The landscape of the Snaefellsnes peninsula is extraordinary and very picturesque. The peninsula is 90 km long and between 10 to 27 km wide. That means it’s easy to tour it around within one day. It also has the nickname “Iceland in miniature” because it is home to many of Iceland’s unique natural attractions. You can find there, among others: unusual rock formations, lava fields covered with moss, waterfalls, caves, sandy beaches, cliffs and picturesque fjords.
In the central part of the peninsula, there is the active Snæfellsjökull volcano (1,446 m above sea level), with a glacier at its top. The volcano is located in the National Park of Iceland created in 2001, which stretches all the way to the shoreline. The last eruption of the volcano took place in 200 BC, but in the 20th century, it started to be talked about again, thanks to Jules Verne. It is inside the Snæfellsjökull volcano that Verne has created the action place of his most popular science-fiction novel, “Journey to the Center of the Earth“.
The main road on the peninsula is a road no. 54, which runs along the southern and northern coasts. Road 574 runs through the western part of the peninsula. Both roads are not paved along their entire length, but for most of the year, they can be travelled without problems. An additional advantage of driving the main roads are wonderful views, empty spaces, and amazing wonders of nature.
Several small towns and fishing harbours are worth visiting on the northern coast. The most interesting of them are Stykkisholmur, Olafsvik, Hellisandur.
The Snaefellsnes peninsula is also famous for the fact that numerous kinds of birds are nesting here. Also, its coast is liked by seals and whales that often appear in the surrounding waters.
Stykkisholmur is placed in the northern part of the peninsula and is its main city. There is a large marina from which ferries depart to Flatey Island and to the towns at the West Fjords. More information on ferries can be found at seatours.is
The tall basalt island of Sugandisey towers over the port, on the top of which is led by a stone path. It is worth going to the top of the island because it offers spectacular views. From the south side there is an amazing view of the town and port, and from the north side, a view of the small islands located in the Breiðafjörður bay.
In Stykkisholmur, there are over a dozen historic Danish houses from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. In recent years, these houses have undergone a thorough renovation, thanks to which in 2011 Stykkisholmur received the prestigious international EDEN (European Destination of Excellence) award.
The EDEN competition is conducted by the European Union as part of activities supporting tourism promotion. The main aim of the competition is to choose such destinations in Europe that not only have an extraordinary tourist offer but also take special care of the natural environment and local cultural heritage.
It is worth visiting Stykkisholmur in the summer holidays because, on the third weekend of August, Danish Days are organized to cultivate the memory of the Danish settlers who once lived in these areas.
Stykkisholmur – worth knowing
There are several interesting places in the town that are worth visiting.
The Norwegian House was built in 1832. There is a shop with original souvenirs and a small exhibition of household appliances from the past. More information at norskahusid.is.
Water Library. On the premises of the city library, an artistic installation was created, the protagonist of which is water from Icelandic glaciers. Find out more at artangel.org.uk
Museum of Volcanology. It houses the private collection of Haraldur Sigurðsson, a renowned volcanologist who has researched volcanoes around the world. For more information, visit eldfjallasafn.is
The futuristic church of Stykkisholmkirkja. The church attracts attention not only with its modern architecture and impressive size but also with its unusual location.
From the hill where the church is located, there is a wonderful view. You can admire from this place not only an amazing panorama of the city or the golf course but also the whole fjord.
Overnight in a charming guesthouse, Akkeri Guesthouse. The guesthouse has 6 rooms, each with its own bathroom. The owner takes care of the guests personally. While serving breakfast, she tells about the area and places worth visiting. For breakfast, it offers homemade banana bread and fresh regional products. The guesthouse is situated in the very centre of the town, 5 minutes from the ferry port. A great place for a short stay.
Kirkjufell is the most photographed mountain in Iceland. The locals themselves consider it the prettiest in the country. The mountain is over 460 meters high and is recognizable for its conical shape and steep slopes. It is often called “church mountain” because of its symmetrical and conical shape.
On the other side of the road (opposite Kirkjufell Mount) is the Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall, which consists of three legs. Both attractions fit together perfectly, so the mountain is often photographed from the perspective of the waterfall.
Olafsvik is a town with rich fishing grounds and a large port. It is the first Icelandic city to receive trade privileges from the King of Denmark in 1687. From 1950, after a significant modernization of the port – Olafsvik became the largest centre for fishing on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.
The building of the former Gamla Pakkhusid warehouse, dating from 1844, is particularly noteworthy here. Currently, it is a protected monument. Inside there is the “Pakkhús” Folk Museum and the Tourist Information Office.
There is also a large SKER restaurant in the port, serving local specialities. On the spot, you can eat, among others fresh fish that tastes great. Be sure to stop there for lunch, waiter service is also possible in Polish.
At lunchtime, port workers also dine here, so the place gets noisy and crowded, so it may be difficult to get a free table.
There is also a large supermarket in the town and 3 gas stations.
While in Olafsvik, you can also go on whale watching tours. With any luck, you can see humpback whales, sperm whales and killer whales. More information on the Arctic Sea Tours website.
After leaving Olafsvik, it is worth paying attention to the signs telling you that you are approaching the viewpoint. There will be a photo of the waterfall and a pictogram with a photo clearly suggesting that the place is worth seeing. From road no. 574, turn left into a gravel road towards the glacier. From the road, you will see a large parking lot on the left. There is a path from there that takes you to the waterfall. It is possible not only to reach the waterfall itself but also to climb to its top and see the amazing views from above.
The waterfall itself is only 10 m high, but it looks spectacular surrounded by basalt rocks. It is a hidden gem of the Snaefellsnes peninsula, rarely visited by tourists. It’s worth stopping here.
Snaefellsnes National Park
There are many places in the National Park where it is worth stopping at least for a moment. There are parking lots and fairly good road markings next to each attraction. In local IT offices, it is worth asking for a free map of the area. There are places marked on it that you will not find in ordinary tourist guides. For those who want to see “something more” – I recommend getting a map with a short description of attractions. It can also be downloaded electronically from west.is
Below are some of the most interesting attractions located in the Park.
Hellissandur and Rif
Hellissandur was formerly the main fishing centre, and the Rif, 2 km away, was one of the main commercial ports on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Today, what is left of the region’s former glory days is the fishing fleet that can be seen in the Rif. On the outskirts of the settlement is the Ingjaldsholl Church, which was the world’s first concrete temple, that was built in 1903. Inside, you can see a painting depicting Christopher Columbus during his visit to Iceland in 1477.
The area between Hellissandur and the Rif is often visited by birdwatchers as it is one of the largest breeding areas for the Arctic Tern in Iceland.
In Hellisandur there is the Maritime Museum with the oldest exhibit from 1826. There is also a sculpture from 1986 of the famous Icelandic artist Jon Gunnar Arnason, entitled “The Ship”. In 1990, the sculpture “Sun Voyager” by the same artist was created, which now stands in Reykjavik, being at the same time a symbol of the city.
It is worth adding that Hellissandur nickname is “Iceland’s capital of street art“. In this small town, there are about 30 wonderful murals whose authors come from all over the world. Murals are scattered around the area and can be found in both Hellisandur and the Rif. It is worth stopping there for a moment and finding all the murals because these works are simply delightful. See for yourself!
Skarðsvík is a golden sandy beach considered a unique natural gem of Iceland. Unlike most black sand beaches in Iceland, Skarðsvík is reminiscent of the Mediterranean coast, with turquoise waters. However, it should not be forgotten that Iceland has wild landscapes and equally wild nature. Being on the beach in Skardsvik, remember about very strong waves and even stronger sea currents. In front of the main entrance, there are information boards that in various languages, reminds us about the possible dangers.
It’s best to plan your stay on the beach at low tide and not to enter directly to the shoreline. There is a small parking lot before going down to the beach. It is worth visiting this place.
The crater is located in the Snaefellsnes National Park, about 10 km south of Hellisandur. It is very popular among tourists visiting the peninsula, mainly because it is easy to climb to its top.
The crater is not high – it is less than 110 m high and has an oval shape. It takes about 10 minutes to climb to the top. From its top, you can spot very interesting views of the Atlantic Ocean, moss-covered lava fields and the Snæfellsjökull glacier.
There is a car park just in front of the volcano. The road to the top of the crater is very convenient as well, as a metal staircase has been built along the entire route. In the past, paths trodden by tourists led to the top of the volcano. Over time, the slopes of the volcano began to crumble and deform. Several parallel paths were created that threatened to slide the slope, and therefore also threatened the safety of tourists.
In 2014, a decision was made to improve safety and stop the erosion of the landscape. For this purpose, it was decided to build a wide steel staircase, the task of which was primarily to strengthen the volcano slope. The path is 160 meters long, and to complete the entire route you have to overcome almost 400 steps. The path is 1.5 meters wide, so pedestrian traffic can go in both directions at the same time.
Short history of the path contruction
Construction of the path was completed in 2016. The black steel surface quickly rusted and blended with the red shades of the volcanic crater and the surrounding vegetation. Colloquially this path has come to be called “stairs to heaven” or “orange stairs”. As volcanic craters are often referred to as “the gates to the flaming flames of hell,” the official stair cage project name was “the stairway to heaven and hell.”
In 2018, the Icelandic landscape architecture company “Landslag” was awarded the “Rosa Barba Landscape Architecture International Prize” for the design of the stairs on the Saxholl Crater. You can read more about the project and the award itself at arquitectes.cat
Djupaonssandur Beach delights with both black volcanic sand and the unusual lava formations that surround it.
Road 572 on Dritvíkurvegur leads directly to the beach. In the end, there is a large car park and numerous information boards. From here, you can go for a walk in several directions. The routes are well described, along with the time estimation we will need to cover them.
The road to the beach turns right and goes through the middle of the volcanic rocks. On the way, it is worth stopping at the Gatklettur, called also “the rock with a window” through which you can see, among others Snæfellsjökull glacier.
On the way, the first curiosity is – the Aflraunasteinar stones. The stones used to be used to test the strength of fishermen. Each of the stones has a different weight from 23 kg, through 54, 100 to 154 kg. Those who managed to lift the heaviest stone could join the crew and work in the fisheries. The weakest had to look for another job. Today, you can pick up each stone and check what your strength is.
Going further towards the beach, on the right side, it is worth paying attention to the Djúpulón Lagoon (Deep Lagoon). The name of the whole beach comes from this lagoon. There is also a second lagoon, called Svörtulón (Black Lagoon), but is hidden behind the rocks. Both lagoons were once thought to be so deep that they do not have a bottom. Today it is known that both lagoons are less than 5m deep.
Epine trawler pieces
Another interesting feature of this place is fragments of the British Epine trawler scattered on the beach. The trawler crashed in 1948 near Dritvik Bay and 14 people were killed. However, on the day of the accident, the storm was so severe that some of the bodies were never found. The parts of the trawler lying on the beach are under strict protection. They must not be touched, and the beach will never be cleaned. They are a memorial to those who died in the crash.
Right next to the “Pearl Beach” with black sand, there are water polished stones, which are called “Pearls of the Deep Lagoon“. Black stones polished by the waves of the ocean sparkle in the sun like pearls. They are part of the landscape of the National Park and must not be taken from the beach.
Rock formations and trolls
There are many strange rock formations around the beach, taking on interesting shapes. Many people believe that some of them are rock-turned trolls, which were said to once inhabited the area in large numbers. The characteristic red rock called Söngklettur (Singing Rock) is a natural monument considered to be the church of the elves.
While on the Snaefellsnes peninsula, visit Djupaonssandur beach. Of course, worth remembering that this place is not suitable for relaxation, a sunbed or a bath. Also, access to the beach via the stones is quite physically exhausting. The ocean around the beach is rough and the waves are very dangerous and can be unpredictably high. Several serious accidents have been reported here in the past. Be very careful there. When approaching the edge of the beach – first of all, take care of your own safety.
There is an interesting cave on the territory of the National Park. It is over 8,000 years old, is 200 meters long and lies 35 meters below the earth’s surface. The cave is located approx. 10 km from the town of Hellnar. On the spot, tours are possible with a guide, and entry to the cave is possible only at certain times. Tour participants are equipped with protective helmets and flashlights.
You can read more about this attraction at summitguides.is
Snaefellsnes Peninsula – what else is worth seeing
Svalupfa is a bird lovers paradise. There are high and steep cliffs here, on the slopes of which thousands of fulmars nest. Great contact with nature, basalt soaring rocks and numerous volcanic formations around make it worth stopping at this place for a moment. The views are breathtaking, and the screams of birds and the roar of ocean waves – effectively remind you about the power of nature.
Black Church Budakirkja and Budahraun Nature Reserve
The Budahraun Nature Reserve is a lava field that extends to the sea. It was formed around 8,000 years ago after the Budaklettur volcano erupted. There is a small wooden church in the reserve. The church is black because it has been painted with tar to protect the wood from the harsh climate. Both, the church and the adjacent small cemetery are surrounded by a wall made of elements of solidified lava.
The Black Church on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula is one of three of its kind in Iceland today. Budakirkja has recently become quite popular with the numerous young couples who come here from the farthest corners of the world to get married in this harsh climate. Besides, the black church against the background of a lava field covered with moss is quite photogenic, so it often appears on celebrity Instagram accounts.
The church is open all year round. Exceptions may be very bad weather conditions or a pandemic, during which the church remains permanently closed.
At the intersection of the road no. 54 and road no. 574 is another great natural attraction. The Bjarnarfoss waterfall is visible far from the distance. Interestingly, viewed from a faraway distance, it looks quite inconspicuous, but when you get closer to it – it causes admiration.
There is a large car park nearby and a narrow path leads to the waterfall.
Parking lot location: 64°50’51.0″ N 23°24’18.5″W
The Bjarnaá (Bear) River falls from the 566 m high basalt mountain called Mælifell, creating a waterfall of over 80 meters high. The waterfall is divided into two parts, separated by a rock shelf. Approximately up to the level of this edge, you can climb the path along the waterfall. From this place, there is a wonderful view of the surrounding area. The waterfall itself is also impressive, especially the view of the Bjarnaa River – at the end of the winding road, it flows straight into the ocean.
It is worth stopping here.
End your stay on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula with an overnight stop in Langaholt village at the Langaholt Guesthouse. It is a great place to relax, away from civilization, surrounded by beautiful nature, right on the shore of the ocean. View of the volcano and Snæfellsjökull glacier from the windows. For dinner, it is worth ordering “catch of the day”.
Iceland, my other post
I encourage you as well to read my other posts about Iceland
- Akureyri – northern Iceland
- Diamond Circle North Iceland
- East Iceland – the land of puffins
- Golden Circle – treasures of Iceland
- Húsavík Iceland – time for whales
- Iceland – tailor-made travel plan
- Reykjanes Peninsula South West Iceland
- Reykjavik Iceland’s capital city
- South Coast of Iceland
- Troll Peninsula North Iceland