19 Epic Things to Do and See on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in Iceland

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They call it “Iceland in Miniature.”

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

The peninsula not too far north of Reykjavik 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.

Here on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula you can visit black sand beaches bearing the ghostly remains of shipwrecks, walk along coastlines shaped by the crashing sea, descend into caves formed by molten lava, and hike on a giant glacier that sits atop a dormant volcano.

Stone Bridge in Arnarstapi
Stone Bridge in Arnarstapi
Kirkjufellsfoss in Iceland
Kirkjufellsfoss

I've actually been to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula three different times in the last decade – twice in the summer, and once during the winter months. And I can unequivocally say that it's one of my favorite parts of Iceland.

Whether it's your first trip to the Land of Fire and Ice or your fifth, it's worth trying to squeeze in some time to experience “Iceland in Miniature” for yourself.

Top things to do on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula

This list will circle the peninsula going clockwise on Highway 54 (AKA Snæfellsnesvegur), though you certainly could go the other way, too.

1. Gerðuberg basalt columns

A person standing on top of the Gerðuberg Cliffs
Gerðuberg Cliffs

One of the first points of interest on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula is the Gerðuberg Cliffs. These hexagonally-shaped basalt columns were formed by rapidly-cooling lava during a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago.

The columns rise anywhere from 23 to 46 feet, forming what almost looks like a wall.

Sunset at Gerðuberg basalt columns in Iceland
Gerðuberg Cliffs at sunset

The columns are easy to reach; they're not far off the main road, and there's a designated parking area. You can also climb up to the top of the column wall for some interesting views.

2. Ytri Tunga beach

Golden sand at Ytri-Tunga Beach
Ytri-Tunga Beach

This beach is unique in that it has golden sand (instead of black). Walking along the beach and rock pools here is nice, and this is one of the best places on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula to see Harbour Seals.

There's a parking lot here and a trail out to a viewing area. Just note that if there are seals on the beach, you should give them plenty of space! They are wild animals, after all.

3. Bjarnarfoss

People walking towards Bjarnarfoss waterfall
Walking towards Bjarnarfoss

The first notable waterfall you'll come across on this route around the peninsula is one of the most impressive! It's called Bjarnarfoss, and is a two-tiered waterfall that falls roughly 260 feet from basalt cliffs.

There's a large car park here, and a clearly marked trail that will lead you to a bridge over the lower portion of the falls. You can technically climb higher up, too, but be very careful if you do.

View of Bjarnarfoss
View of Bjarnarfoss from the bridge

I highly recommend making a stop here! I visited later in the day, and we basically had the whole place to ourselves.

4. Búðakirkja

Búðakirkja black church
Búðakirkja black church

Within sight of Bjarnarfoss is another spot worth a photo stop: the black church Búðakirkja. No one is quite sure why some Icelanders started painting their churches black, but they sure are striking against the already-striking landscape.

This one sits on the Búðahraun lava field just up the hill from a hotel. (You can drive up the hill to the church, where there's a small parking lot.)

5. Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge

Amanda outside Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge in winter
Outside Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge in winter
Amanda inside Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge
Inside Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge in summer

Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge AKA “the Crack” is an interesting little gorge with a stream running through it.

There's a short uphill hike required to get to the mouth of the small canyon, and you'll want waterproof shoes if you want to go beyond the mouth. But I promise it's worth it! Inside, the towering gorge walls are covered in moss.

6. Arnarstapi

Arnarstapi in winter
Arnarstapi in winter

The Snaefellsnes Peninsula has no large cities. Instead, there are a bunch of little fishing villages dotted along the coast. One of these worth visiting is Arnarstapi, a popular summer escape for many locals and tourists and traditionally a decent-sized port in Iceland.

Sights in town worth seeing include the harbor, the Stone Bridge, the Gatklettur rock arch, and the Bárður Saga Snæfellsás Statue. Most of these are connected via a well-maintained trail of crushed black lava rock.

Gatklettur rock arch in Arnarstapi
Gatklettur rock arch in summer

In the winter, the town is nearly deserted. But in the summer, it's downright bustling. There are a couple hotels in Arnarstapi, along with a handful of restaurants.

7. Arnarstapi to Hellnar coastal path

Hellnahraun lava field on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula
Hiking through the Hellnahraun lava field

The path that connects the main sites in Arnarstapi actually continues for 1.5 miles along the coast and through the Hellnahraun lava field to another small village called Hellnar.

The hike takes about an hour (you'll want to stop lots for photos!), and is filled with epic views of the coast and a few scrambles over lava rocks.

Basalt columns on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula
Coastal views
Coastal walk on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula
Coastal path views

This hike is definitely worth doing if you have time!

8. Hellnar

Hellnar, Iceland
The town of Hellnar, where the coastal walk ends

Even if you don't do the coastal walk, it's worth the slight detour to the village of Hellnar. The views from the Hellnar View Point are worth it (and the Fjöruhúsið café is lovely).

9. Lóndrangar

 Lóndrangar rock formations
Lóndrangar rock formations

The cliffs of Lóndrangar rise out of the ocean in a distinctive shape – and the pillars of basalt rock here are actually the remnants of an ancient volcanic crater that have been battered down by the sea.

The Lóndrangar View Point is connected to a parking lot, but you can also see the rock formation from elsewhere in the area.

There's another hiking trail here along the coast between the Lóndrangar View Point and the Gestastofan Visitor Center near the Malarrif Lighthouse. The trail is about a mile one-way, and takes you down to the beach and then up and around the 200+-foot-tall pillars of Lóndrangar.

Parts of this trail also offer up excellent views of the glacier-capped Snæfellsjökull mountain.

10. Snæfellsjökull glacier

Snæfellsjökull in Iceland
The mighty Snæfellsjökull

Snæfellsjökull is a 700,000-year-old stratovolcano in the center of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. It's also the name of the glacier that sits on top of the volcano.

You can spot the mountain and get glimpses of the glacier from all over the peninsula (though the glacier is sadly receding rapidly due to climate change). In the summer months, intrepid hikers can even climb the 4700-foot volcano. The hike is challenging and takes most of a day, so you're encouraged to do it as part of a guided hiking tour like this one.

11. Vatnshellir lava cave

Vatnshellir lave cave
Inside the Vatnshellir lave 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.

So if you don't want to climb Snæfellsjökull, you can go under it via the Vatnshellir lava cave.

The Vatnshellir lava cave is popular for a couple of reasons. First of all, it's a cave beneath a glacier that was carved out by molten lava 8,000 years ago. 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
The stairway down into the center of the earth

You can only go inside the lava tube cave via a guided tour. Tours last about 45 minutes, and include necessary gear like helmets. Booking ahead is recommended; tours are offered every 30 minutes in the summer, and hourly the rest of the year.

12. Djúpalónssandur beach

Djupalonssandur Beach on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in Iceland
Djupalonssandur 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.

There's a view point overlooking the area, as well as a trail leading down to the beach itself. From the parking lot, the walk takes about 10-15 minutes each way and takes you down through the craggy Aflraunasteinar rock formations.

People walking through the Aflraunasteinar rock formations
Walking to the beach through the Aflraunasteinar

The evidence of shipwrecks can still be seen scattered across the wide swath of black pebbly beach, and the waves breaking on shore are definitely powerful enough to make you think twice about getting too close. (And, seriously, don't get too close.)

Djupalonssandur Beach on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula
The black beach at Djúpalónssandur

This is one of the busier stops on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula (it is possible for the parking lot to fill up during the summer months with bus tours), but don't skip it! It's worth it to wait to see this very unique beach.

13. Saxhóll Crater

Saxhóll Crater
Saxhóll Crater

Want to get up close and personal with an extinct volcano? You can do it pretty easily at Saxhóll Crater. Visitors can hike into the 100-foot-tall extinct crater relatively quickly via a set of low-slung steps that curve around its side.

This doesn't take too long, making it a popular stop on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.

14. Skarðsvík Beach

Golden sand at Skarðsvík Beach
Skarðsvík Beach and its golden sand

While black sand beaches get all the love in Iceland, here's another golden sand beach worth visiting. You do have to drive down a one-lane road for a little ways to reach Skarðsvík Beach, but it's definitely worth it (and also fine to do in a 2WD car).

The beach here is a mixture of black and golden sand, surrounded by black volcanic rock and cliffs. It's simply stunning!

There's a small parking area and a couple picnic tables set up here.

15. Ingjaldshólskirkja

Ingjaldshólskirkja and stone monuments

Follow signs to Ingjaldshóll to find a charming red-roofed church and an interesting set of stone monuments with stunning views.

The history of Ingjaldshóll goes back centuries – at least back to the 1300s. The church here was once the third-largest church in Iceland, and still serves people in nearby villages.

Outside the church there's a small graveyard, as well as two stone monuments dedicated to Eggert Ólafsson and his wife Ingibjörg Guðmundsdóttir, who grew up in this area and died tragically at sea in 1798. The monuments were made by the sculptor Páll Guðmundsson.

16. Svöðufoss

Svöðufoss waterfall
Walking towards Svöðufoss

Another waterfall worth stopping to see is Svöðufoss on the northern side of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. A short, flat walk from the parking area through farm fields will bring you up close to this lovely waterfall.

Svodufoss doesn't seem to have really been “discovered” yet (despite there being an established parking area and trail), making it a fun one to visit. When I was there, there were only two other couples at the waterfall.

Svöðufoss waterfall up close

The waterfall cascades 30 feet over a cliff of basalt columns (yes, those are a theme here in Iceland!). On clear days, you can even see Snæfellsjökull rising behind it in the distance.

17. Kirkjufell

Kirkjufellsfoss waterfalls with Kirkjufell in the background
Kirkjufellsfoss waterfalls with Kirkjufell in the background

Heading along the northern coast of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, the top attraction by far is Kirkjufell, or the Church Mountain. This is the cone-shaped mountain you've probably seen on all the postcards.

There's a parking lot across the road from the mountain with access a trail that will lead you to the Kirkjufellsfoss waterfalls.

Amanda at Kirkjufellsfoss
Me at Kirkjufellsfoss

Just note that this is one of the only places on the peninsula where you have to pay to park. The Kirkjufellsfoss parking lot has cameras at the entrance that will take a photo of your license plate, and you pay via a machine before you leave. The amount is based on how long you stay – but you probably only need about 30 minutes here.

18. Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum

Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum
Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum

If you only visit one non-natural spot on this list, make it the quirky Shark Museum in Bjarnarhöfn. Here you can listen to a short presentation on how the infamous Hákarl (fermented shark) is made.

Hakarl is the national dish of Iceland, and locals have been eating it for hundreds of years. It's made using the meat of the Greenland shark, which is toxic to humans when fresh. But if it's left to ferment and then hung to dry for a few months, it's safe to eat.

After this process, the meat has a distinct ammonia-rich smell and taste to it. You can try it here at the museum if you dare.

Drying shark meat
Drying shark meat

The Shark Museum is located on the farm of one of the last families that produces hakarl commercially to sell all over Iceland. They use sharks that are accidentally caught in fishing nets (shark hunting isn't a thing here any more), and it's fascinating to learn about the process even if you don't want to taste the meat.

19. Stykkishólmur

View of Stykkishólmur, Iceland
View of Stykkishólmur

Lastly, it's worth stopping in Stykkishólmur, the largest town on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. This town has a lot of charm, as well as a beautiful harbor (which is also where you can catch a ferry to the Westfjords).

Also worth a look is the Stykkishólmskirkja, a modern Lutheran church with a striking design.

Stykkishólmskirkja
Stykkishólmskirkja

How much time do you need on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula?

Ideally you'd allow yourself two days to fully explore the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. With two days, you can stop to see all the beaches, cliffs, and waterfalls, and still have plenty of time for the coastal walks, lava cave tour, and taking your time to enjoy the scenery.

BUT, if you don't have two days, you can see the majority of the highlights here in just one (very jam-packed) day.

Where to stay on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Staying overnight on the peninsula is highly recommended! A few hotels and guesthouses to consider include:

Snaefellsnes Peninsula road
Driving on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula is epic!

Snaefellsnes Peninsula tours

The Snaefellsnes Peninsula is within easy driving distance from Reykjavik (2 hours each way), and the roads are well-maintained in good weather. Therefore you could definitely rent a car and see the peninsula on your own time.

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. You could do an overnight tour, or even a day trip from Reykjavik. (I've done both; obviously the 2-day tour fits more in, but you still see a lot on a day trip!)


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

Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

"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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51 Comments on “19 Epic Things to Do and See on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in Iceland

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  1. ‘Love the wilderness of the region and it’s relative isolation status. ‘Can’t wait to visit and see for myself.
    Great photos as usual Amanda!

      Thanks, Victoria! This is definitely a part of Iceland worth seeing!

    What a beautiful post! The light in some of your photos – it’s just gorgeous! I just got back from Iceland a week ago. It was my first time, and even in the middle of winter, it was beautiful! I already want go back and explore this area in the summer months, in addition to going back and seeing what I already did in winter, as the landscape is completely different during the 2 seasons.

      Thanks, Susie! I definitely can’t take credit for the light, though – that’s all Iceland! 🙂 I also need to go back in the summer… eventually.

    Oooooh I want to visit Snuffles. It looks so beautiful.
    Someday I will live in Iceland I thinks.

      Iceland has definitely turned into one of those places that I know I’ll go back to again and again!

    Loved these photos – I bet it must be amazing heading out into that wilderness! This post has just upped Iceland on my travel list 😉

      Awesome! Iceland is definitely worth it. So much wild, open space there.

    Really great – I don’t know much about Iceland, but if I ever make it there, I would definitely include this peninsula on my itinerary! I love the idea of long sunrises and sunsets, too!

      It’s a pretty fascinating country! And this peninsula is definitely my new favorite part.

    Wow! I can’t believe such a small peninsula is home to so much beauty!

      I know! Iceland sure does pack it in.

    Terrific pictures and great tips! I would so love to see Iceland one day!

      Thanks, Arti! Hopefully you’ll make it there!

    You’ve catched some amazing photos with the sunset in Snaefellsnes, but all your photos are amazing. Vatnshellir lava cave looks scary, not a place to enter if you are scared of dark and narrow places…. like I am.

      Thanks! And yes, the cave wouldn’t appeal to everyone. You do have flashlights, though, so it’s not pitch black. But still quite dark!

    I can’t even get over that first picture, or any of these pictures, honestly. Are you sure Iceland is a real place? I’ve been loving your Iceland posts, thanks for sharing! I’m hoping to visit in 2016 🙂

      Sometimes (especially when going back through my photos in order to write these posts), I ask myself the same thing! But yes, I assure that Iceland is very much a real place. 🙂

    Wow your photos in this post are so breathtaking!
    I have dreamed about visiting Iceland for years, but I somehow have never heard of “Miniature Iceland”.
    I’m so glad I read this post, as I now have something else to add to my itinerary.
    Thanks!

    http://www.justbeingbrooklyn.com

      There are so many things to see in Iceland that I think a lot of people skip the Snaefellsnes Peninsula – but it definitely deserves to be on your itinerary!

    I’m so glad that you were able to visit the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Often when we travel, we don’t find out about wonderful places we could have visited until afterwards. Lovely images of the mountains and great advice about how to explore the region.

      Thanks, Rashaad! I’m really glad I got to visit, too!

    Love love love this post and all the gorgeous photos! What’s your new camera?

    I skipped the peninsula in favor of the Westfjords on my Iceland trip last year (silly, silly me), but I’m absolutely dying to get back and do it next time. Good thing it’s reasonably close to Reykjavik!

      I’ve never been to the Westfjords, though! Definitely on my to-do list for my next trip there, maybe in the summer!

      (And I got a new Olympus in September – the OM-D E-M5 Mark II – and I am in LOVE with it!)

    This peninsula route looks like a great option for travelers tight on time! Thanks for the tips and gorgeous photos, Amanda. 😉

      Yes! And you could *technically* tackle it in one day (there are some tour companies that do 1-day trips, too). Though I would definitely recommend at least two days so you can spend enough time at each stop!

    I would love to visit Snaefellsnes Peninsula! Well, Iceland in general;-) Planning to go in 2016… Would be totally amazing!

      I won’t argue with you there – I agree that it would be totally amazing! Hope you make it there in 2016. 🙂

    I was there in June and absolutely loved it. The weather was awesome that day – I was very fortunate as I got some fabulous shots of the arch AND Church mountain. (the day before and after were dire however…for my second time doing the Golden Circle I got rain rather than the snow I got two years before…do I give up or keep trying to get some sun?!) I do love the idea of your two day trip though as more time for exploration and I love the look of that hike….the cave not so much 🙂 …. Can’t wait to read more about Iceland and your Rhine cruise!

      The weather can be SO hit or miss in Iceland! But luckily it’s so awesome that the weather (so far) has never ruined a trip for me there. I WILL have to go back another time to see Kirkjufell properly, though…

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