The Snæfellsnes Peninsula is a genuine rival to the Golden Circle and South Island as the “best” trip to take from a Reykjavík base, with an amazing combination of gigantic glaciers, photogenic mountains, plunging waterfalls and lava fields all contained within a well paved region that’s just over an hour’s drive away from the capital.
Once Reykjavík has receded into the rear view mirror, Route 1 leads to one of the very few toll roads in Iceland – this allows access to the 6km road tunnel under Hvalfjörður which slices a lot of time off the trip, but be prepared to pay the fee on the return journey too.
Borgarnes is a good place for a pitstop, as it is home to the excellent two part Settlement Centre museum, as well as offering a splendid view of the road bridge across Borgarfjörður.
It’s just north of Borgarnes that the turn off the Ring Road onto Route 54 and the road to Snæfellsnes will appear.
It’s considered best to go clockwise around this gigantic finger of land that juts 100km out into the Atlantic in order to get the finest view of Snæfelljökull National Park as it rises up out of the distance until it fills the windscreen.
It’s also potentially preferable to be ready to leave Route 54 near Búðir, just before it ascends up the mountain, as the road soon turns into a tricky gravel track that will test smaller or less powerful cars.
If you’re heading inland and uphill with this waterfall on the right, then you’re on the mountain road.
This route may well bring Kirkjufell into sight more quickly, but it also bypasses many splendid spots on the far western section of the peninsula in doing so too.
The slower, more picturesque approach is to turn left onto Route 574 and keep hugging the coastal road towards Arnastapi, the rugged bird watching cliffs at Lóndrangar, Vatnshellir, Hellissandur and around to Ólafsvîk, before arriving at Grundarfjörður.
There is a highly recommended and quite comfortable one hour coastal hike that can be taken between Arnarstapi and Hellnar.
Grundarfjörður is the primary destination for many visitors to Snæfellsnes, because it’s home to one of the most photographed mountains in the country, the unusually shaped Kirkjufell, along with its accompanying little waterfall, Kirkjufellsfoss.
Kirkjufell is best observed from the right hand side of the waterfalls, or on the mountain side of the road, where it’s reflection can be seen in a lake on calm days.
The town itself is home to a lovely coffee shop and heritage museum, which also includes a surprisingly extensive children’s toy collection.
The remainder of the road around Snæfellsnes between Grundarfjörður and Stykkishólmur is ludicrously beautiful and on a sunny day will almost certainly encourage a few stops along the way.
Stykkishólmur is a little bit further on from the turn back south on Route 56 towards Vegamót, but it’s well worth a few extra kilometres to visit this lovely little fishing town, which also serves as a ferry port onto Flatey and the Westfjords.