The Snaefellsnes peninsula, or Snæfellsnes peninsula, as they spell it in Iceland, is a wild and wonderful part of Iceland. It’s not as popular with tourists as the south coast, but it is a treat for fans of craggy volcanic landscapes. If your time in Iceland is short, you might be wondering if it is possible to explore the Snæfellsnes peninsula. The good news is that it is entirely possible to see the best of the Snæfellsnes peninsula in a day. This post will suggest a route through the peninsula and give you suggestions of things to do on a Snæfellsnes peninsula day tour.
About The Snæfellsnes Peninsula
The Snæfellsnes peninsula is in the west of Iceland. It has been referred to as ‘Iceland in miniature’ because it has a little something of everything you expect from Iceland: volcanoes, glaciers, waterfalls, black beaches and quaint hamlets.
It is also somewhat legendary because the Snæfellsnes peninsula was the setting for Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth. The protagonists climb into the crater of the Snæfellsjökull volcano and discover the route to the centre of the earth.
The glacier-capped volcano sits within Snæfellsjökull National Park, which covers most of the peninsula’s western tip.
Snæfellsnes Peninsula In A Day
You could spend longer than a day exploring everything on the peninsula in more detail – but if you only have a day, it is definitely possible to see the highlights on a Snaefellsnes peninsula day tour. And all of the highlights are free – which is great if you’re trying to explore Iceland without going bankrupt!
The Snæfellsnes peninsula is off the beaten path compared to the more popular area of South Iceland, so there are fewer tourists in general – and also fewer amenities. So much so that I struggled to find a café to grab a drink and a bite to eat in the fishing villages in the far west of the peninsula (two places I read about in a guidebook were both closed, even though it was the high season). Therefore, my top tip is to bring food & drink with you and take advantage of cafes in the bigger towns along the way: Borgarnes or Grundarfjörður.
Most people explore Iceland by car, as it is such a wonderfully scenic place to drive. The route I recommend goes anti-clockwise around the peninsula. If you’re starting the day tour from Reykjavik, you can get to the Snæfellsnes peninsula by taking route 1 north from Iceland, and then turning onto route 54 at Borgarnes, which will take you into the peninsula. If you’re detouring into the peninsula from your road trip around the Ring Road, then you’ll take the same turning as above if you’re travelling clockwise and if you’re going anti-clockwise (coming from North Iceland), you’ll turn off on route 56 and then route 54.
How Long Does It Take To drive Around The Snæfellsnes Peninsula?
The total route from Reykjavik takes around 6 hours of driving. You’ll break that up with lots of stops, but you need to be comfortable with that amount of driving.
And of course, driving in Iceland isn’t like driving anywhere else – because there’s hardly any traffic and every road has stunning landscape scenery. And the roads in the Snæfellsnes peninsula are some of the most spectacular – so I think those hours in the car will fly by.
Snæfellsnes Peninsula Map
Here’s an interactive map of the things to do in the Snæfellsnes peninsula:
Things to do in the Snæfellsnes peninsula
1. Scenic views from route 54
The first attraction in the Snæfellsnes peninsula is actually the scenic roads. Route 56 and the stretch of Route 54 along the north coast as you head into the Snæfellsnes peninsula are especially epic.
2. Kirkjufell: the most famous mountain in Iceland
The first stop on your Snaefellsnes peninsula day tour is one of Iceland’s most famous and photographed landmarks: Kirkjufell.
In my household, we call it the ‘Witch’s Hat mountain’. If you watch Game of Thrones, you might recognise it as ‘Arrowhead Mountain’ from seasons 6 and 7. Its actual name is Kirkjufell, which translates as ‘Church Mountain’.
Kirkjufell is one of those iconic spots that I felt familiar with before I saw it. It was both really cool to see it with my own eyes and frustrating because I struggled to photograph it in a way that didn’t look like most other shots of it. But in the end, I like this image because it does at least do some justice to the proud majesty of the mountain.
Kirkjufell is on route 54 just west of the town of Grundarfjörður and rises from the sea like a craggy shrouded ghost. The mountain is 463m high and climbing it requires professional equipment and a lot of experience. Most people satisfy themselves by admiring and photographing it.
There’s a small parking area by the road just by the mountain, and from there you can walk the trail up to a waterfall named for the mountain: Kirkjfellsfoss. This is not only a great vantage point from which to marvel at the mountain but it is also a pretty spot in and of itself.
3. Fishing villages and wild beaches on the north coast
As you drive west from Kirkjufell along route 54 towards Snæfellsjökull National Park, you’ll come across some natural and unspoiled beaches and tiny fishing villages, including Olafsvik and Rif.
Along this stretch of the Snæfellsnes peninsula route, I suggest you stop anywhere that takes your fancy!
4. Saxhóll crater
If you turn off route 54 onto route 574, you can drive in a loop around Snæfellsjökull National Park. At the farthest Snæfellsjökull National Park, just off the road, there’s a volcanic crater called Saxhóll. Climbing this volcano is a great thing to do in the Snæfellsnes peninsula. It is easy to climb because there’s an iron staircase all the way to the rim! It’s a short climb (the volcano is only 45m high) and you can be done in 20 minutes. On a clear day, you’ll have a great view of lava fields and the Snæfellsjökull volcano and glacier.
5. Djúpalónssandur beach: a wild beach
In the southwest end of Snæfellsjökull National Park, at the end of road 572, there’s a craggy black sand beach that’s worth a little time. From the car park, follow a rocky path between folds of old lava flows down to the beach. Near the entrance, there are massive stones that were apparently a test of strength for Icelandic fishermen – and I’d be amazed anyone can actually lift them!
The beach itself is even more wild and rugged than those on the South Coast of Iceland. And like those beaches, the surf can be treacherous, so don’t get too close or you could be surprised by a big wave and knocked off your feet.
The beach is surrounded by twisted rock formations, one of which legends say is a troll church. It is also strewn with the remains of a shipwreck. An English trawler boat was wrecked there in 1948. I read that the iron remnants of the ship have been left as a memoir of the lives lost in the wreck, so it is respectful to leave them untouched.
Spending time in this barren, gnarly place really felt like we were a long way from civilisation (in a good way!).
6. Arnastapi & Hellnar: picture-perfect hamlets
On the south coast of Snæfellsnes peninsula, just off route 574, are a couple of picturesque hamlets: Hellnar, and, a little further east, Arnastapi. Here, you can walk along the cliffs, with their fascinating shapes, including one with a natural arch. This is called Gatklettur, or Hole Rock.
Arnastapi really caught my attention. It sits between gnarly lava cliffs and an imposing pyramid-shaped mountain. The tiny houses look a little lost in the wild landscape and the powerful elements. I wondered what it would be like to live amongst such brutal beauty.
7. Budir Black Church: an Iconic Icelandic church
Just before you rejoin route 54, take the turn for Hotel Budir, which is right next to the last attraction in this Snæfellsnes peninsula day tour: Búðakirkja, or the Budir Black Church.
There are lots of quaint country churches in Iceland, but this is one of the most unusual. The church has been rebuilt a couple of times but dates back to 1703. It stands proud and alone on the grassed-over lava field, overlooked by dramatic mountains and painted all in black. It cuts quite a striking image and is a photographer’s dream.
Its solitude made me wonder how it came to exist. There’s not even one house nearby: there’s the hotel I mentioned, but no other houses, no community. I read that there used to be a fishing village there. I don’t know what happened to it, but it seems poignant that the church and graveyard are all that remains.
8. Returning to Reykjavik or the Ring Road
Once you’ve finished at Búðakirkja, rejoin route 54 and head eastwards towards the Ring Road. This stretch of the road is particularly scenic. As you say goodbye to the Snæfellsnes peninsula, enjoy the view of the mountains on the left-hand side and the craggy coastline on the right.