Iceland, Days 1 & 2: Reykjavík and the Snæfellsnes Peninsula

I arrived in Reykjavik at about 11:00 A.M. on Wednesday morning. I couldn’t check in to the guesthouse until after 2:00, but I could drop my suitcase off there so I did and headed over to Laugavegur to Mál og Menning, my favorite bookstore in Reykjavik. There, I went to the cafe upstairs and bought a latte and a slice of quiche. After more than twelve hours of travel and airports, I needed a little pick-me-up. I also purchased a copy of The Elder Eddas, which is a collection of some of the oldest Viking lore in the world.

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After leaving Mál og Menning, I went for a long walk. And it started raining on me. Of course, my raincoat was with my suitcase. At least I had the rain cover for my camera bag. I dried out. My cameras would not have. I finally checked into the guesthouse (which I recommend if you’re planning to go to Reykjavik: Heida’s Home)

The next day I headed to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula on the western side of the country. It’s about a 2.5-hour drive from Reykjavik if you drive through the Hvalfjörður Tunnel, and about 45 minutes longer if you take the route that avoids the tunnel. On Snæfellsnes, you can find such landmarks as Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellsfoss, the Snæfellsjökull Volcano, the Lóndrangar basalt cliffs, the Saxaholl crater, Gatklettur and the sea cliffs of Arnarstapi, and the little black church of Búðakirkja. There are other things to see, of course. The Snæfellsjökull National park is home to many species of sea birds and arctic foxes, as well as several black sand beaches and hiking trails. There are also many hidden places that aren’t marked on a map. For example, I stopped at a little picnic area off Highway 56 to photograph a scenic overlook, and to my surprise, there was a beautiful waterfall located just below a scrawny hiking trail. Later, thanks to Google Maps, I found the name of that waterfall- Sheep’s Waterfall. It is not impressive when compared to other falls in Iceland, but because it isn’t well-known, it’s possible to have the place to yourself (as I did).

Unfortunately, it started raining about ten minutes after I arrived. Because the trail was steep in spots and muddy, I decided to head back to the car, in case the rain became torrential. I didn’t want the trail to start collapsing beneath my feet. I drove through the rain to the northern edge of the peninsula where Kirkjufell is located.

Kirkjufell is a distinctive, arrow-shaped mountain (featured in a couple of episodes of the HBO show, Game of Thrones). It is one of Iceland’s most popular scenic points, and rightfully so. The mountain stands by itself and is surrounded by water. If you trek a few hundred meters to the west, you’ll find yourself at Kirkjufellsfoss, a waterfall that is an easy walk from the highway. There are many spots on the walk (which is clearly marked, so stay on the trail) where you can get both the falls and the mountain in a single, dramatic photograph.

The rain came again and had me headed back to the car, but not before I photographed the little town of Grundarfjörður, which is east of Kirkjufell.

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From Kirkjufellsfoss I drove west toward the Snæfellsjökull National Park. The park is dominated by the sub-glacial Snæfellsjökull volcano, which is visible from Reykjavik on a clear day. Thanks to the peninsula’s volcanic activity, there are black sand beaches, acres of ground covered by little but rugged volcanic rock, high sea cliffs that harbor colonies of sea birds, and strange formations like Londrangar or Gatklettur. Because of a downpour, I had to bypass Londrangar, but I was able to make a stop in Arnarstapi and revisit the views I first saw in 2017. 

Arnarstapi is a little town on the southern coast of Snæfellsnes where you can hike a long trail that winds along the cliffs, through fields, over a little waterfall that falls directly into the ocean, through a lava field, and finally down to a black sand beach. If you stay by Arnarstapi, you can find the natural arch called Gatklettur, and then wander toward the harbor which gives you a great view of Mt. Stapafell.

By the time I left Arnarstapi, it was late in the afternoon. I wanted to stay longer to continue photographing the cliffs, but I had one last stop to make before sunset: Búðakirkja.

Búðakirkja is a little church located in the midst of a field of lava rock. It stands nearly alone, with only the cemetery beside it and a hotel farther up the road. The historic church was deconstructed years ago due to a lack of parishioners, but it was rebuilt in 1987 thanks to the efforts of a single parishioner and the area’s historical value. Now, the black-painted church attracts tourists due to its unique color and the beauty of the landscape.

Once again, I wanted to stay longer. The light was amazing and there were more shots I wanted to get, but the rain that followed me all day long struck again. With a downpour on its way and the 2.5-hour drive through rainstorms and darkness ahead of me, I reluctantly bid Snæfellsnes farewell.

Next: Skógafoss, the Fimmvörðuháls trail, Dyrhólaey, and Reynisfjara

8 thoughts on “Iceland, Days 1 & 2: Reykjavík and the Snæfellsnes Peninsula

  1. So very, very glad that ye have shared such wonderful photos of the trip. Me three favourites of this bunch are Solfar, the Sun Voyager; Grundarfjörður; and Gatklettur. I wish I could take such lovely photos. This makes me want to go back to Iceland so badly!
    x The Captain

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