Snæfellsjökull Glacier Enters Presidential Race

snæfellsjökull glacier iceland

Iceland’s presidential race has a cool new candidate – the glacier Snæfellsjökull. Launched officially on March 15, the campaign emphasises ecology in order to “move towards environmental consciousness and global unity.”

An emblem of Iceland

In a recent press release, the campaign states: “Amidst the conventional political landscape, we believe it’s time to challenge the status quo and elect a candidate that symbolizes endurance, resilience, and global interconnectedness. Snæfellsjökull is already an emblem of Iceland and a custodian of geo-cultural wisdom, representing the very essence of stability and sustainability. With a towering presence and serene demeanor, Snæfellsjökull embodies a balance of steadfastness and adaptability, qualities much needed in today’s rapidly changing world.”

The campaign also stresses the importance of environmental stewardship. By nominating a non-human being to the presidency of Iceland, the campaign hopes to bring greater awareness to sustainability and eco-justice.

Even non-human beings need a kennitala

A kennitala, or civil registration number, is given to all citizens and legal residents of Iceland. In addition to being a minimum 35 years of age (which the glacier well exceeds) and mustering a minimum number of petition endorsements, candidates for the presidency of Iceland are also required to be citizens, and therefore, to have a kennitala.

In a statement on social media, campaign organiser and presidential proxy Angela Marie Snæfellsjökuls Rawlings, stated:

“In early 2024, thirty humans commenced work on a campaign to nominate Snæfellsjökull for the presidency—Snæfellsjökul fyrir forseta. We puzzled through how to work within a digitised administrative system and legislative framework that was not yet purpose-built to support a non-human entity to have a kennitala. Snæfellsjökull fulfilled the requisite age limit (at least 35 years old) and citizenship (Icelandic); the only thing remaining to establish our candidacy and collect enough nomination signatures to get the glacier on the ballot was a kennitala. Could we work with a pre-existing organisation that has a kennitala? Should we form a non-profit to acquire a kennitala for Snæfellsjökull? No, it should be a kennitala of an individual as organisations cannot run for president. And so legal eagles in the campaign team asked if I, as campaign manager, would offer my kennitala as proxy—understanding that I personally do not want to be president. They recommended it would be better if the candidate’s name included Snæfellsjökull so it’s clearly linked to the kennitala in the nomination form.”

Facing up the competition

The presidential race is already a crowded field, and the beloved glacier will face stiff competition, including former Reykjavík mayor Jón Gnarr, popular professor of political science Baldur Þórhallsson, and possibly even current Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir.

The Snæfellsjökull campaign has also stressed the importance of inclusivity and diversity, and campaign literature is available in Icelandic, English, Polish, and Spanish.

Read more: How do I become the president of Iceland?

 

All About The Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Kirkjufell mountain on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula

The Snæfellsnes Peninsula is one of Iceland’s most beloved regions, capturing so much of what makes this Nordic island special. But what sites, tours, and attractions can be found here? 

Located between the cultural hub that is the Capital Region and the wild, sparsely populated Westfjords, the Snæfellsnes Peninsula is considered by many to be a microcosm of the whole country. 

Nicknamed “Iceland in Miniature,” visitors can expect to discover a treasure trove of natural sights, including moss-laden lava fields, epic mountain ranges, and scenic black coastlines. The region can be visited in both the winter and summer, with each season transforming the unique aesthetic of the natural landscape. 

For those with only a short time to spend in the country, it could very well be argued that this often-overlooked area boasts the very best that Iceland has to offer.

Table of Contents

A Brief History of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Side-stepping its incredible nature for a moment, the peninsula is enriched by a deep cultural history. Aside from its ties to the nation’s fishing industry, Snæfellsnes and its nearby localities have been the setting for many known Icelandic sagas, such as the poetic masterpiece that is Laxdœla saga. 

However, it is Bárðar Saga Snæfellsáss (The Saga of Bárður) that remains, perhaps, most significant to the region. The earliest manuscript dates back to the 15th century and tells of the earliest settlers who called this hostile, yet enchanting land home. 

This epic mediaeval tale follows the half-giant and guardian spirit, Bárður, in his quest to protect the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. All the while, he struggles with family betrayal, despotic kings, and unruly natural events. Like the majority of Icelandic sagas, it is a story of epic proportions, where the morality of its characters are as grey as a typical winter sky. 

A statue of Bárður can be found in the small town of Arnstapi. Today, the spirit of this iconic Icelandic character not only watches over the sparsely populated hamlets that dot Snæfellsnes, but also the millions of travellers who venture through every year to discover its many highlights. 

Exploring Snæfellsjökull National Park 

Snæfellsjökull National Park
 Photo: Golli. Snæfellsjökull National Park

The Snæfellsnes Peninsula has had a larger influence on culture than merely acting as the stage of Icelandic sagas. 

For instance, avid readers will know of Jules Verne’s classic science-fiction novel, Journey to the Centre of the EarthWithin its pages, the Snæfellsjökull ice cap plays a major role, serving as the gateway to our planet’s molten underbelly, 

Verne clearly had an eye for memorable locations – places forever destined to leave their mark on global culture – for today, the glacier acts as the shining crown of its own national park. 

The glacier sits cloaked like a pearlescent hood atop a silent stratovolcano. This once volatile titan of volcanic energy last erupted just short of two thousand years ago. But the impact of its violent past is clear throughout the entire peninsula, be it in its lava fields or troll-like basalt sea stacks. 

Established in 2001, Snæfellsjökull National Park stands as one of Iceland’s three national parks, alongside the UNESCO Heritage sites Þingvellir National Park and Vatnajökull National Park. 

Covering 170 sq km [66 sq mi,] guests are advised to stop by the welcoming and informative Visitor’s Centre at Malarrif. Here, they can acquire the lowdown on the best hiking trails in the area, as well as learn more about the history of the region. Travellers should note that there is no entrance fee to explore this park, making it an excellent choice for budget-conscious visitors.

What is there to see on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula?

There are so many sites of interest found on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula that a total breakdown of every location is, frankly, unfeasible. Every bend in the road, each trail, and every scenic hike promises sights, sounds, and experiences beyond description. 

However, there are notable sites that this article would be remiss not to mention. So, in somewhat of a tribute to Iceland’s earliest settlers, let us begin as they did… by arriving from the ocean. 

Beautiful Beaches on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula

djúpalónssandur black sand beach
 Photo: Golli. Guests enjoying Djúpalónssandur black sand beach

As is true across the island, volcanic coastlines are a mainstay of Snæfellsnes. Their dark glass pebbles are a direct result of immense glacial floods that have, over the millennia, defined the entire peninsula. 

Black sand beaches like Djupalonssandur – found at the base of Snæfellsjökull glacier, far on the western edge of Iceland’s left arm – offer exquisite ocean views. There are also many fascinating geological formations created by lava flows that dominated the area in previous centuries. 

But it’s not just the consequences of the volcano that are worthy of a mention. At Djupalonssandur, visitors can test their mettle by way of the Lifting Stones. Divided by their size, these four enormous rocks were used to test the strength of local sailors seeking work as fishermen. Only those capable of raising them were offered employment. 

If feats of physical strength are of little interest to you, the tranquillity of the nearby Djúpulón and Djúpudalslón tidal lagoons offer a serene way to spend your time. Adjacent hiking trails offer the opportunity to see incredible basalt sea stacks and the mighty rock-arch, Gatklettur. 

To the north of Djupalonssandur, the beachside, Skarðsvík, offers something that is rarely seen in Iceland – yellow sand! While the waves on this shoreline are known for being quite temperamental, forcing observers to keep their distance, it is amazing to see a place so reminiscent of the Mediterranean during your Iceland vacation.  

Volcanic sites on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Vatnshellir Cave Tour in West Iceland
 Photo: Vatnshellir Cave Tour.

As mentioned, the jewel of the cape, Snæfellsjökull, serves as the centre-point of its own national park and is the namesake of the region itself. Knowing the peninsula’s volcanic origins is a great start when seeking out other areas defined by the lava. 

One such location where you can gain insight into Snæfellsnes’ volcanic history is at Eldborg crater, “the fortress of fire,” far on the eastern side of the peninsula. Stood at 60 m [18 ft] over the black, tufty hills surrounding lava fields, this symmetrical spatter cone was active between 5000-6000 years ago. Reaching the crater takes approximately 1.5 hours, requiring a scenic, but somewhat challenging 2.5 km [1.6 mi] hike. 

Heading west, guests can make a stop at the colourful lava cave, Vatnshellir. Formed by an eruption 8000 years before, this hollow tunnel is one of the oldest in Iceland and is rich in vibrant minerals. 

At 200 m [656 ft] long, it is only possible to visit the cave by way of a guided tour. Your guide will provide you with all of the necessary equipment, such as crampons and helmets, and be sure to offer educational tidbits about geology as you adventure through the cave. 

There are many other sites that offer similar insights into the region’s volcanic past. These include the likes of Berserkjahraun lava field and the Saxhóll Crater, which acts as a more accessible alternative to Eldborg. 

Wildlife on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula

A mother Sei Whale and it's calf.
 Sei whale mother and calf. By Christin Khan.

Regarding the animals that call the Snæfellsnes Peninsula home, the most visible resident would be its seabirds. 

Species include guillemots, razorbacks, gulls, and kittiwakes, many of which can be spotted nesting among the sea stacks dotting the coastline. The towering Lóndrangar is a particularly good site for birdwatchers.

There are many songbirds in the area too, namely whimbrels, golden plovers, wheatears, and meadow pipits. While hiking, it is a common occurrence to hear these gentle creatures in full song, adding to the often paradisiacal ambience that characterises Snæfellsnes in the summer. 

Aside from these, other typical birds include ravens, ptarmigans, and white wagtails, not to mention the many migratory species that arrive to the peninsula during the summer months. 

But, for many travellers, birds are of only a trifling interest. When it comes to mandatory stops, wildlife lovers will want to stop for a little seal-watching at Ytri-Tunga beach, which is named after a nearby farmstead. The most common species that lounge on the shoreline here are Grey Seals and Harbour Seals, though many others come by to pay a visit. 

Spotted seals in Iceland
 Photo: Golli. Spotted seals lounging by the coastline.

Can you see Walruses in Iceland?


Despite the permeating myths about Iceland being a habitat of theirs, Walruses are not native. Still, they have turned up from time to time, sparking a novel wave of local interest when they do. With that said, there are theories that the peninsula was once home to a large colony of Walruses given the sheer number of bones and skulls discovered there. 

In point of fact, a chess set made out of carved Walrus bones was discovered in Snæfellsnes several years ago, breathing further life into this hotly contested debate. 

Still, it is wise not to expect Walruses at Ytri-Tunga today. Regardless, it is important to respect the local wildlife species that call the beach home. Seal watchers would do well to ensure they provide the animals with enough space so as not to frighten them, but even at a distance, these wonderful creatures make for brilliant photography subjects. 

Speaking of Iceland’s mammals, both mink and Arctic Foxes live on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, though they are rarely spotted. While such animals are notoriously shy – not to mention, wily – it is worthwhile to keep an eye out while driving or hiking. The shock that comes with noticing the whipping movement of a furry creature in Iceland is sure to make anyone’s day. 

arctic fox Iceland
 Photo: Golli. An Arctic Fox on Snæfellsnes

Finally, it is not at all uncommon to see whale and dolphin species off the coast of Snæfellsnes. Minkes, humpbacks, and even killer whales are sometimes spotted not far from the shoreline. As if this region is not spectacular enough, the sight of these majestic ocean giants breaching the water is sure to remain with visitors for years to come. 

Those eager to see Snæfellsnes’ cetaceans can maximise their chance by taking whale-watching tours from towns like Olafsvik, Grundarfjörður, or Stykkisholmur. Of course, wildlife sightings can never be guaranteed, but operators across Iceland have a fantastic track record for reliably locating and observing these creatures in their natural habitat. 

Mountains on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula

A mountain on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula
 Photo: SBS. The mountains of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Guests to Snæfellsnes will, no doubt, be in awe of the often mist-shrouded mountain range that carves its way down the centre of the peninsula. While worthy of appreciation in their entirety, there are a couple of mountains that are worth a greater focus. 

Kirkjufell is among the most iconic mountains on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Translated to ‘Church Mountain,’ this beautiful feature towers above the local town of Grundarfjörður at a height of 463 m. Its steep grassy slopes and sharp peak have helped Kirkjufell become an instantly recognisable symbol of Iceland over the last few years thanks to its wide appearances in countless tourism campaigns. 

Fans of the fantasy series, Game of Thrones, will likely recognise Kirkjufell as the “Mountain like an arrowhead,” a filming location from seasons 6 and 7. While the show portrayed this titan of the landscape as fairly foreboding, it is in equal parts beautiful. There is also a pleasant waterfall on-site, Kirkjufellfoss, that makes for a perfect foreground subject when photographing the mountain. 

 

Another mountain of interest is Helgafell, though it lacks the fame associated with Kirkjufell. Here, an ancient temple dedicated to the Norse God of Thunder, Thor, was erected by the area’s first settler, Þórólfr Mostrarskegg. While the temple no longer stands, a historic church, built in 1907, has replaced it as the mountain’s spiritual centrepiece. 

Due to these reasons, Helgafell is considered a sacred place by many Icelanders. This is especially true considering the superstition that anyone who climbs to its peak will be granted three wishes. At only 73 metres high, the hike only takes around ten minutes, so don’t miss this opportunity to have your dreams fulfilled. 

Other Cultural Sites on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula

A black church in West Iceland.
Photo: Richard Gould. CC. Wikimedia. Búðakirkja black church in West Iceland.

Many of the towns and villages on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula are quaint in and of themselves, but given the exquisite beauty of the surrounding nature, visitors are advised to prioritise these sites instead of anywhere overtly urban. 

The lonely black church, Búðakirkja, is the most prominent landmark in the tiny hamlet of Budir, sitting atop the Búðahraun lava field. It has become something of an unlikely visitor’s attraction on the peninsula, particularly among photographers eager to capture its dark steeple and gothic aesthetic. 

This 1987 version is the second incarnation of Búðakirkja, the first having been constructed in 1703, though visitors can still see the original bell and chalice on display. 

Flatey Island can be visited from the Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Photo: Golli. Flatey island in Breiðafjörður fjord, West Iceland

There are a handful of other villages worthy of passing through during your time in Snæfellsnes. Often charming in their old-timey simplicity, these include settlements such as Ólafsvík, Hellissandur, and Stykkishólmur.

Speaking of Stykkishólmur, this town is home to a dock that operates the ferry, Baldur, which makes daily trips across the vast bay of Breiðafjörður between Snæfellsnes and the Westfjords. 

En route, the ferry will stop at the small island of Flatey, which presents a gentle slice of Icelandic life rarely seen in modern times. While most visitors would only spend a few hours here, overnight stays are possible at Flatey’s single hotel. 

Waterfalls on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula 

A waterfall in West Iceland
Photo: SBS. Snæfellsnes has many beautiful waterfalls, like Kirkjufellsfoss.

Having mentioned Kirkjufellsfoss, it would be a shame not to be aware of the other beautiful waterfalls that can be found in this region. 

One of the lesser-known falls is Svöðufoss. It will require a half-hour hike from the parking lot to arrive at this stunning feature, only recently discovered by travellers like you. Rauðfeldsgjá Canyon, another dramatic location, is found nearby, so why not enhance your visit by pairing these two natural attractions together? 

Closeby to Olafsvik town, the thin outpouring of glacier water that is Bjarnarfoss is also a worthwhile stop. At 80 m [262 ft] high, Bjarnarfoss is among the more impressive waterfalls on the peninsula thanks to its distinctive tiers and surrounding basaltic columns. On particularly windy days, powerful gusts are quite capable of blowing its narrow stream upwards over the lip of the falls, creating truly surreal visuals. 

Like Kirjufellsfoss, Kvernárfoss and Grundarfoss waterfalls can be found just outside of Grundarfjörður. Locals claim that a sizable elf population lives beside these stunning cascades—but that can neither be confirmed or denied by us. Either way, both sites are popular stops on horse-riding tours, and visiting is sure to add further depth to your time on the peninsula. 

How to get to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula?

carbon neutral Iceland 2040
Phot: Golli. Travellers heading into Snæfellsjökull National Park

There are a number of options when it comes to visiting the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. First off, there are many guided tours that will take you there directly. One example is this small-group tour with a home-cooked meal at a local horse farm

However, those looking for a more intimate experience might instead opt for a private tour of the region. Otherwise, Snæfellsnes is often included as part of multi-day tours around the country. 

However, independent travellers will want to venture there on their fruition. Driving from Reykjavík will take approximately two hours, making it a viable destination for those with only limited time in Iceland.

The directions are simple enough to follow. Head north on Route 1 until the town of Borgarnes. At this point, signposts will easily lead drivers towards Road 54 (Snaefellsnesvegur). It is this route that will take them the full circumference of the peninsula. 

One should expect circling the coastline to take five hours considering the many stops along the way. With this in mind, it is important to allocate at least one day to explore the region. 

Those looking to explore at a more leisurely pace should take two days, with plans to stay overnight at a local hotel, cabin, or rentable farmstead. 

In Summary 

Gatklettur rock arch in West Iceland
Photo: Private Tour – Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Gatklettur rock arch.

Given the Snæfellsnes Peninsula’s close proximity to Reykjavík, anyone with more than a few days in Iceland should make time to discover this unique and fantastical region for themselves. 

Not only does it offer sights and experiences that perfectly characterise the rest of the country, but it is quite possible to get a taste of the area in a single day. For these reasons and many more, make sure to prioritise the Snæfellsnes Peninsula as part of your itinerary. 

Check out the below map to see the entire route for yourself.

 

New National Park Centre Opened at Hellissandur

national park snæfellsjökull

The Environment Agency of Iceland and Snæfellsjökull National Park have opened a new visitor centre by Hellissandur.

Hellissandur is a historical fishing village on the Snæfellsnes peninsula. Home to Snæfellsjökull glacier, the region is also one of Iceland’s three national parks. Hellissandur has grown in recent years due to tourism, as the village sits just outside the northern entrance to Snæfellsjökull National Park.

Snæfellsjökull National Park Expanded on 20th Anniversary

The new centre was opened this Friday, March 24, in a ceremony presided over by Minister of Environment, Energy, and Climate Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson.

national park snæfellsjökull
Umhverfisstofnun – Environment Agency of Iceland

The new visitor centre was designed by the architecture firm Arkís. It is divided into three sections with different views of the surrounding landscape.

Snæfellsjökull National Park was founded in 2001.

 

Snæfellsjökull National Park to Be Expanded by 9%

Snæfellsjökull National Park

The Environment Agency of Iceland and the municipality of Snæfellsbær have published a plan for the expansion of Snæfellsjökull National Park in West Iceland. The proposed addition would increase the park’s land area by 9% to 182 square kilometres (70 square miles). “The extension creates even more opportunities for outdoor recreation in the area, not least for locals,” a government notice reads.

Diverse nature and historical artefacts

Snæfellsjökull National Park is located at the tip of the Snæfellsnes peninsula in West Iceland. It was established in 2001 as the first national park in the country located along the coastline. It is the only national park in Iceland that contains fishing artefacts from previous centuries. Of course, the park includes natural attractions as well, such as black and white sand beaches, bird cliffs, lava fields, and the glacier-topped Snæfellsjökull stratovolcano that towers over the park.

The proposed addition is located north of Snæfellsjökull and east of the park’s current borders.

Conservation also has economic benefits

According to Finnish researcher Jukka Siltanen’s findings, Snæfellsjökull National Park is an investment that gives fantastic returns. Siltanen found that the economic impact to cost ratio of the park is 45:1, meaning that the money spent on the park is returned 45-fold into the Icelandic economy.

Interested parties can send in comments about the proposal until June 10 by email to [email protected] or by post to Umhverfisstofnun, Suðurlandsbraut 24, 108 Reykjavík.

Snæfellsjökull Could be Gone in Thirty Years

Scientists think it likely that Snæfellsjökull glacier will be mostly gone by the middle of this century. This prediction was borne out by new measurements taken for the first time by the Icelandic Met Office last week. Snæfellsjökull now covers an area of less than 10 sq km [3.86 sq mi], as compared to the 22 sq km [8.49 sq mi] it occupied in 1910. The warming climate has caused the glacier to deteriorate considerably in recent decades.

On April 22, seven scientists collaborating on behalf of the Icelandic Met Office, the Snæfellsnes National Park, and the tourism company Summit Guides made their way to the apex of the glacier, Jökulþúfur, which towers at 1,446 m [4,744 ft] above sea level. There, for the first time ever, they measured the mass of the glacier by taking ice core samples. One such sample was taken by drilling 1,350 m [4,429 ft] down. The scientists then weighed the ice core, determined its specific gravity, and recorded its stratification. The snow temperature was also taken and showed to have been under 2°C [35.6°F] all winter long.

Scientists use the visible stratification in ice core samples to measure winter precipitation on a glacier—that is, how much snow has fallen on it over the course of the fall and winter. The top layer of winter snow is rather fine-grained and undefined, while the next layer—snow that fell in the fall—will be a sheet of ice 1-10 mm [.039 – .39 in] thick. This ice sheeting is formed when the fall snow alternately thaws on warmer days and then refreezes on colder ones. Below this middle layer is a crusted layer of snow that fell during the previous winter.

Visible stratification in the Snæfellsjökull ice core sample taken in April.

The measurements showed that the top of Snæfellsjökull received 2,600 mm [102 in] of precipitation this winter. This is more than three times the precipitation that occurred in the surrounding areas at sea level.

Winter precipitation at Hofsjökull, which is taller than Snæfellsjökull by roughly 350 m [1,148 ft], measured 3,000 mm [118 in]. Average winter precipitation at Mýrdalsjökull, which is roughly the same height at Snæfellsjökull, is 5,600 mm [220 in]. Winter precipitation at Öræfajökull, which, at 2,000 m [6,562 ft], is taller than all of the mentioned glaciers, was measured as 5,700 mm [224 in] in 2018.

Winter precipitation levels and mass are regularly measured at many glaciers in Iceland, but this is the first time this has been done for Snæfellsjökull. “The results of these measurements didn’t exactly surprise us,” said Þorsteinn Þorsteinsson, a specialist in glacial research, but he noted that being able to compare them to the same measurements from other glaciers is very useful. “There’s every reason to try and regularly fund mass measurements at Snæfellsjökull so that we can increase our knowledge of how Icelandic glaciers are reacting to climate change and no less because the glacier has gained fame in both words and images.”

Nature’s Treasure Chest

Snæfellsjökull National Park

The area surrounding Snæfellsjökull glacier is one of Iceland’s most beautiful. Snæfellsjökull National Park is dominated by the glacier, which sits at a height of 1,446 metres (4,744 feet) atop a 700,000-year-old stratovolcano. Diverse bird life, seals dozing on black sand beaches, fantastic natural rock formations along with beautiful caves hidden in lava fields – there’s no question that such a natural treasure should be protected at all costs. Luckily, there seem to be more economic benefits than costs – at least according to Finnish researcher Jukka Siltanen’s work. The natural pearl of Snæfellsjökull has proven to be a gem of sorts for the Icelandic economy.

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