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Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

Visit Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

On a clear day, you can see the icy peak of Snæfellsjökull from central Reykjavík. A glistening glacier caps this stratovolcano on the easily accessible Snæfellsnes Peninsula, a region of deep fjords, bleak lava fields and sandy beaches about a two-hour drive from the capital. Jules Verne was so smitten by the primal landscape he set his science-fiction novel Journey to the Centre of the Earth here. Today, its proximity to Reykjavík, diverse scenery, impressive hiking, glacier tours and whale watching make it a place to experience many of Iceland’s most renowned attractions.

StykkishólmurStykkishólmur is the largest town on the peninsula, which stretches out for 100 kms (60 miles). A fishing village set around a natural port, its brightly painted, 19th-century buildings give a traditional backdrop to its futuristic church. Known as Stykkishólmskirkja, the church’s bell tower is designed to look like a giant whale vertebra.

The town’s small museum, Norska Húsið, chronicles local life over the centuries. The upper floor of the building is laid out as a private residence would have been in the 19th century.

Nearby, the Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum is also a worthy stop. Watch a short video to learn how to make the local delicacy known as hákarl — a dish made from shark meat that’s been fermented and then hung to dry. You can also visit the drying house where shark is cured, and if you’re interested, try a few bites along with a serving of rye bread.

The town acts as the commercial and transport hub for the region, but the area’s biggest landmark is the Snæfellsjökull volcano and its ice cap. It is here that Jules Verne’s protagonists venture into the heart of the crater guided by a 16th-century Icelandic text. The mountain is just as impressive in real life — the volcano’s enormous throat is filled with ice that extends well beyond the peak, like a generous dollop of icing. Conditions can be hazardous, so the only way to go up onto the glacier is on a guided tour.

The glacier and surrounding lava fields sit at the western tip of Snæfellsnes Peninsula and are part of the Snæfellsjökull National Park. In addition to taking tours of the glacier, you can hike the lower regions of the park independently and visit the lava fields and lava tubes.

Formed 8,000 years ago, the Vatnshellir lava cave descends deep into the rock. To explore, you follow a guide down into the eerie subterranean world on a spiral staircase, hearing about the science behind the formation of the cave as well as the folklore attached to it. You’ll also get to see the cave in complete darkness when everyone turns off their flashlights.

The park is crisscrossed by paths — those along the coast offer good birdwatching opportunities and you’re likely to see playful puffins on the sea cliffs.

Boat trips from Stykkishólmur (located an hour east of the park) head for the islands of Þórishólmur and Steinaklettar, which also host large numbers of puffins between May and August.

Orca, Snæfellsnes Peninsula This coastal region is also a prime spot for whale watching. Herring use local fjords as their winter feeding grounds and orcas follow in large numbers. A boat trip between late winter and early summer offers the best chance of seeing these apex predators, although white-beaked dolphins, minke whales and humpbacks can be seen year-round. You’re most likely to see sperm whales in May and June.

One of the most photographed sights in the region, and in Iceland, however, is the distinctive conical peak of Kirkjufell (Church Mountain) on the north coast of the peninsula. Its symmetrical cone is fronted by Kirkjufellsfoss, a nearby waterfall, making an arresting tableau that’s appeared in Game of Thrones and countless social media posts.

On the south coast, you’ll find unusual rock formations and black lava pebbles on Djúpalón Beach. You might also test your mettle (carefully) by trying to pick up the beach’s four well-known steintökin — natural ‘lifting stones’ of different weights that were traditionally used to gauge the strength of aspiring fishermen. The smallest is Amloði (Bungler), which weighs in at 23 kg (50 lbs) and the largest is Fullsterker (Fully Strong), which is a whopping 154 kg (340 lbs).

Also worth visiting is Rauðfeldsgjá canyon, a cleft in a large stone that’s located just a short, uphill hike from the road. As you get closer, you’ll be able to make out the small shallow stream that burbles out of a fissure in the dark rock face. Walking on stones and splashing through the water, you can follow the stream deep into the heart of the rock, where you’ll discover a hidden mossy grotto.

The peninsula is also home to Ytri Tunga, Iceland’s only yellow-sand beach. During the summer months, you might get to see a colony of seals basking on the beach’s seaweed-covered rocks.

Best time to visit Snæfellsnes Peninsula

The Snæfellsnes Peninsula makes a good destination year-round. Visit between May and August to see puffins, between July and September to go hiking on the Snæfellsjökull glacier, or between December and April for the best chance of seeing orcas in the surrounding waters.

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Audley Travel specialist Laura

Start planning your tailor-made trip to Snæfellsnes Peninsula by calling one of our Iceland specialists on 01993 838 431

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