- Best time to visit
- All year round
- Distance from Reykjavík
- 150 km (93 mi)
The Snæfellsnes peninsula is often referred to as “Iceland in miniature”, as you get a little bit of everything. The diverse landscape includes natural wonders like vast black sand beaches, magnificent mountains, large volcanic craters, rich birdlife, and the mighty glacier, Snæfellsjökull. It’s a spectacular slice of Iceland.
Exploring the Natural Wonders of Snæfellsnes Peninsula
While most people visit the sights along the Golden Circle, perhaps consider a day trip to the lesser-explored Snæfellsnes peninsula for just as much beauty and awe.
Sights across the Snæfellsnes peninsula
There are many other natural sights across Snæfellsnes, like the striking basalt cliffs at Gerðuberg, reminiscent of the rock formations at Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. You can also descend into an 8,000-year-old lava cave at Vatnshellir or simply take it easy with a long soak in one of the geothermal outdoor baths.
During the winter months, Snæfellsnes Peninsula Northern Lights tours are a popular option, as the snow-covered landscape and lack of light pollution out here seem to make the aurora glow even brighter.
Sights around Grundarfjörður
One of the absolute highlights of the Snæfellsnes peninsula, Kirkjufell Mountain sits just outside the pretty fishing village of Grundarfjörður. You might recognise this conical mountain from the hit TV series Game of Thrones, where it represented Arrowhead Mountain.
Layers of rock create a striking silhouette, and although you can’t climb to the top as it is too steep, there is a beautiful photo opportunity at the base of the mountain with the Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall tumbling in the foreground.
Within the town of Grundarfjörður itself, you’ve got a few overnight accommodation options and the opportunity to spot orcas whales out in Breiðafjörður Bay on a boat tour from the little harbour. Boat trips also leave from here to spot the colony of puffins that live out on Melrakkaey Island.
Sights around Arnarstapi
Almost at the very tip of the peninsula, the Arnarstapi area is where you can follow meandering walks along the dramatic sea cliffs where stone archways frame the ocean, and arctic terns and kittiwakes make their nests. Close to the small settlement of Arnarstapi, the Snæfellsjökull glacier is a popular spot for a Snæfellsnes Peninsula hike of a different kind. Guided glacier hikes onto the frozen surface of Snæfellsjökull run between March and September.
Snæfellsnes Peninsula vs. Golden Circle - Which Should You Visit?
Those with just a short time in Iceland might have to choose between a day trip to the Snæfellsnes peninsula or a day trip along the sights of the famous Golden Circle.
While the Golden Circle is considered to cover the absolute highlights of Iceland’s landscape – Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall and the Geysir area of geothermal activity – Snæfellsnes has its fair share of beautiful waterfalls, basalt cliffs, coastal villages and glaciers but over a smaller area.
Due to its distance from the capital, day trips to the Snæfellsnes peninsula do tend to take longer than the Golden Circle route from Reykjavík, but you’ll be rewarded with quieter sights and a landscape that encapsulates all of Iceland’s unique geology in one place.
Of course, you can always have the best of both worlds and take a day trip along the Golden Circle one day and then spend another day exploring the Snæfellsnes peninsula. Then you can make up your own mind about which is better.
All About Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Apart from Stykkishólmur, the largest town on the peninsula, Grundarfjörður is a good option for an overnight stay. There’s a selection of simple hotels, guesthouses and apartments, a couple of places to eat and plenty of things to do on your doorstep. Whale watching tours out into Breiðafjörður Bay leave from Grundarfjörður’s little harbour and from the town, you can walk to the famous Kirkjufell mountain. Ólafsvík is another coastal town on the north shore of the peninsula where a scattering of simple hotels, hostels and apartments sit by the sea.
There are plenty of overnight accommodation options across the Snæfellsnes peninsula, from guesthouses and cabins out in the stark wilderness to hotels and B&Bs within walking distance of restaurants and shops. Stykkishólmur is the largest town on the peninsula, so it has the widest selection of accommodation and a handful of restaurants and grocery shops. You can also find campsites across the peninsula and places to stay in the heart of the wilderness. Almost at the very tip of the peninsula, there are a few places to stay around Arnarstapi where the dramatic rock features of the coastline attract keen hikers.
From Keflavik Airport, it is around 178 kilometres (111 miles) to the Snæfellsnes peninsula. Driving to Snæfellsnes from Iceland’s main airport takes approximately two hours and twenty minutes.
You might recognise the Snæfellsnes peninsula if you’ve ever looked closely at a map of Iceland. It is the long, narrow peninsula that sticks out into the Atlantic on the west coast of the island. To the north, it sits on Breiðafjörður Bay, while Faxaflói Bay (which stretches all the way to Reykjavík) lies on the south coast of the peninsula. Snæfellsnes is around 135 kilometres (83 miles) from Reykjavík and the drive is around two and a half hours.
The best time of year to visit Snæfellsnes depends on what you want to do when you get there. If spotting puffins is on your bucket list, then visiting Snæfellsnes between May and August is the best time of year when the birds are most active and you might see little puffin chicks. If hiking on the Snæfellsjökull glacier is your top priority, you’ll want to visit in the summer months when the daylight hours are at their longest, giving you the most time for the hike. Between September and March, glacier hikes do not run on Snæfellsjökull. Whale watchers should consider visiting Snæfellsnes between December and April when you’re most likely to spot orca whales out in Breiðafjörður Bay. Winter can be a beautiful time of year to visit the peninsula, when Kirkjufell mountain is covered in snow and you have the chance to spot the Northern Lights in the long hours of darkness, away from the lights of Reykjavík.
Don’t let the ‘æ’ intimidate you, Snæfellsnes is quite an easy Icelandic word to pronounce. It is said like Snay-fell-snes.
The Snæfellsnes peninsula is a great place to take the kids on a day’s adventure – you can introduce them to Icelandic folklore and let them experience the island’s unique scenery in one small space. There are short hikes suitable for families with kids and a smattering of towns and villages to stop and refuel throughout the day. You can rent a family-sized car and drive to Snæfellsnes peninsula yourself, or join a family-friendly Snæfellsnes peninsula tour that departs from Reykjavík.
The main thing you’ll want to do on Snæfellsnes peninsula is to explore the varied landscape – ice caps, lava fields, basalt cliffs and rugged hills. Those seeking active adventure can join a glacier hike at Snæfellsjökull National Park or perhaps descend into an 8,000-year-old lava tube at Vatnshellir Cave. If taking it easy is more your thing, you can embrace Iceland’s bathing culture in naturally-heated pools at Landbrotalaug hot springs. A different kind of bravery is involved at Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum where you can try the famous Icelandic delicacy of hákarl, aka fermented shark.
Snæfellsnes is not on the route of the Golden Circle, but it has its own selection of natural highlights. Day trips around the Snæfellsnes peninsula also leave from Reykjavik and some say the landscape is just as beautiful as along the Golden Circle. Stops along the Snæfellsnes peninsula include chasing tumbling waterfalls, the possibility of a glacier hike at Snæfellsjökull, visiting pretty fishing villages and spotting puffins on clifftop walks.
If you are planning a Snæfellsnes Peninsula self-drive from Reykjavík, you’ll need to take the main Route One road from the capital to Borgarnes and then join Road 54 to reach Snæfellsnes. Both are main roads and are often cleared of snow in December, but winter driving in Iceland can be challenging in general, especially if you get caught in a blizzard. The Snæfellsnes peninsula can experience high winds in winter. Always check the SafeTravel app before you leave to keep up to date with road closures and weather warnings. The safest and easiest way to get to the Snæfellsnes peninsula in December is to join an organised tour from Reykjavík. Let someone else take care of the driving and itinerary so all you have to do is enjoy the scenery.
Jutting out into the North Atlantic Ocean, there is often a bracing wind blowing across the Snæfellsnes peninsula, so dressing in a waterproof windbreaker jacket is a good idea. It’s all about outdoor adventures here and most people visit to hike along cliff tops or take a boat out to spot puffins and whales. In winter, you’ll want to wrap up warm with layers of woolly jumpers, hats, scarves and gloves, maybe even thermal layers in the coldest months. Sturdy, waterproof walking boots are the best footwear for Snæfellsnes.
Perhaps stop off at the Gerðuberg cliffs, which are formed from striking basalt columns, like the kind you might see at Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. Check out traditional Icelandic architecture at Búðakirkja – a dramatic black wooden church that sits within a lava field. But the most iconic sight on the peninsula is Kirkjufell Mountain which has featured in Game of Thrones and makes for a beautiful photograph due to its bright green hue, conical shape and ocean backdrop. There’s also plenty of opportunity to see wildlife at Snæfellsnes, like seals on Ytri Tunga beach, arctic terns and kittiwakes on the dramatic sea cliffs of Arnarstapi, and whale watching and puffin spotting boat trips from Grundarfjörður.
Close to the Snæfellsnes peninsula and on the way to and from Reykjavík, there are plenty of must-see attractions. You can pause to refuel and refresh at Borgarnes and admire the beauty of the area around the Borgarfjörður fjord where the majority of the Icelandic Sagas were set. The nearby region of Húsafell is a short drive from Snæfellsnes where you can bathe in the naturally heated water of the Krauma Spa, which is geothermally powered by Europe’s most powerful hot spring. In Húsafell, you’ll also find Iceland’s second largest glacier, Langjökull. Here, you can embark on a monster truck adventure onto the glacier’s surface or explore a man-made ice tunnel through the glacier which is open year-round.