- Distance from Reykjavík
- 193km (120mi)
- 64.76964475285934, -23.623052062621053
- Best time to visit
- All year-round
The Snæfellsnes peninsula is often referred to as “Iceland in miniature”, as you get a little bit of everything. The diverse landscape includes natural wonders like vast black sand beaches, magnificent mountains, large volcanic craters, rich birdlife, and the mighty glacier, Snæfellsjökull. It’s a spectacular slice of Iceland.
Experiencing Arnarstapi Fishing Village
History and Legends at Arnarstapi Village
These days, the little fishing village of Arnarstapi feels quiet and isolated. A scattering of houses, holiday cottages and a handful of cosy, family-run restaurants are perched on the shore of the wild North Atlantic with a natural harbour protected from the dramatic sea swells. A few fishing vessels and leisure boats putter from the harbour out to catch herring and spot birds nesting in the cliffside. However, back in the olden days, Arnarstapi was a buzzing shipping port and the centre of commerce for the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Under Danish rule in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, the booming herring trade connected Arnarstapi with the rest of the world.
The settlement dates back even further than that. Farms and natural landmarks around Arnarstapi are mentioned in the mediaeval Icelandic sagas, showing that this area has been inhabited for centuries. Place names in the area crop up in the Bárðar Saga Snæfellsáss which tells of a half-man, half-ogre who lived on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula during the settlement period.
There’s always been a sense of adventure around Arnarstapi, a vibe that Jules Verne must have picked up on as his adventure epic Journey to the Centre of the Earth is partially set in Arnarstapi. The main characters stop in Arnarstapi before they climb nearby Snæfellsjökull glacier to make their way to the Earth’s core. You may see Arnarstapi referred to simply as ‘Stapi’ in some guides, books and by locals.
Getting to Arnarstapi Village
It is fairly easy to navigate yourself to Arnarstapi village if you are hiring a car. From Reykjavík, you follow the Route One main road to Borgarnes and turn onto Road 54 which takes you along the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Turning onto the Útnesvegur road will lead you to Arnarstapi village. The road distance between Reykjavík and Arnarstapi is almost 200 kilometres, and the drive takes around two and a half hours without stopping. It is a beautiful drive, especially in the long daylight hours of summer when you don’t have to worry so much about adverse weather affecting road conditions. No matter the time of year, it’s always a good idea to check the SafeTravel Iceland app before hopping in the car to keep up to date with sudden road closures.
In winter, it can be challenging to drive the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Luckily, guided trips of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula leave year-round from Reykjavík, so if you don’t fancy hiring a car or if the weather looks a bit hairy, you can leave the driving to an experienced professional.
What to see and do in Arnarstapi Village
The biggest draw for visitors to Arnarstapi is the clifftop walk from this small fishing village to Hellnar, two and a half kilometres along the coast. Some Snæfellsnes day trips from Reykjavík stop at Arnarstapi long enough for you to complete the hike there and back. A marked path leads along the coast and from it, you can spot the rock bridges this area is famous for. Gatklettur, or ‘The Hellnar Arch’, frames the deep blue ocean perfectly from the trail and you can gaze out at the entire rugged coastline from the Arnarstapi cliff viewpoint along the way. Close to the village, there’s a striking view of the cliffs and coastline from Arnarstapi lighthouse, which looks more like a war bunker than your typical lighthouse, but offers the perfect vantage point to spot waves crashing and birds circling out at sea.
The coastal walk to Hellnar is fairly flat and easy, but those who really want to exercise their leg muscles can hike to the summit of Stapafell Mountain from Arnarstapi. There’s a path to the top from the northern side, getting steeper as you ascend.
Around Arnarstapi, the basalt cliffs and sheer volcanic rocks are a haven for birdlife. Small boats run from the harbour in the village to spot kittiwakes, gulls, fulmars and Arctic terns. In mating season (summer) the cliffside is alive with the ruffle of feathers and squawk of gulls.
Apart from the pretty natural harbour, within Arnarstapi itself you’ll find a handful of local restaurants serving hearty stews and homemade rye bread with a medicinal shot of Brennivín for a nightcap. Those seeking to spend the night will find campsites, holiday cottages and a cabin hotel offering accommodation options.
Experiences and sights close to Arnarstapi
There are myriad sights along the Snæfellsnes Peninsula to fill multiple days of adventuring. Between Arnarstapi and Reykjavík, you can stop at Vatnshellir Cave – an 8,000-year-old lava cave which can be explored with a guide. Perhaps you want to sample the culinary delights of Iceland en route and a break at the Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum can satisfy any cravings for the famous fermented shark. Or, stretch your legs at the beautiful cascades at Bjarnarfoss where water tumbles over ancient lava tracks, or take in the iconic view of the conical Kirkjufell mountain with its trickling falls in the foreground. Close to Arnarstapi, you can embark on a glacier hike on Snæfellsjökull during the winter season.
All About Arnarstapi
Packed with natural wonders and considered “Iceland in miniature”, we recommend spending around 2-3 days exploring the beautiful Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
Arnarstapi has an array of places to stay and a few spots to eat and drink, so it is a popular overnight stop for those exploring the peninsula. If you’re not using it as an overnight stop, the village and cliffside walks can be seen and experienced in around 2-3 hours.
Arnarstapi was once an important trading port and had a much larger population in the days of Danish merchants shipping fish worldwide. These days, the little fishing village has a sparse population of around 60 people. This number is slowly growing, though, as folk are attracted to the quiet pace of life and beautiful scenery surrounding the settlement.
Just outside Arnarstapi, Stapafell Mountain casts a striking, pyramid-shaped silhouette over the village. Stapafell is mainly made from pillow lava – formed by underwater volcanic activity, which leaves big, pillowy pockets within the solidified lava rock. The lower parts of the lava pillows are made of olivine, which shimmers green in the light.
Almost at the most westerly point of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Arnarstapi is one of the few places this far out that offers overnight accommodation and places to eat and drink.
The village feels remote and isolated, which is worth a visite to what life is like on the edge of the Atlantic. Striking views of Stapafell Mountain and meandering cliff-top walks along the wild Atlantic are what leave visitors satisfied with their trip to Arnarstapi.
Along this stretch of coast, rock bridges have formed over the centuries, painting a picture-perfect scene for photographers.
Arnarstapi’s natural harbour made it a prominent shipping port in the olden days. Under the Danish crown in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, Arnarstapi was a bustling port, shipping herring across the globe.
Mount Stapafell and the surrounding farms have placenames driving from the Bárðar Saga Snæfellsáss – the mediaeval Icelandic Saga that tells the tale of a half-human half-ogre.
Along the rugged coast, cliffs of basalt columns and volcanic rock form bridges over the untamed Atlantic Ocean. This series of rock formations make the clifftop walk between Arnarstapi and Hellnar one of the most beautiful spots in Iceland. Simply known as the ‘Arnarstapi Cliffs’, you can spot these rock formations by following the coast west from Arnarstapi to Hellnar.
Hellnar Arch, also known as Gatklettur, is a striking rock formation near Arnarstapi. You can walk to it from the fishing village by following the coastal trail to Hellnar, west of Arnarstapi. The Hellnar Arch is about a five or six-minute walk from the main car park in Arnarstapi.
The entire route between Arnarstapi and Hellnar is around five kilometres long (there and back), taking around two hours at a leisurely pace. From the Arnarstapi cliff viewpoint (marked on Google Maps), you can spot this dramatic rock formation against the denim-blue Atlantic sea.
There are almost 200 kilometres between Reykjavik and Arnarstapi. By road, the distance is 193 kilometres (around 120 miles) and the drive takes about two and a half hours depending on weather and road conditions. Along the way, you can take in the glorious sights of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula like geothermal hot springs, lava caves, glaciers and ethereal mountains.
If you want to visit Arnarstapi for the excellent hiking opportunities in the area, you’ll find the sunniest months with the clearest view of the Atlantic in the middle of summer, between May and August.
These months see the longest hours of daylight too, with the sun barely setting even past midnight in June, so you can take your time getting to this remote location and spend longer on the clifftop trails.
The shoulder seasons in May, September and early October see fewer crowds to this small village but still reward visitors with occasional sunshine and long-ish hours of daylight. Bear in mind that the weather can be changeable at these times of year.
While there is something magical about seeing the landscape around Arnarstapi covered in snow, road conditions in winter can be challenging. Those visiting Snæfellsnes Peninsula between November and February need to have a real sense of adventure or join a guided experience from Reykjavík to avoid the hassle of driving.
If you are embarking on a self-drive adventure during the winter months in Iceland, it is always a good idea to check the SafeTravel app for updates on road closures and weather conditions and heed the warnings issued.
Arnarstapi is open and accessible during the winter months, but it is worth noting that the top of the cliff path between Arnarstapi and Hellnar is not cleared of snow, so can become inaccessible during cold snaps. Also, you might be less likely to spot the local wildlife in winter as the seals leave the beaches and some birds migrate south.