For the first part of our trip, we decided to spend a couple of days exploring the Snæfellsnes peninsula and I’m so glad we did! I’ve heard the Snæfellsnes peninsula called Iceland in miniature and it truly is. It really packs a big punch in its 90 km. You can explore a lava cave, wander black sand beaches, roam tiny fishing villages, gawk at big a glacier, investigate shipwrecks, and test your strength like fishermen of the past. There is so much to do, it definitely can’t be missed. To note, a lot of our itinerary planning was aided by this post from I Heart Reykjavik. She has a great map that lists so many different things to see, do and eat. It was pretty invaluable!
None of the links below are sponsored or affiliate links. Just links to websites to help you better plan your trip! Here’s a quick summary and a map to get you started. For more details about each day, keep scrolling down!
Grab a rental car in Reykjavik and make your way up to the Snæfellsnes peninsula.
About an hour from Reykjavik is Borgarnes which is a great stopping point on your drive.
Check out the Settlement Center. There are two exhibitions to explore: the Settlement Exhibition and Egil’s Saga Exhibition. The Settlement Exhibition walks you through the settlement of Iceland by Scandinavians. Because of the The Book of Icelanders and The Book of Settlement, the stories of these early settlers have been preserved for nearly a thousand years. The books are a meticulously written record of the founding of Iceland written in the 13th century. Through interactive exhibits, you can learn all about the first settlers of Iceland. Egil’s Saga Exhibition depicts the life of Egill Skalla-Grimsson who was the son of one of the first settlers of Iceland. His saga blends battles and love affairs as well as magic. Many different artists worked on the exhibition and is quite spooky! There are English (as well as many other languages) audio guides so you can get the full story of both.
On the way out of town, pop into the Ljómalind farmer’s market which is a definitely worth a look see. All the products here are made by the owners or other people local to the area. There were knit goods, art work, crafts, and even food. It’s great to support a local place that is run by the community so be sure to stop!
For the rest of the day, take a leisurely drive up to Arnarstapi and spend the night there. Since you have plenty of time to explore, give yourself time for the inevitable pull offs for photos. Just make sure to actually pull off the road and do it safely!
Make sure to stop and see Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge which is quite close Arnarstapi. Read my full post about the gorge here.
If you have a light day 1 like us, you can pack a lot into day 2! With 20 hours of sunlight per day, it is easy to make the most out of your days.
Start your day around 10 at Vatnshellir Cave. Vatnshellir is a cave beneath Snæfellsjökull glacier that was carved out by molten lava. There are lot of legends surrounding it, including being the home of trolls. Locals say that this is where you’ll find the passage to the center of the earth which is what inspired Jules Vern to write his famous book!
- In the summer, tours are every hour on the hour (from 10-5) and last 45 mins
- Cost is 2000 ISK per person
- You need to be wearing good shoes and warm clothes, be sure to wear gloves too
I don’t want to give any of the tour away but I think it is definitely a stop to make on your trip around the peninsula.
If you go to the cave first, back track a little from there to make a stop at Lóndrangar. Once a volcanic crater, now all that’s left are the castle like formation you see below. You can access the cliff from a parking lot with just a short walk through some lava fields. There are some nice little hikes here so add extra time if you want to stretch your legs a bit!
From the same parking area as the cliffs, you can also walk down to a black sand beach to see some mighty, crashing waves and catch a glimpse of a lighthouse!
Next, drive to Hellissandur which is a cute fishing village. On your way into town, be sure to stop at The Maritime Museum in the Fishermen’s Garden. In summer, it’s open every day except Mondays from 10-5. So, don’t be like us and show up on a Monday… 🙂
Right outside of Hellissandur is Ingjaldshóll church. Even though the church is small, it has amazing views of Snæfellsjokull glacier and is surrounded by a field of lupines. Worth a quick stop just for the photos alone.
Keep driving down Road 574 and head into Ólafsvík.
While in Ólafsvík, make sure to stop at the Pakkhús Museum. This used to be trading store so the museum has lots of items that they would have sold in the past. On the ground floor, you can get tea and shop for handmade items from local artisans as well. I regret not getting a hand-knit pair of socks or a hat here!
If you need food for the rest of your road trip, Olafsvik also has a large grocery store called Kassinn. We picked up some food for breakfast as well as some snacks here. If you want to know how much Icelanders love sauce, just take a peek at the picture below. They have sauce specific to different foods which I thought was so interesting!
Wander through some lava fields. They are pretty easy to spot from the road!
On the way back (or you can do it on the way there) stop at Djúpalónssandur black sand beach. You can read all about the beach in my previous post.
Head back to Arnarstapi for the night. We had dinner at Snjofell that night which was pretty basic food but good. It was right down the road from our Airbnb so it worked out. Plus, we had the added benefit of seeing Iceland beat England in football (soccer)! Everyone was so happy/crying and it was pretty magical.
Start your day with a hike from Arnarstapi to Hellnar. Read all about the hike in my post, here.
If you’re lucky like us, you’ll have someone to pick you up in Hellnar so you can continue on your trip. If not, you can always walk back to Arnarstapi and get your car. Now, there are 2 ways to get to Stykkishólmur. If you skipped something on day 2 and want to go back, you can go around the peninsula again down road 574. Or, you can head east and pick up road 54 and go north from there.
Make sure to stop and chat with some locals on your drive 😉
Plan to stop for a bit at the most photographed mountain in Iceland, Kirkjufell or “church mountain” and the waterfall Kirkjufellfoss right next to it. If you’ve seen pictures of Iceland online before, I’m sure this will look familiar! Check out my post here for more information.
As you drive, you pass several fjords including the picturesque Kolgrafarfjördur so be sure to rouse your passengers awake for this part of the trip.
On your way into Stykkishólmur, you’ll drive right past Mt. Helgafell. Legend has it that if you climb Mt. Helgafell and follow some simple steps you will get three wishes. First, climb the mountain in total silence and do not look back. When you reach the ruins of the prayer chapel on top of the mountain, look east and picture your wishes (only something positive that does no harm). The last bit is obvious in the world of wishes but never utter a word about what you wished for. Apparently this only works the first time you do this hike. We had an unexpected dog visitor that scared me so I yelled and turned back to look at it so I didn’t get any wishes 🙁 The hike is pretty easy and took about 15 minutes. Worth it for the views from the top!
You’ve now made it to Stykkishólmur! Explore the harbor or just wander around the cute town. My regret is that we didn’t save enough time to explore this town because it really was quite charming. For dinner, we went to Sjávarpakkhúsið which was really tasty. Be warned that it is pretty much all seafood so if you don’t eat it, you won’t have much to choose from.