Iceland is known for its low population and, consequently, its wide-open, uninhabited spaces. Three huge national parks protect a large part of the island from human encroachment, protecting the flora and fauna that reside in these areas. But these national parks are accessible, and they harbor some of Iceland’s most spectacular features: volcanoes, lava fields, glaciers, waterfalls, and mountains. One particularly beautiful area of Iceland, which comprises a national park and is absolutely worth a visit, is the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.
Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland
The peninsula is located in the west of Iceland, above and to the left of the capital area. It’s 90km (56 miles) long and at its tip lies Snaefellsjökull National Park, which covers 440 square kilometers (170 square miles).
The capital of the peninsula, a small town called Stykkishólmur, contains only 1200 people. This and small fishing villages outside of the national park are the only permanently inhabited areas in Snæfellsnes. Although Iceland welcomes many tourists throughout the year, only a small percentage venture into this area, so you’ll have plenty of space to move around, take in the scenery, and snap some great pictures.
This peninsula is actually very significant in literary circles. Jules Verne, in his 1864 novel “Journey to the Center of the Earth” places the entrance to the center in Snæfellsjökull National Park, in the crater of a volcano under Snæfellsjökull Glacier.
How Long to Drive to Snaefellsnes Peninsula?
From Reykjavík to Snæfellsnes is a journey of around 2 hours, or 156km (97 miles). If renting a car in Iceland, know that It’s a fairly simple journey; just head out of the capital and join Route 1 (the ring road) going clockwise, then turn off onto Route 54 and that will take you all the way to Snæfellsnes. Snæfellsjökull National Park is a little further away, 45 minutes further on from Snæfellsnes, or an extra 50km (31 miles).
Route 54 also handily takes you all the way around the peninsula (except for the national park, there is a separate road for this), and to return to Reykjavík via Route 1 you have two options: Route 55 or 56. Route 55 is the more traveled road, although it takes longer to reach it if you’re coming from the national park. Route 56 is a gravel road, so while it may be a quicker route home, it requires more care and focus to drive on.
Best Things to Do in Snaefellsnes Peninsula
This peninsula has been called “Iceland in Miniature” in the past because it contains examples of most of Iceland’s ice and fire landscape: volcanoes, glaciers, black sand beaches, and other geological wonders. And that is exactly why it made it to the list of the Top 30 Things to Do in Iceland!
This experience can be completed as an organized guided day tour, or as an independent journey with your own vehicle or a rental car. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular stops.
The Gerðuberg cliffs are a particularly unique line of basalt columns, which are hexagonal in shape. These geometrical patterns are so precise that they look man-made, but they were actually formed by lava flowing very equally and cooling very rapidly. The cliffs are located near to the entrance of the peninsula, so they’re best visited at the start or end of your journey into this area.
Kirkjufell is the most photographed mountain in Iceland. This is partly due to its appearance on the Game of Thronesshow, in which it’s known as the “Arrowhead Mountain”. It’s 463 meters (1520 feet) high and is located on the north coast of the peninsula.
There is a hiking trail running around the circumference that takes between three and four hours. It is possible to climb up it, but this should only be attempted by experienced climbers, with the proper equipment and with a guide who knows the mountain.
This is the black church in Iceland some of you might have heard of. It’s on the south coast of the peninsula and sits atop Búðahraun lava field. It’s also only a short walk from Búðir beach, one of only a few yellow sand beaches in Iceland. Because it’s so remote, with only the church and a small hotel nearby, there is no light pollution, and so this is a great place from which to view the northern lights in the winter months.
Found on the south coast of the peninsula, this is one of Iceland’s few gold-sand beaches and is well known for the seals that frequent here during the summer to relax on the large rocks spread along the shore. Keep your distance from the seals; they are wild animals and don’t wish to be bothered.
This cave is actually a lava tube, 200 meters long and 35 meters underground. It’s 8000 years old and contains some incredible lava rock formations. It’s only accessible on an official tour with a guide because inside it’s pitch black and sharp lava juts out everywhere.
You’ll be given a helmet and a flashlight, but note that you need to be in good physical health and not afraid of enclosed spaces, as you’ll be down there for about 45 minutes. It’s definitely a good idea to wear warm clothing and shoes with a strong grip, or you’ll find the experience a little too uncomfortable. At a point in the tour, everyone will be asked to switch off their lights and stay silent. This is a surreal experience, as it’s not often in the modern world that one experiences complete darkness and complete silence.
You can either hike all the way to the top of this remarkable glacier (for which you’ll have to join a guided tour) or you can simply hike around it; there are many hiking trails in the National Park that take you up close to the glacier. Who knows, you may find the entrance to the center of the Earth.
Summiting the glacier is a challenging task with phenomenal views of the surrounding area as a reward. The peak stands at 1446 meters (4745 feet) and at some parts specialist ice-climbing gear is required. As with all other places you visit in Iceland, please do your best to minimize your impact on the environment and take all your trash with you. At 700,000 years old, Snæfellsjökull is no spring chicken and it should be treated with respect.
This is one of Iceland’s many geothermally heated pools. It’s open between June and mid-August and makes a great rest stop on your journey around the peninsula. The naturally occurring minerals and algae in the water are thought to have healing effects on your body.
Traveling in Iceland
It’s important to remember that Iceland is known to have extremes of weather, particularly between October and April. Snowstorms, sandstorms, heavy rainfall, and powerful winds are common, so it’s always best to be prepared with warm, waterproof clothing, no matter the season.
Driving and walking can be treacherous if the weather is not on your side, so check the forecast before hitting the road with your rental car. You can do so at the Icelandic Meteorological Office’s website, In unsafe conditions, the decision will be made to close roads, so check that your route is clear before leaving right here. Pay attention to road closures and weather warnings; they are there for your safety.
Samuel Hogarth, Reykjavik Cars.