Day 5 in Iceland involved our ambitious goal of driving the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in one day. I highly recommend you come here to experience the spectacular fjords and seaside cliff sides, the golden beaches, gorges and the famous Snæfellsnes glacier. Be sure to get an early start to the day and choose the top sites you want to visit within this diverse 100 km landscape. If you have time to spare, definitely choose to stay an extra day to explore the peninsula, you won’t regret it!
Ytri Tunga Beach
Unlike the black sand beaches you experience in the south, Ytri Tunga is a golden sand beach that lies along the southern portion of Route 54. The beach is well known for its seals, and it is common to see seals flopping around on the rocks.
Our next stop was the Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge, just a short 25 minute drive west of Ytri Tunga Beach. The sheer size of the cliff face will take your breath away as you approach. Just a short 15 minute hike from the parking lot, make your way up along the stream until you reach the entrance.
It is possible to continue climbing up through the gorge. Just keep following the stream, climbing up the rocks until you see a rope, which you can pull yourself up to a small waterfall! I never made it this far, but I definitely saw other tourists making the trek inwards (and getting soaked trying).
After working up an appetite, we decided to drop by the town of Hellnar to seek out a cozy little cafe called Fjöruhúsið. They make the absolute best homemade hot chocolate and an excellent fish soup. Sit out on the patio and soak up the stunning views of the coast. I highly recommend you stop by here for a bite to eat before beginning your hike towards Arnarstapi.
On the third day, we took our time travelling back to Reykjavik and visiting the sites we originally missed along the way.
Easily seen from the Ring Road (Route 1), Skógafoss is a massive waterfall standing 60 metres tall and 25 metres wide. This is a great place to stretch out your legs from your long drive, with the parking lot being just off the main road. You can walk straight up to the falls, but be prepared to get soaked from all the mist! It is such an amazing feeling standing so close to such a massive waterfall! You can hear the roar of the water crashing down as you walk closer and closer. Rainbows are very common since there is so much mist.
To the side of the waterfall is a staircase that will take you all the way to the top! From here you can see the Skógá River spilling over the edge.
We arrived in Reykjavik and were lucky enough to see the Northern Lights as we entered the city! I can only imagine how spectacular the lights would have been if we were still outside the city! After staring at the sky until our necks hurt, we finally checked into our accommodation at Apartments Aurora. This apartment was the perfect resting spot for the next couple days – private, cozy with all the amenities included. The best part was having a kitchen to cook our meals in.
Reykjavik is such a quaint city. Be sure to spend some time walking around the shops and checking out the numerous murals painted on the sides of the buildings. For dinner, we stopped by the restaurant called Noodle Station for a bowl of hot spicy noodles. The prices are very cheap in comparison to everything else in Reykjavik.
An Unexpected Turn – Lake Kleifarvatn
On Day 4, we decided to take a day trip out to the Golden Circle, starting with a quick stop at Kerið, a volcanic crater lake, and going counter-clockwise from there. We set up our GPS and off we went. Or so we thought.
About 15 minutes into our drive we found ourselves driving south out of Reykjavik, but through an industrial area…odd, but we figured not out of the ordinary since Kerið was located on the southern portion of the Golden Circle. Trusting our GPS we continued onwards and thought to ourselves that this must be some alternate route to Kerið. Before long we found ourselves transported into another world aka Route 42. A narrow freshly pressed gravel road and a landscape that resembled Mars, we finally checked the GPS and realized we were on our way to another location with the same name! There were hardly any cars along this road, you could literally count an entire 2 to 5 minutes before a lorry or car would finally drive by. We came across the most beautiful and serene lake called Kleifarvatn. We parked our car and simply sat at the waterline admiring its calm waters and the reflection of the sun rising in the sky. At this point we accepted our detour and decided to continue onwards to see if we would encounter anymore beautiful surprises.
A short 5 minutes down Route 42, we encountered Krýsuvík, a geothermal field with a newly built boardwalk that winds through the bubbling and hissing volcanic vents and boiling hot springs up to steep hill that is hikeable to the top! The massive boiling hot spring and the incredible views are well worth the extra leg work. The geothermal cools produce a very strong cotton egg smell, but eventually you just get used to it. Try not to breath through your mouth too much! There is a parking lot as well as toilet facilities at this site.
By noon, we finally started driving back toward the Golden Circle, taking Route 427, which runs along the southern coastline of Iceland.
Kerið is a 55 metre deep volcanic crater that was formed about 3000 years ago. This crater is composed of red volcanic rock (versus black) and at the bottom is most brilliant aquamarine blue water. You can hike around the edge of the crater, which takes about 30 minutes, or make your way down to the bottom. This attraction is well worth the small 400 ISK per person admission fee. The best time to visit is when it is overcast or when the sun is highest in the sky in order to avoid deep shadows.
A 45 minute drive northeast on Route, you will come across Gullfoss, a large waterfall that cuts deep into a rugged canyon. The sheer size of the waterfall and rushing sound of water will have you mesmerized. From the parking lot, there is a clear path and stairs you can take to view the waterfall up close.
There is also a restaurant and cafe on-site where you can grab a bite to eat before leaving.
I still laugh to this day, the set of instructions I used in order to find Bruarfoss waterfall. It definitely is an adventure to find, but not too difficult.
Driving west on Route 37/Laugarvatnsvegur, you will see a sign for Brekkuskógar. Turn right (there is no gate, unlike the other entrances into this neighbourhood). You will see a neighbourhood of summer homes to the right indicating you are in the correct place. Follow the road until you see a very small turnoff to the left with enough rooms for about two cars to park. It is in a grassy area with no houses. From here follow the foot path over a small bridge, then head left and stay on trail through the dense fields. Enough tourists have travelled the path, so it is easy to follow to the waterfall. You will hear the water running in the distance. Be sure to were appropriate footwear as the path is quite muddy and can be slipper in areas, especially at the small bridge.
Bruarfoss, although not the largest waterfall, is quite easily my favourite. The brilliant turquoise water was beyond beautiful and I highly recommend you make time for this gem in your Iceland itinerary.
Because of our detour in the morning, we did not have enough time to visit Þingvellir National Park with its striking volcanic rock formations, waterfalls and scenic trails. This park came as highly recommended and if I were to ever return, I would certainly add this to my itinerary.
On our second day in Iceland, we continued eastward along the Ring Road (Route 1) towards the glacial lagoon, Jökulsárlón. This lagoon is formed from melted glacial water running from the Vatnajökull glacier, the largest glacier in Europe! It is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland, and for good reason. The landscape is constantly changing as chunks of ice slowly enter the lagoon and drift out into the sea. So no two visits are ever the same!
Unfortunately we were not blessed with the clearest weather on this day. The winds were gusting and the rain was just not letting up, so I was not one of the lucky ones to obtain beautiful shots of the ice before I had to continue on our journey.
Due to the inclement weather, we were unable to visit Skaftafell/ Vatnajökull National Park. It is here where you find Svartifoss – a dramatic waterfall along a backdrop of hexagonal basalt columns. Although I was unable to view this beautiful waterfall, I would highly recommend you to see it yourself. This national park is also an amazing spot for glacial hikes and visiting the famous Crystal Ice Cave in the winter.
We headed back west towards Kirkjubæjarklaustur to wait out the weather and grab a bite to eat. Thankfully by late afternoon, we were able to venture out to our final destination of the day: Fjaðrárgljúfur.
Easily one of my favourite places from my entire trip, Fjaðrárgljúfur is a massive winding canyon that spans 2 km long and 100 metres deep! It is just a short detour from the Ring Road (Route 1) and getting here is not difficult. Simply turn onto the (gravel) Road F-206 to Lakagígjar and follow it until you reach a fork in the road. If you stick to the left, you will come across a parking lot just before the bridge located at the mouth of the canyon. Note, as you turn into Road F-206, you are immediately greeted with a sign indicating clear instructions for getting to the canyon.
You can hike along the canyon floor or all the way up to the edges of the canyon peaks themselves (be careful as the peak edges are often muddy). From above, you can see the glacial river, Fjaðrá, carving its way through narrow canyon. You easily feel a sense of calm and awe as you view this natural wonder from every angle. Also be careful not to step on sheep poop while you’re hiking along the surrounding grassy areas.
Iceland is one of those places that really opens up your eyes to the raw beauty of nature. Every time I think back to my trip, I still remember experiencing such an overwhelming sense of awe. The sites, the sounds, each mountain and valley; everything was so new and wonderful to me. Let me take you along my 5 day journey through the southern regions of Iceland to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
Day 1: Keflavík Airport to Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
We arrived at Keflavik Airport at 5:30 AM. After picking up a cup of coffee, some sandwiches and our rental car, we were well on our way towards the ring road before sunrise. Leaving the airport, I distinctly remember seeing mossy lava fields lining both sides of the road and the most magnificent double rainbow that seemed to span the entire sky! Pair this with sunrise, and that had to be one of the greatest welcomes I’ve ever witnessed in a country.
Driving for 2 hours along the Route 1, our first stop was Seljalandsfoss. Seljalandsfoss is one of Iceland’s highest waterfalls, at 63 metres tall. The waterfall is a beautiful site, but what makes the experience even more memorable is the fact that you can walk behind it!
Continuing east for 45 minutes along Route 1, we arrived in the town of Vík. I fondly remember seeing the town just around the bend in the road, with mountains lining both sides…what an entrance! Here we stopped for a bite to eat at Halldórskaffi. This is restaurant serves everything from smoked trout, cured lamb, burgers to local beers. It is located in the oldest building in Vík and has a very chill and homey vibe. We quickly picked up some groceries from Kjarval, filled our gas tank and were back on the road towards Dyrhólaey.
Dyrhólaey is a small peninsula only 20 minutes west of Vík. Keep in mind, we back tracked to this area but you can easily stop by before heading into town. We were just really hungry so we decided it was easy enough to come back after replenishing our energy levels.
When driving east on Route 1/ring road, turn right onto road 218. Note, there are two options to drive – an upper and lower part. I highly recommend you visit both. Taking the upper path, drive carefully and keep your car in a lower gear. The path is very narrow and winds sharply. At the top you are graced with breathtaking views of the coastline extending into the horizon and the naturally formed arch that extends from the cliff into the ocean.
Driving back down, be sure to take the lower path, and take a walk out onto the the amazing rock formations that have been shaped by the pounding waves! You can also view Reynisfara from a different angle and the “Eagle Rock”, which sticks up from the black sand beach.
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
I could honestly spend hours at Dyrhólaey, but next stop is the famous Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach. Head back to Route 1 and go east until you see Road 215. Turn right and drive all the way down until you see a parking lot.
Reynisfjara is exactly as you imagine and more! The beach is lined with black pebbles and features towering cliffs of geometric basalt columns. Watch our for the waves as you walk around, they can be exceptionally powerful and I distinctly remember almost getting caught by a wave that travelled all the way up to the cliffs! I had to jump up on the first set of rocks to avoid the water. This is definitely a must see site!
Finally, we headed to our final destination for the day, the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur. We spent both our first and second nights of accommodation at Hótel Geirland. This is a good spot between Vík and Jokulsarlon for a break. They have a restaurant on site and specialize in smoked lamb, smoked Atlantic charr, homemade skyr cake and more!
Icelandic horses and sheep roam the fields and hills surrounding the property. It truly is a scenic and calm place to rest after a long day of site seeing.
There is a small yet distinctive waterfall called Stjórnarfoss along the same road that leads to the hotel (Road 203 Geirland). Just take a short walk along the narrow footpath beside the river until you reach it.