How to Have a Stunning Snæfellsnes Peninsula Day Trip
When we booked our Iceland holiday, we did lots of reading and research and noticed that there were some beautiful sights in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. It was our first time visiting Iceland and we weren’t sure whether we’d be able to fit a Snaefellsnes Peninsula day trip with the kids into our already packed 6-day Iceland road trip.
It doesn’t look that far from Reykjavik on the map, but we weren’t sure how good the roads would be in late October. There are some things you need to know about Iceland before you go. Other things you just find out for yourselves!
What we finally decided is that we would do a ‘light Snaefellsnes Peninsula tour’. This meant that we wouldn’t visit Snaefellsnes National Park itself, but knowing what we know now, we’ll do that next time we visit.
Where is the Snaefellsnes Peninsula?
The Snaefellsnes Peninsula is in western Iceland, about 150km north of Reykjavik. It has some of the most dramatic landscape in Iceland and is home to perhaps the most iconic (and most photographed) mountain in Iceland, Kirkjufell. If you have time (and we would recommend staying in the area for this), you can visit the Snaefellsnes National Park. It’s just too much to include on a day trip from Reykjavik with kids though.
Our Snæfellsnes Peninsula Day Trip from Reykjavik
This is the route we took. You start your drive by taking the Iceland Ring Road north out of Reykjavik until you hit Borgarnes. From Borgarnes, you take the I54 which takes you on a loop of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, avoiding the national park. The round-trip from Reykjavik is about 400 km. You need to remember that Iceland in winter has much fewer daylight hours than Iceland in summer and you need to factor this in. It’s not much fun driving in a foreign country in the winter in the dark.
We set off in the morning and the sun hadn’t quite risen yet at 8.30 am. There were beautiful views back over Reykjavik as the sun came up and bathed the city in light. We decided to hire a car in Iceland because it gave us more flexibility, especially with the kids. It’s also something we recommend doing to make Iceland a more budget-friendly holiday.
We drove past fields of Icelandic horses, seemingly undeterred by the freezing temperatures and the wind. It’s only when you pull off the road for a quick photo that you realise just how cold Iceland is. It’s a treat to get back into the warm car. You also need to factor frequent photo stops into your itinerary time because Iceland is just so damn scenic.
Despite being freezing, the roads are in great condition, and there aren’t many other cars on the road, so you will average about 90km/h.
Snaefellsnes Peninsula Map
Our first stop of the day was at the Gerduberg Cliffs. These perfectly hexagonal basalt columns were a result of volcanic activity. It’s incredible how geometrically identical they are. They’re also enormous and easily visible from the road. We turned off the I54 onto a gravel track which took us closer to the cliffs. There was quite a bit of snow close to the cliffs which was a novelty for the kids so we popped the snow boots on and went off to explore.
We did some climbing, had snowball fights and eventually reached the top for some spectacular views of the peninsula. It always pays to be prepared with your outdoor gear in Iceland. The weather is very changeable, so you may need extra layers or a change of clothes, especially for the kids who want to make snow angels or get close to waterfalls!
Lýsuhólslaug Hot Springs
Our second stop was going to be the Lýsuhólslaug hot springs, but despite our best research efforts, we showed up and it was closed for the winter months. This was going to be our first Icelandic hot spring encounter because we gave the Blue Lagoon a miss. We were a bit disappointed, but over the years we’ve learned that you need to be flexible, especially when travelling with kids.
It was a beautiful area and there was a playground so the kids ended up playing in the playground while we sat and enjoyed the beautiful sunshine. It would be a lovely pit stop in the summer when the springs are open. There’s also a restaurant there if you time your visit right. Bear in mind that there aren’t many restaurants or petrol stations on the loop of the peninsula (compared to the UK).
Black Church in Budir
Our third stop was the Búðakirkja (the Black Church) which sits among a lava field on the south coast of the Snaefellsnes peninsula. It’s one of 9 black churches in Iceland. It’s black because it’s painted with a special paint to protect it from the elements. We fell in love with it as it’s so different to any church we’ve ever seen.
The black church is so striking against the starkness of the surrounding area, but especially against the blue sky. One of our favourite things about Iceland was the odd colourful building standing out against the barren landscape. We loved the red houses dotted around too. This was quite a popular spot, but even so, there were only about 20 people there when we visited at 1 pm.
Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellsfoss
Our fourth stop was Kirkjufell. We left the black church and drove through a mountain pass from the south coast of the peninsula to the north coast and arrived mid-afternoon as the sun was starting to set. We parked in the parking lot and walked to Kirkjufellsfoss, the (relatively) small waterfall. You can get great views from the other side of the waterfall back over to Kirkjufell. The light wasn’t the best at this time of day and this may be something to consider when planning your route. If we had got there in the early morning, it would have looked a lot better.
As the sun starts to set, the temperatures plummet, so this was a relatively quick stop (after the kids had their fill of ice-play).
We had planned to stop at the Settlement Center in Borgarnes but the kids had fallen asleep on the road back so we carried on back to Reykjavik and reached it just as the sun was setting at 4 pm and caught the beautiful light at the Sun Voyager.
Where to eat in Snaefellsnes
In line with our budget Iceland itinerary, we didn’t eat out on this day trip. We took a packed lunch with us, made up of some breakfast bits from the hotel breakfast, some fruit and some other snacks we had brought with us from the UK. We had a little cool bag from home and left it in the car overnight so the freezer blocks would freeze and keep food cool for the day.
If you are eating out, there are a few restaurants in Snaefellsnes that you can try, although we can’t vouch for them ourselves. Visit West Iceland has a great selection to choose from.
Where to stay in Snaefellsnes Peninsula
There are a handful of Snæfellsnes hotels. You could also stay in Borgarnes and have slightly more time on your day trip than if you stay in Reykjavik.
Booking.com has a great selection of hotels in Iceland, and we highly recommend using them. They offer last-minute cancellation on many properties.
Want more information on Iceland? Check out the comprehensive Lonely Planet Iceland guide.