Updated: Sep 4
Long before Iceland was known as an incredible holiday destination, it was largely a rural farming community. In the 19th century, the country’s volcanic eruptions made it more famous worldwide than its tourist appeal. One man named Jules Verne was particularly captured by Iceland’s landscape and chose to make it the setting of his science-fiction novel.
One of the earliest science-fiction writers, Verne was highly influential in bringing Iceland to the mainstream. His novel Journey to the Center of the Earth, originally published in French, features Iceland heavily. Let’s look at the path the characters took and how you can travel the Jules Verne Iceland route yourself.
The Journey to the Center of the Earth Novel
Before we talk about the setting of Jules Verne’s Iceland novel, let’s talk about the plot. Published in 1864, the novel features German scientist Professor Otto Lidenbrock who cracks the code on an old runic manuscript. The code informs him that by entering the crater of a certain Icelandic volcano, one can reach the earth’s center.
Without giving away any spoilers, let’s just say that the scientist and his nephew travel to Iceland to test the theory out for themselves. You’ll have to read the novel to find out what happens next, but this volcano in question is Snæfellsjökull, one of Iceland’s many glacier-topped volcanoes. Located in west Iceland, people can actually visit it today.
Needless to say, Verne’s novel continues to be incredibly popular, evidenced by its numerous adaptations. Two of his other famous works are Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas, and Around the World in Eighty Days.
The Novel’s Journey in Iceland
Since the story was written and set before planes were invented, the scientist and his nephew sail to Iceland. They dock in Reykjavík harbor and hire a native guide and Icelandic horses to take them to Snæfellsjökull. Since they travel over land on horseback, the journey is quite tedious, spanning a distance of over 200 km (124 miles).
The crew would have had to circumvent numerous fjords and then travel all the way along the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, one of the best places to visit in Iceland. Keep in mind that at this time, roads would have been underdeveloped or non-existent in the remote parts of Iceland. Eventually, the team reach the Snæfellsjökull glacial volcano and attempt to enter it to reach the earth’s core.
The Real-Life Journey
Unfortunately, visitors in the real world won’t be able to complete all of Jules Verne’s Iceland route. The earth is not, in fact, hollow as it was believed to be during Verne’s time. If you were to enter a volcano, all you’d find was a lovely pool of magma to greet you and we don’t recommend trying that.
You can, however, follow in the footsteps of Jules Verne’s characters in Iceland up until they reach the volcano. If you sail here like the scientist, your journey may also begin in Reykjavík harbor. On the other hand, those that travel via plane will land at Keflavík International Airport, which is a short distance from the capital.
Instead of hiring a horse, we recommend you let your campervan do the heavy lifting. The first step is to lock in your campervan rental to have a convenient way to get around while in Iceland. From there, you’ll be ready to start your Jules Verne-inspired adventure.
While it is possible to arrive and fully explore the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in a day, provided you leave very early, it might be better to spread your trip out over two or even three days. This way, you’ll limit your cumulative hours behind the wheel and won’t have to rush your stops.
Getting to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Reaching the peninsula is simple: just follow Route 1, or the Ring Road, going north out of the capital towards Mossfellsbær. The same fjords that would have taken Verne’s characters hours to ride around can now be driven over via bridges. There are also roads that take you all the way around the fjords if you prefer the scenic route.
An ideal first place to stop for a late breakfast or lunch is Borganes. This small town is your last point on Route 1 before you turn west into the peninsula. Make sure your gas tank is full at this point because there won’t be another station for a while.
After passing Borganes, turn left onto Route 54. Keep following this road and it will take you most of the way down onto the peninsula. There are plenty of great lookout points on the way, so stopping for a photo or two is a must. Just be sure to pull over somewhere safe, not the roadside.
At some point, you’re going to come to a junction with Route 574. If you want to see the glacier up close and explore the best part of the peninsula, turn onto 574. You’re now heading towards Snæfellsjökull National Park, which protects the glacier and much of the land around it.
Unless you have proper training and the right equipment or have joined a guided tour, don’t attempt to hike the glacier alone. If you really want to tackle it, there are tours you can join to summit Snæfellsjökull, which leave from Arnarstapi. Otherwise, since Route 574 takes you almost all the way around the volcano, you’ll have great views of it from your window.
In Arnarstapi, you’ll find a small signpost depicting distances to different cities. This is the only Jules Verne monument in Iceland.
What to do in Snæfellsnes Peninsula
There are plenty of wonderful hikes and great features within the park, so stop whenever something catches your eye. Djúpalónssandur black sand beach, where pieces of a wrecked ship can be seen, is highly recommended. There are also some strength-testing stones here, used by past sailors to prove themselves.
Another cool feature in the southern part of the peninsula is the Lóndrangar rock formation. These two pillars are naturally formed from a previous volcanic eruption and stand at 75 and 61 meters tall. You can view them by parking at the nearby Malarrif lighthouse (close to the Snæfellsjökull Visitor Centre) and hiking east.
When you reach the north part of the peninsula’s tip, you’ll start to come across some small communities. It’s a good idea to stick to the coastal road, so you can complete a full circuit of the region.
Outside the park on the peninsula’s north side, you should visit Kirkjufell mountain, one of the most photographed mountains in the country that featured in the hit series Game of Thrones. On the way back to Reykjavík along the north side, you’ll pass Stykkishólmur town. This area makes for a great spot to spend the night, as it offers up some incredible views of the bay.
From Stykkishólmur, you could cut through the peninsula via Route 56. Alternatively, continue to follow 54 until the base of Snæfellsnes and turn onto Route 60. Once you leave Snæfellsnes, your Jules Verne Iceland journey is complete.
A Jules Verne Iceland adventure!
To make your journey really come alive, have a read of the novel before coming to Iceland! The adventurous storyline will certainly get you even more excited for your own trip. Don’t be too disappointed if you don’t spot any of the monsters or other fantastical creatures described in the fictional book. However, brace yourself to see some equally majestic animals like blue whales.
Book your 4x4 campervan rental in Iceland today to embark on your own Jules Verne Iceland expedition!