One of the most special experiences you can have during a trip to Iceland is to take at least a day (I actually plan on going back one day and spending a few days exploring it) at the Snaefellsnes Peninsula… It is one of the most stunning places I have ever been and includes places which I actually described as magical – I’ve NEVER used that word to describe anything before, but I couldn’t think of anything more appropriate!
When going for a drive here from Reykjavik it is easily possible to make it in to a day trip, but start early because the drive alone should take in the region of 6 hours according to google, however you need to also consider that there are loads of places to stop and these all take time! Also bring some food as restaurants and shops are not exactly abundant here, especially in the winter. Finally if you are worried about it you can fill up with petrol in or round Borgarnes (you will notice that I actually recommend you stop at the petrol station just after you cross the bridge and take a second to turn around – the view is spectacular). However there are some places on the north side of the peninsula, such as Olafsvik where you can fill up with petrol, so don’t worry too much!
To make the most of this guide there is a map at the bottom with some simple labels, but the more in-depth explanations of each location can be found just below:
Hvalfjordur fjord Tunnel
This is a simple but optional step – on your way there at least use the tunnel, don’t go around the Fjord, it will add a good 40 minutes to your trip, and on a day trip from Reykjavik you want as much time as possible on the peninsula. On the way back you can certainly consider the beautiful views by going around, but see how you are doing for time!
Another simple and option stop is this town just after crossing the bridge. I recommend stopping at the petrol station just to take a second to get out and take a look at the view behind you.
Ytri Tunga Beach
This should be your first stop and if you come early you will maximise your chance of seeing the gorgeous common seal colony which calls this beach home. The summer months are best but we saw them in October, even though it was raining and pretty cold. There is a rough road to the left and its easy to miss, but it does have a sign… Go past the abandoned farm house where you will find a car park right by the beach. Some times they can be quite far out on the rocks so take a good zoom lens (sorry I didn’t have a great one), and just take some time to watch these gentle sea creatures – but don’t get too close and respect their personal space!
Axlar Bjorn Lookout
Just as you turn off route 54 and on to route570 towards the national park you will see a small slip on the left of the road. There is a sign here which is quite interesting, telling you about Iceland’s first and most notorious serial killer, whose weapon of choice was the axe. He called this area home and as morbid as the history may be, it’s a great place to stop for a photo opportunity and just to soak in the view for a minute.
Earlier I mentioned calling a location magical, and this is it! There is a right turn up to a small car park where you must walk a fairly short but steep trail to the opening of the gorge. Even from far away it is beautiful and if you come early you should see the early morning fog shrouding part of it, to make it look even more spectacular. From the outside it is stunning enough but if you are feeling adventurous and want to see why it is so magical go inside. There is a small stream coming out of it but you can step across the stones and reach the inside which opens up in to a round cavern. I was blown away and then turned around and saw the gorge go on ahead of me, with the stream running along its inside… If you follow it along there is supposed to be a waterfall in there – I didn’t know this at the time so cannot verify… I wasn’t wearing the best shoes for it so only just went a few meters in.
Don’t let the walk up to it put you off or think its a crack in the mountain you can enjoy from a little way back – you really need to get inside, it’s like something from lord of the rings!
If you are interested in history this is a nice little stop with some old architecture and signage about Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir who was an Icelandic woman who was supposed to have been the first white woman to have a child in America. It is also the location of an old farm house… It’s nothing super special but most stops in Iceland, especially on the peninsula are worth a quick look.
Snaefellsjokull National Park Boundary
If you use the route I have set out you will reach the Snaefellsjokull National Park at its southern entrance. The landscape is much the same as outside the park, which is one of the nice things about the peninsula, it is very much untouched other than a few villages. As you drive around the park, you will go almost all the way around Snæfellsjökull, the stratovolcano which is always on your right when driving this direction, with a glacier on top… From just about any angle it’s very impressive to see.
The car park you first get to is or Þúfubjarg however it is just a short distance to a number of other areas of interest from here – there is a sign post with distance to these at the path… It was also where we decided to take our lunch break as it is about half way along this trip. Þúfubjarg is the name of the cliff you will reach first, and is a great place to get photos of some of the other geological formations of the area.
I must admit that we just stopped here to allow me to answer the call of nature – something which in Iceland I am afraid you need to learn to do whilst in nature as there are not very many toilets dotted about – especially along the peninsula. I didn’t go to the small crater which I hear is very easy to climb, but find some great views and a beautiful little stream which made for some great photos and video clips… It is super clear. I later found on google earth what looks like some form of old architecture just beyond where I walked to.
This is where everyone comes to take what must be one of the most iconic photos of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, although to get that shot you actually need to stop at Kirkjufellsfoss which is across the road from this mountain. However don’t forget to soak in the rest of the scenery and take some photos obviously across the top of the waterfall towards Kirkjufell, but also the mountains in the other directions, along with the waterfall itself… it is an absolutely stunning area you’d expect to be the filming location for a movie based on Terry Pratchett’s books – partly because it looks like a wizards hat… Before I knew what it was called I actually had my wife scanning the area while I drove, on the look out for the wizard hat mountain – it was the best description I could think of, but it all made sense to her when we came around the corner and saw it tower above us.
The last major stop worth making (which sadly we couldn’t as there was some kind of photo shoot going on in the lay-by at the side of the road) is Kolgrafafjordur… This has absolutely stunning views across it towards the mountains. If you an try and get a photo before you cross the road – something I sadly missed out on and its just not the same once you have crossed.
After this it is not long before you reach route 56 which is the easiest road to take back across the peninsula on to the south side, to start your drive back to Reykjavik… and it even gives you one last amazing set of views with areas that look like another planet, before descending and seeing the mountains once again give way to the sea!
PLEASE Do yourself a favour… Drive to Snaefellsnes Peninsula… It will take your breath away!