Travelling in Iceland is a life changing experience. I’ll never forget the fabulous landscapes that I saw during the 12 days I spent there in September 2018, the stunning beauty of the wild nature and the recurrent feeling of being in a different world. The best way to enjoy your visit in Iceland would be going on a road trip, especially in summer when the daylight is longer. This is the last of 4 articles describing you a 9-day itinerary around the country with some advice for cheap accommodation if you’re not willing to go camping.
For the last couple of days of this trip, let’s head to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, a few hours North of Reykjavik. It is often described as a small version of Iceland as it features pretty much everything that makes the country so beautiful: a stunning coast, black sand beaches, waterfalls and even a glacier! Bonus: at the end of this article, I’ll also introduce you to some of the most interesting spots of Reykjavik.
📷 For more pictures have a look at my gallery about the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.
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Warning: I did this road trip in September 2018 with mostly good weather, low wind and long daylight. Always check the weather forecast and the driving conditions before travelling in Iceland and adapt your itinerary if needed. Remember also that daylight is reduced to less than 5 hours in the middle of winter and that you won’t be able to do as much as in summer.
This article begins in Akureyri with a long drive to Stykkishólmur on the North coast of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and ends in Reykjavik the day after. But what is described here as the last part of an entire itinerary around the country could also be a return trip from the capital of Iceland if you’re limited in time.
Day 8: driving to Stykkishólmur (Akureyri- Stykkishólmur)
If you’re coming from Akureyri, get ready for a very long drive. Not so much because of the distance (350km), but because of the road condition. The first 3 hours are perfectly fine as you’ll just be following Route 1 but this main road doesn’t serve the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and goes straight to Reykjavik so after 225km you’ll have to turn right on road 68 then shortly after turn left on road 59. From there, most of the remaining drive until Stykkishólmur will be on dirt roads. If the weather is fine, they are perfectly accessible with regular cars and you won’t need a 4WD, but you’ll have to drive a bit slower and be more careful.
At the end of road 59, turn left for a few kilometers of asphalt on road 60 before turning right on road 54, the beginning of the Peninsula. The next 65 km are unsealed which is very long and a bit exhausting, but at least the landscape is really beautiful (see the pictures of the coast below). Finally, the very last part until Stykkishólmur is sealed again, as is the entire Peninsula so don’t worry, from now on you won’t have to drive on such a terrain anymore!
If you’re coming from Reykjavik, you won’t have this kind of problem. After heading North on Route 1, turn left on road 54 in Borgarnes then after 60 km, turn right on road 56 going across the Peninsula in the direction of Stykkishólmur. The entire trip will be on perfectly maintained sealed roads and shouldn’t exceed two and a half hours. For people coming from Akureyri, if you really don’t want to drive on dirt roads you can stay on Route 1 until Borgarnes but that would be a huge detour.
Stykkishólmur is one of the most beautiful villages of Iceland. It’s hard for me to decide whether I prefer this one or Seyðisfjörður on the East Coast. Actually they have something in common: they are both featured in the movie “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”… even if in the case of Stykkishólmur the action is supposed to take place in Greenland! If you saw the movie, you probably remember that scene where Ben Stiller arrives in a karaoke bar and eventually jumps into a helicopter; that’s the harbour of Stykkishólmur, and not Nuuk as said in the movie.
You don’t need to watch the movie to enjoy the beauty of the village though. The harbour is quite big, with many little boats and cliffs on the other side, and the houses all have these bright colours characteristic of the Nordic countries.
Where to stay? The Harbour Hostel in Stykkishólmur is probably the cosiest place I stayed at in Iceland. As the name suggests, it is ideally located directly next to the harbour and the atmosphere of the common areas on the ground floor and in the basement is really warm and welcoming, with retro furniture, comfortable couches and even a piano. Don’t miss this gem! Prices start from 3290 crowns (24€/27$) for a night in a 12-bed dorm.
Day 9: exploring the Peninsula (Stykkishólmur-Reykjavik)
After a good night of sleep, head west on road 54. You’ll soon be driving through an ancient lava field named Berserkjahraun formed by an eruption 3,000 or 4,000 years ago. During this time, the black lava rocks have slowly been covered by soil and moss and the entire area looks now very soft and fragile.
A few kilometers further, just after the village of Grundarfjörður, you’ll reach Kirkjufell, one of the icons of Iceland. It is said that this mountain (literally named “Church Mountain”) is the most photographed of the country… and it’s not hard to believe considering its isolated location next to the ocean, its very particular shape and the gorgeous landscape formed by the mountain and the little waterfall named Kirkjufellfoss nearby.
After Kirkjufell, road 54 turns off to the South and you’ll need to head towards Olafsvík and Hellissandur on road 574. You’ll follow a beautiful coast with black sand beaches to your right, while you might see the glacier of Snæfellsjökull to your left… but it’s often hidden behind clouds, as it was that day for me.
The extremity of the Peninsula is home to the Snæfellsjökull National Park. Among the different attractions located in the National Park, I’d just like to point out Saxhóll crater, a beautiful and easily accessible volcanic crater. You can climb to its summit via stairs on the side to enjoy a really nice view over the surroundings. The road in this area is really gorgeous, in the middle of a stunning landscape.
On the South-West edge of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, you’ll find the giant basalt rocks of Lóndrangar, remains of an eroded crater. Nearby, the lighthouse of Malarrif dominates a beautiful coast of black lava rocks; once again, the landscape is amazing.
After so many attractions since Stykkishólmur, you might find it hard to believe but the best is yet to come! A few kilometers after Lóndrangar, turn right to the village of Hellnar. Enjoy the sight of the beautiful red and white traditional church on the way then go down to the beach at the end of the road to admire a natural arch above you.
To the left begins one of the most beautiful coastal walks of Iceland, between Hellnar and Arnastapi. It takes about 45 minutes to one hour one way with gorgeous views over the South coast of the Peninsula and colourful houses. The highlight of the walk is the natural arch of Gatklettur, close to Arnastapi.
There would be a lot of other things to see in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula but it would take at least an entire extra day. For now it’s already time to head back to Reykjavik, after another scenic drive following the South coast and its natural wonders like this waterfall on the left. Tip on your way back: if you have enough time, 25km after Borgarnes turn left on road 47 to drive around the fjord of Hvalfjörður instead of following Route 1 which goes on a tunnel below the fjord. It’s quite a big detour but on a really nice road.
Where to stay? I tried two different hostels in Reykjavik: the Bus Hostel that I found really disappointing and wouldn’t recommend, and Hlemmur Square which was much nicer. You’ll find hostel dorms (prices start from 3900 crowns/28€/32$) and high standard hotel rooms on the upper floor. There’s a bar/restaurant on the ground floor, with a huge and delicious buffet for breakfast in the morning (for an extra 1500 crowns/11€/12$).
Bonus: the must-sees of Reykjavik
With less than 130,000 people living there (220,000 in the Great Reykjavik), the capital of Iceland is a city that you can easily explore in one day. It’s an extremely touristy area: the number of gift stores is absolutely crazy. You’ll be spoilt for choice if you’re looking for a present to bring back home. Here are some of the must-sees of Reykjavik:
The church of Reykjavik, built by the same architect (Guðjón Samúelsson) who was in charge of the church of Akureyri (Akureyrarkirkja). Erected on top of a hill overlooking the city, this giant structure is impossible to miss! Have a look inside as well to see the huge and beautiful organ.
Harpa, the second most iconic building of Reykjavik, can be found directly next to the harbour but isn’t related at all to the ocean nearby. This architectural masterpiece is actually used as a concert hall or conference centre. Take some time to admire its extraordinary facade (inspired from basalt columns that can be found everywhere around Iceland).
The Sun Voyager
A few hundred meters from Harpa along the waterfront, have a look at this beautiful sculpture which made me think of a viking ship but also of a whale. It is actually described as a dream boat or an ode to the sun. With the ocean just behind it, it provides great opportunities for pictures.
Colourful houses and street art
Reykjavik is a modern place but like traditional villages around Iceland, there are a lot of lovely colourful houses in different parts of the city. In my opinion, the best way to see them is to walk randomly between streets and suburbs, keeping your eyes wide open to make sure you won’t miss any beautiful building… or any mural, as street art is quite developed here. Try to find the few spots around Reykjavik where hearts have been painted directly on the street, it looks really nice!
Restaurants and food
Reykjavik is certainly the best place of Iceland to try traditional food. Among the many available options, I can recommend these two that I personally tried:
- Icelandic Street FoodIcelandic Street Food, located on Lækjargata, is (quoting their website) “the first fast food concept in Iceland with traditional Icelandic food. […] It’s a family owned business with recipes made from my grandmother”. Well, even if the menu is really limited (fish stew called the “fisherman’s favorite” and lamb or shellfish soup), the grandma did a great job because it tastes delicious! Even better, once you finish your soup (served directly inside a big piece of bread) you can get a refill and icing on the cake, you can help yourself to free pastries left on trays in the (tiny) restaurant. A touristy place (don’t go too late if you want to find a seat) but definitely worth a visit!
- Salka Valka is located very close to Hallgrímskirkja, on Skólavörðustígur. It’s all about fish in this warm and cosy restaurant! Don’t miss their signature dish, the traditional “Plokkfiskur” which consists of haddock and cod mixed with potatoes, onions, spices and herbs, topped with bearnaise sauce and served with sweet potatoes, basmati rice, broccoli and delicious “rúgbrauð” (Icelandic sweet bread). Yummy! (Pictures below by Wendy Haspot)
So, when is your next trip to Iceland? Let me know in the comments or share your previous experience! Thank you.
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