Magical Iceland is full of incredible destinations to visit. One such place, and one that is often overlooked, is Snæfellsnes Peninsula on the West coast.
Snaefellsnes Peninsula in Iceland is located just two hours from Reykjavik. It’s home to lava fields, basalt cliffs, unspoiled wilderness, black sand beaches, colourful fishing villages and so much more. A large part of the peninsula is the Snæfellsjökull National Park, home to the Snæfellsjökull glacier-capped volcano, which featured in the novel Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne (1864).
The Snaelfessness Peninsula is only 90 kilometres long so you could travel the length of it in just a couple of hours. However there’s so much to see that we recommend at least a day or so to really make the most of it. If you’re looking for a guide to visiting this enchanting region then this complete guide to Snaefellsnes is for you.
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Should you visit the Snaefellsnes Peninsula?
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Before you decide whether or not a trip to Snaefellsnes Peninsula is worth it, you need to work out how to pronounce it! Although on paper the name looks very much like the Mr Snuffleupagus from Sesame Street, Snaefellsnes is pronounced snī-fells-nes.
Organising a Snæfellsnes Peninsula tour depends largely on how much time you have in Iceland. If you only have a long weekend – like we did on our first trip to the country – it’s easier to focus on Reykjavik, the Golden Circle and the Blue Lagoon. If, however, you have longer, then you can visit Snæfellsnes on a day tour – or overnight trip – from Reykjavik.
If you have visited Iceland before, then this is a wonderful destination to add to your Iceland itinerary. Despite being small, the peninsula is jam-packed with things to see and do, and it’s one of the most diverse places in Iceland.
One of the best ways to enjoy everything that the peninsula ha store offer is to combine it with a longer road trip to the Westfjords. This is what we did on this trip to Iceland, spending 24 hours in Snaefellsnes before continuing on to the remote Westfjords region.
The best things to do in Snaefellsnes Peninsula
For such a small region, there are an astonishing number of things to do in Snæfellsnes Peninsula. So many in fact, that it’s often called “Iceland in miniature”.
The following is quick overview of the best things to do in Snaefellsnes, more detail – including our 24-hour itinerary – is given below.
- Búðir (transliterated Búdir), a small town in the Búðahraun lava fields, home to the famous Budakirkja, the black church
- Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge, which translates to Red-Cloak Rift
- Arnarstapi and Hellnar. The 2.5km walk between the two small villages is home to incredible basalt columns and beautiful rock formations.
- Lóndranga – rock pinnacles that are volcanic plugs of basalt
- Djúpalónssandur, black sand beach
- Saxhóll, a 45 meter high 3,000-year-old volcanic crater
- Snaefellsjökull, a 700,000-year-old glacier capped volcano that featured in Journey to the Center of the Earth. It stands in the national park of the same name.
- Kirkjufell, said to be the most photographed mountain in Iceland – probably because it featured in Game of Thrones.
- Stykkishólmur, colourful 16th century fishing village home to some excellent restaurants
In addition, you may want to add the following sights to your itinerary. We didn’t have time to see everything and if you do want to visit all these destinations then I would recommend spending at least two days exploring Snæfellsnes.
- Ytri Tunga beach, golden sand beach home to Harbour Seals
- Lýsuhólslaug geothermal bath, filled with naturally hot mineral water
- Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum, taste fermented shark and dried fish
- Stykkisholmur, home to Sugandisey Island Lighthouse. Also a good view point for seeing some of the islands between Snaefellsnes and the Westfjords
- Berserkjahraun Lava Field, a 4,000-year-old lava field
- Svöðufoss, a beautiful waterfall that falls off a basalt column cliff
- Ingjaldshóll, historic site home to the oldest concrete church in the world, Ingjaldsholskirkja, built in 1903
- Skarðsvík Beach, golden sand beach on the northwestern tip of Snafellsness Peninsula.
When is the best time to visit the Snaefellsnes Peninsula?
Snaefellsnes Peninsula can be visited year round but the best times to visit are generally from mid-May to late September. You can visit Snaefellsnes in winter months but be aware that daylight hours are short so you won’t be able to visit as many sights. Similarly, snow and strong winds can make driving conditions challenging.
We visited Snaefellsnes in late August and enjoyed blue-sky days and sunshine. As with elsewhere in Iceland, the weather can change quickly so be prepared! Make sure to check Safetravel.is for road conditions and closures.
Snæfellsnes day trip
I visited Snaefellsnes on a girls’ trip and our guide around the peninsula – and through the Westfjords – was Ryan, one of the co-founders of Hidden Iceland. This is a local company that offers personalised tours of Iceland. They create small group tours as well as private ones and have a strong commitment to sustainable and responsible tourism. Ryan was an excellent guide and I can’t recommend Hidden Iceland enough.
It’s worth noting that many Snaefellsnes day tours travel anti-clockwise, starting in the town of Stykkishólmur. However, because we were staying the night we visited the southern side of the promontory and spent the night in Stykkishólmur before heading north towards the Westfjords the next day.
The drive from Reykjavik to Snafellsness takes around two hours on Road 54.
Budakirkja / The Black Church
Even if you don’t plan on posting a picture of the Black Church on your Instagram feed (as countless others have done) you really must stop here. This was our first port of call on our trip around the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.
Most of the churches in Iceland are white with red roofs so this black one is quite unique. What really makes it stand out, however, is its location. The Black Church sits within the Búðahraun lava field and the often moody skies make for a dramatic photo.
Make sure to wander down to the coastline from here; hiking trails lead the way.
Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge / Red-Cloak Rift
This was an unexpected stop on our tour around the peninsula but it turned out to be a very welcome one. The Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge forms a deep cut into the Botnsfjall Mountain and you can climb inside, weather permitting.
We walked up to the gorge from the car park and in to the gorge. There’s a fair amount of scrambling over rocks involved so good walking shoes – ideally waterproof – are important. Be aware that you’ll be holding on to rocks while navigating your way up the gorge and they can be sharp.
You can walk as far as you like – there are no railings or signs indicating the end of the path as with most places in Iceland – and some people were climbing up the little waterfall. We, however, decided to turn back and continue with our journey.
Arnarstapi was one of my favourite stops on the Snafellsness Peninsula. This tiny village is made up of just a handful of cottages and a harbour, all watched over by Bárður Snæfellsás, the half troll and half human Protector of the Snæfellsnes peninsula. You’ll see a large stone monument to him at the entrance to the village.
The real reason for coming here, however, is to see the incredible basalt columns. These fascinating hexagonal rock columns were formed when basaltic lava cooled. Volcanologists will know that when lava cools, it doesn’t cool at the same rate all the way through. This means that as the lava flow begins to loose heat it contracts and fractures creating the kind of geometric patterns that you see at Arnarstapi.
It’s an easy, and relatively short, walk along the cliff tops to see the cliffs. During summer months they are often full of birdlife including arctic tern, kittiwakes, gulls and fulmars. There’s a land bridge that you can walk across although do be careful as there are no railings. I would not advise walking across when it is very windy!
There is a restaurant here, the Arnarstapi Restaurant and Bar, which is open until 2pm daily and offers a buffet lunch. There’s also a fish and chips food truck.
Our next stop was Lóndrangar, two volcanic pillars that from a distance resemble a castle looking out to sea. These ancient volcanic plugs surrounded by younger lava fields; you can see where lava has flowed into the sea.
You don’t need long here but it’s well worth making the stop to see this unique geographical formation.
Djúpalónssandur / Black Lava Pearl Beach
Djúpalónssandur is definitely one of the best places to visit on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, but not necessarily for the black sand beach. Once you’ve parked in the car park, you walk down to the beach via the Nautastígur path – the Path of the Bull. It’s this area that I think is the most enchanting.
The moss covered rocks look like the kind of place where fairies – or elves, given that we are in Iceland – would live. Look out for the Gatklettur, a rock with a hole in it. Peer through and on a clear day you can see the Snæfellsjökull glacier in the distance.
Once down at the beach you’ll notice that the sand is, indeed, jet-black. Like other black sand beaches across Iceland, this was caused by volcanic ash. It’s stark and rugged but extremely beautiful. You’ll notice signs warning visitors to be wary of rogue waves – don’t get too close!
The Saxhóll crater is a popular spot to stop at when touring Snaefellsnes. The crater is 100m high and low metal stairs lead up to the top. There are actually two craters here but most guests only visit the first one, Útnesvegur. Standing at the top you can see the tip of the Peninsula with the Atlantic Ocean on two sides and the Snæfellsjökull glacier to the east.
You will probably want around one hour at this stop.
The magnificent Snæfellsjökull Glacier stands in the national park of the same name. We didn’t visit the glacier itself, driving around it on the way to our next stop instead, nor did we get clear views of it during our time in Snaefellsnes; the summit is often shrouded in cloud.
Still, if you have time (and energy!) then it is possible to hike up it to the summit, 1,446m above sea level, on a day trip. I would highly recommend that you do this on a guided tour.
The Snæfellsjökull glacier sits atop a 700,000-year-old dormant stratovolcano that last erupted in 250AD. It really is an impressive sight and not surprisingly it has featured in legends, folklore and novels. This was where, in the novel Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne, one could find the passage that would lead to the earth’s centre.
Kirkjufell / Church Mountain
The most photographed mountain in Snaefellsness – if not Iceland – is Kirkjufell. This is partly because the free standing mountain is extremely striking, framed by the Kirkjufellsfoos – the Church Mountain falls. The other reason, however, is that Kirkjufell appeared in the hit HBO series Game of Thrones. Known as Arrowhead Mountain in the series, it’s one of the landmarks beyond The Wall.
Not surprisingly, this is a very popular spot on the peninsula. The car park is often busy and you’ll spy rows of photographers lined up hoping to catch the perfect shot of the mountain and the waterfall. We spent around one hour here.
When I win the lottery and decide to buy a house in Iceland, I will choose a property in Stykkisholmur. This is the biggest town on the Snaefellsness peninsula and is charming, peppered with houses painted in yellow, blues and light green. We spent the night here but even then, we didn’t get to spend as much time here as I would have liked. I recommend putting a few hours aside to simply wander around Stykkisholmur and soak up the atmosphere.
Make sure to have dinner at Sjávarpakkhúsið a truly excellent restaurant that sits overlooking Stykkisholmur’s harbour. They specialise in locally sourced and seasonal food, working closely with the local fishermen, farmers and breweries. I had the fish stew with mussels, scallops, catfish, dill and lemon and it was stunning. They also have a good selection of gins and local beers.
Where to stay in Snafellsness Peninsula
If you do want to stay overnight then I recommend Stykkisholmur as it’s such a lovely town. However, given how easy it is to travel around the peninsula, you can choose to stay anywhere really. We booked an AirBnB property but there are hotels in town. Hotel Stundarfridur sits 12km outside of town and comes highly recommended.
Akkeri Guesthouse sits in town itself and is housed in a pretty yellow cottage. It consistently receives rave reviews from guests on Booking.com. Hótel Fransiskus Stykkishólmi is another hotel that gets excellent reviews. Also located in town, this hotel offers a dedicated family room.
Vatnsás 10 offers holiday cabins that come with a kitchenette with a fridge and a stovetop, and a private bathroom with shower. Each cabin can sleep four and there is one cabin that can sleep five.
If you do want to stay elsewhere then take a look at the map below, which will help you compare hotels and holiday rentals in Snaefellsness. All you have to do is insert your travel dates and group size and they will show you the best deals available.
Top Tips for visiting Snafellsness Peninsula
- The main roads around Snaefellsnes are the #54, #56 and #574. They are all paved and accessible year-round.
- Driving from Reykjavik, the easiest driving route to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula takes you off the Ring Road (Route 1) at Borgarnes and onto Route 54.
- You can visit Snaefellsnes on public transport, however you really do need a car to tour the peninsula so I would recommend driving or joining a tour. As mentioned above, I highly recommend Hidden Iceland.
- You can visit Snaefellsness during summer or winter. Summer visits are rewarded with endless daylight, mild weather and easy driving conditions. In winter you’re greeted with beautiful snowy scenes and the possibility of seeing the northern lights. Be aware, however, that driving can be more challenging during winter months and you will need a 4WD.