For the short-term visitor and overworked resident, deciding how to spend the limited free time you have available can be a real challenge, as there is no shortage of great destinations reachable from the capital. For those that want to see as much as they can in one go, we think the best option is Snæfellsnes.
Often called a “miniature of Iceland,” the peninsula displays almost all of the features that dominate Icelandic nature in one spot, including a sub-glacial volcano, ancient lava fields, hot springs, rolling hills, wind-blasted beaches, fantastic rock formations, majestic waterfalls, lonely lighthouses, and small settlements dotted all along the coast. You can make it there and back again in twelve hours, which is exactly what we decided to do on one unclouded Sunday. We drove directly through Borgarnes, straight to Stykkishólmur, and then explored the peninsula counterclockwise.
This is the first hidden gem you’ll encounter. If you drive north on road 56 to Stykkishólmur, you’ll find a parking spot after seeing a small sign saying “Fossá.” Park and follow the water downstream for five minutes and you’ll find this picturesque waterfall and a great view of the surrounding area.
Legend has it that if you make a wish and walk up this hill from Guðrún Ósvífursdóttir’s grave without speaking or looking back, your wish will come true. Leave your car at the lot, but don’t walk up the path in front of you: instead, head over to the church where you will see Guðrún’s grave and a separate path. The view from the top is gorgeous, with Snæfellsjökull glacier looming in the distance (if it’s not cloudy, that is).
This fishing hamlet is the largest settlement in Snæfellsnes and features quaint little houses, some nice seafood restaurants, a Bónus grocery store, and a few friendly cats. Walk up to Súgandisey island from the harbour, breathe in that fresh sea air, and take a moment to take it all in.
This mountain is said to be the most photographed mountain in Iceland, and with good reason; the mountain is decorated by a number beautiful waterfalls, such as Grundarfoss, and can be seen clearly from multiple angles as it juts out into the sea, just outside of the town of Grundarfjörður.
Just off road 574, you’ll find Rif, a tiny fishing hamlet home to 137 people. With just a few boats docked at the harbour, and only one café in town (the house flying the Icelandic flag), there doesn’t seem to be much to this settlement. Be sure to check out the Freezer Hostel, which doubles as a cultural centre featuring a steady stream of cool events.
This black pebble beach, which is supposedly haunted and houses an elf church, was the site of a shipwreck that took the lives of fourteen British sailors in 1948. You can still find rusted metal fragments from the accident scattered all over the beach. You’ll also find four lifting stones resting on the beach, ranging from 23 to 155kg in weight if you want to test your brawn.
This remote lighthouse rests on the westernmost tip of the peninsula, and is constantly assailed by powerful winds. You’re surrounded on one side by an ancient lava field, and by the roaring ocean on the other. If you look carefully, you’ll see a beautiful cave in the cliffside. Be careful, though, and don’t climb over the railing, as the drop is almost certainly fatal.
The setting of Jules Verne’s ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’, the glacier itself is nothing short of magnificent. Do note that you shouldn’t attempt to scale it on your own: you need a professional guide and equipment as the weather changes rapidly. In addition to seeing this glacier from multiple angles, you can descend 35m down into Vatnshellir from the national park and immerse yourself in complete darkness.
How to get there: If you are driving yourself, take highway number 1 to Borganes and turn onto highway 54, and turn onto highway 56 from Vegamót.
Distance from Reykjavík: around 149 km.