Iceland is home to regions filled with geological wonders, stunning landscapes, and endless adventure. One of those regions is the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in western Iceland. The peninsula is a dream for photographers, nature enthusiasts, and outdoor adventurers. Snæfellsnes offers magnificent activities and sights to explore, from a unique mountain to an enchanting coastline. With its proximity to the city, Snæfellsnes is also one of the most popular day trips from Reykjavik. Of course, with so much to see and do, it would be impossible to experience it all in one day. In this post, I'll explore the 5 top activities for a one-day Snaefellsnes Peninsula adventure.
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Need to Know Information
How Do You Pronounce Snæfellsnes Peninsula?
One of the most commonly asked questions is how to pronounce different Icelandic regions. Snæfellsnes is pronounced Snaiy-fell-snes. Icelandic words aren’t the easiest to speak, but breaking them down phonetically helps. I spent months before my Iceland trip pronouncing the Snæfellsnes Peninsula as Snuffleupagus from Sesame Street. True story. However, once you practice the words phonetically, you get the hang of it.
How Much Time Do You Need in Snæfellsnes?
You can see the five places mentioned below comfortably in a day. Of course, you could also add several other stops for a longer taxing day. To enjoyably experience all that the Snæfellsnes Peninsula has to offer, I would allocate 2-3 days to see all the sights without rushing. That’s the time I plan to spend here when I return to Iceland.
How Do You Get To Snæfellsnes?
The preferred way to get to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula is to rent a car and drive on your own or take a tour. It takes approximately 2 hours to drive from Reykjavik to Snæfellsnes, starting on Route 1 (the Ring Road) and continuing to Route 54. If traveling from northern Iceland, part of Route 54 is an unpaved road. Taking this direction, proceed with caution or consider renting a 4WD.
Tours to Snæfellsnes depart from Reykjavik and range from 8 to 12 hours. These tours stop at all the major highlights and are an ideal option for travelers not renting a vehicle. There are also buses available in Reykjavik to transfer to the town of Borgarnes to reach Snæfellsnes, but the bus ride will take double the time compared to driving there, and it would be challenging to explore the area.
Is the Snæfellsnes Peninsula Worth Visiting?
After returning from a complete Ring Road trip that included the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and the Golden Circle, I knew my two favorite regions in Iceland were the south coast and the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. The landscapes were simply magnificent. It felt like I had stepped into another world with rocky cliffs above a raging sea, towering mountains, and a volcanic crater. There were so many incredible places to visit, that I couldn’t see them all in one day. The crowds here are manageable compared to other popular Iceland destinations. Snæfellsnes is unquestionably worth visiting, and I promise it will exceed all your expectations.
5 Top Activities for a One-Day Snaefellsnes Peninsula Adventure
1. Visit Iceland’s Most Photographed Mountain: Kirkjufell
Iceland is home to countless impressive mountains, but the most famous of them is Kirkjufell in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Kirkjufell is nowhere near the tallest mountain in Iceland at only 1519 feet, but it is the most photographed. The Icelandic name translates to “Church Mountain” due to its unique shape resembling a church steeple. The landscape surrounding this picturesque mountain with its distinctive peak is stunning, creating a photogenic and awe-inspiring scene.
There are several spots where visitors can view Kirkjufell, but the most popular location is next to Kirkjufellsfoss. A short paved trail near the parking lot leads to the iconic image of Kirkjufell and the three small waterfalls that compose Kirkjufellsfoss. Other viewpoints focus directly on Kirkjufell, but none are quite as breathtaking as the scene with the waterfalls in the foreground. Kirkjufell is also referred to as the Game of Thrones Mountain since it was shown in seasons 6 and 7 of the show as Arrowhead Mountain. If you're a fellow fan like me, this is one place in Iceland you need to visit.
No matter what season you're visiting Iceland in, Kirkjufell is a breathtaking sight. Whether it's coated in glittering white snow in the winter, covered in lush greenery in the summer, or golden brown in the fall. During the colder season, you may even see the northern lights above the mountain for a truly spectacular sight. Visiting Kirkjufell is one of the top activities in the Snæfellsnes region and a must-see.
2. Stop at the Famous Black Church: Budakirkja
In the small hamlet of Búðir, located on the south coast of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, there is a black church surrounded only by the breathtaking landscape atop a lava field. Budakirkja’s unique coloring of black with white accents on the windows and door is a stark contrast against the beautiful background of mountains, the sea, and a glacier. Photographers flock from across the world to capture the iconic image of the eye-catching jet-black church against the natural scenery.
While the church was established in 1703, the church you can see today was built in 1848, making it 175 years old. This is still an active church both for the parish’s traditional church events and special ceremonies. Although it is one of Iceland’s three black churches, it is the most photographed church in all of Iceland. It's also a popular location for weddings due to its impressive beauty. This was a site I spent years longing to visit. Finally seeing it in person made the former goth girl in me so happy.
3. Walk Along the Coastline of Arnarstapi
In the small fishing village of Arnarstapi is a dramatic coastline filled with unique rock formations and rugged cliffs. A paved path along the coast offers stunning scenic views to see the natural wonders of the landscape. This path connects the villages of Arnarstapi and Hellnar. The hike from Arnarstapi to Hellnar is roughly 2 miles from point to point. The Arnarstapi cliff walk is an easy hike suitable for all ages and families. There are continuous impressive views throughout the hike, but a few points of interest are not to be missed including a walkable stone bridge and spectacular rock arch.
Points of Interest in Arnarstapi:
Stone Bridge: A natural stone bridge at the cliff's edge provides incredible views on each side. One faces the sea with crashing waves, and the other a hollow cave with a towering mountain behind it. The bridge is wide enough to feel comfortable walking and makes the perfect photo opportunity.
Gatklettur: Along the cliffside path is a magnificent rock arch above the sea. Unlike the bridge, you cannot walk over Gatklettur, but it is a beautiful scenic spot. The rugged coastline in the background of the arch is an unmissable view.
Arnarstapi Cliff Viewpoint: This viewpoint has a small observation deck with remarkable views facing both ways. On the eastern view, you’ll see curved columns along the coast with a rocky cave where the water fills. Facing west, the dramatic cliffside also curves, allowing endless crashing waves.
Bárður Saga Statue: This impressive stone structure based on Icelandic folklore is a fantastic spot. It’s a tribute to the saga of Bárðar Saga Snæfellsás, a protector of the peninsula and half giant-half man. Standing nearly 20 feet tall, the statue is an amazing homage to a part of Iceland's mythology and is a fun place for visitors to capture photos.
Arnastapi Port: Steps from the port's parking lot, there is a small observation deck with stunning views of the cliffs and surrounding mountains. This is a famous location for visitors to capture an iconic image of a white house in the middle of this natural landscape. From here there is direct access to one end of the hiking trail.
4. Enjoy the Incredible Views of Lóndrangar
One of the gems and geological wonders of Snæfellsnes is the picturesque Lóndrangar basalt cliffs. Two massive basalt pillars rise from the sea in rocky spikes that point to the sky like a castle in the distance. In fact, Lóndrangar has been named the rocky castle of Snæfellsnes due to its unique formation. The rugged pinnacles and basalt cliffs create a dramatic and awe-inspiring view for visitors to admire.
Once upon a time, Lóndrangar was a volcanic crater that through sea erosion over thousands of years became one of Iceland's remarkable landscapes. There are accessible walking trails near the parking lot to several viewpoints to see the rugged cliffs from a distance. These easy trails also lead down a path to a pebble beach for a closer look at the towering pillars. This is also a popular location for sailing and surfing to glimpse the basalt cliffs from the water.
5. Climb to the Top of Saxhóll Crater
If you're looking to experience the fire, in the land of ice and fire but in an accessible way, then a trip to Saxhóll Crater should be at the top of your list. With a height of 358 feet, Saxhóll is an incredible crater to climb without needing to complete a challenging hike. Located in Snæfellsjökull National Park, Saxhóll Crater formed after a volcanic eruption between 3000 and 4000 years ago. An accessible walking path was built into the crater with a metal staircase to allow visitors to easily ascend and descend.
The foot of the crater is directly next to the parking lot. Which is also where the staircase begins. There are nearly 400 steps to climb to the top, simply take your time and watch your footing. Thankfully, the path isn’t steep, and the rail attached to the staircase aids visitors if needed. The vast view of Snæfellsjökull National Park from the top of Saxhóll is breathtaking and worth the effort of the climb. Although most visitors can complete the climb, use caution during inclement weather. I visited on a windy day, and the powerful Icelandic winds at the top of the crater were a bit too much for me, so I quickly climbed back down. It was still amazing and is one of the best spots in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
Additional Snæfellsnes Peninsula Spots
- Djúpalónssandur Beach: A black sand beach filled with unique lava rock formations and the remnants of a shipwreck.
- Svörtuloft Lighthouse: This lighthouse is bright orange and set against the rocky cliffs with breathtaking scenic views.
- Skarðsvík Beach: One of the rare golden sand beaches in Iceland. This picturesque beach also has basalt rock formations and a small cave.
- Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge: During the summer months, this is a stunning gorge covered in moss that travelers can climb through. Do not attempt this trek in the winter since it's extremely dangerous. Additionally, wear waterproof shoes and attire to wade through the water.
- Ytri Tunga Beach: This is another of Iceland’s rare golden beaches and one of the best spots to see seals. The best time to find them is during the summer months when the Harbor and Grey seals frequently lounge around.
Snæfellsnes Peninsula Hotels
1. Kirkjufell Guesthouse: Affordable lodging less than a 10-minute drive from the iconic Kirkjufell mountain. This is where I stayed during my visit. The rooms were comfortable and modern. Plus, the full shared kitchen was convenient.
2. Fosshótel Hellnar: A beautiful hotel on the coast minutes away from the incredible Arnastapi cliffs. You'll find cozy rooms here with a restaurant on-site and gorgeous sea views at every turn.
3. Hotel Langaholt: On the south of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, this no-fuss hotel offers a restaurant on-site with scenic views of the surrounding landscape. Rooms are affordable, and the hotel is located a 15-minute drive from Budakirkja.
4. Hótel Snaefellsnes: This quaint hotel is the perfect base location to explore Snæfellsnes. The rooms are comfortable and cozy, and there is a delicious restaurant on-site.
Whether you're visiting Snæfellsnes on a day trip or spending several days touring the peninsula, you'll see some of the best natural wonders Iceland can offer. There are countless activities and sights to explore on Snæfellsnes that it would be difficult to put it all into one list, but these are my top 5 for a one-day adventure. Although, no matter what you see, you're sure to be enchanted by this magical place.
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