Narration and photos by Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir.
There are many things to see and experience on Snæfellsnes and travelers could easily spend days exploring every nook and cranny of the peninsula.
Whatever your ambitions are, Snæfellsnes offers a range of opportunities: long and short hikes, climbing hills and mountains—even the mighty 1,446 meter high Snæfellsjökull glacier—participating in glacial tours on snowmobiles, going whale and bird watching and sailing past the numerous isles on Breiðafjörður.
If you have limited time, a short roundtrip including the wonders of the national park around the glacier will certainly prove long enough to leave you awestruck.
Starting at the hamlet of Hellissandur on the northern tip of the peninsula, drive westwards until you reach a sign that reads Skarðsvík. After a short drive through a lava field you arrive at a picturesque white sand beach, which is very uncommon in Iceland. Most beaches in Iceland are black, tainted by volcanic ash. In Skarðsvík a Viking grave was discovered dating back to the 10th century AD.
The next stop is the reddish hill of Saxhóll. It is easy to climb this ancient volcanic crater and its summit offers a spectacular view of the national park, and weather permitting, also of its crown jewel, Snæfellsjökull.
The black beach of Djúpalónssandur is a must-see. The path to the beach leads through lava formations, including Gatklettur, a rock with a hole in it. The beach is named after a deep and peaceful lagoon, Djúpalón, where fishermen used to fetch water. They also used to compete in strength on the beach by lifting rocks, which are still there as a challenge for tourists.
From Djúpalónssandur there is a one kilometer walk over to Dritvík bay, which is of historical significance. According to legend, this is where the first settlers in Snæfellsnes arrived from Norway in the 9th century AD. One of these settlers, Bárður Snæfellsás, named the peninsula and glacier and later became the region’s guardian.
After returning to Djúpalónssandur on foot, drive towards Lóndrangar. These pillars of rock, the higher of which is 75 meters, are believed to be ancient volcanic plugs and are quite a majestic sight.
Another stop of historical significance is the ancient Viking farm of Laugarbrekka where Bárdur Snæfellsás lived. Later Guðríður Þorbjarnardóttir was born there, the most widely-traveled woman of the Middle Ages.
Þorbjarnardóttir was on the crew of Leifur “the Lucky” Eiríksson’s ship, who discovered America in 1000 AD, and she became the first woman of European heritage to have a child in the New World. Later Þorbjarnardóttir returned to Iceland and became a nun and then traveled all the way to Rome to meet the Pope.
At Laugarbrekka there is a sculpture of Þorbjarnardóttir and her son Snorri by one of Iceland’s most significant artists, Ásmundur Sveinsson.
After Laugarbrekka, take a left up towards Snæfellsjökull to take a look at Sönghellir, the Singing Cave. According to the Saga of Bárður Snæfellsás, the settler discovered and named the cave because of its echo. He and his fellow settlers used to discuss important matters inside the cave.
Before returning to Hellissandur, travelers should stop to admire Raudfeldsgjá, a narrow rift in the cliffs. Bárður Snæfellsás also left his mark on this place. Legend has it he killed his nephew Rauðfeldur after the latter pushed Bárður’s daughter Helga to sea on an ice floe which drifted to Greenland.
To complete the roundtrip drive across Fróðárheiði mountain pass. Back on the northern side of the peninsula, you drive through two villages on the way to Hellissandur, Ólafsvík and Rif.
Ólafsvík is the largest of the three with roughly 1,000 inhabitants. It has a whale watching center, horse rental, golf course and swimming pool, and, like Hellissandur, offers accommodation. All three villages have either cafés or restaurants.
Click here to read a Daily Life column about the region. This multimedia slideshow was originally published on icelandreview.com in October, 2008.