Must-Sees: Stykkisholmur and Slowly Kaffi, Kirkjafell Mountain, Saxholl Crater, Snaefellsjokull Glacier and Volcano, Basalt Columns at Londrangar, Hellnar and Primus Cafe, Arnarstapi Arch, Raudfeldsgja, Budir Church, Ytri Tunga
For those of you keeping score at home, we just left Akureyri and the Northern Coast of Iceland and should have now reached the Western coast of Iceland on our journey around the Ring Road. That means it’s time for my all-time favorite spot in the entire country: the magical Snaefellsness Peninsula.
After leaving Akureyri in the north (assuming you’re traveling the Ring Road in a counter-clockwise fashion like us) you essentially have three options: heading northwest and spending many more days in the Westfjords, continuing west and following Route 1 until you make it back to Reykjavik or make a detour at Snaefellsness Peninsula on the west coast. Option #1 could take up to another week, considering that the isolated but beautiful Westfjords include the majority of the country’s coastline. Let’s save this option for the next time around. Option #2 is great for those of you who have seen enough or who have a flight to catch. But if you have a day or two to spare and you’re itching for more, follow me as we continue through Snaefellsness Peninsula (a mere 2 hour drive from Reykjavik for those of you visiting the capital).
Best known for its glacier and still-active volcano, Snaefellsness National Park is the major draw for the peninsula. The volcano Snaefellsjokull is said to have special energy and just might be one of the seven world chakras (if you’re into that kind of thing). Some even claim to have trouble sleeping at night when staying nearby. Because of that energy, the place feels incredibly magical. Of course, if you don’t believe in magic, Snaefellsness is still a special place. It isn’t called “Little Iceland” for nothing. Here you’ll find volcanos, glaciers, mountains, lava fields, waterfalls, mineral springs, hot springs and even golden beaches (a rarity for Iceland).
Our first stop (beginning at the north end of the loop) was a small fishing village of Stykkisholmur. If you’re in town, you have to visit Slowly Kaffi for a steaming glass of caffeine to fuel your journey. You can’t miss the adorable pink and blue building down near the harbor and the friendly shop owners Maesa and Theo who serve up lovely pink mugs of coffee garnished with a biscotti. The place is even Eco-friendly. Borrow a travel mug and take a lap around the harbor, just be sure to return your mug once you’re finished. Or sit outside and enjoy the fresh breeze as you sip your brew. Either way, this cafe and the surrounding town cannot be missed.
Once we were feeling energized and had had a chance to stop by a few local artist shops, we headed east towards Grundarfjorder. If you’ve ever seen the movie the Secret Life of Walter Mitty, you’ll recognize Kirkjufell Mountain from the scene where Ben Stiller skateboards past a mountain. This is considered one of the most photographed landmarks in all of Icelnd, so we weren’t surprise by the hoardes of tourists parked there. You can either hike up to the waterfall, or just stop and snap a quick photo out of your window like us. It’s beautiful and should be seen, but we didnt’ understand the hype (other than maybe a bit of Eau de Ben Stiller still lingering in the area).
Next we continued east, passing by immense lava fields and the ocean. After a bit of a drive, we arrived at Saxholl Crater. We had to climb hundreds of tiny steps to get there, but the view of Snaefellsjokull Glacier was pretty sweet from up top. The crater itself is really just a hole in the ground, but that view made every step worth it. FYI, beware of the wind up there. Don’t let it bully you.
With our feet safely on the ground, we continued on towards a pair of impressive basalt columns at Londrangar. Viewing these bad boys is easy from the road, but if you want to experience the real magic of Snaefellsness, you’ll need to hoof it to their bases (this was my favorite part of visiting the peninsula, so listen up). It’s only about 1 km, but during the hike we saw tiny wild flowers, succulents growing from the smooth black volcanic stones, birds building nests and lava fields as far as we could see. After about 20 minutes we arrived and were able to climb up part of the columns and take a seat. We watched the ocean and the birds building their nests. It was a quiet respite from the rat race of road tripping. If you go, you’ll find complete serenity and silence. Call me cheesy, but this place seriously has magic in it.
Ok snap out of it, I know. Next up is another coffee break. Yay! Coffee is life. In sleery Hellnar, we found Primus cafe with an excellent view of the ocean. I suggest trying the marriage cake with your cup of coffee. It’s a buttery, crumby rhubarb jam-filled goody. Unfortunately I ate it before I could even snap a single photo. That should be enough for you people.
From Hellnar, you can either drive about 10 minutes to arrive in Arnarstapi, or if the weather is nice you can take a gorgeous 45 minute walk (one-way) along the coast. It was raining at the time, so we took the less scenic car route. In Arnarstapi, it is worth walking a bit along the coastal path to reach the Arnarstapi Arch. There is one that is passable (obviously not the one shown here), but we didn’t make it quite that far. This one is quite impressive as well.
My favorite landmark is next: Raudfeldsgja. This mysterious crack in a mountain is a secluded gem. We hiked about 15 minutes uphill to arrive and had to climb through a small creek, but entering the rift is like nothing else. From the inside you can look straight up and see the sky. Due to rain, we only entered the first chamber, but rumor has it that you can go pretty far in to the mountain. If you peeps make it back there, let me know what you find! Maybe Axlar Bjorn, Iceland’s sole notorious murder still haunts the cave-like crack. Who knows. All I know is that it’s freaking cool to be inside of a mountain.
As you continue on, take the side road towards Budir Church. This lonely little black building isn’t much to see, but it’s story is great. In the 19th century, an Icelandic woman decided that the church needed renovations. It had been a good 200 years since the place had seen a new coat of paint (fun fact: I use this as a phrase, but the church was actually charred rather than pained to save a buck). So she petitioned Iceland’s spiritual leaders to provide her with the funds to proceed with the project. They refused. So what did she do? She raised the funds privately and slapped a sign on the door that translates into something like “This church was built in 1848 without the support of the spiritual fathers” – Steinunn Sveinsdorrit”. A Queen Badass, if you ask me.
Our final stop on this lovely journey was at Ytri Tunga, an old farm near where a local colony of seals calls home. Although it was raining buckets, the seals were quite happy to lay on their rocks and sun themselves. A few were even flipping around in the water. We couldn’t believe how easy it was. We soaked it in for about an hour then finally pulled ourselves away to thaw out. What a finale.
From Ytri Tunga, two more hours landed us in Reykjavik and at the end of our Route 1 trip. Thank you to everyone who followed along. I’ll go mourn the end of my trip now. As for you, dear reader, get out there and see it before a volcano blows the whole thing up! As always, comment with questions.
Bye, Bye, Bye,
P.S. If you’re looking for lodging during your time on the peninsula, consider Hof Guesthouse, a set of adorable huts right along the southern coast. Or if you’re staying near Stykkisholmur, Stundarfridur was secluded, yet within a 10 minute drive of the village.