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  • Writer's pictureEinar Páll Svavarsson

Snæfellsnes Peninsula self-drive road trip from Reykjavík

Updated: Jul 11

Arnarstapi basalt column shoreline at Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Arnarstapi basalt column shoreline to Hellnar at Snæfellsnes Peninsula ©Emstrursf.

Suppose you are looking for an exciting drive, a short road trip, or a tour in Iceland where you can comfortably drive and see the magnificent landscapes and beautiful natural wonders, astonishing small villages, and places with entertaining stories. In that case, the Snæfellsnes Peninsula Drive is an excellent option. Especially if you have your own car, ccamper, or a rental car, before you start. For a better understanding of what kind of car fits you tour make sure you read my extensive article about choosing the right car in Iceland. It is quite possible to take the Snæfellsnes Peninsula drive in a day, but you have to ask yourself, "am I really in a hurry when traveling?" I cannot suggest or advise such a rush as I always encourage people to enjoy the landscapes and the various natural wonders and appreciate the stories and folklore that have developed for centuries. If you stay in Reykjavík, the whole drive is approximately 500 kilometers or 310 miles. The area you cover has a good cell phone cover and is never specifically remote. It is a scenic drive by the shoreline with a spectacular view of mountains and a beautiful glacier.

Self drive map for Snæfellsnes Peninsula in Iceland
Self drive map for Snæfellsnes Peninsula in Iceland- Click to expand

Enjoy the drive and inhale the natural wonders

Driving the Snæfellsnes Peninsula with Snæfellsjökull glacier in the background
Driving the Snæfellsnes Peninsula with Snæfellsjökull glacier in the background ©Emstrursf.

To get the most out of your drive, we recommend three days and two nights to enjoy the awesome Snæfellsnes Peninsula. The drive is both scenic and a place where you can find many impressive natural wonders. The Snæfellsnes Peninsula, located in the West Region of Iceland, also has interesting and beautiful small towns and villages with excellent accommodations, camping sites, cafés, and restaurants. Some also offer interesting tours and activities. Our tour begins and ends in Borgarnes town in the West Region, which is only 70 kilometers, 45 miles, from Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland. It is a road by the intersection of Road nr 1 (the Ring Road) and Road nr. 54. What I have in mind here is that you don't take the same way back when you finish the drive and can see new things all through your drive.

What you will see

Snæfellsnes Peninsula a view from Snæfellsjökull glacier
Snæfellsnes Peninsula a view from Snæfellsjökull glacier ©Emstrursf.

Driving on this tour around the Snæfellsnes Peninsula on Road Nr. 54, you will see a large crater, fields of lava, waterfalls, basalt columns, stacks and pillars by the shoreline, ravines with strange stories attached to them, and places from stories in the Sagas that happened over a thousand years ago. You will also see Snæfellsjökull, the Snæfellsnes glacier. It is a remarkable journey through landscape and history. In addition, you will visit some beautiful towns and villages and experience a scenic drive with spectacular mountains.

The roads, your car, and the best time of the year to take this tour drive

Spectacular rock formation and shoreline by Hellnar small hamlet
Spectacular rock formation and shoreline by Hellnar small hamlet ©Emstrursf.

This is a trip that you can take at any time during the year, although the most exciting and straightforward time is from the middle of May until the end of September. Regarding seasons, you can fill in some valuable information by reading my comprehensive article about the best time to visit Iceland. The colors of summer also make the lava moss and vegetation very beautiful, giving you a much more enjoyable experience. But experiencing Iceland in the autumn and winter is also quite interesting. Any car, small or large, can be used for this drive as the roads are almost all excellent asphalt roads except for a part on the Northeast part of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula that only has a gravel road. In winter, it is always better and more secure to have a car with a front-wheel drive or preferably a four-wheel drive since they are more stable when the roads are icy and slippery.

First day from Borgarnes to Arnarstapi

Hiking up to the top of Eldborg crater
Hiking up to the top of Eldborg crater ©Emstrursf.

When you drive through the town of Borgarnes heading north, you turn to your left on a roundabout at the edge of this small town to Road Nr. 54 Snæfellsnesvegur or The Snæfellsnes Road. At first, you drive on a lowland area called Mýrar with the whole Snæfellsnes peninsula in front of you with its many mountains and the glacier Snæfellsjökull quite visible at the far end. After a 20-kilometer drive, 13 miles, you will start to notice a large crater in front of you, standing alone on the lowland and dominating the view. This is Eldborg Crater, which you can read about in more detail here, your first stop. To access the walking trail to Eldborg, you turn left approximately 35 kilometers, 22 miles, to Road Nr. 5610 to a farm called Snorrastaðir. From the parking lot, you take the 3-kilometer hike, 2 miles.

Gerðuberg basalt column cliff
Gerðuberg basalt column cliff ©Emstrursf.

When you continue on Road Nr. 54. After the hiking tour to Eldborg, you only drive a few kilometers when you reach the short path to Gerðuberg, which you can read about in more detail here. This is a spectacular cliff with a fascinating geological formation of basalt columns. The basalt columns are so regular and so even that you would almost think this is man-made instead of made by Mother Nature. This should be your second stop, and you can drive to a parking lot by the cliffs.

Bjarnarfoss waterfall
Bjarnarfoss waterfall ©Emstrursf.

From Gerðuberg cliffs to your next and third recommended stop, Bjarnarfoss waterfall, which you can read about in more detail here, is approximately 55 kilometers, 35 miles. This is an incredibly scenic drive on a clear day since there are beautiful mountains on your right side and the glacier Snæfellsjökull at the end of the peninsula in front of you. You will also drive by stunning small ponds. Bjarnarfoss is an impressive waterfall with a spectacular small layer of basalt column cliff. There is a good parking lot beside the road and an easy and enjoyable path to the waterfall by the small spring-fed river.

The famous black church at Búðir
The famous black church at Búðir ©Emstrursf.

From Bjarnarfoss, you turn towards Road Nr. 574 and take another turn to your left to Road Nr. 5723 to Búðir. From the parking lot at Búðir, there is a beautiful hike by the shoreline. You only need to walk about 500 meters -1.5 kilometers or a mile to enjoy this part of Snæfellsnes. It is a delightful walk where the rush is not required, but leave the sandals in the car as this is mostly walking in the sand. You should wear your hiking shoes, like in most places in Iceland.

Rauðfeldsgjá ravine
Rauðfeldsgjá ravine ©Emstrursf.

After Búðir, I recommend a visit to Rauðfeldsgjá, which you can read about in more detail here, a stunning ravine with an intriguing story dating back over a thousand years. Bárður Snæfellsás, a prominent character in the tale, is said to have played a significant role in the area's history. To reach Rauðfeldsgjá, you must travel a few kilometers on Road nr. 574 from Búðir. I suggest reading the fascinating story about Rauðfeldsgjá and the information on Bárður Snæfellsás, both of which can be found at the link above.

Arnarstapi small hamlet
Arnarstapi small hamlet ©Emstrursf.

If you prefer to dine at a restaurant, you should consider the excellent restaurant at the Hotel Búðir. From Búðir, you drive approximately 20 kilometers, 12 miles, to the west on Road Nr.574 to Arnarstapi, which you can read about in more detail here. Arnarstapi and the nearby village or hamlet Hellnar are excellent places to stay in addition to the Hotel at Búðir. Many places in the neighborhood offer affordable accommodations, and there is also a beautiful and convenient camping area at Arnarstapi. This should wrap up your first day at the Snæfellsnes Peninsula drive.

Second day Snæfellsnes road trip Arnarstapi to Grundarfjörður

Bárður Snæfellsás the troll settler
Bárður Snæfellsás the troll settler ©Emstrursf.

You should begin your day early by taking the spectacular 2.5-kilometer hiking trail from the small harbor at Arnarstapi to Hellnar. It is an excellent marked trail by the shoreline, filled with unusual geological formations and lovely birdlife. In contrast to the coastline, you have the excellent Snæfellsjökull glacier and the mountain Stapafell on your right or north. If you take this track, you probably have to walk the same way back to Arnarstapi, but it is entirely worth it. At Arnarstapi, you should salute the statue of the mysterious person and troll Bárður Snæfellsás, which you can read about in a separate article. Bárður is a historical person who had quite an impact on the surrounding area. His story is hilarious and kind of sad at the same time, as part of the Icelandic Sagas. Even though he came to Iceland more than one thousand years ago, he still lives on the slope of the glacier Snæfellsjökull, and his presence is felt by many people who live there.

Lóndrangar sea stacks
Lóndrangar sea stacks ©Emstrursf.

From Arnarstapi, you continue west on Road Nr. 574 to Lóndrangar which you can read about in a separate article. Although the stacks are pretty impressive and visible from the road viewing panel at Þúfubjarg, I recommend driving a bit farther, taking the left turn after a short distance to Malarrif, and walking the one-kilometer walk by the shore to the stacks. It is a more impressive view and also more interesting for photographing. After a few minutes drive from Malarrif, you will find a small cabin on the right side of the road selling tours down to the deep cave Vatnshellir (Water Cave) on your right side. You can take a guided tour with stunning formations deep under the dark lava.

Djúpalónssandur ©Emstrursf.

As you continue from the Vatnshellir Cave, you turn left on Road Nr. 575 to the parking lot by Djúpalónssandur, which you can read about in a separate article in more detail here and Dritvík. Both are beautiful places to visit and have fascinating histories that go back to the first settlement in Iceland. Although the walk or short hike to Dritvík takes about an hour and a half back and forth, it is an enjoyable scenic hike with stunning stack formations along the way. Both places are ideal for photography, especially on a bright day when the glacier Snæfellsjökull is visible in the background.

Dritvík cove
Dritvík cove ©Emstrursf.

After Djúpalónssandur and Dritvík which you can read about in a separate article in more detail here, you continue on Road Nr. 574. After a short drive, you will see a small crater, Saxhóll, on your left side. This is ideal for a short stop and a walk up to the top. A good view of the shoreline and the glacier is from the top of the crater. From Saxhóll crater, you turn to Öndverðarnes, the westernmost point at Snæfellsnes Peninsula. The road is a dirt road and bit difficult and worse than a regular gravel road, but along the way, you can visit Skarðsvík which you can read about in a separate article beach and Svörtuloft which you can also read about in a separate article in more detail here cliffs, an excellent addition to the tour but a bit of a loop that takes about one and a half hours with all the stops. The cliffs at Svörtuloft display fantastic lava structures shaped by the Atlantic ocean's mighty force.

Svörtuloft ©Emstrursf.

When you approach the northern side of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, your journey is more like a scenic drive, and you'll visit small towns and villages rather than view natural wonders. The first stop is in the two small villages of Hellisandur and Rif. At Hellisandur, there is an excellent opportunity to visit the Maritime Museum in the Fishermen's Garden. It is an excellent opportunity to understand the hardship it took to live in Iceland only a few centuries ago. It is also a good idea to walk the village of Hellisandur by the shore from the parking lot at the Maritime Museum.

When you drive towards Rif, the twin village, you should take a turn on Road Nr. 5738 to the church Inngjaldhólsskirkja that some folklore claim was visited by Cristoper Coluomus, and you can read about it in a separate article. Here you have a good view of the magnificent surroundings in a place called “Under the Glacier.” At Hellissandur, you should stop at Gilbakki Café and taste their fabulous fish soup. The owner is a dear friend of mine and Gunna, my wife, and we have known her since childhood. Her husband built the house a few years ago, and he also provides fresh fish for the fish soup from his daily fishing tour to the Breiðafjörður Bay. Here is an interview with Lúlli about their life at Snæfellsnes peninsula.

One of the best cafés in Iceland is located at Rif village - Gilbakki
One of the best cafés in Iceland is located at Rif village - Gilbakki - Sitting outside with the owners, my wife Gunna, and my granddaughter Yrsa. ©Emstrursf.

From Rif village, you drive to the junction of Svöðufoss which you can read about in a separate article, turn right, and head on to the parking lot. A short hike from the parking lot to the beautiful waterfall Svöðufoss and the small basalt column cliffs within the fall. Next, you drive to the friendly town of Ólafsvík, a beautiful small fishing town with old houses and a small harbor. Walking from the town up to the slopes and having a good view over the shoreline is worth walking. After that stop, you continue to Grundarfjörður town, where you should find accommodation or stay at the campsite. Since it is only about 20-kilometer drive from the town of Grundarfjörður to the town of Ólafsvík, you can also find suitable accommodation at Ólafsvík, and the Camp Site in Ólafsvík is relatively new and among the best in Iceland.

Third day: Grundarfjörður - Borgarnes

Mt. Kirkjufell seen from the church in the town Grundarfjörður
Mt. Kirkjufell seen from the church in the town Grundarfjörður ©Emstrursf.

A great beginning on your third day is to walk from Grundarfjörður, a parking lot at the center, or from the camping site to Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall and photograph and view the waterfall and the mountain, Kirkjufell which you can read about in a separate article. You can also drive the short distance back on Road nr. 54 and park by the waterfall; the walk from the town is highly recommended. The mountain is probably one of the most renowned mountains in Iceland, and few mountains in Iceland are photographed more than Kirkjufell not surprising as it is one of the most beautiful mountains in Iceland.

The famous Kirkjufellsfoss and Mt. Kirkjufell
The famous Kirkjufellsfoss and Mt. Kirkjufell ©Emstrursf.

From Grundarfjörður village, you continue on Road Nr. 54 Snæfellsvegur to the east. After you pass the bridge over the fjord Hraunsfjörður (Lavafjord), you take a turn after a two-and-a-half-kilometer drive to a gravel road, Berserkjahraunsvegur Road Nr. 558, to view Berserkjahraun lava field. You continue on that road for about 1.7 kilometers, a mile, and take a left turn that takes you to the edge and over the lava back to Road Nr. 54, this unusual loop gives you a great view of the lava. The name comes from the Sagas (Eyrbyggja), and you should also read Berserkirnir in Berserkjahraun which you can read about in a separate article. When you have returned to Road Nr. 54, you continue west to one of Iceland's most beautiful and exciting towns, Stykkishólmur.

You should begin your arrival to Stykkishólmur with a tour with Sæferðir to sail around the many islands in the large fjord, Breiðafjörður. The Vikingsushi Adventure is highly recommended. Sometimes, on the boat tour, you can spot the white-tailed eagle. After the boat tour, you should walk around the town, preferably up to the little lighthouse on the island beside the harbor now attached to the land. The views from the lighthouse and the top of the island are spectacular in all directions.

Stykkishólmur town in Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Stykkishólmur town in Snæfellsnes Peninsula ©Emstrursf.

From Stykkishólmur, I recommend stopping by the mountain of Helgafell, a small mountain in Iceland famous for its mystic powers. According to Eyrbyggja written in the 13th-century, Þorsteinn Þorskabítur drowned near Stykkishólmur in 938 and entered the mountain, where he has resided ever since. His father, Þórólfur Mostrarskegg, had already moved in.  Both of them were followers and good friends of Þór (Thor), the Pagan god who still visits them quite often. If you are visiting Helgafell for the first time, you are eligible to make three wishes. First, you need to go to the graveyard by the church and find the grave of Guðrún Ósvífursdóttir, who was buried there in the year 1000. To log in to the wishing process, make a sign of the cross over her grave.

The grave of Guðrún Ósvífursdóttir at Mt. Helgafell
The grave of Guðrún Ósvífursdóttir

While Guðrún is believed to have lived in the mountain with the Pagan father and son, she was a Christian. To make your wishes, walk up to the top of the mountain in complete silence, without looking left, right, or back. Once you reach the top, enter the stone fence, look east, and present your three wishes. After that, you can look around and talk. 

To make your wishes, walk up to the top of the mountain in complete silence, without looking left, right, or back.
To make your wishes, walk up to the top of the mountain in complete silence, without looking left, right, or back.

From Helgafell, you continue on Road Nr. 54 to the east. Mind you, this part of the road is gravel and harder to drive for those not used to gravel roads. You have to drive a bit slower and take care. On the other hand, this is quite a scenic drive with an excellent view of the large fjord Breiðafjörður and all the islands.

The white-tailed eagle is the largest bird in Iceland
The white-tailed eagle is the largest bird in Iceland ©Emstrursf.

When you reach the intersection of Road Nr. 60 that takes you back to Road Nr. 1, where your drive began; you should continue for the moment, then take a right turn after a few hundred meters on Road Nr. 586 to Eiríksstaðir. At Eiríksstaðir is a small museum on the farm where the Viking Erik the Red lived before heading to the west, eventually making it possible for his son, the Viking Leif the Lucky, to find America. You should visit the museum and learn the story of the Viking Erik the Red and Leif the Lucky.

Berserkjahraun lava field, famous in the Sagas
Berserkjahraun lava field, famous in the Sagas ©Emstrursf.

After learning about this story from the days of settlement in Iceland, you drive back to Road Nr. 60 and head south. You will eventually come to Road Nr. 1, which will take you to Borgarfjörður and Reykjavík. On your way to Borgarfjörður, you should take the opportunity and walk on top of the small mountain Grábrók and also visit the waterfall Glanni.

A view to Haukadalur valley where Eric the Red lived
A view to Haukadalur valley where Eric the Red lived ©Emstrursf.

I am confident this is an excellent plan to see and explore the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. This plan will give you a good insight into life in Iceland throughout the centuries and a good view of some of the spectacular natural wonders in Snæfellsnes.

If you're planning to tour Iceland in a rental car, make sure to read this article about the type of car that would be best for your trip.


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