If you’re looking to take in as many different landscapes as possible in a short amount of time, add Iceland’s Snaefellsnes Peninsula to your list. This region is located just south of the Westfjords and is home to fields covered in lava rocks, a dormant volcano, lava tubes waiting to be explored, bird-filled cliffsides, and some of the most scenic churches you’ll ever see.
While you can drive a majority of the region within a day — it’s only 55 miles long — to do it right you’ll want to stay overnight. There are plenty of spots to stay, from the iconic Hotel Budir to the striking Hótel Egilsen. The beginning of Snaefellsnes Peninsula is about a two-hour drive from Reykjavik, making it the perfect stop on your way to the Westfjords. It’s also a great alternative for those who encounter bad weather on their way to the Westfjords (roads to the region are known to shut down frequently during the winter months).
With a region so diverse, it can be hard to narrow down the best things to see and do during your time, whether you have a day or a long weekend. We pulled together the 10 things you won’t want to miss. In fact, just consider this your guide to the ultimate Snaefellsnes Peninsula road trip.
Chances are, you’ve seen this church on Instagram. Its black walls stand out among the fields behind it and the mountain ranges in front of it. After you’ve taken your photos, make sure to take some time to explore the vast fields behind the church. Walk straight back until you hit cliffs overlooking the water; this is the ultimate spot for birdwatching.
Also notable is an old root cellar located behind the church’s graveyard. While there are no signs pointing you toward it or calling out what it is, it’s a fun spot to check out.
If you’re an avid Game of Thrones watcher, you’ll recognize this iconic location. Kirkjufell, which means “Church Mountain,” is located right outside of the small fishing town Grundarfjörður. You can walk around the base of the mountain, but experienced hikers can take their chances at the steep summit.
Don’t miss the waterfalls located less than a minute down the road. They get crowded, so get there early for stunning shots of the waterfalls and mountain at sunrise.
Gerðuberg Basalt Formations
If you’ve been to Vik’s black sand beaches, you’ve seen some of these rock formations before. The Gerðuberg columns form a massive wall along the valley, adding just another scenic backdrop to your road trip. The basalt columns on Snaefellsnes Peninsula are much easier to see on a grand scale, considering Vik’s are nestled right up on the beach and can only be explored when the tide is out.
You’ll need a tour guide to take you down into this 8,000-year-old lava tube, but the admission price is so worth it — you’ll travel 115 feet underground! Tours are offered between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. during the summer and twice a day during the winter (check the Summit Adventure Guides website for tour times). To get there, it’s a 10-minute drive west from the town of Arnarstapi.
This fishing-focused town is located in the northern region of the peninsula. With a volcano museum, ancient homes that have been carefully cared for, and a restaurant housed in an old fish packing house, this is the spot to visit if you’re looking for a little trip back in time. The local church is also a sight to be seen — designed by Jon Haraldsson, it was intended to look like a whale vertebra. It certainly stands out among its less-modern surroundings.
To get to this island, you’ll need to take a walk or short drive down the causeway that connects this small bit of land from Stykkishólmur harbor. Once there, you can explore the basalt island’s scenic red lighthouse and panoramic views of Breiðafjörður, along with a few easy hiking trails.
Just south of the peninsula’s glacier, Snæfellsjökull, you’ll find a deep and narrow ravine called Rauðfeldsgjá surrounded by lava fields. It’s places like this that can truly put into physical perspective the geological activity happening underneath the country. Don’t let the view from the road turn you off; the crack is just big enough to slip into and explore.
If you venture far enough into the ravine and follow the water source, you’ll come across a rope where you can pull yourself up a tiny waterfall and explore deeper into the rock formation. Make it to the end and you’ll find yourself surrounded by cliffs. This region has a very important role in the Icelandic Sagas, specifically with the Rauðfeldur and Sölvi brothers.
This church — pro tip: “kirkja” means “church” — is made entirely from triangle shapes. And while its exterior is enough to warrant a stop, try and visit during a time the church is open to visitors. The triangular view from the inside is not to be missed.
This 700,000-year-old glacier sits on the westernmost part of Snæfellsnes peninsula. Driving around the glacier will give you some incredible views, but there are plenty of tour guides who will take you onto the glacier for hiking or to the summit on a snowcat. While the last eruption happened more than 1,800 years ago, this stratovolcano is still active. This is the very volcano that Jules Verne centered his story "A Journey to the Center of the Earth" around.
Also known as The Black Pearl Beach, Djúpalón Beach is a short walk down the Nautastígur path, which leads you to the shore from the nearby parking lot. You'll get a close look at the lava rock formations as you walk toward the beach — keep an eye out for Gatklettur, a strange rock with a hole in it. Take a peek and you'll notice a perfect frame around Snæfellsjökull glacier. Behind the path are two freshwater lagoons called the Deep Lagoons, or Djúpulón. Locals believe that these lagoons have healing properties.
If you spot bits of orange metal along the beach, don't fret — and don't touch them. These are wreckage pieces from the British trawler The Epine GY7, which met its demise on the cove on March 13, 1948. The remaining wreckage is left in its place to honor those who lost their lives.