Winter road trip in Snaefellsnes peninsulaPublished: 5. January 2017
Another weekend, another road trip adventure. This time, Kristie, my wife, and I are exploring Snæfellsnes peninsula. Snæfellsnes is one of my favorite parts of Iceland and it makes for a perfect weekend destination, as it is only about 90 minutes outside of Reykjavik.
We load up our Happy Campers van with food, camera stuff, and, most importantly, plenty of warm clothes. It's January in Iceland, so we better be prepared for anything. Once we're all set, we start driving north.
The drive is pretty straightforward. Just follow Road 1 (the ring road) until you reach Borgarnes. This small town is the perfect place for any last minute stops for gas, food, etc. before continuing to Snæfellsnes. Once you're ready to go, you will make a left at the last roundabout leaving Borgarnes, onto road 54. This road will take you around the entire peninsula, so it's impossible to get lost.
Keep in mind that you will have to pay a toll at the underground tunnel even before reaching Borgarnes. You can avoid paying the 1,000 ISK fee ($9) by driving the entire Hvalfjordur bay, but that will add about 30-40 minutes to your trip each way. If you have spare time, I actually recommend driving Hvalfjordur bay, as it is a really beautiful drive.
90 minutes after leaving our apartment, we are are the base of the 90km long peninsula ready for adventure. Even the weather seems to be in a good mood, as we can actually see some clear skies and sunlight - highly unusual this time of year in Iceland. I can't really call it a destination, but driving along the southern coast is probably my favorite part about my Snæfellsnes road trips. When the weather behaves, you can't beat the scenery. There are plenty of things to see if you take your time, such as small waterfalls, geothermal areas, etc. I decided to stop by a small waterfall by the side of the road to take some photos. I don't even know if the waterfall has a name, but here it is on a map.
You can drive around the Snæfellsnes peninsula either clockwise, or counter-clockwise. I drove counter-clockwise during my last road trip, so we decided to drive around the peninsula clockwise this time. Either way, I recommend taking road 55 across the peninsula. It's a gravel road, but it offers some really cool scenery, including a beautiful lava field. I took the photo of the lava field below the summer of 2013, at 11PM.
Our first stop is at Búðir, a tiny village, if you can call it that, that consists of only a hotel and a church. The church is called Búðakirkja and was originally built there in 1703 but was reconstructed in 1987. Both the hotel and the church nest in the Búðahraun lava field and have the ocean in the background, making the scenery truly awesome.
After our stop at Búðir, we continued driving west towards Arnarstapi. Arnarstapi is a tiny fishing town and probably my favorite place in Snæfellsnes. It perfectly captures the serenity and the desolate atmosphere in Iceland during the winter months. We put bundled up again and decided to take a long walk. There is a nice path that will take you along the coastline cliffs and give you a great view of the town and the peninsula. We even saw a wild mink for the first time in our lives!
After our walk, the sun was already setting and we were losing daylight fast. This is one of the biggest cons of traveling in Iceland during winter. I love traveling in winter, but having only 4-5 hours of daylight will limit your activities a lot. We warmed up in the car and I took some photos of the last rays of daylight peaking through the clouds above the mountains.
Once we were warm, we continued our trip and started driving towards Londrangar basalt cliffs. These cliffs are pretty unique and the view over there is perfect, but by the time we got there, it was almost pitch-black. Below is a photo I took almost 6 years ago in the summer. Needless to say, it looks very different in the winter, but taking photos is impossible without light!
After making a quick stop at Londrangar, we decided to go back to Hotel Búðir to get some dinner. Their restaurant is nearly empty during this time of year but the service and food quality was amazing. Kristie accidentally ordered "Saltfiskur" (Salty fish), a popular Icelandic dish, and found out that her tolerance for salt does not match the Icelanders'.
After a nice stop at Hotel Búðir, we decided to spend the night by one of our favorite geothermal hot springs, called Landbrotalaug. We had to backtrack a little bit to get there, but you will find the hot spring by turning left onto a gravel road about 1 km after you pass the Road 55 turn-off. Keep following the gravel road and then make a left up a small hill, where you can park the car. You can also check it out on Google Maps.
By this point, it was so dark and cold that we decided not to jump in the pool. But we had great memories from this spot from the last time we were here in 2015. We picked up a hitchhiker from the Czech Republic and joined him on his quest to find this spring.
But now it's January, so I just decided to set my camera up for the sunrise and call it a night. And what a sunrise it was. For about an hour, we watched how the sun slowly peaked above the lowest mountain tops, changing the color of the sky from deep orange to blue. It was very cold, but almost no wind and clear skies. We made some coffee and enjoyed a quiet hour surrounded by nothing but silence and beautiful nature.
After enjoying the sunrise for a good hour, we had a decision to make. The sunrise wasn't until around 10:15 and now it was almost 11:30. Again, having short days in winter can really limit your travels. We eventually decided to just take our time and not rush to drive around the entire peninsula in 3 hours or in complete darkness. We took our last sips of coffee and started heading back to Reykjavik. After all, this was just a short weekend trip and we had already explored Snæfellsnes in the past.
There is obviously plenty more to explore in the Snæfellsnes area, such as the Snæfellsjokull glacier itself, Kirkjufell mountain, Gerðuberg basalt columns, and Djúpalónssandur beach. These places are some of my favorite in the country and I highly recommend that you take the time to add them to your list. In the summertime, it shouldn't take more than 2 days to explore most of these places if you plan it right.
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