About the Snaefellsnes Peninsula
The Snaefellsnes Peninsula is one of the most beautiful areas in Iceland and is only a two hour drive from Reykavik; a perfect place to visit for those who want to get away from the city and the Golden Circle.
The Snaefellsnes Peninsula is dominated by the Snaefellsjokull glaciar; a strato-vocano sitting at 1,446 metres above sea level. The volcano has a 700,000 year old glacier and on a clear day can be seen from Reykjavik.
If you have read the Jules Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth, which was written in 1864, then you will have heard about Snaefellsjokull and Profess Otto Lidenbrock's adventure down through the volcano's crater. I ended up reading the book before we arrived; an entertaining, quick read.
The Snaefellsnes Peninsula is best explored by car and all sites have good access with a normal 2WD.
What to see and do
The following map sets out what we believe are the 10 best things to see and do in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. We did all of the below in two nights using Grundajordaur as a base.
1. Snaefellsjokull Glacier
The Snaefellsjokull Glacier and Volcano is the main attraction for people travelling to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. It acts as a beautiful backdrop for wherever you in the area but you can also reach the base of the glacier by car (although it is quite an average dirt road and our 2WD battled badly driving up it).
For those wanting to a bit of adventure you can hike or snowmobile on the glacier. In the middle of summer you can do these tours at midnight and enjoy the amazing views with the midnight sun hovering along the horizon.
2. Olkelda Mineral Spring
The Olkelda Mineral Spring is located on the Olkelda Farm just off of Road 54. You are basically just looking for a tap in the middle of a random farm. The awesome thing about Olkelda is that the water is carbonated, that is sparkling mineral water (with a bit of a metallic taste) - formed 100% naturally. It won't take you long but definitely an interesting stop to fill up your water bottles.
3. Ytri Tunga (Seal Beach)
Ytri Tunga Beach is home to two seal colonies; the common seal and the grey seal. You will be able to see seals there almost every day in June, July and August.
What makes this a particularly special place is that the seals sunbath on the rocks with Snaefellsjokull as its stunning backdrop! Makes for some fantastic photos.
4. Búðakirkja Church
It's hard to imagine a small, weatherboard church painted black could be so stunning but put in a grassy field surrounded by the ocean, mountains, a glacier cap volcano and a lava field and you a seriously beautiful place. I can't imagine what it would be like in winter with the ground covered in snow.
The church was built in about 1703 and has been upgraded and rebuilt a number of times since and whilst you can't go inside it is still a beautiful place to walk around and enjoy the views. It is located just off of road 574 - turn at the sign for Budir.
5. Rauðfeldsgjá Canyon
The canyon or gorge is located in Brediavik Cove and cuts into Mt Botnsfall. It is an easy walk to the canyon and into the entrance to see the beautiful moss covered walls; it looks like a setting out of Lord of the Rings.
You have two options depending on your level of fitness and inclination for tight, wet spaces. First, is to walk up to the canyon and enjoy the views from just inside the entrance - no real fitness required. The second requires some fitness/agility. From the entrance you can follow the stream for about 40 metres for a stunning little waterfall that flows down over the moss. The 40 metre walk requires quite a bit of climbing over very slippery rocks and through the stream so be prepared to get wet - but it is very worth it!
6. Arnarstapi and Hellnar
Arnarstapi is a very nice little village set in a natural habour that has a number of Iceland's iconic basalt column cliffs. The hike between Arnarstapi and Hellnar winds along the coast and lava fields. It is a beautiful hike (provided the weather isn't too bad, the day we were there it was the windiest day I have ever experienced). There is no public transport between the two towns so you will have to walk back the way you came to pick up the car.
7. Vatnshellir Cave
The Vatnshellir Cave is lava cave that formed about 8,000 years ago and is over 35 metres deep. The most amazing thing about the cave is the changing colours inside as well as the different lava formations inside.
Caves are dangerous places without the proper equipment so you can only visit the cave on a tour; tour companies will provide all the equipment necessary.
8. Saxholl Volcanic Crater
Saxholl is a small volcano which last erupted about 4,000 years ago. There are stairs that spiral around the volcano and allow you to walk right up to the top and look down into the crater. And it only takes 3-4 minutes to walk to the top!
At the top you will also get beautiful views of the Snaefellsjokull Glacier and surrounding lava fields.
9. Kirkjufell Mountain & Grundarfjordur
Mt Kirkjufell, on the outskirts of Grundarfjordur, is the most photographed mountain in Iceland (not sure who decided that but that's what they say). Just Instagram #Kirkjufell and you will know why it is super popular.
Stykkisholmur is the capital of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and is a beautiful little fishing that is worth a stop in. There is nice little walk to the lighthouse across the harbour, where, if you are lucky, you might be able to see a few puffins in the cliffs.
What to do when driving in or out of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula
Landbrotalaug is a small hot pot of perfect temperature and is an absolute must when driving to or from the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. The only catch is that it is small and intimate and you probably don't want to share it with anyone other than your close friends and family. Tip: Go in the morning to make sure you are on your own. When we were there it was incredibly cold outside but amazing inside - one of my favourite experiences in Iceland.
How do you get to Landbrotalaug?
I have marked Landbrotalaug on the map; use the controls to zoom in on it or follow the below instructions:
1. Driving south on Road 54 you turn left when you see the 'Stora-Hraun' sign.
2. Drive about 1.5 km - you will see an old abandoned house. Turn left.
3. Park in the car park just past the abandoned house.
4. Walk straight out the car park and follow your nose for the smell of sulfur. There are two hot pots; one to your left and one to your right. Go for the right one.
Where to stay?
Iceland has a population of about 330,000 people, of which over a third live in Reykjavik, so don't expect there to be any cities or even large towns in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. We stayed in Grundarjorour and found it to be a really good base to explore the area whilst also having some good eating options. You could also stay in Hellna or Arnarstapi but there looked to be limited options there.
Grundarfjordur Guesthouse and Apartments
We stayed at Grundarfjordur Guesthouse and Apartments, which gives you the option of a room with a private bathroom or a room with a shared bathroom. The room was simple, clean, quite large by Icelandic standards and, comparatively, reasonably priced. The shared facilities were also very clean and well maintained.
Click here to see if there is any availability.
Eating + drinking
While we were in Iceland we came across a nondescript magazine / guide book of Iceland in a petrol station while we were waiting to try one of Iceland's famous hot dogs (it was a bit meh). There was no fan fare around the guide but on reading the introduction, it had been put together by local experts in each of Iceland's main regions. We ended up using it one day to try a restaurant in the West Fjordland, the restaurant turned out to be amazing. From then the magazine became our food bible. Here are some of the best restaurants we tried in Snaefellsnes and other recommended by the book that we did not have a chance to eat at:
1. Bjargarsteinn Mathus (in Grundarjorour)
This restaurant in Grundarforour ticked a lot of boxes for us: good local cuisine, great views and perfectly located near our base in Grundarfjorour. The restaurant is right on the water and has views of Kirkfell if you are lucky enough to get a table by the window.
It was expensive by Australian standards but considering it costs you only slightly less to get a burger and a beer, we could stomach the cost (at least for a night). It cost us around $AUD150 ($US 120) for a shared entree / small platter of cured local seafood and a main each and a bottle of wine.
2. Skurinn (in Stykkisholmur)
Best burger in Iceland, which is saying a lot as we actually ate a lot of burgers, too many burgers, while we were there. Located in the picturesque fishing village of Stykkisholmur, Skurinn is a family owned restaurant that is definitely going for the classic American burger feel. Try the thickshakes.
3. Gamla Rif (in Rif)
A great place for a heart lunch or dinner... if you like soup. Famous for having the best fish soup in Western Iceland; and that is the only main meal you can eat here. They also have some good looking desserts as well.