The Wild Beauty of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula

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They call it “Iceland in Miniature.”

And it really is. With a crashing coastline, natural hot pools, basalt columns, volcanoes, fluffy horses, and glaciers, the Snaefellsnes Peninsula really does encapsulate just about everything Iceland is known for within a 90-kilometer-long peninsula.

The peninsula also embodies some of the non-visual characteristics of Iceland, too: small, cozy hotels; fresh seafood; an adventurous spirit; and the reminder of just how wild and harsh Mother Nature can sometimes be.

We stopped at beaches bearing the ghostly remains of shipwrecks, walked along crashing coastlines, descended into caves formed by molten lava, and listened to our guide talk about the startling retreat of Snaefellsjokull – a giant glacier that sits atop a dormant volcano on the far end of the peninsula. At the rate that the glacier is receding, scientists predict it could completely disappear in the next 30 years.

Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

Djúpalónssandur beach in Iceland

When I first went to Iceland in 2012, I admit that I knew very little about everything there was to see in the country beyond the Blue Lagoon and Golden Circle. I didn't even hear of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula until after I'd already returned home.

So, on my second trip, I vowed to see “Iceland in Miniature” for myself.

I think it's my new favorite part of Iceland.

Djupalonssandur on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in Iceland

Snaefellsnes Peninsula landscape

Amanda in Iceland

If you're interested in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula for yourself (and, believe me, you should be), here are the must-see spots:

Gerðuberg basalt columns

Winter days in Iceland are short. But they are short because the sun never rises very far above the horizon – which means that while the overall days are short, the sunrises and sunsets are long.

One of our first stops on the peninsula was during one of these long sunsets at the Gerðuberg basalt columns. The sun popped out from below a cloud bank and then hung there, tossing out shades of orange and pink, for roughly three times the length of an average sunset. It turned the wall of basalt columns orange as we hiked up into them.

Sunset at Gerðuberg basalt columns in Iceland

These columns were formed by cooling lava, and you can find similar formations like this all over Iceland.

Gerðuberg basalt columns

Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge

Sunrise the next morning was equally long and colorful, painting the landscape pink as we made a stop at “the Crack,” or Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge. You can climb into the crack, where a small stream runs out from further up in the rocks.

Rauðfeldsgjá gorge on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in Iceland

Rauðfeldsgjá gorge in Iceland

With a dusting of fresh snow, it really was quintessentially Iceland.

Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge, Iceland

Arnarstapi

The Snaefellsnes Peninsula has no large towns. Instead, there are a bunch of little fishing villages dotted along the coast. We stopped at Arnarstapi, a popular summer escape for many locals and tourists and traditionally a decent-sized port in Iceland.

Arnarstapi, Iceland

In the winter, the village is nearly deserted – but that was just fine as far as we were concerned. The landscape here is just stunning.

Amanda in Iceland

Arnarstapi on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Arnarstapi to Hellnar coastal path

From Arnarstapi, we hiked along an old horse trail that leads 2.5 kilometers along the coast and through the Hellnahraun lava field to another small village called Hellnar.

Coastal walk between Arnarstapi and Hellnar in Iceland

Hellnahraun lava field on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Filled with epic views of the coast and a few scrambles over lava rocks, this may have been the highlight of this trip to Iceland for me. (The great weather didn’t hurt, either, of course.)

The hike takes about an hour, during which I put my new camera to work, snapping photos of everything from sea caves and arches to tumbles of lava rock.

Basalt columns on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Coastal walk on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Gatklettur sea arch on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Vatnshellir lava cave

Fun fact: The Snaefellsnes Peninsula is the setting for the beginning of Jules Verne's “A Journey to the Center of the Earth.” In fact, they find the tunnel to the center of the earth beneath Snæfellsjökull, the peninsula's famous glacier.

Vatnshellir lave cave

Vatnshellir lava cave, therefore, is popular for a couple of reasons. First of all, it's a cave beneath a glacier that was carved out by molten lava. Secondly, it has a lot of legends surrounding it, including being the home of trolls. And, thirdly, the locals say that this is where you'll find the passage to the center of the earth – in fact, there's even a cheeky sign inside pointing the way!

Ladder in the Vatnshellir lava cave

Djúpalónssandur beach

If you want proof of the awesome power of Mother Nature in Iceland, look no further than Djúpalónssandur beach. This black sand/pebble beach at the end of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula is known for wicked waves and currents that have claimed more than one ship throughout history.

Djupalonssandur Beach on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in Iceland

Djupalonssandur Beach on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula

The evidence of shipwrecks can still be seen scattered across the wide swath of black sand, and the waves breaking on shore are definitely powerful enough to make you think twice about getting too close.

Shipwreck remains on Djúpalónssandur beach

Djúpalónssandur beach in Iceland

Kirkjufell

Heading along the northern coast of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, the top attraction by far is Kirkjufell, or the Church Mountain. This is the mountain you'll see on all the postcards – kind of cone-shaped and usually with waterfalls in front and/or Northern Lights dancing overhead.

Unfortunately for us, the good weather we had on the south side of the peninsula didn't follow us north, and the mountain was shrouded in sleet and clouds by the time we got there.

Kirkjufell in Iceland

I'll admit that I was a bit bummed by this, but after everything else we’d seen and done on the peninsula, my disappointment didn't last long. Guess I'll just have to go back to Iceland again!

How to do it

The Snaefellsnes Peninsula is within easy driving distance from Reykjavik, and the roads are well-maintained in good weather (if a bit narrow). Therefore you could definitely rent a car and see the peninsula on your own time, perhaps keeping an eye out for good weather – it can be completely different depending on which side of the peninsula you're on.

If you don't feel comfortable driving yourself (or if you're going in the winter when the roads might be a bit iffy), there are plenty of tour options, too. Elliot and I ended up booking a two-day tour from Reykjavik with Extreme Iceland. Their “Snaefellsnes Peninsula and Auroras” tour is a winter-specific tour to take in the best of the peninsula and possibly spot the Northern Lights if conditions are right (it would be easy to see them from your hotel window at night).

Extreme Iceland tour of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula

We didn't get lucky enough to see the Northern Lights, but we DID really enjoy the small-group tour. They even come pick you up from your hotel in Reykjavik.

Have you ever been to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula? If not, is is somewhere you'd like to visit?

Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

 

*Note: Extreme Iceland gave us a discount on this tour. But, as always, all opinions are my own!

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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49 Comments on “The Wild Beauty of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula

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  1. Did your time of visit on December? I’m a bit surprised there’s not much snow covering the Snaefellsnes area. Plan to visit myself some of the points you mentioned and concern that they could not be accessed due to heavy snow such as the Gerduberg Cliffs, Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge, Songhellir Cave and I read somewhere that Vatnshellir lava is not accessible during winter? Could you please help verify that? Thank You

      I’ve been to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula twice; once in November and once in August. The photos in this post were all taken in November, so you can see there wasn’t much snow yet that year – but of course every year is different! We visited the lava cave in November, and I’m pretty sure it’s open year-round as long as weather doesn’t close roads in the area.

    I just got back 2 days ago… What a beautiful place! I had one full day on the peninsula (2 nights, we stayed in arnarstapi)… We could totally have done more! I’m so bummed I didn’t do the walk between arnarstapi and hellnar…. We had pretty nasty weather plus ran out of time so I only got to see the stapi side. And we didn’t see the northern lights 🙁 I will be back sometime in the summer probably with my hubby in tow! Want to do the whole ring road next time if we can.

      That Iceland weather sure can be fickle! But I’m sure you still saw some awesome parts of the peninsula!

    I’ll be in Iceland for the first time in the first weekend in April. Snaefellsnes is definitely on my agenda. Thanks for the tips!

      Awesome! I hope you love it as much as I did!

    indeed, i am guessing that is what i will need to do. i have contacted the hotel we intend to use, but they were of no help. they stated there is an excursion desk at the airport and that they did not have any info on excursions from there. lol. am using this particular hotel because it is walking distance to the airport which has become the most important thing for us. so, to keep searching…also, wow. the prices of these things. some of them are outrageous.

      There are a few tour companies that have desks at the airport, but I honestly don’t know if any of them offer tours FROM the airport – most everything leaves from Reykjavik because the airport is kinda in the middle of nowhere! And yes, activities in Iceland can be pricey – it is a Scandinavian country, after all!

    will be stopping in iceland in april on our way to copenhagen and a norwegian fjords cruise. i mentioned this before…lol. in any event, with really only a day and a half to explore the area, would you recommend THIS tour over the golden circle to really get a taste of iceland? i am thinking this one is the one for us, though my husband is not fond of hiking and climbing around a lot (he will do it, though….) thanks for the great blog! i am so enjoying it…

      The Golden Circle is definitely the bread and butter of Iceland, but I personally preferred the Snaefellsnes tour, simply because you saw such different landscapes. The geysers in the Golden Circle are very cool, but if you’re looking for a slightly more active adventure, I’d say Snaefellsnes! Any Golden Circle tour you do will really just be a series of photo stops.

      (Though, it’s worth noting that the tour I did with Extreme Iceland takes a full two days. We left at around 9 a.m. on Day 1, and didn’t return to Reykjavik until about 9 p.m. on Day 2.)

        thanks for the advice. in looking at their website, i do not see this particular tour offered. i will drop them an email to see what is available. thanks again. the more i look at the golden circle, the more i thought of just exactly what you were saying…photo stops with lots and lots of other people. i am not wanting to be touring with 3,584,397 others at the same time nor do i want to be doing a large bus group experience. however, travelling with just the two of us, it has been a challenge searching for 1) a tour out of keflavik without having to get to reykjavik and 2) a tour of not more than 20 people. not an easy task so far.

          The tour is linked at the bottom of this post, but only runs September-April. It also leaves from Reykjavik. You may indeed have trouble finding tours leaving from Keflavik – have you considered just taking the bus into Reykjavik, and then trying to catch a tour from there?

    Your blog totally makes me want to go to Iceland! I’ll have to add it to my list.

      It’s certainly list-worthy!

    I LOVE this part of Iceland. My mom, sister and I did a two day road trip around the peninsula and we adored it. We stopped in some adorable towns, snowmobiled on a glacier, and even saw some gorgeous art. It was amazing! Great mini taste of Iceland.

      I don’t really see how you could visit Snaefellsnes and NOT fall in love with it!

    Impressive is understatement. Do you feel you could have invested longer than the 2-day tour and had plenty of outdoor recreation to jump at?

      Yes, I think so! There’s plenty to do on the peninsula, and we could have easily spent more time at all the places we stopped.

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