Take a 1-2 day trip to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula as a great alternative to the Golden Circle; avoid the big crowds and see more incredible sights along the way.

Walk along cliffs, past rocky formations, through lava fields, past shipwrecks on black sand beaches, up to craters, past waterfalls, into secret gorges and deep into lava caves—all along just a 2-hour stretch of road around the peninsula. Snaefellenes is the easiest way to explore many wonders of Iceland without the crowds of Reykjavik, the Golden Circle, and the South coast. This 1-2 day excursion is only 1.5 hours from Reykjavik or 30 minutes off the ring road.

Leave Route 1 at Borgarnes and drive 30 minutes along Route 54 to arrive at the...

Gerðuberg Cliffs

Hexagonal Basalt columns at Gerðuberg Cliffs (photo by Chris McCarty)

These huge hexagonal basalt columns rise out of the earth and welcome you to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Park in the designated areas near the base and take 15-30 minutes to walk the length of the cliffs. You can follow paths leading up for a closer look, and in a few places, you can climb to the top of the cliffs via a steep path. Avoid the edges where the rocks are not completely secure. Looking back from the top of the cliffs you will have an amazing view back towards other mountains. As you look more inland you will see a pair of craters rising up.

Continue west along Route 54 for about 40 minutes. When Route 54 leaves the coast and heads inland, follow the Útnesvegur to the left and stop at...

Búðakirkja and Budhahraun Lava Fields

Sunset over the Budhahraun Lava Fields (photo by Chris McCarty)

The picturesque black wooden church, Búðakirkja, sits within the Budhahraun Lava Field near the coast. Take some time to stretch your legs as you walk the wandering trails through the lava field, now covered in grass and vegetation.  You can stay close to the shore or hike an hour to a volcanic crater farther away.

If you spent the day hiking to Glymur Falls or exploring Borgarnes and are ready to call it a day, Budir hotel could not be in better location.

Continue along Útnesvegur for less than 15 minutes and you will arrive at the...

Hidden Waterfall at Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge

If you’re looking for a hidden entrance into the mountain, welcome to Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge. Follow the stream into the fissure where you will be surrounded by green mossy walls, with small waterfalls farther inside.

A couple minutes farther and you will find the fishing small towns of…

Arnarstapi and Hellnar

Cliff walk between Arnarstapi and Hellnar (photo by Chris McCarty)

The twin fishing towns of Arnarstapi and Hellnar are connected by a very pretty cliff-side walk past interesting rock formations and through a small lava field (5 km / 3 mi out and back). Take a 2-hour break from the drive to walk along the cliffs with views of arches below, and stop for a fish soup lunch at Fjöruhúsið in Hellnar before heading back along the trail.

In Arnarstapi, start at the Harbor and continue along the marked trail, with several short turnoffs for better views of the cliffs below. Keep an eye out for Gatklettur, a rocky arch, or the Bárðar Saga Snæfellsáss statue, made of many piled stones.

For the second half of the walk, you will walk through a lava field, this time without as much grass so that you can really see the unique lava formations up close.

Finish at a small cover in Hellnar where you can enjoy a delicious bowl of fish soup at the small cafe Fjöruhúsið. If you’re in between meals, they also offer homemade cakes, bread, coffee, and waffles.

They open around 11am, but it’s best to avoid at noon when a few tours typically arrive.

After leaving Hellnar you soon will enter…

Snæfellsjökull National Park

Welcome to Snæfellsjökull National Park, home of the Snæfellsjökull volcano made famous by Jules Verne as the entrance in Journey to the Centre of the Earth. You will find a Visitor Center a bit farther along the road explaining the history of the area, the volcano, and ecology of the area.

Soon after entering, you will see a turnoff for…

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Londrangar Basalt Cliffs

Londrangar Basalt Cliffs rising from the lava field (photo by Chris McCarty)

These 2 pillars almost look as if they are remains from an ancient castle stuck on the cliff. In fact, they are part of an old volcanic crater that has mostly eroded away. While it’s possible to see them from afar at the viewpoint, a short walk up the path from the parking lot, it’s much better to see them up close. Follow the trail about 15 minutes through the moss-covered lava field and you will arrive and these giant rock formations.

Hiking further, you will reach a lighthouse and a visitor center for Snæfellsjökull National Park (you can also drive here if you like). You can hike to the lighthouse and back in about an hour total.

A few minutes later on your right, you will see the entrance to...

Vatnshellir Cave

Take a “Journey to the center of the earth” by exploring this 8000-year-old lava cave, 35m/110ft below the surface. Join a tour to (10am- 6pm in Summer, only a few offered daily in Winter) to explore the interesting formations.

A little farther on your left, follow the road down to...

Djúpalónssandur Black Sand Beach

View down on Djúpalónssandur Black Sand Beach from the cliffs (photo by Chris McCarty)

This black sand beach deserves an hour of your time to explore and walk the short cliff path to Dritvík, once a bustling fishing harbor.

The short path down from the parking lot takes you past two blue lagoons to the black sand beach. You will immediately see the lifting stones, 4 stones of different weights (23kg, 54kg, 100kg, 154kg) used by sea captains to test the strength of their potential crew. Only the strongest were allowed to join the crew.

Along the beach, you will see the rusted remains of British Epine GY7, which was shipwrecked in 1948. The rusted metal against the dark black sand can make for some very interesting photographs.

To your right, as you walk to the ocean you will find a trail to Dritvik, once one of the largest fishing harbors in Iceland. A 15-minute walk along the cliffs will offer great views of the beach away from the larger tour bus crowds, and you may very likely have Dritvik all to yourself. Once there, explore the remains of a fishing house foundation, used back when the small harbor was filled with boats.

Drive another 10 minutes and look out for...

Saxholl crater

Looking down from the top of Saxholl crater (photo by Chris McCarty)

This crater pops up just along the road and only takes 1 minute to drive to. Once parked, climb the curved staircase to the top of the crater for a great vantage point of the surrounding area. The climb only takes 10 minutes or so.

Skarðsvík Beach

This golden sand beach looks a little out of place in Iceland. On a nice day consider stopping here for a picnic as you continue your tour back east to the northern side the peninsula.

You’ve reached the tip of the peninsula, and on a clear day can maybe see the West Fjords to the north. Continue 30 more minutes and you will see the much-photographed...

Kirkjufellsfoss Waterfall and Kirkjufell Mountain

Kirkjufellsfoss Waterfall with Kirkjufell Mountain in the distance

This mountain, with the waterfall in the foreground, may be the most photographed in Iceland, and for good reason.  Kirkjufellsfoss is just a couple of minutes walk from the parking lot. Be sure to walk over the bridge to the other side for the perfect view with Kirkjufell in the background.

Kirkjufell (“Church Mountain”) rises up from the water. You can hike an easy path around the base, or follow the much more challenging hike/climb to the top on a clear day (about 3 hours roundtrip)

15 minutes farther and you will drive through the…

Berserkjahraun lava fields

These lava fields were formed around 3,500-4,000, with the lava flows creating 2 lakes and a very interesting landscape to explore. You can explore by driving through a gravel road, or get out of the car to hike closer to the formations.

The area is named for the Berserkers in Eyrbyggja’s Saga (aggressive Swedish laborers). The short version is that a farmer had 2 large aggressive laborers, one who fell in love with his Daughter. The farmer gave him a task he thought impossible: clear a road through the rugged lava field. To his surprise, they completed the deed to win the daughter’s hand in marriage. However instead of keeping his promise, the farmer killed the 2 Berserkers, and they burial remains lay somewhere in the field today.

On the northern side of the lava field, you will find a turnoff for the…

Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum

If you’re interested in Sharks or trying the infamously foul “hákarl” (fermented shark meat, made on the farm), head over to the Shark Museum. Here you can learn about the Greenland shark and even try the hákarl and wash it town with some Brennivín. Open from 9:00-18:00.

Finish your tour of the Snæfellsnes peninsula in...


Boats in the harbor at Stykkishólmur

Stykkishólmur is the largest town on the peninsula and gateway to the Westfjords via ferry route. You will also find several good options to spend the night, have a meal, or visit the Volcano museum while you’re in town. 

Continuing to the Westfjords

You can extend your dive by continuing north to the Westfjords, one of the more remote and dramatic areas of the country. You can take the ferry fromStykkishólmur (In the Winter there is only 1 ferry a day at 15:00, none on Saturdays). You can also drive around the coast if your times don't match up wth the ferry schedule (about 15 minutes longer than the ferry). 

Continue here to read about the best sights and stops of the Westfjords.