After four days on my own in Iceland, I was ready for some company. Kara, whom I was travelling with and is BAE, finally finished her week of work and we were ready for a roadtrip. YAS! Just two besties driving around in a foreign country where our phones’ GPS only sometimes work! We were super excited to get out of Reykjavík and explore the Snæfellsnes Peninsula of West Iceland.
The Snæfellsnes Peninsula boasts tiny villages, welcoming people, friendly horses, a glacier, a national park, incredible coastline, thousands of migrating arctic terns, waterfall after waterfall and so much more, all with a focus on sustainable travel and tourism. Everywhere you turn it’s like looking at a movie scene, and I was lucky enough to be a passenger while Kara drove me around the whole peninsula. She likes to pull over to take in the scenery and for photo ops just as much as I do!
We got a late start out of Reyjavík because one of us has a job and car rentals are never ever easy. Our destination for the night was a tiny guesthouse on the north side for the peninsula, but we decided to visit a couple villages and find some local fare for dinner. We ended up in the fishing town of Stykkishólmur and ate what seemed like an actual feast at a restaurant called Narfeyrarstofa. This was a cozy little place that was packed with people, and not just because there are few options in town. It was really quite good. We both had the fish stew and I ate steamed local mussels. Kara had a burger because that is her actual favorite. Most importantly, this place had the most delicious butter and salt I think I’ve ever had in life. I can’t eat gluten, but let me tell you, I just ate that butter and salt on the end of my knife it was so good. Kara was civilized and had rolls with her butter. Lucky her.
After filling our bellies, we made our way along to our homestead for the evening. It was getting late and we were eager to check in to our accommodations. However, nature stopped us in our tracks with her light show. We just had to stop and pull over to watch a sunset worth crying over. It truly was one of the most lovely sights I’ve ever seen.
Once you’re outside of the few cities there are in Iceland, everything gets rather remote. I was grateful to be on the island during the summer when it never gets fully dark, as you never know when you’ll get stuck in a broken down car with no cell service and have to take shifts sleeping and watching out for ax murders (Iceland is very safe, I don’t think they have ax murders). We arrived at the Sudur-Bár Guesthouse a little after 11pm when we learned our cell service actually had failed us and we had left the inn keeper waiting up well past his closing time for the evening. Martin the inn keeper, thankfully, had been up watching nature’s evening show himself, and was waiting for us with a gracious welcome. We stayed in a little cabin with a view of the sea and Kirkjufell Mountain and slept like babies wearing our eye masks to block out the sun that never fully sets that time of year.
In the morning, Kara and I ate our continental breakfast in a sunroom with a view of the mountain and got to watch the wind whip the flags and the grass while we drank our coffee. Martin came to chat with us and told us about his family farm and guesthouse. After we finished we even got a little tour of the grounds. Sudur-Bár Guesthouse boasts a small greenhouse where Martin grows a few varieties of vegetables and very lovely roses. We also got to meet Martin’s string of horses. Now I had met my fair share of horses over the week and these were by far the most friendly. They nibbled my sweatshirt and my boots, nudged me for pets, and gave me kisses. I loved it; they were so sweet.
The Snæfellsnes peninsula prides itself on sustainable tourism and we were keen to see all of the natural wonders that we could. First stop on our list was Kirkjufellfoss, the waterfall at the base of Kirkjufell Mountain. Topping out at 1,519 feet, the mountain is striking, all covered in green against the morning grey sky as the backdrop to the waterfall. It’s a well known scene on the peninsula as the area has been featured on the HBO show Game of Thrones (best show ever). If i had to guess, this is the most tourist driven site on the peninsula outside of the national park. Kara and I went on the short improved walk around the waterfall to take photos and listen to the water crash down onto the rocks.
We drove west through lava fields lining the coast to the Snæfellsjökull National Park. We stopped for waterfalls, and horses, and fjord vistas along the way. Once we got into the park we had stretches of road that went on for miles and miles where we didn’t see any other cars. It was peaceful and remote as we made our way around the Snæfellsjökull glacier. The clouds came and went and came and went, giving us views at the cratered icy peak that was dictating the direction of our drive.
My favorite stop in the park had to have been the Lóndrangar Pinnacles. The pinnacles are volcanic basalt plugs that are jutting out of the Þúfubjarg cliffs over the north Atlantic. This is a great place to watch seabirds. When we were there, there was an abundance of Arctic Fulmar diving off the cliffs to hunt and returning to the tiniest footholds to roost.
We moved on to the Gestastofa Visitor Center where we learned about the history of the land we were exploring. It is said by many that the glacier has ancient powers that were witnessed by the folklore figure of Bárður Snæfellsás, gaurdian of the peninsula. The center is the last stop on a paved road that continues on its way to its destination of the Malarrif lighthouse, first built in 1917 on the grounds of one of the most western lying and remote farms in Iceland.
The rest of the day was left for us to drive at our leisure making our way back to Reykjavík. We stopped and did the hike up to Bjarnarfoss, our last walkabout while we were still in the lush green areas of the coast. The falls reach a height of 260 feet and the name Bjarnarfoss translates to Cascade – a fitting moniker.
As we headed further inland on our roadtrip, Kara was in desperate need of a driving break. We made an unexpectedly pleasant pit stop at the Snæfellsnes Information Center. We thought all we were going to get was a restroom and a couple of soda machines. What we found instead was the spartan center juxtaposed alongside several food trucks, perfectly happy to make us smoothies and espressos and hot soups. All of this was on a lot situated along Route 54 as it headed through a sparse plain in between the ocean and the mountains. It was beautiful and we were caffeinated.
We made the final detour of our drive to the Gerðuberg cliffs. These rock formations made of dolerite basalt look like thousands of angular pillars plunged neatly into the ground. You can climb among the pillars and explore this otherworldly bit of landscape. It made me feel like a video game character, right along with the bouncy soundtrack that played in my head. Above the pillars there is a plateau you can reach on your climb that gives you a wide expansive view of the Hnappadalur valley. It was the perfect spot to breathe in the fresh clean Icelandic air and reflect on the adventures of Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
By the time we got back for our last night in Reykjavík, we were exhausted and delighted with our roadtrip. We took another stroll around the city for our last dinner before heading back to the states. We talked about waterfalls and horses, hikes and migrating birds, glaciers and lava fields, all the while being so grateful to have had the adventure together. Just two best friends, doing their damndest to get as close to the Arctic Circle as they dare.