Updated: Sep 23, 2019
Jutting out into the North Atlantic Ocean in the west of Iceland you will find the lovely Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Often referred to as Iceland in miniature this compact stretch of land is home to a plethora of natural wonders. It makes for a fantastic destination if you are short on time but want to experience the diverse landscapes of Iceland.
The peninsular is just a two-hour drive from Reykjavik so it is perfect for a rental campervan excursion. It is ideal for those wanting the experience of a road trip without taking on the full Iceland Ring Road. Road trippers can set out from the capital in the morning stopping at various sights along the way. They will have plenty of time to reach their campground for the night without too much time behind the wheel.
Visitors can then spend two or three days exploring the many sights. You could very easily spend longer if time allows. In this article, we will take you through some of the many highlights of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. We will also look at the best time of year to visit and the benefits of both summer and winter travel.
Highlights of Snaefellsnes Peninsula
Snaefellsjökull National Park
The Snaefellsjökull National Park is one of only three national parks in Iceland. It might not sound like many but each of the national parks in Iceland covers a great deal of land. The Snaefellsjökull National Park is actually one of the smaller ones. But it still takes up almost the entire western portion of the peninsular. As you explore the many sights the majority of your time will be spent within the park boundaries.
There are three campgrounds on the peninsular and all three are located just outside the borders of the park. Each one is conveniently located for delving into the different areas of the park though. So if you are on a self-drive tour by rental camper or motorhome then you could spend a night in each one. This would take you on a nice wide loop of the peninsular taking in all of its main sights.
Ytri Tunga Beach
If driving to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula from Reykjavik or Keflavík International Airport then you can head straight for the coast. After an hour or two on the road, the golden beach of Ytri Tunga is a great first stop. Situated partway down the peninsula’s south coast it is a lovely place to take a walk and breath the sea air. The majority of the beaches in Iceland are black sand beaches. So this stretch of south side golden sand is really quite special. In summer you might see seals swimming in the shallows or sunning themselves on the sands.
Another good stop off on route to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula from Reykjavik is the Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge. In contrast to a coastal walk, you will find a dramatic steep-sided gorge and lush scenery. The surroundings here are stunning with a tumbling river and rocky outcrops. Visitors can choose to take just a short stroll from the parking lot. Alternatively, you could get your waterproofs and boots on and hop across the stepping-stones to venture further in.
Arnarstapi and Hellnar
Further along the coastline, you will come to the small town fishing villages of Arnarstapi and Hellnar. These are both charming places to stop for a stroll or a bite to eat. The surrounding coastline is dramatic and interesting to discover too. Craggy rock formations, lava tube configurations, and basalt columns abound. In fact, a walk along the cliff path that links the two villages is a good way to spend an afternoon.
Budir Black Church
This diminutive church might just be the most photographed church in all of Iceland. The facade has been painted a simple matt black that contrasts beautifully with the surrounding landscape, sea, and sky. Its location and simplicity is what makes it so beloved of photographers. Almost everyone that visits will feel inspired to take an artful shot or two. The nearby Búðahraun lava fields add to the drama of the situation.
Snaefellsjökull Glacier and Volcano
The awesome Snaefellsjökull volcano peak has lent the peninsular its name. This 700,000-year-old volcano is topped by a sparkling glacier. Tours run through the summer months taking visitors up towards the summit. The peak was made famous by the Jules Verne novel Journey to the Centre of the Earth. In this fantastical tale, the story’s explorers travel down inside the volcano on one serious adventure. If you are interested in volcanoes you might also like to visit the Volcano Museum in Stykkishólmur. This makes a good stop off if you are driving back towards Reykjavik along the northern edge of the peninsular.
Thermal Hot Springs and Pools
Right across Iceland, you will find all kinds of thermal hot springs to soak away any aches and pains. In fact, your vacation won’t be complete without visiting at least one or two of Iceland’s hot springs. Even if you have already visited the famous Blue Lagoon there are several more to choose from on the peninsular.
For something a little different head to the Landbrotalaug Hot Pot. This secluded pool out in the wilds has no changing facilities and no charge to enter. There is just enough space for one or two people to comfortably lounge. Visiting it is a uniquely Icelandic experience. Another great hot spring is the Lýsuhólslaug mineral water pool in the south of Snaefellsnes. This man-made pool is close to Langaholt Beach.
The distinctive arrow-shaped peak of Kirkjufell might look familiar to you. Especially so if you are a fan of the TV series Game of Thrones. The mountain was featured in series 7 of the show and makes for a unique filming location. The rounded peak of Kirkjufell is probably the most photographed mountain in Iceland. It is often photographed with the beautiful Kirkjufellsfoss Waterfall in the foreground.
The best time of year to visit the Snaefellsnes Peninsula
With its close proximity to Reykjavik, the Snaefellsnes Peninsula can be visited year-round. It is busiest in summer when the weather is at its most settled and all of the roads and campgrounds are open and accessible. This is the prime time of year to hire a campervan or motorhome and tour the peninsular. You will have plenty of daylight hours to hike and explore all of the incredible landscapes. In summer you can also take a tour of the mighty Snaefellsjökull volcano peak.
Having said that the Snaefellsnes Peninsula makes a wonderful winter season destination too. You could easily drive here on a day trip or camp overnight. The winter landscapes are transformed by a beautiful dusting of snow. And the short distances involved mean that it is manageable for most vehicles if the weather behaves. As with any road travel in Iceland in winter you need to be prepared and plan ahead. Wild Icelandic weather conditions can mean that travel is impossible. So be flexible and check your Iceland weather Apps!
One big draw of visiting the peninsular in winter is the potential for seeing the Northern Lights. Conditions here are near perfect especially in the national park and its surrounding campgrounds. There is very little light pollution here. So on a clear night, you have a very good chance of seeing the Aurora light up the night sky. You might get lucky and see the lights dancing over Kirkjufell and reflecting on the tumbling waters of Kirkjufellsfoss Waterfall. Now that certainly would be a sight worth capturing on film.