Photograph of the week: Mount Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellsfoss, Iceland


At 463 metres (1,519 feet), Kirkjufell mountain in Iceland is hardly a towering behemoth. (For reference, Mount Everest is 8,850 metres/29,035 feet.) This doesn’t make it any less arresting, however.

What makes this Iceland’s most photographed mountain? A combination of things. Its unique, pyramid-like shape. A landscape of ever-changing, always exquisite colours. The picture-perfect three-forked waterfall – Kirkjufellsfoss – near its peak. Or, if you time your visit just right, the magical display of the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis), with Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellsfoss as a backdrop, that frequently occur between late September and early March.

Located on Iceland’s Snæfellsnes peninsula near the fishing town of Grundarfjörður, Kirkjufell has also been voted one of the top 10 most beautiful mountains in the world by a number of sources, including The Mysterious World, The Conservation Institute, and Travel Triangle, to name just a few. You might also recognize it from its starring role – as ‘Arrowhead Mountain’ – in the 6th and 7th seasons of the HBO original series, and cult classic, Game of Thrones.

While millions (yes, millions!) of ardent Game of Thrones fans will, no doubt, continue to think of Kirkjufell as Arrowhead Mountain, in Icelandic Kirkjufell actually means ‘Church Mountain’, named for its obvious resemblance, from certain angles, to a church steeple. Meanwhile, Danish sailors originally referred to Kirkjufell as Sukkertoppen, or ‘The Sugar Top’. Whichever name you choose to call it, Kirkjufell remains a must-see on any trip to Iceland. It is both beautiful, and geographically fascinating. Formerly a ‘nunatak’, an exposed peak not covered by ice, protruding between two glaciers during the last Ice Age, the present day peak is a result of glacial erosion and volcanic activity, complete with sediments containing fossils on the lower layers, and rocky layers formed by lava higher up.

If you choose to see those lava layers close up by climbing to its peak, we recommend that you do so with a guide. While climbing Kirkjufell is considered by some to be no more than a scramble, it can be hazardous and fatal falls do occur. Another option? Embark upon a completely mesmerizing two-hour kayak trip that approaches Kirkjufell from the north.

Getting there is a straightforward 185 km (115 mi) from the capital of Reykjavík, or about 110 km (70 miles) from Borgarnes on the Ring Road. This makes Kirkjufell an easy day trip or you can stay in nearby Grundarfjörður and take the time to explore more of the area. In fact, you may want to go twice: once in summer and once in winter. In summer, Kirkjufell shows off for visitors with vivid shades of green and red foliage, and guided climbs and viewing visits happening at all hours, including under the midnight sun! In winter, it’s easy to see why the snow-tipped Kirkjufell was once nicknamed Sukkertoppen. Whatever the season, you will find the mountain completely transformed, and undeniably magical.

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Comments (8)

  1. Tim says:

    For such a small mountain it – I’m not even going to attempt to spell the name – it packs quite a punch of attractions. Amazing how nature produces such a pyramid shape for the Sugar Top Mountain.

  2. Pete says:

    I have never seen the Northern Lights and it remains on my bucket list still not yet ticked off. Though seeing the Northern Lights as the back drop to Mount Kirkjufell would be quite a place to achieve that ambition.

  3. Nick Dougill says:

    Great timing for a feature on Iceland. Here in the city the mercury’s nudging up towards 30 C in what’s becoming a concrete Hell. Iceland, hopefully a lot cooler, is looking very attractive. Recently on A Luxury Travel Blog I’m pretty sure that you had a post on Iceland’s summer attractions which I seem to have remembered. Iceland may be the place to head this hot summer.

  4. Steph says:

    Oh wow, this is stunning. I think seeing the Northern Lights there would be beautiful. What an amazing landscape. A stupid question here, but do you pronounce the ‘j’ in Kirkjufell? I can see why it gets a spot in the top 10 of the most beautiful mountains in the world. It’s brilliant that the viewing visits go on at all times, too, as that’s a great way to experience the mountain and the backdrop in all atmospheres as places always have a different feel to them at night then during daylight hours. I think the Game of Thrones setting will give this destination a significant boost in interest from adoring fans!

  5. Oscar says:

    This must be a “must visit” destination if you are in Iceland, though it could be some day trip. Perhaps a couple of hours drive to get there and then a scramble over the rocks and then the trip back to Reykjavik. I think it’s a trip that you’d need a good level of fitness for.

    I always believe that to be a great destination worth travelling for it is a place that demands return visits in different seasons. Every time you visit the colours and light are different. I just hope that it doesn’t become overwhelmed by the Game of Thrones mob, taking away its dignified isolated splendour.

  6. Marchus Shane says:

    Oh my god!!! Is that real it looks so magnificent view of this Mountain when I first saw the view I just google it to get this view and it looks so fascinating that I am just shocked right now.

  7. Nick says:

    That really is some photo! I wonder how many hours that photographer had to plan and wait to snap that one? Sometimes we forget just how skilled photography can be. I know that editing software opens up so many possibilities for creativity nowadays but essentially the photographer still has to have a vision of how they want to represent and what they want to achieve.

  8. Fernando says:

    This is something that looks like it was taken from a fairytale. Everything about this photo is majestic and compliment every other element that exists in the frame. When I saw the photo, The formation of the mountain is close to a perfect pyramid shape and the water clearly reflects the hue of the northern lights. Hoping to visit this place soon and admire its timeless beauty in person.

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