Perched out on the tip of the Snæfellsnes peninsula, Hellissandur is the last town before the Snæfellsjökull National Park. With a small tangle of streets, this windswept settlement occupies a narrow 400m shelf of land between a lava field and the sea shore. It’s a tiny place, but what it lacks in conveniences, it makes up for with quirky personality and proximity to one of Iceland’s most stunning sights.
Stay: Hótel Búðir & Freezer Hostel
There are relatively few options for accommodation in the sparsely populated area around Snæfellsjökull, but a couple leap out as the best on offer. For those seeking some luxury, Hotel Búðir is a stunning, historic hotel on the southern coast of the peninsula. Those on a budget can stay at the Freezer Hostel in nearby Rif, which also has a theatre, entertainment programme and a cosy bar area. Freezer also operates several apartments in Hellissandur, available to book via AirBnB; their popular studio apartments are particularly nice, with big windows looking out over the ocean.
This wide cove on the very northern tip of Snæfellsnes is a truly beautiful spot. Down a windy dirt track, past a towering radio antenna—one of the tallest structures in Europe—there are several parking spots to choose from, with each one offering a walk to a rocky outcropping, or a route down onto the white sand below. The tide crashes in ferociously, and there are rock pools to explore, boulders to meander between, and a view out to sea, with nothing between you and the Arctic.
Walk: Lava Trail
Hellissandur is home to a Maritime Museum, but it was closed when we visited, and the distinctive statue of a fisherman teaching a child how to gut a fish was gone from its plinth. A garden full of whale bones and two turf houses, however, were visible. Behind the museum, however, a wooden stairway leads over a ridge into a lava field, where you can take an engaging short hike through the rugged rocks along some easy trails.
Eat: Gilbakki Kaffihús
This homely café feels like a visit to an Icelandic grandma’s house with floral flatware, cosy seating areas and traditional decor. You can pick up a coffee and cake, a snack, or a lunch, and watch the world go by from the lace-curtained windows. Summer opening only.
The minds behind the Freezer Hostel decorated Hellissandur with a variety of colourful and distinctive murals in 2018 in collaboration with international street artists. Look out for them as you drive around town, and expect more to be added this summer when artists flood into the town once more.
The Snæfellsjökull glacier is mesmerising, looming large over the entire area. There are various ways to enjoy the glacier—you can drive around it and take in the majestic view from all angles, or book a summit tour via snowmobile or a good ol’ guided ice hike. There are two roads that lead to the glacier, driveable only in summer. In winter, check before you set out, and don’t venture onto the ice without the proper experience and equipment, or—even better—a guide.