Home > Blog > Discovering Snæfellsjökull National Park: A Gateway to Icelandic Wonders

Discovering Snæfellsjökull National Park: A Gateway to Icelandic Wonders


Snæfellsjökull National Park

    Snæfellsjökull National Park is, as the name suggests, one of the national parks in Iceland. But similar to Vatnajokull National Park, Snæfellsjökull is not only known for its breathtaking views and picturesque landscapes but also for its icy adventures on the glacier.

    This article discusses everything there is to know about this must-visit magical place in Iceland to help you plan and prep for your visit. So, without further ado, let’s dive into Snæfellsjökull National Park and all its wonders.

    Snæfellsjökull National Park in Iceland

    The Mystical Aura of Snæfellsjökull Glacier

    Iceland is a country seeped in a colorful history where the lines often get blurred by local legend and folklore. The Sagas, often containing real people shrouded in embellishments, are a good example of this. One of our most famous Sagas surrounds Snæfellsjökull, and it will remain up to you which parts you take as fable or biography.

    The Saga is about Bardur Snæfellsas (also known as Bardur Dumbsson), who was said to be half-man and half-giant. One can actually read up on Bardur’s entire life story, but we’ll only be dealing with what is relevant to Snæfellsjökull, which, ultimately, turned into Bardur’s fate. Bardur decided to go and settle in Iceland. With him was his half-brother and a man called Bardur Heyangursson (this is a good example of how murky the historical waters can get here since one can still find the relatives of Bardur Heyangursson on the island to this day).

    Snæfellsjökull Glacier

    Once Bardur and his party land in Iceland, they all have many adventures in various places on the island, and you will find that Bardur’s name changes a lot throughout the saga as events unfold in specific regions, and today, there are still places in Iceland where the name has clearly been a remnant of the story. But fast forward many years, and Bardur’s half-brother, who lived in Arnarstapi, has sons who enjoy playing with Bardur’s daughters (as cousins so often do).

    During one of these “play dates”, one of the boys pushed one of Bardur’s daughters, Helga, onto a sheet of ice. But, unfortunately for Helga, the wind suddenly picks up, and she is sent sailing across the ocean – all the way to Greenland. But Bardur doesn’t know that Helga is still alive and well, although far away in another country. He believes that his daughter is dead. In his rage, he goes and grabs the boys and throws each of them off a different cliff.

    Bardur’s half-brother was out at sea during this time, but upon his return, he learns about his sons’ deaths and immediately goes over to Bardur to get his revenge. A fight breaks out, and since these half-brothers were half-giants, this fight is credited for much of what the surrounding landscape looks like today. The fight eventually ends with Bardur as victor, leaving his half-brother having a broken leg. Bardur is suddenly overcome by guilt and grief for the loss of his daughter, the murder of the boys, and injuring his half-brother.

    He decided that living among the humans was not for him, and he departed deep into the glacier, never to be seen or heard from again. But just because he’s never seen or heard from again doesn’t mean he’s not there. Bardur became almost like a deity to locals, and he is believed to be the protector of Snæfellsjökull Glacier and the rest of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Today, you can also find a statue in honor of Bardur at Arnarstapi.  

    The Iconic Beauty of Kirkjufell

    Kirkjufell Mountain is one of Iceland’s most famous landmarks and has officially earned the title of Iceland’s most photographed mountain. The town sits on the north coast of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, near the town of Grundarfjördur. The mountain is shaped in the form of a cone or dome-like structure, hence why the name itself translates to ‘church mountain’.


    The mountain stands at a height of 463 meters, and while one can hike up the mountain and enjoy the panoramic views across the Icelandic landscape, summiting the mountain will require professional skills and an experienced guide by one’s side. Those who take photos of this incredible mountain also usually angle the camera in such a way that it includes the beautiful Kirkjufellsfossar Waterfall.

    This waterfall tumbles over the cliffs in what almost looks like three waterfalls as the flow is disrupted by rocks in certain parts of the fall. These days, visitors to the mountain not only come for its strange aesthetics but also because of the fame and recognition it received as ‘Arrowhead Mountain’ in the popular series, Game of Thrones.

    Beneath the Surface: The Infamous Lava Cave of Snæfellsjökull

    A lava cave is not your average deep, dark cavern somewhere in a cliffface. A lava cave is formed when lava flows across a landscape after an eruption, and its outer layer starts cooling and hardening due to the cold air and other chilly weather elements. After a while, the hardened outer layer of the lava looks similar to a tube or a pipe in which the remaining lava is still flowing.

    But, eventually, the last of the lava will leave the “pipe”, and all that one is left with is this hardened tubal shell. If one fast forwards to some time in the future, for some reason (whether due to a natural occurrence, erosion caused by time, or action by man), a hole could form that gives one access to this lava “tube”. With the opening in the earth’s surface, it’s now a cavern or lava cave ready to be explored – but safely!

    Lava Cave of Snæfellsjökull

    At Snæfellsjökull National Park, you will find one of our most famous lava caves here on the island, called Vatnshellir. Vatnshellir is believed to be more than 8000 years old, is 200 meters long, and runs 35 meters deep. As safety is always a primary concern, you can explore the cave via a guided tour. All gear and equipment are provided, and, although exploring is easy with a clearly marked trail and properly maintained wooden walkway with stairs, most tours require children to be at least 5 years old before joining a tour.

    Wildlife Encounters: Seals and Whales of the Peninsula
    As one can expect from a national park, getting up close to all its fauna and flora is a big motivator for many to visit. But at Snæfellsjökull with its icy wonders and coastal setting, this can be an extraordinary treat. These are some of what you can look forward to:

    The Ytri-Tunga Seal Colony

    Ytri-Tunga is a beach along the coast of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula inside the Snæfellsjökull National Park that is home to an entire colony of Harbour Seals. Here, you can see them either playing or hunting in the ocean or lazying around on the sandy shore. Ytri-Tunga is also one of the few beaches in Iceland that doesn’t have black sand but the “normal” golden sand most visitors will know and are used to.

    Going on a Whale Watching Tour

    One will find whale watching tour operators all across the island, but why not work in a tour while in Snæfellsjökull National Park? One of the most famous companies to offer these boat tours is Laki

    Though whale watching tours are offered all year round, it’s highly recommended that you take one during our official whale season, which runs from April to September. During this time, you’ll also get to see some of our migratory whale species that call Iceland home during this time. Some of the whales you may get to see on one of these tours are the Orcas, Sperm Whales, Minke Whales, and even the biggest of the whale species, the Blue Whales!

    Going Bird Watching

    You will find a wide variety of bird species in Snæfellsjökull National Park, with over 75 species recorded as permanent residents but over 300 species recorded according to sightings.

    Pufubjarg Cliff and Saxholsbjarg Cliff are especially popular among avid bird watchers. Some of what you may spot in Snæfellsjökull are Arctic Terns, Puffins (but only during their breeding season from May to August), Fulmars, Razorbills, Guillemots, and much, much more.

    Spot the Local Free-roaming Wildlife

    With the park lining the coast and it being mostly known for its ice and water, the wildlife one will find here is more of the marine life variety, even though you may still get to see some of the free-roaming reindeer or spot our shy, Pomeranian-looking-predator, the Arctic Fox.

    Hiking Through History: Arnarstapi's Natural and Cultural Heritage

    We’ve already mentioned Arnarstapi in the story of Bardur earlier, but this truly is an incredible spot. Arnarstapi is a tiny village at the base of Mount Snæfellsjökull, nestled in a natural harbor. And while this was once a thriving fishing village, it now mainly relies on tourism for its economy.

    This is pretty easy to do since it’s an incredibly picturesque little town known for its beautiful basalt cliffs (very popular among bird watchers) with just 15 permanent residents. Arnarstapi is also one of the few spots within Snæfellsjökull National Park where visitors can fuel up.

    There is also a very popular hiking trail that runs all along the coast between Arnarstapi and Hellnar. This is a beautiful trail offering breathtaking views. It’s also only 2.5 kilometers long (5 in total if you’re doing an out-and-back) and is considered easy on a difficulty scale. 

    The Enigmatic Shores of Djúpalónssandur

    It’s strange to think that this peaceful little bay with its picturesque black sand beach and black basalt cliffs was once a hustle-and-bustle with fishing and trading activity. But remnants of these times can still be found at the beach in the form of ancient lifting stones. These stones were used to test fishermen’s strength.

    The four stones range in weight from 23 kilograms to 155 kilograms and literally have names based on their “findings”. One is called Amlodi (‘useless’), another Halfdrættingur (‘weakling’), another Halfsterkur (‘half-strong’), and the last, Fullsterkur (‘full-strong’). Although there are no more fishermen required to undergo the challenge, visitors are welcome to try their luck.

    The Berserker Lava Fields: A Landscape Carved by Fire

    Roughly midway between Stykkisholmur and Grundafjordur, you will find the Berserker Lava Fields (aka Berserkjahraun Lava Field). This landscape was created by the lava flow of an eruption between 3000 to 4000 years ago.

    It is an incredibly beautiful spot, and as one travels through the lava field, there are a variety of viewpoints that offer breathtaking panoramic views of the lava fields and the rest of the Iceland landscape. This is a great place to re-energize, take a break, and have a little picnic on your journey through Snæfellsjökull National Park.

    The Hidden Gem: Svöðufoss Waterfall

    Never heard of Svöðufoss Waterfall before? Don’t worry, very few have. But once you’ve visited this incredible sight, you can’t help but wonder why this majestic waterfall is not spoken about more often and in the same vein as Dettifoss, Seljalandsfoss, and the rest of the waterfalls in Iceland.

    The waterfall has a 10-meter drop down black basalt cliffs before it continues trailing further downstream along lush green vegetation. This is also where you can get one of those must-have Snæfellsjökull National Park photos. If you take a photo of the waterfall at the right spot and angle, and on a clear day, you’ll have Snæfellsjökull Glacier as a backdrop.

    Navigating History: The Story of Malarrif Lighthouse

    The Malarrif Lighthouse is just a short walk from the Snæfellsjökull National Park visitor’s center and is well worth checking out. Not only as an interesting piece of architecture or a must-visit spot for any lighthouse enthusiast but also because of its incredible history and what it symbolizes.

    Built in 1946, the lighthouse offers breathtaking views across the ocean and the infamous Londrangar Cliffs and marks the southernmost point of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Malariff has been a protected landmark in Iceland since 2003.

    Take a Few Days to Explore All the Things to See and Do in Snæfellsjökull National Park

    You will need at least a few days to properly explore Snæfellsjökull National Park. That is why we highly recommend renting a motorhome with Motorhome Iceland and then road tripping around the park while staying at one of the beautiful yet affordable campsites in or around Snæfellsjökull National Park, such as Budir, Olafsvik, Hellisandur-Rif, or Arnarstapi-Hellnar. This way, you’ll get to camp in comfort and make your holiday budget stretch much further, all while having some of Snæfellsjökull’s most famous natural wonders on your doorstep.