Top 8 Things to See on Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Iceland
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Snæfellsnes Peninsula is one of the most extraordinary regions in Iceland for dramatic landscapes and must-see sights. You can see everything from glaciers, lava fields, waterfalls, varying colored beaches, steep ocean cliffs, or volcano peaks. Here we recommend the 8 top things to see and do on your trip through Snæfellsnes. We were visiting Snæfellsnes as a detour from the Ring Road (we were traveling counter-clockwise). The first two places listed we visited after our drive to Snæfellsnes from Akureyri. The remaining 6 we visited the next day as we made our way back to Reykjavik ending our Ring Road Trip. Snæfellsnes Peninsula is also a great day trip from Reykjavik whether by driving it yourself or taking a tour.
Have you figured out how to pronounce Snæfellsnes yet? ... neither have I. I instinctively (and lovingly) called it Snuffleupagus the whole trip.
FYI: These must-see places are not in order of importance (that would be #2, 8, 1, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3), but instead in the order we saw them.
The largest city on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Stykkishólmur is an incredibly enchanting harbor town on the north coast. The village is made of cute and colorful old homes facing the ocean. The harbor is full of many boats for fishing, trade, touring the small island nearby, or ferrying people across to the West Fjords.
Take a drive to the right of the small harbor to the small island that provides beautiful views of the village and the sea. At the top of the island is the photogenic red Súgandisey Island Lighthouse.
The village also has a uniquely designed church, Stykkishólmskirkja. The doors are often open so you can have a quick look inside to see the organ or neat artwork.
In my opinion, Kirkjufell is the crowning jewel of Snæfellsnes and reason alone to visit the area. Kirkjufell is one of the most photographed places in Iceland. All of the amazing photos of Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellsfoss might have been the final straw that pushed me to book plane tickets to Iceland.
The best (and most famous) viewpoint of Kirkjufell is with three short waterfalls (Kirkjufellsfoss) in the foreground. The waterfalls are easy to access from a small parking lot right off the main road. The parking lot is frequently full so you might have to drive past it a few times until you find a spot. There are other spots to get a great viewpoint of the mountain without the crowd of tourists.
Kirkjufell, in Icelandic, means Church Mountain because of its resemblance to the typical structure of an Icelandic church. You might also recognize Kirkjufell as a reoccurring filming location for Game of Thrones. This arrowhead mountain is seen Beyond the Wall and in the background of scenes of the White Tree of the three-eyed raven.
You can climb Kirkjufell if you are a brave, experienced hiker with a guide. The hike up involves very narrow steep trails that might be difficult to spot. You often need to rely on a rope attached to the mountain, which has been known to break.
Read more about our 6th Day Driving the Ring Road on our way to Snæfellsnes Peninsula and see more beautiful pictures from Stykkishólmur and Kirkjufell
3. Skarðsvík Beach
One of the few golden sand beaches in Iceland, a country full of beautiful stark black sand beaches. This small secluded beach is surrounded by black lava rocks providing a sharp contrast with the bright blue of the ocean and orange in the sand. On warm summer days, you might find locals sunbathing or swimming in the ocean dreaming of a Spanish vacation. After parking at the small area for cars, you can walk down to the beach or walk around the lava rocks in the area. There is a nice picnic table set up – a perfect spot for lunch while listening to the waves or birds.
Further up the gravel road past the beach is Svörtuloft Lighthouse. In our 2WD car, we almost made it there before turning around when the road got too rocky. There is a small place to park before the road gets really rocky and you can walk the rest of the way to the lighthouse if you do not have a 4x4. Any type of car can access Skarðsvík Beach, however.
4. Djúpalónssandur & Dritvík
Now that you've seen a golden sand beach, time to see a couple of the black sand beaches that Iceland is famous for. Djúpalónssandur & Dritvík are two black sand beaches within walking distance of each other. The parking lot is just above Djúpalónssandur but it is just a 1km hike on a rocky path to Dritvík cove. The drive off the main road to Djúpalónssandur takes you through a beautiful lava field. The beach of Djúpalónssandur is made of small black smooth pebbles with larger more jagged lava rocks scattered throughout the beach. There are a lot of Icelandic fables about this area. One of the larger lava rocks is said to be an elf church – be wary of climbing on the rocks as you do not know what bad luck the elves might bring you.
Along the beaches are the ruins of a shipwreck and big stones that people try to lift to test their strength. There are different sized rocks (from 23kg to 154kg) you can try to pick up to determine how much of a weakling you are (or not). It used to be that only men who could lift the heaviest stone up to their waist were allowed to fish from Djúpalónssandur beach.
Like most of the beaches in Iceland – stay away from the water. The dreaded sneaker waves have been known to carry tourists out to sea. Just a week before we left for Iceland a woman died at a black sand beach in the south.
5. Lóndrangar Cliffs & Malariff Lighthouse
Lóndrangar cliffs are a pair of basalt rocks that rise above the ocean along the south shore of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Made from volcanic basalt these rocks protrude out from the relatively flat land around them. Based on Icelandic folklore, the pillars are two trolls, a man and his fiancée who went out to enjoy the sea and the ocean air only to be caught by the daylight and frozen right at that spot.
There are two stops to see Lóndrangar. One takes you to the Malariff Lighthouse, which is a rocket-shaped lighthouse with an orange top. This is a good place to walk around either up to the lighthouse or all the way to the Lóndrangar cliffs. The Malariff Lighthouse is good for a quick photo opportunity and the landscape around is stunning.
The second stop provides a better view of Lóndrangar and is also a great place for bird watching. It is right off the main road, while the first stop is a minute or two drive towards the sea. Both are worth a short (or extensive) visit.
A small fishing village, Arnarstapi is a charming place to view the southern coast of Snæfellsnes Peninsula. A walk along the coast is a must to admire the birds and lava formations. We started our walk at the statue of Bárðar Snæfellsás – the mythical protector of the Peninsula. This huge stone statue was made by Ragnar Kjartansson – so big that you can walk through it. From this statue, there is a well-marked trail on an open field that takes you to several viewing platforms over the ocean to see basalt column formations.
If you happen to visit during bird breeding season, you will likely be inundated with the sounds of birds squawking or flying overhead. The sea pillars will likely be white from the fresh guano. Have I mentioned I hate birds? Because I hate birds.
There are beautiful churches scattered throughout Iceland, sometimes seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Most are white with a colorful roof or have a unique architectural style. Búðakirkja is jet black. We visited on a sunny day with clear skies and this black church sharply stood out against the bright green landscape surrounding it or the ocean off in the distance. There were only one or two cars in the parking lot at 3:30 pm, so there is a good chance you might have this sight to yourself when you visit. The church is not open to visitors but likely has a standard Icelandic church interior. There are some good walking trails from the church worth checking out.
There is a neat hotel close to the church which would be a great place to spend the night before or after exploring the area.
8. Seals at Ytri Tunga
Ytri Tunga is another golden sand beach, but that is not the reason people visit. Visitors come to see the colony of Seals that hang out on the rocks near the beach in the summer. There is a sizable parking lot that was mostly full when we visited around 4 pm and some information on seals in Iceland. Iceland is home to 4 different species of seals, Harbor and Grey Seals being the most common. A short walk down from the parking lot is the beach where you can look out at the many seals swimming in the water or laying out on rocks. We counted at least 40 seals, but there were bound to be more that blended into the rocks just offshore.
Be sure to enter Ytri Tunga into your Maps application and follow its directions since the road to turn on to reach Ytri Tunga is not well indicated. It is on private property so be sure to be courteous. The most seals can be found in June and July, but it is worth stopping outside of that window to see if you can spot a few. A pair of binoculars or just a good telephoto lens might also be helpful to see the seals in more detail.
So now that you know what we saw, why don't you watch it:
HOW CAN YOU EXPLORE THE Snæfellsnes Peninsula WITHOUT A RENTAL CAR?
Snæfellsnes Peninsula has some of the most beautiful and diverse scenery in all of Iceland. It is also an easy area to visit as a day trip from Reykjavik. We saw several buses or smaller van tours along our drive that allowed visitors to see the sights without worrying about a car. One of our favorite tour companies in Iceland is Iceland Travel. They have many tours or special excursions all around Iceland.
Here is a day trip tour from Reykjavik to Snæfellsnes Peninsula that includes cave exploration.