Shortly after waking my dad and I dressed in the dark in our snuggliest coats and walked up the winding driveway to the edge of the coast. Our breathe forming small clouds before us in the dim light. Leaning against the fence we looked out at the ocean and the small mountain in the distance as the sun slowly began to set the sky ablaze in stunning shades of pink, orange and red. We listened to the waves slowly lapping against the sand, the birds singing and a rooster desperately crowing to warn us that daylight is coming. We waited anxiously for the sun to rise over the mountain’s peak so that we could finally feel it’s warmth after waiting in the morning chill. And in that moment, when the sun finally rose to shine its light on the yellow sea of grass, the green mountains in the distance and the white snow dusting their peaks, the world fell silent and my heart was full of wonder at this incredible spectacle. This is the unique magic of the Snaefellsnes peninsula in western Iceland.
Between the lava rock beaches, wild seal sightings and breathtaking colors of the flora, I cannot say enough amazing things about this little pocket of outdoor paradise. If you’re reading this, then I’m guessing you’re wondering if it’s worth making the time to fit the Snaefellsnes peninsula into your already jam packed Iceland itinerary. Without hesitation I can tell you it’s definitely worth trying to squeeze it in. So keep reading for a loose breakdown of all the things my father and I enjoyed during our two days in the Snaefellsnes peninsula.
Getting There: Tour Bus vs. Car Rental
The Snaefellsnes peninsula is about a two and a half hours from Reykjavík. So if you’re using the capitol as your base then the great thing for you is that there are tour buses that go just about anywhere from Reykjavík. If you’re on a time crunch and looking to squeeze every last site into your trip then a tour bus might be for you. One major downside of taking a tour bus is that most will be day trips which means you’ll limit how long you can enjoy the peninsula.
My dad and I really wanted the luxury of going where we wanted to go, when we wanted to go and staying for as long as we felt, so we rented a 4×4 on this trip. If you’re unsure about renting a car versus a 4×4 research if any of the sites you want to visit require you to take f-roads. Most sites will have two routes: an f-road which usually gets you closer to the site and a main road which will require you to walk further. In terms of cost we paid around $500 for a 7 day rental which included a full tank of gas as well as being able to drop the car off with the tank empty. For those wondering about gas, our vehicle took diesel and over the course of the trip we filled the tank up twice from about half a tank. See my 7 day Iceland itinerary to get an idea of how many miles we drove.
Where to Stay
Compared to southern Iceland there are more options in terms of traditional lodging especially in towns like Stykkishólmur, Arnarstapi, and Grundarfjörður. Since we were spending my birthday in the peninsula I decided to treat myself to this incredible horse farm Air BnB just off the coast located behind famed Mt. Kirkjufell. This place was spacious and the host was impeccable, she had all kinds of goodies like tea, outlet convertors and even DVDs for the TV. Not only were the accommodations amazing but the views in every direction made the place worth every penny! We also found out that it came with a license to fish on their lake. If you splurge anywhere on your trip in terms of where to stay, I’d make it here hands down.
Things to Do in Snaefellsnes Peninsula
- Mt. Kirkjufell/Kirkjufellfoss. This is definitely one of the most iconic mountains in Iceland and with the ocean as its backdrop it isn’t a wonder why. Unfortunately there’s no way to walk to mountain so most people head to Kirkjufellfoss waterfall which is across the street to take the famous photo of the waterfalls with the mountain in the back. Luckily for us the air bnb we stayed at had a perfect view of the mountain from behind.
Snaefellsnes National Park. The park is most famous for Snæfellsjökull which is a sub-glacial volcano but there are many amazing sites to see which I will cover below.
Arnarstapi. Home to the Gatklettur stone arch, this is the perfect place to stop off for lunch and an incredibly scenic walk along the coast which includes views of basalt cliffs and if you’re lucky even some puffins.
Ytri Tunga Seal Beach. During the summer this beach is packed with seals looking to mate and raise their pups. Since we went in September the beaches weren’t as crowded as we hoped but we did manage to see a handful of seals on the rocks enjoying the last bits of sun before high tide.
Búðakirkja. This black church is another famous stop because it’s all that remains of Búðir’s former community. It’s very picturesque against the moss covered lava rock fields making it a great place for pictures.
Road 56. If you’re traveling around the peninsula, odds are you’re probably going to be on Route 56. The great thing about this route is it takes you past a plethora of sites including lakes, hiking trails and hidden waterfalls. Be sure to leave bright and early so you can really take your time to stop off and enjoy any and all sites that peak your interest.
Gerðuberg Cliffs. These are fairly popular basalt columns that aren’t along the beach. You can walk right up to this structural wall. .
Things to Do in Snaefellsnes National Park
The main attraction of the Snaefellsnes peninsula is the national park which has plenty of incredible sites to see. Here are some of the places we decided to stop at:
- Saxhóll Crater. Located just a few km past the entrance to the park, if you’re coming from Grundarfjörður, this crater is definitely a site to see. They’ve even put up a staircase with a bench half way to make the journey a little easier.
- Snæfellsjökull. One of the more famous sites, and with good reason, is this sub-glacial volcano. While we didn’t stop here it can be admired in the distance from pretty much every direction within the park.
- Djúpalónssandur or any of the other lava beaches. The lava beaches are a truly mystical place. The black rocks jut in every direction, glistening like onyx stones as the waves crash over them. My dad and I ventured off to a lesser known beach, down the rocks to a little tide pool to soak our feet, yes in the freezing water, and listen to the ocean.
- Buðahraun Lava Field. While this isn’t specifically a stop as the whole park appears to be one large lava field, the field is acclaimed for its rich flora which even includes rare and protected species. So be careful where you step but be sure to stop and really admire the diversity among the plant life.
Where & What to Eat
While there are only a few towns in the Snaefellsnes peninsula you still have a variety of options for food. During the whole trip my dad and I relied on bakeries and cafes for breakfast, enjoying a different kinds of pastries and coffees. Earlier in the trip we enjoyed simpler meals like soups and sandwiches but since we were celebrating my birthday in the peninsula we decided to have one nice dinner. Since a lot of the restaurants didn’t have websites and the yelp reviews weren’t totally accurate it was a littler harder to choose but here are our top recommendations for places to eat in the Snaefellsnes peninsula:
- Cafe Emil– located in Grundarfjörður, this quaint cafe had a small historical museum, rows of books, delicious pastries and gourmet style coffee. In the evenings they also are known for their fish soup.
- Hraun– in the next town over of Ólafsvík you can find this hidden gem. If you stop anywhere in the peninsula to eat lunch or dinner make it here! They had a wide variety of options on the menu, including a rotating specials menu and their plating was exquisite. We ordered the meat soup, lamb shank and a caprese salad all of which blew me away.
Stapinn Cafe– while there are a lot of options in this area, we chose to stop here to try the lamb schnitzel since neither of us had tried the dish before. It was very flavorful but be mindful it is fried so if you’re looking for a healthier option this might not be for you.
What to Pack
We traveled in mid-September so the weather was fairly mild compared to the United States. The weather stayed mostly in the 50-60F, but there was a lot of wind. Be sure to pack at least the following items:
- rain poncho or jacket
- waterproof boots
- waterproof fanny pack or backpack
- layering pieces (i.e. tank tops, long sleeves and leggings)
- beanie or head band
And there you have it — Snaefellness peninsula in a nutshell! Hopefully some of you, after reading this, will feel empowered to head there as well.
If you’ve been to Iceland please share any recommendations of your own below!