FOLLOWING A LONG DRIVE FROM AKUREYRI THE NEXT MORNING, we leave the Ring Road again and head to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, which juts out like a finger from western Iceland. The Snæfellsnes has been described as a mini-Iceland because it offers a microcosm of the whole country – glaciers, lava fields, wide open spaces, and wildlife-watching.
It’s well worth veering away from the Ring Road to spend at least overnight here, but the dramatic landscapes beg for a couple more days if the schedule permits. It’s also accessible from Reykjavik, with numerous tour groups making their way here from the capital especially in summer.
After briefly stopping in Borgarnes for a quick lunch, we continue our drive to Grundarfjörður, a small town in the northern part of the peninsula, whose main claim to fame is the iconic Kirkjufell. The mountain, which resembles a wizard hat from a certain angle, is one of Iceland’s most popular sights, having appeared in numerous tourism promotions. A walking trail goes around it, though experienced hikers can hire a guide and tackle it up to the summit, where bird and fish fossils can be found.
After about an hour, we drive further west and reach the seaside town of Ólafsvík to gas up and use the gas station’s toilet. The town itself has nothing much to see except for a black-sand beach and a harbor where seamen do their thing.
The main destination for the day, though, is Hellissandur in the northwestern corner of the Snæfellsnes. Just before the town itself is the Ingjaldshólskirkja, a pretty church on top of the hill, which according to legend is where Christopher Columbus went to meet with Icelanders in 1477. The church, built in 1903, has a typical Icelandic structure with white walls and a red roof. We spend the rest of the afternoon here exhausting our camera’s memory cards around the area before retiring in Hotel Hellissandur in the evening.
The next morning, we continue on with our trip, heading to Djúpalónssandur in the southwestern part of the peninsula. It’s another black-sand beach, but with interesting stone formations that were shaped by the tides and the winds. The path to the beach also has a lovely lake with the Snæfellsjökull glacier looming in the background.
The Snæfellsjökull might be familiar to science fiction fans, as it’s the starting point of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth. The glacier is situated above a dormant volcano in the center of the Snæfellsjökull National Park, and can be seen from as far as Reykjavik on a clear day.
Just before leaving Snæfellsnes, we stop at Búðakirkja, another church with a typical Icelandic architecture. This one is notable for its black color and the surreal landscape around it – an expanse of lava field where grass has grown. We spend another great deal of time taking pictures before driving to meet the Ring Road again.