Kirkjufell is a mountain 463-meters or 1519 feet above sea level on the Snæfellsnesnes peninsula in the Western part of Iceland. Standing tall above the small fishing town of Grundarfjörður, Kirkjufell is the most photographed mountain in Iceland, one of the top 10 most beautiful mountains in the world, and yet most recognized as being “Arrow Head Mountain” on Game of Thrones.
How was Kirkjufell Mountain Formed?
Kirkjufell appears as a dominant vision before you as you drive on route 54 towards the north coast of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. In an almost perfect cylinder form, Kirkjufell is attached to the peninsula by a stretch of land on its south side. You can appreciate the mountain view from three directions on land but north, as it’s facing out to the sea. There is one way to see this side from the north, though - kayaking under Mt. Kirkjufell, a two-hour mesmerizing experience cruising alongside one the most majestic mountain in Iceland.
The formation of Kirkjufell mountain is a dramatic act taking place over millions of years - ever since the last phase of the Ice Age- by glacial erosion in Iceland. As you can see clearly in the photo below, the mountain is very steep in all directions and layers of rocks are clearly visible from the bottom to the top. This was formed due to a unique natural phenomenon in Iceland named “nunatak.” In fact, it’s a Greenlandic Inuit word referring to a high rock pointing out of glaciers. Essentially it’s an exposed peak that’s not covered by ice, and it also called the glacial island.
Kirkjufell was so special that it was located between two glaciers that influenced and shaped the mountain as the form it has right now. The layers of Kirkjufell are in fact the results of many volcanic eruptions. Its distinctive stature also inspired the early Danish sailor to render up a cute nickname for the mountain -“Sukkertoppen” or “the Sugar Top” in English because of its impressive presence.
Where is Kirkjufell?
GPS 64.9417° N, 23.3069° W
Kirkjufell is located on the North Coast of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West Iceland. At approximately 185 km (115 mi) from the capital of Reykjavík, and about 110 km (70 miles) away from Borgarnes on the Ring Road, Kirkjufell is very accessible. Additionally, both Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall are within a walking reach from the town, Grundarfjörður. It sure makes a change from the classic day tours like the popular Golden Circle road trip!
Driving to Kirkjufell
Driving from Reykjavík to Kirkjufell is very achievable and will take roughly 2 and a half hours, serving as a great day trip away from the capital. Taking Road 1 and heading North through the undersea tunnel, follow along road 1 until you reach Borgarnes. When you reach the outskirts of town take road number 54 at the roundabout. Stay on this road until you reach Grundarfjörður, there is no way of missing the mountains now!
If you don't fancy driving there yourself, there are several guided tour options for you to choose from. The Snaefellsnes day tour departs from Reykjavik and the overnight Snaefellsnes tour adds even more time to spend exploring this beautiful peninsula.
What to do at Kirkjufell
Kirkjufell’s attractiveness is not limited to the mountain itself. A great portion of its popularity is contributed by the mountain’s surroundings - such as the beautiful Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall. Almost every visitor come to this location to find the best viewpoints for the aesthetic composition of the mountain and the waterfall.
With plenty of nearby beaches to chose from, Kirkjufell is very picturesque and perfect for photographers professional and amateur alike! If you have booked a hiking tour, be prepared for a relatively challenging climb up to the top where bird and fish fossils can be found! If you haven’t booked a tour with an experienced guide, unfortunately climbing to the top is out of the question. Hiking it alone has proved fatal on many occasions. Instead of taking the dangerous trek up, take an easier and more family-friendly stroll around the walking trail at the base of the mountain instead! You will also be able to discover a lake; which on calm and clear days reflects the mirror image of the mountain, creating a stunning visual and photographic opportunity.
Alternatively, you could visit Grundarfjordur the local town, for some golf, hiking or horse riding and catering.
Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall streams down modestly out to the ocean from the cove or lagoon. It has a drop of 16.4 meters (54 feet) in several divided spouts over a rocky hill which looms out an idyllic, rural scenery.
When driving from Grundarfjörður toward Kirkjufell mountain it won't take long to spot the intensely beautiful waterfall Kirkjufellsfoss. From a distance, the waterfall appears as one mass stream, but upon further inspection there are actually three falls, all running in the same river under the same name. When the weather gets warmer during the summer, it is not uncommon to find local kids, teens and even adults jumping into the waterfall. We don’t need to go into why this is a terrible idea when visiting in the winter!
When is the best time to visit Kirkjufell Mountain?
Once for every season!
Like most natural attractions in Iceland, Kirkjufell Mountain looks completely transformed from in the summer too in the winter! During the summer, Kirkjufell comes alive with vivid shades of green and red foliage, with the help of a guide the mountain can be climbed and people visit at all hours during the midnight sun. During the colder season, the snow-tipped mountain becomes a snow-covered mountain, inaccessible but glistening under the midday sun and providing the best scenic backdrop during the Northern Lights.
The optimum times at any season are sunrise and sunset. Because of its North facing location and the vast openness of the area, photographers know this is the time to see the mountain at its finest.
The times to avoid include peak tour bus hours, where for whatever reason, entire coaches of tourists always seem to arrive at the same time, around 12-1. It is a lot harder to catch a good photo when crowds of people are always in the way!
Advice for Visiting Kirkjufell Mountain
- Wear good walking shoes as it gets very muddy!
- Wear layers in case it is colder than you think it is!
- A leisurely family walk around the base of the mountain can take up to 3 hours
- Only hike up Kirkjufell with the aid of an experienced guide that can take you through the right tracks.
- Bring a prepared lunch or be prepared to visit the town for a selection of restaurant options
What are the Best Angles to Photograph Mount Kirkjufell?
- With the mountain and the waterfall: panoramic, the base of the waterfall, top of fall, middle. From the left side of Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall, you can easily frame in the mountain and the waterfall together.
- Using the lake as the mirror image: when it is completely calm, it shows in almost perfect mirror image of the Kirkjufell.
- Using higher ground for an interesting perspective
- Either side of Road 54 that goes along the North Shore of the peninsula
- During the winter and the Northern lights
- From the base of the mountain, to achieve a towering shot
- From the hills above the waterfall, you can get a shot of the town and the fjord surrounding the mountain.
- From the beach below the gas station
- From the bench by the road between the town and a nearby farm.
Accommodation near Kirkjufell
- Camping grounds in Grundafjörður
- Kirkjufell Guesthouse
- Grundarfjordur Guesthouse and Apartments
- Hotel Framnes
- Bjarg Apartments
- The Old Post Office Guesthouse