Quiet, workaday Ólafsvík won’t win any hearts with its pungent fish smell (from the fish-processing plant). Although it’s the oldest trading town in the country (it was granted a trading licence in 1687), few of the original buildings survive. For visitors it's best as a jumping-off point for whale watching or a quick stop at Hraun for a meal.
Spectacularly set on a dramatic bay, little Grundarfjörður is backed by waterfalls and surrounded by ice-capped peaks often shrouded in cottony fog. More prefab than wooden, the town feels like a typical Icelandic fishing community, but the tourist facilities are good and the surrounding landscape can’t be beat.
To the east of the national park, coastal Rte 574 passes the hamlets of Hellnar and Arnarstapi, with their glacier tour companies and interesting sea-sculpted rock formations. It continues east along the broad southern coastal plain, hugging huge sandy bays such as Breiðavík on one side, and towering peaks with waterfalls on the other. This stretch has some super horse riding.
Snæfellsjökull National Park
Snæfellsjökull National Park encompasses much of the western tip of Snæfellsnes Peninsula and wraps around the rugged slopes of the glacier Snæfellsjökull, the icy fist at the end of the long Snæfellsnes arm. Around its flanks lie lava tubes, protected lava fields which are home to native Icelandic fauna, and prime coastal bird- and whale-watching spots.
Linked to Hellnar by both the main road and a wonderful coastal hike, this hamlet of summer cottages is nestled between the churning Arctic waters and the gnarled pillars of two neighbouring lava fields. A monument pays tribute to Jules Verne and a comical signpost measures distances to major cities via the earth's core.
Blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Rif is a harbour village that makes Ólafsvík look like the big city. Dramatic waterfall Svödufoss, with its barrelling cascades and dramatic hexagonal basalt, can be seen in the distance. Between Rif and Hellissandur, spot the lonely church (built 1903) at Ingjaldshóll, the setting of Víglundar Saga.
Malariff & Lóndrangar
About 2km south of Djúpalónssandur, a paved road leads down to the rocket-shaped lighthouse at Malariff, from where you can walk 1km east along the cliffs to the rock pillars at Lóndrangar, which surge up into the air in surprising pinnacles. Locals say that elves use the lava formations as a church.
At the westernmost tip of Snæfellsnes, Rte 574 cuts south, while Rte 579, a tiny gravel and occasionally surfaced track, heads further west across an ancient lava flow to the tip of the Öndverðarnes peninsula, which is great for whale watching. As the road winds through charcoal lava cliffs you’ll pass Skarðsvík, a golden beach with basalt cubes alongside.
On the southwest coast, Rte 572 leads off of Rte 574 to the wild black-sand beach Djúpalónssandur. It’s a dramatic place to walk with rock formations (an elf church! and kerling, a troll woman), two brackish pools (for which the beach was named), and the rock-arch Gatklettur. An asphalt car park and public toilets allow tour bus access, and crowds.
Of Breiðafjörður’s innumerable islands, little Flatey (literally ‘flat island’) is the only one with year-round inhabitants. In the 11th century Flatey was home to a monastery, and today the appealing island is a popular stopover for travellers heading to (or from) the Westfjords.