Travel: An Overview of Snaefellnes National Park on the West Coast of Iceland

Snaefellsnes National Park is a beautiful, secluded area on the western coast of Iceland, only two and a half hours away from Reykjavik. It was voted one of the most romantic areas to get away in Iceland, and is the perfect place for both hiking in the summer and Northern light viewing in the winter. We stayed two days in this area and I absolutely fell in love. I wish we could have stayed an extra day in order to explore more of this region, but we were short on time in general. There are many things to see in this national park, and some of the most iconic images come from this area. The experience is unparalleled by other national parks we have visited, coupled with the seclusion and moody weather (even mid-summer!). Here, I will highlight a few sights but to be honest, none of these photographs do it justice and you really have to go for yourself to believe it.

Note: the sights are listed in order if you drive around the national park counter-clockwise, which is the direction that you approach it from Reykjavik (the south). The best way to get to the Snaefellsnes area (and all around Iceland) is by renting a car or campervan. We rented a car from Hertz which had the best deal at the time. Just a side note, there is plenty of gravel roads and F-roads in Iceland so you want to rent an F-road approved car if you want to reach the most remote of places. Also, we got car insurance for peace of mind since flying gravel is a common occurrence and we weren’t willing to risk car dents and broken windshields.

Related Posts:

Gerduberg Cliffs

A wall of columns make up this famous cliff.

These cliffs are encountered on the way to Snaefellsness National Park via a tiny road splitting from the main highway to the right. Parking wasn’t an issue as this place is usually deserted, allowing you to revel peacefully at its glory. Evenly spaced, dark grey basalt columns made from lava rock line the cliff walls and have baffled scientists for many years. It isn’t so much the fact that the columns extend for miles but rather, the fact that the evenness in width of each column makes it seem as if this natural beauty was carved by hand. The explanation comes from the way in which the lave rock must have cooled evenly. Small indentations in the grass show a path by which you can climb to the top of the cliffs to get a better view of the valley below.

Ytri Tunga Beach

This beach is comically famous in island as it is the only yellow sand beach present. To which Mike replied, “So like every beach in California?!” I suppose to an islander who is used to black sand beaches, this is a sight to be seen. It is still worth a visit as this is the stomping grounds for different breeds of seals. We visited during golden hour and the seals were playing in the water, bobbing their heads along as Mike and I climbed rocks to see them. Although we were originally unsure whether the “sameness” of this beach to one you would find in sunny San Diego is worth the drive, I was pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed our sunset there. We must have watched the seals for an hour, before heading off to dinner.

Budakirkja

Budakirkja set against the mountains in Snaefellsnes National Park.

This black church is similar to many churches in island, so if you’ve already seen one, there is no need to pull off the side of the road to see this one. However, it does mark the start of an eight-hour hiking trail that I wish I was able to do. It is hardly mentioned in the blogs online or in travel books, but it travels from Hotel Budhir to Hellnar. We did end up doing a portion of it, hiking from Anastarpi to Hellnar, but when we return to this region (which we surely will!), I would like to set aside the proper time to do the hike that starts from this church.

A bit of a ways at the beginning of the hidden trail. You can see the worn in grass which marks the path for the hike. All you need to do is walk away from the church towards the ocean.

Bjarnafoss

Such a beautiful waterfall. I can only imagine how much stronger it would be in the Spring.

This grand waterfall is so close to the road that you can see it on the road. The sign to the right of the road is small and easy to miss, but it is definitely turning back around for. There is a short hike that gets you closer to the falls, but not right up to the tippy top. Pro advice: a tiny picnic area hidden among the trees at the base of the waterfall makes this a great place to eat lunch.

The trail Mike is standing on leads to a hidden picnic table behind the trees.

Anastarpi

Bird-watching from the Cliff Viewpoint.

I’ve written about what can be found in Anastarpi in my previous post highlighting the hike from Anastarpi to Hellnar. This tiny town is a great place for bird-watching from the Cliff Viewpoint. It also has the famous Bdar Saga Statue that was built from rocks and towers over the town. You can climb the stone bridge and take a photograph that makes you look like you are high-up in the air, too. And I wrote in that post about the pizza we had for lunch, which I totally recommend. If you have a few days in the national park, I would really recommend hiking from here to Hellnar, as it is a short 1-hour trek and would break up the site-seeing quite nicely.

Bdar Saga Statue looking over the town.

Londrangar Viewpoint

Snaefellsnes is a bird-watcher’s paradise. There is no shortage of cliff areas to watch birds from.

There are many viewpoints along the highway running around Snaefellsness National Park. This one is just a few steps from the lot. It isn’t much different from the bird-watching that can be found in Anastarpi, but the rock formation was sure worth the two-minute detour.

Vatnshellir Cave

The entrance to the cave, although you must take a tour to see inside.

The Vatnshellir Cave is an 8,000 year old lava tube created during a nearby crater’s volcanic eruption. As the lava flowed down a hill onto the lava river, it cooled on the surface as the lava river continued to drain out, thus creating a roof-top over the existing cave. One company does tour guides for the cave and they are the only ones with a permit to enter. That means that you need to do a tour with a guide to see the cave. We decided not to join the tour as we had many other sites on our list. It doesn’t seemed to be booked in advance, which is good, as we saw cars pulling up and signing up for the next tour. You do need to wear proper gear which they provide (such as a helmet), and they ran 45-minute tours every hour at the price of 3500 ISK per adult.

Djupalonssandur Beach

The view of the beach from the top. If you look closely, you can see the ship-wreck remains – bright orange bits of rusting copper.

This beach was another area in which I sadly did not set aside enough time for. I was expecting nothing more than a black sand beach, but to my surprise, there were multiple hiking trails to take from the car park and this beach actually spans a large area. We did do one of the shorter hikes which took us down to the black rock beach, where the remains of a ship wreck can still be seen. To the right of the beach are steps that leads one to a small pool where previous settlers (mostly sea people) had to walk to to get access to drinkable water. There were two other hikes that I really wanted to see, each of which took 1-2 and 3-4 hours respectively. I will definitely be back here to explore! I think it would be best to set aside a half-day to see this beach at leisure.

The hike to the left of the beach took us to this secluded pool where sea travelers had to go to get drinking water.

Saxholar Crater

The Saxholar Crater is nothing but a huge hole in the ground that is viewable after climbing a surmountable number of steps. The cardio work was fun, don’t get me wrong, but the view was anti-climactic and honestly not worth the climb (unless you’ve never seen a crater before?). It is a five-minute detour from the road, if you just want to see it. But Iceland had so many other things to see!

Svortuloft Lighthouse

This was definitely not worth driving to as it required a 1 hour driving detour from the main road on a gravelly path (which meant a 2 hour detour total) just to see a lighthouse. There was, however, cool signs at the end that gave a bit of history about how the sea travelers who landed in this part of Iceland survived. Some of the old dwellings are still visible as mounds in the soil, and there is a scary looking well that you can look at. Mike was brave enough to walk into it, but it was too claustrophobic for me to even try. To be fair, we were coming to the end of our very long day of sight-seeing and I was getting cantankerous from the hunger pains signaling the need for dinner, and soon … so there’s that.

Mike bravely entering the under-ground well.

Kirkjufellsfoss

This waterfall and the background mountain reminds me of Mount Crumpit from Who-ville where The Grinch lived. It is so fairytale like that I wouldn’t believe it was a real place if I didn’t see it myself. The fall itself isn’t as grand as it seems from the photographs but the background can’t be beat on a clear day (luckily, it did clear up in the latter half of the afternoon). There is a lot on the side of the road and it is a minute’s walk from the car park to the fall itself. I had to open this entire post with this photograph, although here is another view of it without the mountain in the background from the base of the fall. Not as grand, right? It is one of the most famous sites for Google stock photos, and looks even prettier (or so it appears in other people’s pictures) with the Northern Lights in the background.

Sights we did not see:

  • Skarsdvik Beach
  • Berserkjahraun
  • Ondverdarnesviti
  • As mentioned at the beginning of the post, a few days was not enough time to see it all. Here are sights we did not see but will make the list on our second go around. Also, the hikes mentioned in today’s post are also going on the list for our return trip! These photographs are only a sneak peak of what there is to see in this area of Iceland. The pictures do not do the beauty justice. ‘Til next time!

    Travel: Hiking Anastarpi to Hellnar, Iceland

    This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

    Anastarpi and Hellnar are tiny towns located in Snaefellsnes National Park on the western coast of Iceland. When I say tiny towns, I really do mean a few homes, at best. Remotely located on the coastline, there are a lot of great views to be had on the cliffs, which are teaming with seabirds, jagged rock, and strands of beach.

    SIDE NOTE: There is a hike that extends all the way from Hotel Budir to Hellnar (which no one EVER talks about) that we did not get to add to our itinerary (because we simply did not know about it before hand and did not allocate enough time) but it tops my bucket list for our return to Iceland. Even now, as I sit in the comforts of my home trying to google information about the hike through Budahraun Natural Reserve, I cannot glean any information. The only evidence of such a hike is an AllTrails suggestion. According to my travel notes, it is a 6-8 hour trek that begins at Hotel Budir (you will see a sign plus the trailhead starts after Budakirkja Church). Thankfully, I took a photograph of the sign.

    There will be a river crossing but if you want to avoid getting wet, you can cross it on the road above the trail. The tail end of this long hike is the one I will write about today, which spans from Anastarpia to Hellnar.

    Hiking Anastarpi to Hellnar

    It takes about one hour to hike from Anastarpi to Hellnar. When I say the towns are tiny, I really do mean tiny. I can count on my fingers and toes the number of buildings present in Anastarpi. There are less in Hellnar. The hike is easy, and goes along the coastline. We drove to Anastarpi around 10am and parked at a lot in front of the restaurant. Tour buses frequently park here so I would come earlier rather than later to snag a spot. I would suggest walking around the area first before starting this hike.

    At Anastarpi, there is this giant stone statue called Bdar Saga. It is worth looking at and reading the sign.

    From far away, he looks like a guardian standing over the city for protection.

    Or a lonesome stranger sitting in nature.

    There are also cliffs from which to birdwatch.

    My favorite view was this stone bridge.

    To the east, there is a trail that I am sure connects to the hike originating at Hotel Budir. Head towards the lake and onwards if you wish to go that way.

    The view of Anastarpi. Beautiful green grass, colorful buildings, a blue lake, and birds everywhere. This is the perfect bird watching place!

    The hike to Hellnar is to the west. Once you’ve had a chance to look around, I would start walking west and you will approach a gate that’s meant to stay closed. This is the mark of the trailhead. Don’t let the gate deter you, it is open.

    The trail is mostly through volcanic rock terrain. Hiking boots are not a necessity, but if you are curious, this is what I wear on every hike when I travel:

    Mikey moving along the trail.
    A boy looks into a hidden cave.
    When you get to this boardwalk, you know you are approaching Hellnar.

    At the end of the trail, once you reach Hellnar, there is a cute cafe situated on the coastline. It isn’t fancy, by any means, which adds to its charm. I highly recommend stopping here to grap a cuppa and a snack. They make really good waffles. On a rainy or snowy day, you can cozy up inside, but we preferred the outdoor views, even with the overcast weather.

    They were generous with the house-made whipped cream.
    On the way back, we were surprised to find this brightly colored home. Which goes to show that turning around to see from whence you came is always a good idea.

    We headed back to Anastarpi after our coffee pick-me-up and arrived shortly after lunch-time. There is a pizza place and a burger joint. I highly recommend the pizza place, although it is a bit pricier than the burger spot across the street. But the pizza was the perfect lunch after our hike!

    So how do I rate this hike? The hike was an easy one with mild views. It was not my favorite trek but it is good for children and older folks who wish to do a bit of jaunting while in Snaefellsnes National Park. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I had connected to it from Hotel Budir. As I said before, we’ll save that for next time!