No time to explore the whole of Iceland? Hit the “snow mountain” peninsula to see the country in miniature. Here’s how to to it with our detailed Snaefellsnes itinerary.
Your Snaefellsnes Itinerary for the Snow Mountain Peninsula
Even the word Snæfellsnes stands out. It translates to mean “the snow mountain” peninsula, a whirl of lava fields, black beaches, waterfalls, and volcanoes, with secluded lodges glowing deep red in the timeless sunsets.
Snaefellsnes also owns one of the most scenic national parks in the country, with shores crashing into the deep waters of the Atlantic Ocean to the west, its land speckled with isolated villages, dark skies and the promise of the northern lights.
Snaefellsnes is perfect for a road trip. But most Snaefellsnes itineraries try to cram more than 15 stops into one day.
Take Your Time
There is a better way. This Snaefellsnes itinerary will outline the best attractions in a loop. But we’d highly recommend following the approach we took when we visited with Discover the World in autumn.
They suggested a stay at Glacier Lodge, an idyllic self catering cottage at the foot of the snowy mountain. You can follow the loop from here but take your time and spread it over two or three days. See our full 7 day Iceland itinerary to get an idea of how you can fit it in with bigger plans.
Disclosure – we travelled to Iceland as part of a project with Discover the World. However, as ever, as always, we kept the right to write what we like. Otherwise, what’s the point? Also, if you book or buy through any of the links on this page, we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Cheers!
Is Snaefellsnes Peninsula Worth It?
The answer is simple. Yes, Snaefellsnes Peninsula belongs on your Iceland bucket list. With its spectacular craters, beautiful beaches, and magnificent volcanoes, it’s an empty, other worldly place.
However, if your time in Iceland is short, the more famous spots are the Golden Circle and Blue Lagoon. While Snaefellsnes really, truly is amazing, those other sights are iconic, so I would recommend making the time to see those first.
You can fit all of them into a week long itinerary in Iceland, though, so don’t give up just yet!
How Much Time Do You Need for the Snaefellsnes Peninsula?
That’s a good question. Many tours through Iceland take you from Reykjavik, around the Golden Circle, and off to the Blue Lagoon, leaving one day to spend touring the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.
And a day trip to Snaefellsnes can cover most of the important spots in a hurry. It’s just. It’s better if you have more time.
The best way to soak in the relaxed vibe of Snaefellsnes is to extend your trip as much as you can. This is true, especially if you are travelling with children, who can’t always handle punishing schedules. And honestly, you could stay for a whole week in Glacier Lodge and never tire of the view.
But for most people, two or three days in the Sanefellsnes Peninsula should be about right.
Check out the other itineraries from Discover the World here and our seven day Iceland itinerary with kids here to get some more ideas. Discover the World take travellers to several different countries, but they began in Iceland and they know it well. They even have a handy app, which shows you unusual things to do in Iceland and places that only locals know.
Getting to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula
This is the classical starting point for the Snaefellsnes Peninsula itinerary. After flying to Keflavik International Airport and spending the night at a nearby hotel if needs be, jump in your rental car and head north on Route 1. Go through the tunnel and follow the route to Borgarnes, where you will switch to Route 54. This is the road to the peninsula.
If the idea of icy road conditions doesn’t appeal, you can take one of the many day tours to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula which start in the capital.
Extend your Ring Road Itinerary
Another popular option is to drive the ring road in an anticlockwise direction and then add on a section in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. If this is your plan, you will visit the attractions in this guide in reverse order, so it makes sense to start from the bottom.
Snaefellsnes Peninsula Itinerary
The first stop on the list, the Gerðuberg Cliffs, run along the southern side of the peninsula. And they are magnificent in the glow of the morning sun. What makes them so special is the geometrical symmetry of their hexagonal basalt columns.
It’s easy to believe that this perfect structure was designed by humans but it is completely the work of nature. Thousands of years ago, a volcano erupted here, spilling rivers of lava into the cold sea. The rapid temperature change caused the lava to solidify into these unusual shapes.
The Gerðuberg Cliffs are one of the most Instagrammable landscapes in Iceland, so get camera ready and enjoy!
Right off Route 54, you’ll spot a silver stream of a waterfall slicing and tumbling through the basalt cliffs and green fields. Bjarnarfoss falls 80 meters from river Bjarná and sometimes gets blown upwards by the strong winds in the area, creating a magical effect.
However, it rarely receives tourists since you can only access it after a short walk and a pretty steep climb. Depending on your circumstances, you can just enjoy the view from afar or climb a bit higher on the cliffs and take a closer look at this natural wonder.
Búðakirkja Black Church
Snaefellsnes Peninsula is known for its vast solitary areas, but it’s still a surprise to stumble upon this church in the middle of nowhere. What’s even more surprising is that this small spot in Búðakirkja is, as the name suggests, all black.
The chapel was built in 1848 and it still runs traditional church events. From time to time, families drive here to attend a wedding or listen to a concert.
But when we visited, it was entirely empty.
As you continue on the south coast, stop by Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge, also known as the Red Mountain Rift. The entry to the gorge is quite narrow, and the ravine is really wet if you decide to go deeper, so it’s not ideal for young children. However, for everyone else, you can easily reach the small waterfall inside by following the narrow stream which leads to it.
And the colossal Botnsfjall Mountain will be watching the whole time.
Local folklore says that the half-giant Bárðar threw two boys into the gorge after his daughter, who was playing with them, disappeared. According to the story, he believed his daughter died after the boys pushed her out to sea on an iceberg. But the girl drifted to Greenland, where she found a lover and never returned to her father.
Dark stories. Dark gorge.
Gatklettur (“Hellnar Arch”)
The Gatklettur rises from the ocean, a rocky sea arch, often surrounded by thick fog as a siren for clicking cameras and photographers in search of unique landscapes.
On a clear day, you can capture the majestic Londrangar Cliffs and see the Hellnar Arch with its special swirl in all its splendour.
Hike from Arnarstapi to Hellnar
In good weather, we’re told it is worth taking the trail from Arnarstapi to Hellnar. The hike passes along basalt cliffs, gravity defying sea arches and rocky beaches, with seabirds swerving and swooping overhead.
Look out for the towering statue of Bardur Snaefellsnes, the half-giant with the gorge death story (you can also drive to see it.)
The views get more and more dramatic as you approach Hellnar, with a lava bed spilling down from the Snaefellsjokull volcano. The trail there is paved with volcanic rocks and soft green moss. Once past the volcanic fields, you will reach a wide wooden pathway with incredible views of the almost alien Snaefellsnes Peninsula scenery.
From Hellnar, the next stop is the Lóndrangar Cliffs. Two huge pillars rise from the ocean like watchtowers, but science tells us they were once part of a volcanic crater. You can see them by crossing the mossy lava field that starts at the Visitor’s Centre (or from the sea if you fancy a boat trip.)
The land around the cliffs is said to be populated by elves, and the people on the peninsula take this legend seriously. No-one has ever farmed these fields as a result. Or maybe, they simply weren’t fertile enough to be worth the effort.
Just a short distance from Lóndrangar, at Þúfubjarg, another famous legend still stands. It tells the story of poet Kolbeinn Jöklaskáld who struck a pact with the devil in exchange for an extraordinary capacity for rhyming words.
Prepare to enter Snæfellsjökull National Park to visit the amazing Vatnshellir lava cave. It is only accessible via a tour, so the wise thing to do is book in advance to make sure you have a spot when you arrive. Also, take into account that the cave is open only during the summer months, so exclude it from your itinerary if you are touring Snaefellsnes in the winter.
Vatnshellir Cave formed 8,000 years ago when, after an eruption, a river of molten rock started to cool from the exterior. In the meantime, hot lava was still flushing beneath it, forming the tubes you can visit today. It is a great place to learn more about Iceland’s folklore – the guide will tell you about the legend of the trolls that used to live inside this cave.
Djúpalónssandur Black Sand Beach
This place in West Iceland almost looks like it is from another planet. You need to cross a lava field to get to the beach, only to find yourself stepping on black sand. On one side, you have the immense ocean throwing black pebbles on the shores, while on the other side of the beach, you’ll see the base of the Snæfellsnesjökull glacier.
Find the Söngklettur or the Singing Rock, a bright red volcanic rock on the beach, which is said to be protected by elves, and look out for the shipwreck of the British Epine GY7, thrown onto the shores in 1948.
One of the natural wonders of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, the Saxholl Crater is perfect for those who want to see a real crater without having to climb too high. It is only 100 metres above sea level and has a walking path and steps designed to make the ascent as easy as possible. It’s a strange feeling to stare down into a volcano which was last active 3000 years ago.
Once up, you can see awe-inspiring views of the Atlantic Ocean and the rugged lava fields that stretch over the land.
On the westernmost part of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, you will find the Svörtuloft Lighthouse. It is located at the end of a gravel road, so you will need a vehicle with a bit of clearance or the will to walk the road. Yet, it’s worth it to see this huge lighthouse painted in brilliant orange and overseeing the wild sea.
Skarðsvík Gold Sand Beach
Yellow sand beaches may be common in the Mediterranean, but in Iceland, where black and white sands are predominant, they are quite a rarity. After soaking in the cold greens, blues, and black shades of the Snaefellsnes, stopping for a little bit on this golden sand beach helps remind you that you are still stepping on planet Earth.
The ocean is more turquoise here, but never trust its apparent tranquillity. The waves at the Skarðsvík Gold Sand Beach are often unpredictable and can hit the shores hard. Maintain your distance and never turn your gaze from the ocean. It goes without saying that this is not the place to swim or even dip your feet into the water. And be especially careful with young children.
Instead, enjoy the surrounding landscape and take lots of pictures for your Iceland album.
The next stop on your Snaefellsnes Peninsula itinerary is a street art project belonging to artist Kári Viðarsson in the small fishing town of Hellissandur. The idea was to attract more tourists to a place that was slowly sliding into oblivion. The project started with just a few murals on the former fish factory of the village and gradually extended to the entire town, gaining it a reputation as the street art capital of Iceland.
One of the most famous murals is the one representing Jules Verne’s “The Journey to the Center of the Earth”. In the story, a professor tries to reach the centre of the earth through the opening of the Snæfellsjökull volcano, located near Hellissandur.
Kirkjufells & Kirkjufellsfoss
West of the fishing village of Grundarfjörður, you will find Kirkjufell Mountain, one of the highest cliffs on the peninsula. It is also one of the most photographed due to its proximity to the Kirkjufellsfoss Waterfall, also known as “Church Mountain Falls”. They are often paired together for dreamy photographs and you’ll probably recognise the ensemble from a travel brochure or magazine.
If you arrive in the evening, you’ll be treated to a gorgeous sunset in the distance as the waterfall bounces down the rocks. The only thing is… This is a popular place, so you won’t be alone.
Berserkjahraun Lava Fields
End your trip on a 4000-year-old lava field linked to a famous legend. Folklore says that this field stood between the properties of two brothers. One day, one of them brought two berserkers (fierce warriors from Sweden) to the peninsula and gave one to his brother, Víga-Styr.
The Swede fell in love with Víga-Styr’s daughter and asked for permission to marry her. Víga-Styr agreed on the condition that the two berserkers clear a path through the lava field to unite his household to his brother’s.
However, Víga-Styr didn’t keep his promise, and when the path was ready, he killed the two Swedes and buried them near the path.
Despite the grim story, it’s a lovely photo spot and a good place to stop and stretch your legs.
Where to Eat in Snaefellsnes
Eating and drinking in Snaefellsnes requires a little bit of planning since the area is so remote.
For road trip snacks and self-catered breakfasts and dinners, it’s best to stock up in the supermarkets closer to Reykjavik instead of waiting until you reach Snaefellsnes itself. Prices are higher and the choices are fewer on the peninsula, as you’d probably expect.
Here’s what you can find:
- The Grill House in Borgarnes – There’s nothing fancy in this small restaurant next to the gas station, just burgers, grilled pork or chicken, some fish, pasta, and so on. But if you missed a meal in Reykjavik, a stop here will help.
- Langaholt in Gordum Stadarsveit, Snaefellsbaer – Located in the shadow of the Snæfellsjökull glacier, this family-run guest house focuses on local ingredients, especially fish, often based on the catch of the day. Take a seat and enjoy their menu, whether it’s monkfish, catfish, or cod.
- Hótel Búðir in Íþróttahús, Snæfellsbæjar – Close to the isolated black church at Búðir, this hotel serves gourmet fish and lamb dishes, spiced with a romantic ‘alone-in-the-world’ atmosphere.
- Fosshotel Hellnar in Brekkubær, Hellnar – fuel up before the Hellnar to Arnarstapi trail with a local fish stew served with homemade bread. Fosshotel stands alone between green cliffs and the black beach. A perfect place for coffee and a spot of reflection about the meaning of life. Enjoy!
Where to Stay in Snaefellsnes
If you can stretch to a two or even three day Snaesfellsnes itinerary then you’ll need a place to stay.
We stayed in the gorgeous Glacier Lodge but here are a few other recommended spots:
- Glacier Lodge in Hellnar – located in a dreamy landscape, this group of self-catering cottages is perfect for explorers set to see the Northern lights. No noise, no fumes, no worries. Just the magnificent view of the Snaefellsjokull to the North and a panoramic view of Faxafloi bay to the south.
- Hótel Búðir in Íþróttahús, Snæfellsbæjar – famous for the haut-cuisine restaurant and isolated location, Hótel Búðir also offers comfortable rooms.
- Hotel Egilsen in Stykkishólmur – if you make a stop in Snaefellsnes’ largest town, this cosy hotel is your best choice. With a sea-inspired décor and fish-based cuisine, it’s one of the oldest buildings in the village.
- Arnarstapi Center in Arnarstapi – this comfortable ensemble of cottages in the middle of the Snæfellsnes National Park can serve as an excellent base. There’s also a hotel with a restaurant and bar on site where guests can enjoy local food while gazing at the spectacular night through the large window panes.