Hiking in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula

The Snaefellsnes Peninsula is often called Iceland in miniature, and for good reason. Its landscape has nearly all the same features you can find in the Golden Circle, jam-packed into one arm stretching out from the west coast of the country. Luckily, this area still isn’t as popular with other tourists as the Golden Circle, so you’re more likely to have nature to yourself. We did see the odd tour bus coming through, but mostly the visitors jumped out, took pictures, and jumped back in the bus, leaving the hiking paths clear for us.

Spending a few days hiking the Snaefellsnes Peninsula is the best way to see all the magic of Iceland in one compact area – it’s also ideal to combine this with a trip to the Golden Circle if you’re short on time, but if you have enough time, I’d recommend an extended self-drive itinerary. And, the Snaefellsnes Peninsula is where we spotted a pod of 7 orcas on our whale watching tour, so if that doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will! When if you just do a Snaefellsnes day trip, it will be well worth the trip to this beautiful area of west Iceland.

If we could have, we would have stayed longer here and would have loved to rent a camper van to stay in along the way – for more info on what that experience is like, check out Its All Bee’s post on traveling Iceland via camper van.

Snaefellsnes Peninsula
Kirkjufell… looks just like the pictures!

When you visit the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, the first place you’ll probably want to check off your list is iconic Kirkjufell – the mountain (more like a hill) that is on dozens of postcards. Be aware that you can’t really access Kirkjufell since the land around it is private property. It’s also apparently quite dangerous to climb and a tourist unfortunately died there in July 2017. So, either satisfy yourself by stopping to take pictures, or arrange a guided climb of Kirkjufell.

After deciding not to take our chances at Kirkufell we headed to Snaefellsjokull National Park to do some hiking. Snaefellsjokull is best known for its glacier of the same name made infamous in Journey to the Center of the Earth, but we weren’t willing to shell out a couple hundred euros for a guided glacier tour, so we looked around for the best free way to enjoy nature: hiking!

Visiting Iceland? Here are 10 experiences you can’t miss!

Thankfully I stumbled upon this blog post from Canyons to Clouds which informed some of our hiking around the peninsula. I’d say hiking is one of the best things to do in Snaefellsnes Peninsula, but maybe I’m biased because I always love hiking!

Looking for more Iceland travel tips? Don’t miss these posts:

Hike the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in West Iceland: First stop, Saxholl volcanic crater

Sure, it might be a short hike, but it is still worth a visit! Climb up the steps built around the crater to get sweeping views of the area including to the shoreline. It’s easy to find from the main road through Snaefellsjokull national park.

Saxholl crater
View toward the mountains and glacier from Saxholl crater
Saxholl Crater
The stairs up the crater – photo borrowed from Visit West Iceland

Hike Saxholl to Bárðarkista on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Once you’ve done your jaunt up Saxholl, cross the street toward the mountains to hike up to Bárðarkista – but keep a good eye out for the route! This hike will take you about 3-4 hours and is about 5km each way. We got lost on the route and started heading up toward the ice patches instead, hoping to make it to the top for a glimpse of the glacier. It made us a bit nervous straying from the path – were we trampling on any delicate plant life? Most of the walk was a bit bouncy from stepping on what seemed like moss mattresses on the way up… We tried to tread lightly and hope for the least impact on the environment.

Snaefellsnes peninsula
Whoo! Beginning the hike with lots of energy.. which I would need!

Unfortunately we didn’t make it all the way to the top – once we got to the ice patches it only got steeper and steeper so we decided to turn back, but it was a great hike anyway. Click here to download a map with hiking routes of the area. 

Along this hike we only saw 2 other people – and those 2 other people were quite a distance away. So, if you’re looking for a quiet hike to enjoy the silence of nature alone, this route is for you. Hiking here is one of the best things to do in west Iceland.

Psst, if you love hiking, check out the best hiking gifts

Snaefellsnes peninsula
See that little ice pocket on the right? Took us 2.5 hours to get up there!
Snaefellsnes peninsula
See that little bump in the background? That’s Saxholl crater!
Snaefellsness peninsula
Crossing the stream on the way back down

Hike the Snaefellsnes Peninsula: The beautiful walk from Hellnar to Arnarstapi

This was one of my favorite hikes we did on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Start in either Hellnar or Arnarstapi to walk the coastline between the two towns. Along this 5km round trip route you’ll walk past lava fields, rock arches, charming houses, and the breeding grounds of Arctic gulls. Apparently this 2.5km track is actually an ancient main road that used to be crossed by horseback. This route is also one of the most popular hikes on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and one of the best things do to in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, so you can definitely expect to run into more tourists here, but likely it won’t be so crowded that it disturbs you. I think the hike from Hellnar to Arnarstapi is one of the best things to do in western Iceland.

The pictures below are in chronological order of what you will see on your route from Hellnar toward Arnarstapi.

Starting from Hellnar this archway is one of the first things you’ll see.. just be careful not to be pooped on by one of the gulls swooping overhead!
A bright house to add some charm to the lava fields and glacier… perfect Iceland
Snaefellsnes Peninsula
Lava fields between Hellnar and Arnarstapi


Snaefellesnes peninsula
The water in Iceland is so blue when the sun is out… the route from Hellnar to Arnarstapi is just gorgeous
Gatklettur near Arnarstapi
The stunning coastline around Arnarstapi
The beautiful harbor of Arnarstapi – how blue is that water?
This has got to be one of my favorite photos… colors of the grass, the sea, the mountains the house all come together perfectly… this photo sums up how beautiful Iceland is
Houses in the village of Arnarstapi

Don’t forget to treat yourself to a well deserved coffee break on your halfway point at either of the villages!

If you’re looking for more incredible places to visit that are as beautiful as this hike, check out the best lagoons to visit in Iceland

Visit the black sand beach of Djúpalónssandur and hike the coastline along it

For an other worldly experience, visit Djúpalónssandur and stroll its black sand beaches and curious rock formations covering the coast line. The black rocks formed along the coast would be the perfect setting for a sci-fi film and visiting them helps you understand how the Icelandic people have come to believe in trolls and other mystical creatures. Who knows what could be lurking in the pockets of these rocks? Maybe a fairy, maybe a troll? Or maybe nothing most likely, but visiting this area will surely tap into an imagination you might not have visited since childhood.

After visiting the beach you can head out on one of the several hiking trails that hug the coast line. Though not as visually impressive as the walk from Hellnar to Arnarstapi, it’s still a lovely way to spend a morning hiking the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.

The black beach with the glacier looming in the background
I was waiting for an alien to pop out here
Snaefellsnes peninsula
Walking the coastline along the beach
More eery rock formations along the coast… do yourself a favor and stay back from the edge

You can follow the past for a 6km route each way, or turn around whenever you like. This is a great hike to combine the same day as the route from Hellnar to Arnarstapi since they are a short drive from each other.

Where to stay in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula

As you might have already figured out, there aren’t tons of hotels in Iceland. So here are some quick tips on Snaefellsnes hotels.

Hotels in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula: We stayed at a comfortable AirBnB in Olafsvik, which turned out to be perfect for us since we also did whale watching out of Olafsvik. Since Iceland is so expensive I’d strongly recommend booking AirBnB’s if possible so you can cook for yourself to save money.

Actually, there aren’t really any hotels in Olafsvik, so opt to stay in guesthouses instead where you can cook your own meals and bring in your own groceries.

Olafsvik does have a super market, albeit not a discount chain, and also offers a few small restaurants and a very delicious bakery.


The small town of Olafsvik, seen from the water

Of course we couldn’t see it all on our trip to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, but we did manage to hike pretty much all day every day which was a big plus in my book. Still, I’d love to return to Iceland another time to do more hiking and see more of what this beautiful country has to offer.

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Snaefellsnes Peninsula

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  1. Love this post! Beautiful pictures and so informative! Really making me regret that we didn’t make it here on our trip to Iceland, might just have to go back now.

  2. Snaefellsnes looks so beautiful – and any day spent hiking sounds like a good day to me!

    • gab.grow@gmail.com Reply

      it is gorgeous! and indeed, the perfect way to spend your day exploring nature 🙂

  3. With views so stunning, the hike is worth everything in the world. Awesome pictures and postcard perfect.

  4. I am normally a warm weather person, but seeing these pictures makes me want to add Iceland to my travel destination list! Beautiful!

    • gab.grow@gmail.com Reply

      visit in July or August! it was around 16-20 degrees celsius when we visited, so not too cold!

  5. Thank you so much for sharing!!! Iceland is on my list for 2018 so this couldn’t be more useful! I can’t wait to go!

    • gab.grow@gmail.com Reply

      hope you will have a great time on your visit!

  6. A friend of mine is there now and absolutely loving it! I am so mystified and intrigued by iceland and would love to visit one day!!

    • gab.grow@gmail.com Reply

      definitely visit! it is incredible 🙂

  7. it is very useful post..Iceland had always been in my bucket list.. your post have given me all the more reason to visit 🙂

  8. We only had time to explore Kirkjufell/foss last time since we were short on time, but we’re definitely going to be back in Iceland and hopefully heading back out to Snaefellsnes Peninsula and the west fjords so this is a great guide for us! It also looks super sunny when you visited haha, we went in October and it was pretty chilly!

    • gab.grow@gmail.com Reply

      hope you get to go back! and yes we had fabulous weather! lots of sun, we were so lucky!

  9. Iceland changes so much in summer! I’ve seen so many posts about the country in winter, that I wouldn’t recognize it from these lovely green photos! And the water is in such stark contrast with its glittery blue:) Makes me want to swim in it, although it would probably still be really cold! Thanks for sharing!

    • gab.grow@gmail.com Reply

      I can imagine it must look completely different in winter! but we were so lucky to see it with the beautiful colors of summer 🙂

  10. I envy you the trip to Iceland – it truly is the most beautiful country ever! do you think it’s possible to do the hike and then stay in your own tent? That would be a real adventure! (In summer only – I’m not so brave!)

    • gab.grow@gmail.com Reply

      it definitely is possible. we picked up hitchhikers (2 girls) after we hiked that day and they were just hiking and camping anywhere they liked, so it would definitely be possible for you!

  11. Iceland looks like so much fun. I haven’t been yet but I’m a big fan but would love hike on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula

  12. I couldn’t take my eyes off your pictures. Hiking in Iceland must have been fun. Since it is still on our Wishlist all this makes so much sense and can be easily incorporated when we plan to travel there. Thanks for sharing. Would love to follow you on Instagram handle , mine is moimehr.

    • gab.grow@gmail.com Reply

      thanks 🙂 it was incredible to hike there… definitely plan your visit, but go in the summer! I will follow you back on IG 🙂

  13. Oh wow! Iceland does have beautiful scenery and stunning coastline. It’s on my list to explore Iceland one day. Must have been a memorable experience to spot 7 orcas! Pics are fantastic!

    • gab.grow@gmail.com Reply

      you should plan your visit! go before it is too busy with tourists 🙂

  14. beautiful photos, i really enjoyed scrolling through them and reading about your awesome hike. so cool you got to see a pod of Orcas too. this town is def on my list as of today!

    • gab.grow@gmail.com Reply

      thank you! definitely do the orca tour if you visit 🙂

  15. Really interesting read this, I’m planning on going to Iceland soon and the Snaefellsnes looks stunning. I lived in New Zealand for a year and has is very similar but on a smaller scale. Like I’ve experienced black sand beaches and you’re right your imagination can run wild first time seeing one. How long did you spend in Iceland?

    • gab.grow@gmail.com Reply

      great that you are visiting! we spent 7 days in Iceland but if I could, I would’ve spent 2 weeks. The only limiting factor is that the country is very, very expensive… so perhaps going in off season is cheaper, but then you run the risk of very difficult weather I guess… Either way I think you’ll have a great time though!

  16. Wow! Another exciting thing to do in Iceland. Snaefellsnes looks stunning. Bright and warm weather makes this place look so picturesque! Amazing hiking spot and thanks for sharing this!

  17. This place looks like heaven!! Nature at its best.. beautifully captured! So majestic and serene… Thanks for sharing this beautiful experience! Added this page to my favourites. Will definitely visit Iceland some day! 🙂

  18. oh wow…. this is a different part of Iceland that I have seen to most blogs. so green, so beautiful and I can smell the crisp fresh air:) Awesome experience, thank you for sharing.

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