The Snæfellsnes Peninsula - Iceland in a nutshell
- Distance: 260 km circle from Borgarnes
- Travel Days: Possible to cover in 1 day, 2-3 days or longer recommended
- Combinations: The Westfjords Way & Ring Road
- Best travel time: Year-round
- 4x4 required?: No, except for road F570 (open during the summer)
What is the Snæfellsnes peninsula route?
Snæfellsnes is the long and narrow peninsula sticking out of Iceland into the North-Atlantic ocean to the west.
The name translates to snow-mountain-peninsula with a referral to the iconic ice-capped stratovolcano Snæfellsjökull that rises from the sea at the peninsula’s tip, wrapped in mythical stories from the present and past.
Snæfellsnes offers dramatic landscapes and examples of most of the natural wonders found in Iceland and is therefore often called “miniature Iceland” or “Iceland in a nutshell.”
Mystical mountains, black churches and waterfalls to take home!
You can take them home, but only in photographs and memories of course. The lonely Kirkjufell “church mountain” rising from the sea as a backdrop for the Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall is probably the No. 1. photographed location in Iceland. The Búðir black church and the columnar basalt cliffs of Arnarstapi and Gerðuberg are close rivals.
You will find new motifs around every corner, and Game of Thrones enthusiasts will recognize some of the spectacular filming locations set north of the Wall.
Birders paradise - most breeding birds of Iceland nest in Snæfellsnes
Nature-lovers shouldn’t leave Snæfellsnes out of their visit to Iceland. Almost every birding tour in Iceland will include the peninsula where 60 out of 77 of Iceland’s bird species nest and additional passage migrants stop on their route between Europe and Greenland or Canada. You will find large flocks of seabirds, like the arctic tern, northern gannets and auks, various waterfowl & waders, and the best chances of seeing the rare white-tailed eagle in Iceland.
Whales and seals circle the coasts around Snæfellsnes
The migration route of large cetaceans like blue whales and sperm whales lies around the westmost tip of the peninsula, so make sure you keep an eye out for a blow or a fluke there. In addition, harbor seals and gray seals are common along the coastline, and a visit to the seal-lair at Ytri-Tunga beach is likely to guarantee a sighting of the former.
Adding a boat trip to Flatey island from the beautiful town Stykkishólmur, a whale watching tour from Ólafsvík, or a puffin tour from Grundarfjörður harbor will bring you into the world of seabirds and marine mammals in Breiðafjörður bay, where the magnificent orcas rule.
A mixed bag of Iceland's geological features
The unique geological history of Snæfellsnes draws in geologists and their students from around the globe where they can explore sites revealing Iceland's unique geological history up close and within short distances.
The geological history of Snæfellsnes spans the main eras of Iceland's geological history. The foundation is made from stacks of basalt layers during Pliocene when the climate was temperate, between 10-6 million years ago. Later during the Ice age, the glaciers carved out valleys and fjords, leaving the narrow peninsula between two large Ice streams. New and unexplained volcanism began 1-2 million years ago under the Ice, creating mountains of hyaloclastite, and more recently, lavas and beautiful scoria and spatter craters.
Snæfellsjökull National Park - from coast to mountain top and into the Earth
The Snæfellsjökull National Park includes the entire westernmost tip of the Snæfellsnes peninsula, enveloping the beautiful Snæfellsjökull. The dormant volcano rises 1446 m directly from the coastline, giving it an awe-inspiring presence. The diverse coastline where lava fields, craters, sea stacks, black and golden beaches, and bird cliffs keep you busy at numerous scenic stops. Djúpalónsandur black pebble beach, Þúfubjarg bird cliff, Lóndrangar sea stacks, Saxhóll crater, and Skarðsvík golden beach are some of the most popular ones as well as Svörtuloft and Malarrif lighthouses.
A snowcat tour or a glacier hike to the top of Snæfellsjökull will reward you with a stunning view on a clear day. A cave tour into the lava tube Vatnshellir will reveal the colorful underworld of the frozen lava at the roots of the volcano. Perhaps your journey will lead you to the entrance of the center of the Earth from Jules Verne’s story.
The national park's cultural history includes humble relics of sod houses and medieval fishing stations made of turf and stone that are slowly reuniting with nature. The exhibitions at the park's visitor center at Malarrif and the Maritime museum Sjómannagarðurinn in Hellissandur are a window into the history of the fishing culture in Iceland since medieval times.
Fishing villages and farmland – authentic Iceland
The 5.000 inhabitants in the area mostly live in fishing villages on the north side, some as old as Iceland’s settlement, where communities rely on the rich fishing grounds of Breiðafjörður bay. The five municipalities on the peninsula have been in the lead in Iceland to work towards sustainability through the EarthCheck certification.
EarthCheck certification.The south side of the peninsula is characterized by small farms and iconic sand beaches stretching for miles and miles.
A good example of the flourishing culture in the area is the professional theater and cultural center The Freezer
The Freezerin the small town of Rif with only 120 inhabitants, which offers daily shows during the summer.
You will find highly rated restaurants and cafés in Snæfellsnes, offering local seafood and agricultural products. For the curious and brave, the Shark Museum at Bjarnarhöfn farm offers a taste of homemade traditional fermented shark and you can learn all about the history and the process.
Whether you prefer sleeping in a tent in a lava field, a hostel in a renovated fish factory, or a posh hotel, you can find a variety of great places to pick for accommodation.
Remote but close - How to get there?
If you are traveling on your own, a car is the best option since public transport options are limited. However, various tour operators offer 1-3 day bus tours and also private and tailor-made tours.
The circle around Snæfellsnes is a detour onto Road No. 54 from the Ring Road No. 1, westbound from Reykjavík. Either going clockwise or counterclockwise, you continue onto Road No. 574 that goes around the tip, through Snæfellsjökull National Park. For those driving a 4x4, road F570 across Jökulháls mountain passage is an option during the summer months.