Earlier this week we covered a few of the main highlights when visiting Iceland’s Snæfellsnes peninsula. Kirkjufell mountain, Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall, Snæfellsnes National Park, and Snæfellsjökull glacier are some of the more well-known, popular attractions in this part of West Iceland. But they’re not the whole story. There’s plenty more to see and do in the area known as “Iceland in miniature” or “Iceland in a nutshell”. Much like the rest of the country, volcanic activity and sea erosion along with glacier movements have shaped the stunning landscape. The result is a varied and captivating mix of natural wonders. And let’s not forget those quaint, old-fashioned little fishing villages that are oh-so-Icelandic. When you only visit the main sites, you miss a lot of the character and charm of a country. Let’s get off the beaten path and see what else there is to explore in the Snæfellsnes peninsula.
Due to the zone’s proximity to Reykjavik, it makes a perfect choice for a day trip from Iceland’s capital. You can reach the majority of the attractions listed below by driving around the Snæfellsnes peninsula using Route 54 and Route 574. I put them in chronological order going clockwise around the peninsula after you reach Bogarnes. To get to this starting point, you simply drive north out of Reykjavik on Route 1 (Iceland’s Ring Road). There will be a roundabout that connects Route 1 to the westward bound Route 54. You will also see Route 54 called Snæfellsnesvegur or “Snæfellsnes road”. Are you ready for volcanic craters, tiny fishing villages, black pebble beaches, and steep cliffs made entirely of volcanic basalt rock? Then let’s go.
Eldborg Volcanic Crater
One of the cool things about Iceland is the sheer number of volcanoes. This island the size of Kentucky (roughly half the size of the UK) has around 30 active volcano systems. Can you believe it? All of this volcanic activity has left the country with a pretty cool legacy from Mother Nature. One of these natural jewels is the Eldborg crater. Rising 60 meters (200 feet) above the surrounding lava fields, this former mountain has the unique feature of being a nearly perfect circle. The volcanic event that caused this crater took place 5,000 to 6,000 years ago and lucky for us the volcano is now dormant. It takes about 30-40 minutes to walk here after parking your car at Snorrastaðir farm, but the cool thing is that you can go all the way to the top and peer over the edge.
Driving directions: After passing Borgarnes on Route 54, it’s about another 25 minutes to reach Snorrastaðir farm. Find a parking spot and then walk to the crater.
Landbrotalaug Geothermal Pool
This tiny geothermal pool located behind an abandoned farm is so small that it only fits two or three people. If you’re looking for something truly off the beaten path in Iceland (and perhaps a little romantic), try coming here. It’s in the middle of nowhere, and there are no signs, so it’s a bit difficult to find the hidden hot pot. This secret location is about 5 minutes up the road from Eldborg. If you succeed in your little Icelandic treasure hunt, you’ll be rewarded with a nice warm dip in 35 to 40 ºC (95 to 104 ºF) water.
Gerðuberg Cliffs and Basalt Columns
When driving in Iceland on the Snæfellsnes peninsula, you may be surprised at many things you see out of your car window. The basalt column cliffs at Gerðuberg are sure to be one of them. These steep, horizontal, hexagonal columns look like they’re man-made, but they are anything but. The unique chemical properties of dried volcanic rock that has quickly cooled cause it to take this unusually geometric shape. You can see the basalt columns of the cliffs as you’re driving, so find a parking spot that doesn’t block the road, get out of your vehicle, and explore.
Driving directions: Continue following Route 54 after you leave the Eldborg crater and Snorrastaðir farm. It’s just a short ways away, and there are also signs. You can spot the sheer cliff wall from the road, so it’s pretty hard to miss.
Rauðfeldargjá (Red-Fur Canyon)
This narrow ravine bears a name that is borrowed from the Icelandic saga Bárðar saga Snæfellsás. The action of the macabre yet fascinating story supposedly took place here. It goes something like this: There was once a man named Bárður who had two particularly naughty nephews named Rauðfeldur (Red-fur) and Sölvi. One day the two lads decided to get up to no good and put their poor cousin (Bárður’s daughter) on an iceberg and sent her out to sea. She eventually floated to Greenland, but because GPS tracking didn’t exist back then, he assumed she was lost forever. Like many angry fathers who want revenge, Bárður took matters into his own hands. He tossed Rauðfeldur into the ravine (which now bears his name), and Sölvi was thrown off a cliff.
Despite the gory basis for the name, this canyon is actually quite lovely and picturesque. There’s a peaceful little stream and a hidden waterfall.
Driving directions: Another optional stop on your Snæfellsnes peninsula itinerary is the Lýsuhólslaug swimming pool. It’s more frequented and more well-known than Landbrotalaug and is about half an hour from the Gerðuberg cliffs on Route 54. Once you pass Landbrotalaug, it’s another 15 or 20 minutes to the turn onto Útnesvegur (Route 574). Make a right onto this road and shortly before you get to the fishing Village of Arnarstapi, you’ll see a sign of where to turn and park your car.
The Charming Fishing Village of Arnarstapi
Our last stop of the day is Arnarstapi fishing village. If you’re breaking up your exploration of Snaefellsnes peninsula into two days rather than taking a day trip, this is the perfect place to stop. It rests just below Snæfellsjökull glacier and has a few nearby points of interest. This locale is relatively low key in the winter but fills up in the summer with fishermen casting their nets and Arctic terns looking to nest. The harbor has some unusual rock formations to check out while strolling. Nearby is a gigantic sculpture of Bárður Snæfellsás, the half-troll by multi-medium contemporary Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson.
Driving directions: Keep going west on Route 574. You’ll turn left, and there will be a sign for Arnarstapi.
Off The Beaten Path Attractions in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula – Part 1
As you can tell, there’s a lot to see and do on the Snæfellsnes peninsula. We recommend spending two days driving around here if you truly want to explore the area in depth and get to know it. You can tick all of the boxes on your Iceland itinerary (icy glaciers, flowing waterfalls, picture-perfect mountains, black lava fields, volcanic beaches, geothermal bathing) all while spending time in a place that not all travelers take the time to visit. Regardless of what you do, you surely will not be bored.