Iceland Day 8: The Snæfellsnes Peninsula

As we continued our road trip along Iceland’s Ring Road, after a long day of driving from the Mývatn area, we arrived in Grundarfjörður on the northern side of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula!

Exhausted, we rested in our vacation apartment for a bit, made a trip to the nearby grocery store to pick up some food for a couple of meals, cooked some hamburgers for dinner, and then headed out for some nearby sightseeing.

Kirkjufell

While there were a bunch of clouds in the sky, we could see that Kirkjufell mountain was completely clear, so knowing that the next day was scheduled for rain, we decided to head towards the nearby Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall to see if we could get a picture showing the classic view of this famous mountain.

Success! While John would have loved to climb to the top, but words like “treacherous” and “annual death count” were included in the description of the hike, which was a no-go for me. That said, if you like extreme hiking, it should take you three hours for the round trip journey, but make sure to only attempt it on a dry day!

Grundarfjörður Guesthouse and Apartments

We decided to spend two nights at the apartment part of the Grundarfjörður Bed and Breakfast. With three bedrooms, plus a kitchen, we knew that we were going to be quite comfortable. The views of Kirkjufell from our bedroom window didn’t hurt anything either.

One thing to note is that only the rooms in the bed and breakfast portion of the complex includes a complimentary breakfast. If you stay in the apartments, you can make your own breakfast in the kitchen.

Búðakirkja

After a pleasant night sleep, we had breakfast in our apartment and then set out for a day of sightseeing. First, we decided to drive on the 54 pass across the peninsula. The first part of it was gravel, but turned to pavement after a short time.

Unfortunately Google Maps didn’t seem to be able to find Búðir Church, but we came across signs pointing to Búðir and realized that what we should have typed into Google Maps was the Icelandic name for the church, Búðakirkja!

There were a lot of easy looking hiking paths that would have been delightful to explore, but we weren’t sure we had time for them, so we spent about 5-10 minutes enjoying the nearby scenery.

Arnarstapi to Hellnar Hike

The main reason we didn’t stay and wander the paths near Búðakirkja was because our Iceland with Kids guide book indicated that the hike from Arnarstapi to Hellnar was supposed to be better and we didn’t have time for both. If you do have the time, it is possible to hike all the way from Búðakirkja to Hellnar.

The start of the trail is at this funny little statue of Bárður Snæfellsás, which you will easily see as you drive into town. Bárður was supposedly half human and half troll/giant, who instead of dying, turned into a “guardian spirit” who protected the region. You can read a long version of the folklore on Guide to Iceland’s website.

From this statue, there are plenty of wide, flat paths with very little incline that are perfect for a family that wants stroller accessibility. However, if you continue towards the town of Hellnar, you will get more fully into nature and the path will turn much narrower and rockier, but still will have minimal incline.

As you continue into Hellnar, you will see a boardwalk, a few houses and a rocky beach. We thought about continuing into the main part of town, but we had a cave tour scheduled for later in the afternoon, it was drizzling, and the scenery in front of us didn’t look quite as spectacular as the scenery behind us, so we turned around.

What a lovely hike! If you have an extra hour, add this hike to your itinerary! We were there on a rainy/foggy day and found it to be quite pleasant, but in nicer weather, I can imagine just how spectacular this hike could be!

Gestastofa Visitor’s Center and Londrangar Sea Stacks

From here, our next stop was the Gestastofa Visitor’s Center, which is also a start of the Londrangar Sea Stacks hike.

The Gestastofa Visitor’s Center has a nice exhibit highlighting the fishing history of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Did you know that this area used to be one of the most populated areas in Iceland? Stop here to find out more or to get some travel tips that are more suited to your interests.

You can also start the Londrangar Sea Stacks hike here as well. We could just barely make out the forms of the sea stacks through the fog, but didn’t have enough time to hike 15 minutes each way to get there and back. We thought about coming back after our cave tour, but as it turns out the fog had become more significant and we didn’t think it would be worth hiking.

Vatnshellir Cave Tour

Our next stop was just a few minutes down the road. We decided to take the boys on the Vatnshellir Cave Tour!

On arrival, we we were each given a helmet and a flashlight, and then we put on our hats and gloves as temperatures inside the cave were close to freezing. Once everyone arrived, we were on our way!

Inside the cave is quite tall. There is one place that is about 3 ft. tall, but otherwise, no crouching or crawling is required.

Our guide led us through the cave for about 45 minutes, explaining the details for how lava tubes are made and sharing other interesting tidbits about this cave in particular.

If you are looking for a cave tour that doesn’t require extraordinary athletic abilities or a plastic bag to store your filthy clothes in when you are done, this could be the cave tour for you! However, if you want a crawl on your belly and squeeze through small crevices experience, you should look elsewhere.

Cost: Adult/12-17/5-11 3750 ISK ($30)/1500 ISK ($12)/Free. Keep in mind that if you are traveling with kids, children under 5 are not allowed. We made the reservations online the night before, but not sure if that’s universally sufficient.

Djúpalónssandur

A little further down the road, and we came to Djúpalónssandur, a black sand beach with sneaker waves similar to Reynisfjara. Most of the time the waves are normal, but every once in a while a gigantic wave will come through and sweep everything in its path out to sea, or worse, smash them into a rock wall.

Don’t let your kids play in the water and have a plan for how courageous you feel when your kids ask to climb on the really cool rock walls. We ended up letting the kids play a little ways away from the water since sneaker waves are more common in the winter than the summer. Still, we didn’t stay by the rock walls for very long.

It’s a fun beach, but if the remains of an old ship wreck put you off, there are also hiking trails and a view point from the top of the cliffs if you prefer to view it from a distance.

Saxhóll Crater

We stopped at the Saxhóll Crater mostly because we were supposed to, but when we got there, we looked at the stairs going to the top and decided that none of us felt like spending 5 minutes climbing them. We had already climbed much cooler volcanos in Iceland and decided that a picture from the top wasn’t worth our effort.

Svöðufoss

Similarly, we thought about hiking to the Svöðufoss waterfall, but at 1.6km one-way, and rain coming down, we didn’t feel the need to see “another” waterfall. There are so many beautiful waterfalls in Iceland, that when you have been traveling for 8 days at a fairly intense pace, you might feel the same way we did.

Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum

While there were many other museums on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula we could have gone to, none of them particularly called to us. Instead, we decided to drive to the Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum!

It is a one room museum that is crammed with an abundance of fishing and nature exhibits. The boys really like all of the stuffed birds, shark skulls, and animal hides.

The real highlight of the museum is the video where they teach you the history of the shark industry and how the family that runs the museum makes hákarl, also known as “putrified shark”.

The basic story is that for the last 400 years the family that runs this museum used to go shark hunting themselves. But now that shark hunting is illegal, they simply buy and process Greenland Sharks that have been caught in the fishing nets and died. That way, the sharks didn’t die in vain.

After purchasing the shark, they chop it into pieces and let it sit in a cold room for about 6 weeks. This allows bacteria to decompose the highly toxic urine in the shark flesh and turn it into ammonia, which is also highly toxic. Now that the urine is gone, they hang the chunks of meat in the drying house.

The meat will need to dry for 3-6 more months to allow the ammonia to evaporate, making the toxic shark flesh now safe to eat.

At the end of the video, everyone has the opportunity to taste the hákarl. First you take both a piece of rye bread and a piece of shark and taste them together. I didn’t think it was all that bad, but one of our kids almost vomited, so he did not go onto the next step.

The next step is to try a piece by itself. Both my oldest and I tried it, and again, I didn’t think it was all that bad. The worst part was at the end. I wouldn’t really call it an aftertaste, but my nose started tingling and I could smell something weird. The tour guide told us that many people consider it similar to eating stinky cheese – you either love it or hate it. I think I might grow to love it, but at this point I am still lukewarm.

Back to the Hotel

At this point we decided to head back to our apartment in Grundarfjörður even though it was only late afternoon. Eight days of traveling is weary and all of us were ready for a long, restful evening. We picked up more hamburgers at the grocery store and cooked them in our apartment.

Eventually the fog dissipated a bit and we were able to enjoy the view of Kirkjufell from our windows.

What a lovely family vacation on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula!

Back to Reykjavik tomorrow!

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