Arnarstapi tiny village at Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Updated: Dec 29, 2022
Arnarstapi, a tiny village on the south coast of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, is one of Iceland's favorite destinations. It is a mesa surrounded by natural beauty, a wonderful hiking trail by the shoreline, great history, and the best access to the Snæfellsjökull glacier. But this tiny village wasn't always this small. Like many towns and villages in Iceland, it had the potential to become a larger village or a town. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, it was an important trading and fishing post. Interestingly, the trading and fishing posts on the north side of Snæfellsnes Peninsula developed into towns and villages when most of those on the south side did not. One of the reasons might be the better livelihood conditions in Breiðafjörður bay, which provided abundant fishing grounds compared to Faxaflói bay. Today, the small Arnarstapi dock is an important harbor for small boats with limited permission to fish and also a popular destination for recreational boats.
A tiny village with an impressive history
The village is at the foot of Mt. Stapafell, a rather small but distinct mountain that played a role in Iceland's history when the island was being settled. It was home to Bárður Snæfellsáss half-brother Þorkell, who emigrated to Iceland with his brother. One of the Icelandic sagas is dedicated to Bárður, and it is indeed a different story as the brothers were descendants of trolls. Consequently, both were huge men and became influential figures in the southern Snæfellsnes Peninsula. In Arnarstapi, you can see a life-size sculpture the artist Ragnar Kjartansson erected by the village shoreline, befitting the local guardian spirit. Currently, his grandson, Ragnar Kjartansson, is Iceland's most renowned artist.
Amidst a beautiful landscape
Part of Arnarstapi's beauty is the lava formation surrounding the small harbor. Another interesting element is the basalt column formations, the small caves and the lava landforms along the coastline all the way to the small Hellnar hamlet. This part of the shoreline has been a natural reserve since 1979. Following the quite accessible and easy hiking trail from the dock, you will discover magnificent cliffs and caves and fantastic birdlife. The coast is a great place to explore and spend time as it has many interesting photographic opportunities. You can comfortably observe the kittiwake, the arctic tern, razorbills, and the fulmar up close in summer. It is wise to have a hat or a small stick when walking this trail as the arctic tern is sometimes quite aggressive when protecting its nests.
See and feel the force of the Atlantic Ocean
During your hike, you will also experience the full force of the ocean as it clashes with the cliffs and the ravines along the way. It is a powerful and energizing experience, but mind you, do not stand too close to the edge if you want to survive the impact. Here is where you walk alongside lava that has recently, in geological terms, flown to the ocean from the craters close to the glacier Snæfellsjökull. This is what makes the coastline so unique compared to most coastlines around the globe. In Iceland, this is something you can only see and experience here at Arnarstapi and Hellnar and also in Reykjanes Peninsula. Arnarstapi has a good camping ground with excellent facilities. Along with Hellnar, it also has comfortable accommodations and a few restaurants and cafés. It is a convenient place to stop at if you are taking a two-day drive around the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.