#snaefellsnes

Snæfellsnes Peninsula offers many interesting and fascinating places to stop by, view and experience.  When you enter the Peninsula driving from Borgarnes town one of the first places that we recommend is Eldborg crater.  The hike back and forth from the parking lot to the top of Eldborg is not necessarily a short hike and takes about two to two and a half hours.  But for those who prefer a shorter walk to see a crater, Saxhóll is a good option although the crater is nowhere as impressive as the larger Eldborg crater.  Saxhóll is actually two craters where the lower one is more popular and easier to visit and climb.

Saxhóll the view and the crater

Saxhóll crater is only about 100 meters high, and recently a convenient walking path and steps have been set up making it quite easy to climb.  The crater is probably one of the most accessible places in Iceland to see a crater that once spewed a thousand degrees of magma from the ground delivering the massive surrounding lava.  As the craters also stand higher than the vicinity, it is also a good place to view the tip of the Peninsula with the Atlantic ocean to the west and north and the magnificent Snæfellsjökull glacier on the east side.

For centuries an isolated part of Iceland

Although the region around Saxhóll, particularly by the shore, had farms and fishing stations throughout the centuries the tip of Snæfellsnes Peninsula was always a very remote and isolated place.  Communications were difficult, and few people had reasons to visit the place.  Only a few centuries ago there was a church near Saxhóll as there were quite some people that lived there despite the isolation.  But a few years ago the road was fixed, and today there is an asphalt road around the Snæfellsnesjökull glacier area, and it is far from being isolated.  In fact, it has become one of the most popular scenic drives in Iceland. To access Saxhóll, you simply stay on the main road around the tip of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula called Útnesvegur in Icelandic, Nr. 574 and on the western most part you will find Saxhóll as it is only a few meters from the road.

 

Saxhóll crater is only about 100 meters high

The two large pillars towering over their surroundings at the shore near Hellnar in Snæfellsnes are Lóndrangar. The two towers are believed to be ancient volcanic plugs that have endured the forces of nature for tens of thousands of years. They have sustained the wind, the forces of the ocean and even eruptions that have pushed more lava around them some thousands of years ago.  The higher one is 75 meters high, and the shorter is 61 meters high.

A place that has always captivated Icelanders throughout centuries

Icelanders have noticed the two pillars ever since the island was settled around twelve hundred years ago.  In our Book of Settlement, it was documented that a troll was sitting on the larger pillar when gentlemen by the name Laugarbrekku-Einar passed by at one time.  Although the troll did not harm anyone, it helped us understand that the pillars were always a big part of the inhabitants who lived in the area. Much later when our first natural scientists started to document Iceland's nature, and geology in the 18th and 19th century, Lóndragar were of course among the natural phenomenon they examined.

A challenge

Pillars like the two Lóndrangar are somehow made to challenge people. Throughout the centuries, they were considered unclimbable. But in May 1735, a daredevil from the Westman Islands by the name Ásgrímur Böðvarsson climbed the taller one. But in recent years few have taken on the challenge.

A fishing station at Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Although a small fishing station was operated on a small scale by the shore some centuries ago, conditions never developed into a village, like in many other parts of Iceland. Today the pillars are mostly home to many species of birds and a joy to view from many angles.  By the roadside, there is a parking lot and a viewpoint where you can see the magnificent pillars and the rocky shore on its eastern side.  If you want to see the up close the best option is to drive a bit farther west than the parking lot and take a left turn to the lighthouse at Malarrif. From the lighthouse, there is a relatively easy walking path all the way to Lóndrangar. It is an enjoyable scenic walk where you can experience the power of the ocean if there is a bit of wind. But then again one must always keep in mind when approaching the ocean on a beach in Iceland that waves can be very dangerous although they look innocent.
 

 

The two large pillars towering over their surroundings at the shore near Hellnar in Snæfellsnes are Lóndrangar.

Basalt column (sometimes referred to as Columnar Jointing) is one of those marvels of nature that makes you stop and wonder.  Most of the time you are stunned by the mere sight.  It usually makes you wonder if mother nature is the author of this formation of hexagonal shaped stacks and pillars. Often the regularity of the structure is nothing less than unbelievable. At Gerðuberg cliffs soon after you start your drive at the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in Iceland you find one of the most impressive basalt column sites in the country.  One of the reasons is the size of the place and also the regularity of the stacks. 

Proximity is the key to enjoy and experience

Gerðuberg is hardly noticeable from the road when driving even though the cliff is around 500 meters long and quite near the road.  A half a kilometer cliff of hundreds of basalt column stacks standing like an army of pillars in a side by side row.  It is a perfect place to view basalt columns and see the stunning formation of this incredible natural geological structure. Like the cliff, the columns are also quite regular. They are mostly twelve to fourteen meters high and about one and a half meters in diameter. Some are even leaning forward giving the cliff a spectacular view as you walk by the cliff.  And by the way, it is more exciting and more thrilling to walk one of the paths in front of the cliff than to walk on the top, especially the paths that are almost at the bottom of the pillars. There is actually nothing to see on the top so don’t fall into the trap of rushing to the path that leads to another path on top.

Easily accessible from the road

Gerðuberg is easily accessible from Highway 54 and only about one kilometer to a small parking lot.  There is an old walking path just by the columns if you want to experience this incredible natural wonder up and close. It is also a perfect place to take stunning photos and take a relaxing moment as the view to the south from the cliff to Eldborg and Snæfellsjökull is also spectacular.

 

There is actually nothing to see on the top so don’t fall into the trap of rushing to the path that leads to another path on top.

 

Rauðfeldsgjá is a deep, high and narrow ravine in the cliffs south of the glacier Snæfellsjökull with a dramatic story and family tragedy attached to its name. The location is near the tiny hamlet of Arnarstapi. Seen from the road, it looks like a small crack in the berg that slid just a bit, enough for people to enter and observe. There is a parking lot by the road and a five to ten minutes walk to the entrance of the ravine.  Rauðfeldsgjá is part of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula road trip.

A narrow path for those who dare

Although entering the ravine Rauðfeldsgjá is a bit of a clamber it is worth it when you come into the main entrance. It is almost like a small and wonderful temple. For those who dare, a further clamber into the narrow crack following the water is possible. It will lead you to a rope where you can pull yourself up a small waterfall, and even go further into the ravine. A very narrow path with cliffs all around you and a view high up to the open air. Those who take this challenge will possibly sense the spirits of the brothers Rauðfeldur and Sölvi, who met their fate in this place about twelve hundred years ago as is documented in a true story the Icelandic Sagas.

A dramatic event that had tremendous consequences

Rauðfeldur and Sölvi came with their father Þorkell, the half brother of Bárður Snæfellsás who was half man half troll to Iceland as children and lived at Arnarstapi. They often played with Bárðurs many beautiful daughters.  One day they lured one of the girls Helga out to an iceberg in an innocent game and pushed her on the iceberg out to the open Ocean. Unfortunately, high winds blew the iceberg quickly from shore and out to the open sea, and she disappeared. The news of her fate and journey on the ice never reached her father as communication were different at that time.  In everyone's mind, she was lost and deceased. Apparently, as the story in the Saga Bárðar Saga Snæfellsás, she reached Greenland seven days later and lived a good live with the family of Erik the Red, father of Leif the Lucky, for many years.  In a poem, she wrote and had been preserved in the Sagas; one can sense that she missed her father, family, and country.  

A life changing event for Bárður Snæfellsás, the half troll half man

When Bárður Snæfellsás learned of the disappearance of his daughter he completely blew up in anger, to put it mildly.  He grabbed the two brothers, one at the age of eleven and the other twelve, and climbed to the cliff above the ravine.  In his uncontrollable anger, he threw Rauðfeldur into the ravine and to enhance the madness he threw the other brother Sölvi of the cliff. Needless to say, both boys lost their lives, but their names have lived as the ravine, and the cliff bears their names; Rauðfeldsgjá and Sölvahamar. After this incident, Bárður lost his mind and eventually walked up to the glacier where he built an ice cave where he has lived for many centuries and according to popular believe, still does to this very day.

 

Although entering the ravine Rauðfeldsgjá is a bit of a clamber it is worth it when you come into the main entrance.
Bárðarlaug is a small lake near the road 574, the ring road that goes around the glacier Snæfellsjökull. When you take the turn to Hellnar, the lake is on your right and a parking spot ten minutes walk from the lake.  The part of the name "laug" in this context means bath.  So the name is really the bath of Bárður Snæfellsás, referring to the mystical person that has hovered over the area around Snæfellsjokull as well as the glacier for centuries. 

A bath for Bárður approximately eleven hundred years ago

Supposedly the lake was his bath when he was among mortals, the son of a human mother and a half-troll, and as everyone knows his spirit is still around as the protector of the glacier and the neighboring area. Many of the names of the nearby landscape have the name bath attached which indicates that when Iceland was settled the lake was warm and used for bathing by others, and not only by Bárður. 

A peaceful crater with a stunning view

In geological terms, the lake is an old spatter cone that has slept silently for ages, finding it more convenient to house water rather than erupting fire. It is renowned for the elliptical form. It is an amazingly peaceful place to visit when you walk the short slope down to the water. If Bárður and the glacier are in a good mood and the beautiful white glacier reveals itself with the blue sky behind, the moment becomes magical, and you might feel the extraordinary power from the Snæfellsjökull glacier. Bárðarlaug was a protected are by law in 1980 and is today an important part of the Snæfellsjökull National Park. 
Bárðarlaug is renowned for ist elliptical form. It is an amazingly peaceful place to visit when you walk the short slope down to the water.

Bjarnarfoss waterfall is an impressive waterfall right by road 54 on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.  The location is where the main road splits to Fróðaárheiði leading to Ólafsvík in the northern part and to Búðir and Arnarstapi on the south shore of the peninsula. Although the waterfall can be seen from the main road, the most enjoyable and interesting part of the waterfall is quite high in the cliffs and takes an effort to walk up the steep slope by the stream coming from the waterfall. 

A fairy woman bathing in the middle of the waterfall

Up here watching the waterfall flushing in front of the magnificent columnar basalt that stretches out on both sides is really what makes this waterfall stand out. It is beautiful from the road but stunning when you stand right in front of it. Here you can also see and almost shake hands with the fairy woman that stands on top of the columnar basalt and seems to be bathing in the middle of the waterfall.

A waterfall on Snæfellsnes Peninsula that is easy to find

The waterfall is quite easy to find, and a parking space has just recently been built and a convenient walking path leading up halfway to the waterfall.  But to go all the way up to the main waterfall you need to climb the relatively steep hill. One of the upsides of this effort is the exceptional variety of vegetation along the way on bothe sides.  It is more like a matter of taste whether you want to go up the right side or the left side, depending on how you want to photograph the waterfall when you approach the waterfall. Remember the slope is steep and you need to take caution.  This path to the waterfall is only accessible during summertime and should not be taken during late fall and winter.

Sometimes the waterfall is blown away in the wind

At times, the water source for the waterfall is limited and from a distance, it is reduced into a small stripe falling from the cliff. When this occurs, and simultaneously, strong winds blow with their immense force on the cliff, the waterfall is sometimes blown into the thin air.

 

Bjarnarfoss at Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Before the Eyjafjallajökull (glacier/volcano) eruption in 2010 Snæfellsjökull glacier was probably the best-known glacier in Iceland for decades. Located in the westernmost part of the Peninsula Snæfellsjökull is around 1450 meters and towers over other mountains on the peninsula. One of the reasons for its fame came about when the glacier found its way into world literature in Jules Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth in 1864. In the novel a German professor, Otto Lidenbrock travels through the volcanic tubes towards the center of the Earth. It is quite an adventure where he encounters prehistoric animals and natural hazards, before surfacing again in Italy. Ever since, Snæfellsjökull has inspired countless authors, poets, and artists. There is something otherworldly about this beautiful and accessible glacier. So, it may come as no big surprise that Snæfellsjökull is considered to be one of the World's seven largest spiritual centers.  It is also the home of Bárður Snæfellsás who made the glacier his home around 1100 years ago.

Like many glaciers in Iceland Snæfellsjökull is also a volcano

Snæfellsjökull is an active volcano with a crater in the middle of the beautiful mountain under the ice cap.  It is a product of many eruptions, the last one occurring around 1800 years ago with lava flowing down the slopes, forming the peninsula's extraordinary landscape. The glacier on top has been gradually diminishing during the last decades and is only about 11 square kilometers today. But, its pristine beauty has by no means diminished. Neither has its inherent energy. It still conveys the combination of ice and fire at its most extreme.

Find your way to Snæfellsjökull

Snæfellsjökull is accessible during most seasons of the year, and a number of tour companies in Iceland will take you to the summit to experience the full energy – and breathtaking scenery.  During summer it is quite simple to drive up to the edge of the glacier from the main road Nr. 54 circling the tip of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula by taking the turn north on the difficult dirt road Nr. 570 near Arnarstapi. 

 

Snæfellsjökull is irrefutably the best know glacier in Iceland.

If there is one place horse-riders love in Iceland, it is Löngufjörur on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.  Contrary to other beaches in Iceland it is white – with a brownish hue and stretches for miles and miles. Some horse-riders say riding along Löngufjörur feels like riding through eternity. The sands are resistant, though soft on the hoof and seem to go on forever.

During your ride, you'll have the pristine Snæfellsjökull in front of you the whole time and the beautiful Ljósufjöll (Light Mountains) to your right. It is just you and your horse in harmony with Mother Nature. The only sound is the ocean waves gently washing ashore nearby.

Of course, if you are not a horse rider, you can always go for a walk on the beach. But beware. All is not what it seems, and this is a dangerous place. No one should venture onto the sands without guidance. When the tide comes in the currents are strong. They will wash over the sands in a matter of minutes obliterating all footprints and hoof-marks.  They are forceful enough to drown both horses and riders.

If you wish to experience this extraordinary place, be sure to seek advice from the local farmers, hire a local guide or join a organized tour with a horse-riding company.
 

If there is one place horse-riders love in Iceland, it is Löngufjörur on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

When you are at Hellnar, it is difficult to imagine that this tiny hamlet on the south coast of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula used to be one of the largest fishing villages south of the glacier. With only a few people living there permanently today, it doesn't look like an ideal location for a fishing station.  Currently, the tiny hamlet is more like a small tourist village.  The attraction is the rocky shore, cliffs and strong currents bashing the shoreline.  And by the coast, there doesn't seem to be much room to maneuver a rowboat, let alone a fishing vessel although a small dock still exists.

The shoreline and the magnificent lava formation

But, mind you, the shoreline has been corroded during the ages and today you can spend a long time by the rocky beach enjoying all the magnificent formations resulting from the battle between the ocean and the rocks.  And Hellnar is also a charming destination for those who seek the thrill of being in the company of the elements.  Possibly elves and trolls as Hellnar has a reputation of being a favorite place for such creatures.  Being so near the majestic glacier and the home of Bárður Snæfellsás who still protects the area around Snæfellsjökull glacier, while enjoying the ocean's mighty currents and observing the abundant birdlife is an excellent way to pass the day.

Hellnar shoreline is a wonerful place to view lava and rock formation

The many formations of rocks by the shore at Hellnar tiny hamlet

The walking track from Hellnar to Arnarstapi

The cliffs between the Hellnar and Arnarstapi villages are a Natural Reserve and the two and a half kilometer hiking trail over the lava field, along the cliffs and shoreline offers an exceptional experience.  At Hellnar, you will find an excellent café, practically on the tempestuous beach, and a lovely eco-friendly hotel.  The track is a great destination for photographers.

 

The cliffs between the Hellnar and Arnarstapi villages are a Natural Reserve

Breiðafjörður to the west of Iceland is adorned with islands and islets, skerries and pillars. A few of them have been inhabited throughout the centuries and even today some of them are being utilized as farmland and nesting sites for eider ducks. Only one island, Flatey, is still inhabited. It has between five and ten permanent inhabitants, but during summer population increases considerably.  In 1942 Flatey (The Flat Island) carried 120 inhabitants going about their daily lives, farming and fishing. But, times change and so do people's priorities. During the next twenty years, nearly all the inhabitants moved away. Living in Flatey was considered not too cool. Of course, no one could sell the island properties. They were simply left to rot.

But, as we know the tides are constantly turning. Suddenly, in the 1970s Flatey became quite the rave. Everyone wanted to visit. Gradually, property owners returned to renovate their houses. The old hotel was spruced up and reopened. Ever since everything has been upwardly. And Flatey is most certainly worth the visit. It possesses an extraordinary atmosphere and an ethereal stillness.

The island is merely two kilometers long, and its width is less than one kilometer. Cars are prohibited on the island, which has only one gravel road leading from the ferry dock through the old village. The village consists of several beautifully restored old houses, a hotel with a very decent restaurant, a church, and a library. And this remote library holds one of Iceland's greatest treasures: Flateyjarbók, Iceland's largest medieval manuscript.

To get to Flatey, you simply board the Baldur ferry in Stykkishólmur on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula or at Brjánslækur on the south coast of the Westfjords.

Only one island, Flatey, is still inhabited.

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