although Snæfellsnes does not have many people, it is home to several animals. At Ytri-Tunga you can meet some of the most furry locals. This sandy beach is home to a colony of common and gray seals, which you can see hanging from the rocks in the Atlantic Ocean. Although seen in Ytri-Tunga throughout the year, the stamps remain here during July and August. Ytri-Tunga is considered Iceland's most trusted place to see seals.

Seal, Ytri tunga

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Búðakirkja

When traveling 20 kilometers to the west, you come across Iceland's most famous church. Búðakirkja, a black and white church, is really in the middle of nowhere. Founded for the first time in 1703, this traditional Icelandic has been a religious symbol for centuries and a beloved place for photo shoots as well. But even if you don't take your wedding photos here, Búðakirkja is still a very picturesque place. To the south, you can see the rugged ocean and lava fields, while a huge mountain range lies on the northern horizon.

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Búðakirkja Church, Iceland

Arnarstapi

Before reaching the Arnarstapi community, you can take a road on the right to the Sönghellir cave. The entrance to this mysterious cave is clearly visible from the main road, and this natural phenomenon is quite impressive when you leave the parking lot. Sönghellir Cave has a very narrow passage, with imposing basalt cliffs on both sides and small streams of glacial water passing through it. Test your voice, as the cave is known for its magical acoustics and echo qualities.

Of all the attractions and activities, you can explore the Snæfellsnes, the short walk between Arnarstapi and Hellnar is one of the most sought after. Along this 6-kilometer coastal walk, some of Iceland's most exciting landscapes stretch right before your eyes. The trail crosses moss-covered lava fields, black sand coves and offers great views of the basalt columns that rise from the ocean. The highlight is a stunning natural basalt arch that extends over the sea in the depths.

The natural stone gate in Arnarstapi, Snafellsnes peninsula, Iceland

The starting point of the hike in Arnarstapi is less than 20 kilometers west of Búðakirkja and just 4.5 kilometers from the Sönghellir cave. After the walk, it is worth stopping at Londrangar View Point. From here, two huge stone towers that rise from the bottom of the ocean appear on the horizon. Near this coast, the Vatnshellir cave begs to be explored. This lava tube system takes you to discover the fascinating world of Iceland beneath the surface of the earth. With a ladder, you descend to a depth of 35 meters, after which you explore the tunnels further. A guided tour (as below) is recommended for your journey underground.

Snæfellsjökull and Djúpalónssandur

On a clear day, the snow-capped mountains Snæfellsjökull it is visible from anywhere on the peninsula. With its 1446 meters, this volcano stands out above all in the region. Guided tours of the base and the slopes can be organized through tour operators and, during the summer, you almost reach the summit. A climb to the peak, however, requires technical skills and experience in ice climbing. The scenery seen from the summit is incomparable; the entire peninsula extends at the foot of the volcano, and you will see the snow-capped peaks and the black beaches of Snæfellsnes.

One of these black beaches is Djúpalónssandur, which is arguably the most picturesque coast on the peninsula. After a stroll through the lava fields, the black pebbles and the surrounding rock formations reveal themselves. The brown lava rocks, the green lava fields and the white cone of Snæfellsjökull, to the north, provide beautiful contrasts and photo opportunities.

Djúpalónssandur beach with Snæfellsjökull in the background

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The stunning northwest

It's amazing how this relatively small peninsula is blessed with so many splendid landscapes, and the northwestern tip is probably the best display of natural beauty. A narrow dirt road leads to Saxhóll Crater, the remains of a dead volcano. After climbing the metal stairs to the top of the cracked crater, you can look directly at the bottom of the well. Snæfellsjökull ice cream shines in the background, which makes for wonderful scenes. The Saxhóll Crater is one of the strangest places on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

The Saxhóll crater in Iceland

From the crater, you can enter another gravel road towards the Svörtuloft Lighthouse. The orange lighthouse is not only picturesque, you can admire the rugged coastline with its dark lava cliffs and natural arches shaped by the ocean water.

Svörtuloft Lighthouse
Photo by Tomáš Malík in Unsplash

Near the westernmost tip of the peninsula, a rare beach is hidden behind yet another magnificent lava field. Skarðsvík beach is one of the few golden sand beaches in Iceland and proves the diversity of landscapes on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Obviously, the coastline here is surrounded by dark lava rocks, but the sand of different colors gives Skarðsvík Beach an almost non-Icelandic feel.

The north coast

The northern part of Snæfellsnes is the most populated area, with cities like Olafsvik, Grundarfjördur and Stykkisholmur. Still, the dramatic scenery is the only selling point of this cover, and the north will not disappoint nature lovers. Take Kirkjufell (Church Mountain), a recognizable mountain that appears in many travel guides and even more postcards sent from Iceland. Its particular shape is best seen at Kirkjufellsfoss, a nearby waterfall, where many pictures of thunder falls and Kirkjufell are taken as a backdrop.

Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall and Kirkjufell mountain in Iceland

This area is blessed with more waterfalls and scenic hiking trails. The most impressive among the waterfalls is the Grundarfoss, a jaw-dropping waterfall at the end of a trail that starts right on the main road near Grundarfjördur. Kvernárfoss is also a beautiful waterfall and more gradually cascading nearby. However, it is necessary to ask permission from the owners of the Kverná farm, as it is necessary to cross the property to reach the waterfall.

Stop in the charming fishing town of Stykkishólmur, with its approximately 1100 inhabitants, is the largest city in Snæfellsnes. At Stykkishólmur, you can relax and enjoy cozy cafés, colorful houses and the fishing port.

Stykkisholmur skyline and surrounding countryside

summary

The Snæfellsnes Peninsula offers visitors all the best resources for which Iceland has gained popularity in recent years; glaciers, mountain ranges, waterfalls, black beaches and lava fields as far as the eye can see. With all these treasures, it is surprising to see that most tourists still congregate in southern Iceland and mainly cover the Golden Circle. If you want to enjoy equally impressive scenery with fewer people around you, Snæfellsnes is truly the jewel in Iceland's crown.

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Huub Lakerveld headshot

Huub Lakerveld

Writer and Traveler

Huub has traveled around the world as a digital nomad since the beginning of 2018, while working as a travel writer. His passion for travel is motivated by the connection with the locals and the search for different landscapes. Always accompanied by your favorite travel companions: a camera and a notebook. [Read full bio]

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