A One Day, Self-Drive Guide to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in Iceland

Iceland’s a small country, which means it is the perfect place to ditch the organised tour groups and drive yourself around. Now, we visited in winter, which made the driving conditions challenging on a few occasions. Like the night we arrived just before an Arctic snowstorm hit, and our projected 2.5 hour drive ended up taking 5 hours and we almost died. That’s a story for another day. But Arctic snowstorms aside, it’s actually a really easy place to drive yourself around, so I’m going to show you how you can day trip the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in a day without a tour guide!

I’m sure you’ll be able to get your paws on a slightly more accurate map, but this is the one I drew in my travel journal at the end of our day, which should (hopefully) give you a pretty good indication of where things are – the area isn’t too big so you should be able to find everything!

Airbnb in Hellissandur
We stayed in Hellissandur, which is a tiny little village which is starting to get a bit more attention from tourists. The Airbnb we stayed in was a beautiful two bedroom home with wonderful amenities and really lovely hosts, which I’d highly recommend –  if anyone wants the details, just email me! While the village itself is really small, the location makes it a perfect place to base yourself while you tour the Peninsula.

 

1. Ruins by the water

These had no signposts or descriptions, and I couldn’t tell you what they were from, but there were some remainders of old stone structures with a view out over the water. The area was completely deserted, so we figured we’d stop for a look around.

 

2. Djúpalónssandur Beach

Like so many other parts of the Peninsula, Djúpalónssandur used to be populated by fishermen. You’ll find a pebbly shore, lava formations and a beautiful view. Just stick to the paths, as much for your own safety as for the flora around the area.

 

3. Lóndrangar Cliffs
Volcanic basalt columns popping up out of the water in a castle-looking formation, you can walk down to get a little closer (as long as you’re careful!), and if you visit at the right time of year, you may get to see some puffins.

 

4. Arnarstapi

Another little fishing village sitting below Mt Stapafell, Arnarstapi is one of those places worth visiting just to look at. The little houses look like doll houses under the massive mountains and endless sky, the basalt cliff faces make for a pretty imposing sight, and the sculpture of Bárður looks like something straight out of the sagas.

 

On the drive…

Honestly, we took a lot longer to drive the Peninsula than we needed, because we just kept pulling over when we came across sights like these.

 

5. Búdir

Not even a town, Búdir is a tiny hamlet located on lava fields, and is probably best known by tourists for it’s black church – which is especially striking in winter, when almost everything around it is white.

 

6. Bjarnarfoss

Iceland is known for it’s incredible waterfalls, like Bjarnafoss. Around 80m high, it’s easily seen from the road, but you probably won’t be able to get too close because the waterfall is actually located on private property.

 

7. Grundarfjörður and Kirkjufell

At this point in the day, we were getting a little cold and tired, and decided we’d need a time out if we were going to stretch the day out a little longer. On the way to see the 463m high Kirkjufell, we stopped in the little town of Grundarfjörður, where we found Kaffi 59, a cute little bistro that had hot tea and coffee and delicious chocolate cake for us to recharge with.

 

8. Ólafsvík
Last stop on our way home was in Ólafsvík for a grocery run. Eating out in Iceland isn’t cheap, so grocery stores were essential for us. With enough instant noodles, frozen veggies and snacks for dinner and the following day’s road trip stacked up in the back seat, we were on our way back to a hot shower after a long day on the road.

 

 

We obviously only just skimmed the surface, and there’s plenty more to see and do around this area, but we had to skip a few things because of spotty weather. But following that path should give you a great taste of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, and allow you to discover a few more treasures on your way!

How To Day Trip From Dublin to Giant’s Causeway (without a tour guide)

When we added Dublin to our itinerary, we decided to add a day trip out to Giant’s Causeway. It was going to be a long trip, but if we were that close, I couldn’t really pass up the opportunity. We vetoed the overpriced, big group, organised 15 hour day trips we saw online and decided to just hire a car and do it ourselves.

Some rotten weather meant we had to adjust our plans a little and miss a few stops we’d originally planned. But we still had an awesome day and would definitely recommend the DIY route over the group tour. Here’s how to do it…

 

OUR PLAN:
Collect the car and start driving north, then make our way around to see:
– Castle Ward
– The Dark Hedges
– Old Bushmill’s Distillery
– Dunluce Castle
– Giant’s Causeway
– Dunseverick Castle
– Ballintoy Harbour

WHAT WE ACTUALLY ENDED UP DOING
– The car hire places in the city didn’t open until a bit later in the morning, and we wanted to get started early, so we caught a bus from city (we stayed near Dublin Cathedral and there was a pick up point just around the corner) to airport to collect car. This was going to be cheaper than a taxi, and cost us €7 each – just have correct change ready to pay for your tickets.

– We picked up the car at 7.30am and got started without any issues – navigating was pretty easy, thankfully.

– First stop was Castle Ward, the site of some of Game of Thrones’ Winterfell scenes. A beautiful 18th Century mansion sits on the enormous grounds, which were something else when we visited. Autumn leaves + castle grounds = magic. We only saw a few other people on our way in, both groundskeepers. And the lovely lady working in the bookshop. Otherwise, we were the only visitors. It may have been because it was low season there was no one there to take our admission fee (£8.60 per person), and we didn’t actually go into the mansion, but instead we wondered around and enjoyed the gorgeous grounds in peace. Great idea heading there first.

 

The Dark Hedges was our next stop, which starred in Game of Thrones as the King’s Road. I guess we were lucky that the weather played it’s part – it was grey and overcast and a little somber when we arrived, so it looked even more dramatic and foreboding (even though they’d recently been pruned and the branches remaining were losing their leaves because we were there in November). What you don’t realise from the photos is that it actually is a road. Lots of people walk it. And plenty of cars will drive up and down in while you’re trying to take your lovely photo. There’s nothing else around it, either, so if you’re just going to get the shot, you’re probably going to be a little frustrated. We took a few snaps in between groups, but honestly, it was just really cool to walk to walk through these giants planted back in the 18th Century and look out over the fields alongside them.

 

– By the time we got to Dunluce Castle, the weather was really starting to take a turn. The wind was enough to almost knock me over while I stood near the cliff edges to take some photos, and the water below was furious. That’s the only word I can think of to describe it; absolutely, viciously, furious. But it was stunning – even when you can barely stay on your feet, looking at this ruined castle up on the cliffs is a pretty incredible experience. Because the weather was getting so nasty, we didn’t stay long – we physically couldn’t, the wind was so strong. We were also getting pretty hungry, so we moved on to our next stop to wait the wind out a bit…

 

– … at the Old Bushmills Distillery. Irish whiskey is meant to be some of the best in the world, and my husband is a whiskey man, so off we went. We didn’t really want to spend the time doing the tour, so we thought we’d just have a bite to eat and maybe try a few of their whiskeys. By then, it was starting to get a bit later in the afternoon, so we jumped back in the car.

 

Giant’s Causeway was to be our final stop of the day. And despite the horrible weather (it was starting to rain at this point, on top of the torrential wind), it was super busy.

To be honest, it wasn’t the wonderful experience I imagined it would be, for a few reasons:
* The Giant’s Causeway itself is a natural phenomenon. You’d think that would make it available to the public. You’d be wrong. The National Trust let you know once you’re already there that you can visit it for free, but you have to pay for parking. Given there’s no where else to park in the general vicinity, the extortionists are making a bundle from car parking.
* There were tour bus-sized hoards of people there, who were clearly there for no other reason than to take photos for social media accounts. To the point that I had a middle aged woman try to shove me out of her photo. Yup. All of this natural beauty and magic has been reduced to the perfect Instagram shot, and that took a LOT of the experience away for me. We’d come all that way and been forced to pay our parking, so I made my way out onto the stepping stones to check it all out a bit more, but that feeling of “wow, how incredible” just wasn’t there.

By the time we finished up at Giant’s Causeway, the rain and wind were both getting heavier, and we were conscious of having to drive back in such crappy conditions in the dark, so we decided to cut our loses and make our way back to the airport to drop off the car by 7.30pm. I guess Dunseverick Castle and Ballintoy Harbour will still be there for our next visit!

 

CAR HIRE TIPS
– We used Dan Dooleys and they were fantastic to deal with from start to finish. On the day, we went to their airport office, fixed up the paperwork, and  used their shuttle to take us to parking lot (which is the same location the car was returned to).

– There is an Applegreens about 10km from airport where you can stop to fill up fuel.

– In terms of fuel cost, we had a hybrid SEAT Ibiza, we drove 600km and it cost around €50 to re-fill the tank.

– We picked up our car at 7.30am, and returned it at 7.30pm – the 12 hours hire, including Excess Waiver Insurance and an extra driver cost just under €100.

– I’d highly recommend getting a small car for the narrow Irish roads!

– We went in November, and it gets dark early at that time of year, so you’ll need to be prepared to drive in the dark.

– Pack snacks and water. You’ll be travelling mostly on expressways, so there are not many stops unless you want to turn off.

– Have money ready for the toll booth – they weren’t expensive, but the booth attendants will like you a whole lot more if you have some change on you.

6 Stops To Make On The Tioga Pass Road in Yosemite National Park

Yosemite is a beautiful park, and the big drawcard sights are every bit as impressive as you think they’ll be. The Half Dome and El Capitan are imposingly gorgeous, and the little museum and cemetery are well worth the look, too, and I’ll certainly get to those.

But everyone goes to the Yosemite Valley to see those, so after a day there, we thought we’d take the path less travelled and drive the Tioga Pass Road and see what the other side of the park had to offer.

With a bit of help from my beloved Sygic Travel app, I plotted a path from our accommodation at the Yosemite Westgate Lodge to the Tuolumne Meadows, and saved the spots we liked as we went… here’s the map we ended up with (not quite to scale, but the approximate distances between each stop are marked in there!):

It’s a delightful drive, and so easy to do by yourself. We did this drive, with all our stops, in about 5 hours – if you’re a hiker, though, you might want to leave more time.

 

Stop 1: Buy your pass
This was the entrance closest to our accommodation, so if you’re planning to stay in the same spot, just roll on up, pay your USD$30 for a week’s visit, take your pass, and roll on through! Keep your receipt, because you’ll need to show it again on your way out.

 

Stop 2: The sheer rocks
This really took us by surprise; we pulled over so I could take a photo, and ended up scrambling up the rocks a way, just because we could. Fantastic view, several squirrels, and just fun to be crawling around out there! Be careful pulling over because as there isn’t a carpark, just a little space on the side of the road.

 

Stop 3: The little lake
I don’t know what it’s called, but this little lake just comes out of nowhere, and there was no one else around so we had it all to ourselves. There’s a little inlet to pull your car in, then take the faint path leading down to the water.

Top left: the sheer rocks  —  Bottom left: Olmsted Point  —  Right: the little lake

 

Stop 4: Olmsted Point
Holy wow this place was incredible! Plenty of space to park your car, and a few trails if you want to hike. Take the path marked about 300m to the viewpoint, and find yourself basically at the top of the world, surrounded by granite and pines.

 

Stop 5: Tenaya Lake
This place is perfection.. the water is so clear you can see straight to the bottom, and the rocks are high and flat enough to picnic on, which we did. There were a few cars about, but still few enough that we could pick a spot on the water to relax on our own.

Top: Tenaya Lake  —  Bottom: Tuolumne Meadow

 

Stop 6: Tuolumne Meadow
This was the highest point of our day trip, at an elevation of just over 8500 feet. A big, flat, wide open meadow, with the river running through it. Again, lots of parking available, but such a big area that we didn’t see anyone else around until we were walking back to the car.

Victorian mini-breaks: How to spend a day in Healesville

Founded in the mid 1800s, this sweet little town was born after a rail line was built through it to service the surrounding goldfields. The gold may have long since dried up, but Healesville now lives in some of the state’s best wine country.

Healesville is one of my favourite places to get away to. It’s a little over an hour out of Melbourne’s CBD, making it far enough away to enjoy some peace and quiet, but not so far that it’s a hassle to get to. And now that Victoria is opening up again, it’s the perfect time to go and explore for a night or two.

 

WHERE TO EAT & DRINK:
– Innocent Bystander Winery
Amazing wine, pizzas, cheeses, breads and pastries. It’s not cheap, but it is quality.
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– Mocha & Lime
Gorgeous little café that serves up a tasty brunch, it’s simple food done well. They also cater extremely well for special diets, including gluten free and vegan options. Bonus points for the floor to ceiling bookshelves at the back of the café where you can browse second hand books while you wait for your coffee.

– Healesville Harvest
A personal favourite of mine – incredible sandwiches using the very best ingredients, and a cake cabinet that’ll make your jaw drop. And yes, those lamingtons are as good as they look.

– Beechworth Bakery
Duh. This place is an institution in Victoria, as anyone who’s ever been on a road trip will know. Bottomless cups of tea, freshly baked bread, golden-crusted pastries, and a fireplace for winter visits. Perfect.

 

WHERE TO SHOP:
– Healesville Jewellers
My favourite jewellery shop in the world. They do they most beautiful pieces with precious stones, and they’re very reasonably priced. They also do a lot of one-off pieces, and can adjust ring sizes on site.


– Connection

A gift and homewares boutique where you can find some seriously unique trinkets. Brass globes, antique-style wooden desk sets, leather notebooks, llama jewellery dishes, and everything else in between.

– Verso Books
I’m a sucker for a good independent store. Verso stocks new releases in fiction, beautiful books in arts, gardening and cooking, and a brilliant collection of children’s books.

 

WHAT TO DO:

– Take a drive our to the Redwood Forest in East Warburton
Once you’re done walking and eating your way around Healesville, head out to the Redwoods. It’ll take you around 40 minutes to drive there, but it is more than worth the effort. Just make sure you bring an extra layer of clothes – it’s always quite a bit cooler in there tucked away under the trees.

– Visit the weekend market
Because everyone loves a good market! You can pick up some absolutely brilliant little treasures there, too, if you have time to dig around a little…

– Stop at the Yarra Vallery Chocolaterie on the way home
Because their chocolate is a thing of beauty. You can select a box from their Great Wall of Chocolate (I recommend the Tantalising Toasted Coconut Slice), watch the chocolate artists at work through the giant kitchen windows, grab a light lunch or dessert and enjoy the views from their gardens…