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While Reykjavík has plenty to see and do and has a charm all its own, a small town like Stykkishólmur can offer a simplified, timeless version that somehow captures Iceland how it was a few decades ago. Located on Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West Iceland, here are some of the reasons you should visit this overlooked gem before the nation’s capital.
Take the ferry Baldur to the barely-inhabited Flatey Island in Breiðafjörður Bay. This serene, idyllic place is great for bird watching, hiking, and generally being at peace. For those visiting during the summer, check in to Hotel Flatey—the only one on the island—and enjoy fresh seafood.
Connected to Stykkishólmur’s harbor by a tiny spit of road, Súgandisey Island offers beautiful views of the ocean as well as the mountains on the other side of Stykkishólmur. Though it can get windy, the lovely, tiny island is great for lying in the grass on a sunny day, listening to birds and ocean waves, or for having a picnic.
The Library of Water (Vatnasafnið), installed in 2007, is located in a former library overlooking Stykkishólmur’s bay. This poetic installation by contemporary-conceptual artist, Roni Horn is one of many pieces she has made inspired by Iceland. Consisting of 24 glass columns that contain water collected from major glaciers around Iceland, the play of light through the windows onto the glass columns creates a stunning visual array that is not to be missed.
As though a little capsule in which time will always move a bit slower and memories of the good old days will come to mind, this sleepy-little village offers a feeling of timelessness. With not many people, no traffic, and one festival per year (a Danish festival in late August), Stykkishólmur remains on its own time.
Book a hotel in Stykkisholmur to serve as a base in order to explore Snæfellsjökull’s glacier, pebble beaches, canyons, mountains, and other fishing villages such as Ríf and Grundafjörður. This Peninsula is sometimes said to contain all the best parts of Iceland all in one place.
Stykkishólmur was Europe’s first community to get the EarthCheck environmental certification from the advisory board for sustainable travel and tourism practices. The town was also Iceland’s first municipality to fully sort its waste as well as receive the prestigious Blue Flag eco-label for its harbor.
Designed by architect Jón Haraldsson, Stykkishólmur´s mesmerizing sci-fiesque church opened in 1990. Inside, thousands of suspending lights and a painting by Kristín Gunnlaugsdóttir depicting the Madonna and child can be seen. With great acoustics, the church has regular concerts.
Stykkisholmur’s remoteness—and therefore minimal light pollution—make it an excellent viewing point for the Northern Lights, an incredible natural phenomenon that can’t be missed. In Iceland, the Aurora can be seen roughly eight months of the year, beginning sometimes in late August and lasting until the summer sun makes it too bright to see in late April.
The Volcano Museum and The Norwegian House are Stykkishólmur’s two museums. The Volcano Museum provides a charming place to see art depicting volcanoes, artifacts, and volcanic rocks from volcanologist Haraldur Sigurdsson. The Stykkishólmur native carried out research on volcanoes around the world for forty years.
The Norwegian House was built in 1832 with wood imported from Norway and has been partially renovated back to its original style. The house serves as the regional museum for the Snæfellsnes with rotating exhibitions as well as a shop with local products from the area.
Explore nearby trails such as the one that begins in the neighboring town of Bjarnarhöfn. Climb Bjarnarhafnarfjall Mountain to see a beautiful view of the surrounding landscape of lava and ocean. Or hike up Drápuhlíðarfjall Mountain, another nearby mountain that offers spectacular views from the top as well.