The Magical Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland - Arnarstapi and Hellnar
In this travel-blog I am going to show you the beautiful Arnarstapi, which is one of my favourite places on the Snæfellsnes peninsula.
The extraordinary columnar basalt and cliff formations here are breathtakingly beautiful and one of Iceland's most beautiful natural harbours is at Arnarstapi.
Opening photo: the marina at Arnarstapi
Take a tour of the harbour and the sea cliffs during the breeding season of the birds and you will hear a myriad of birds squawking, mostly kittiwakes, gulls, fulmars and the cranky Arctic tern.
And when you come closer to the pillars, which are white with guano, the smell becomes almost overwhelming.
In former times Arnarstapi was a vibrant community. My photo below is one of the best-known photo motives from Arnarstapi, with Mt. Stapafell with the white house and the cliffs in the foreground.
I am sure that most people who visit Arnarstapi take this kind of photo.
On my many visits to Snæfellsnes, I have usually camped in various campsites. But I stayed for one night in one of the summer houses in the photo below.
Mt. Stapafell and Arnarstapi
This is such an extraordinary location for a summer house. Now my aunt has built a summer house at Hellnar, only a few km away from Arnarstapi, so I stay with her from time to time.
I want to show you more photo opportunities for Mt. Stapafell from Arnarstapi. Like the one below with the black and white house, which is called Amtmannshúsið in Icelandic, as it was the residence of the Danish Prefect back when Iceland belonged to Denmark.
Amtmannshúsið has now been declared as a historical site.
Isn't it pretty :)
Arnarstapi used to be a vibrant fishing village, but nowadays it is a centre for tourism, seeing that Arnarstapi is one of the most popular sites to visit on the peninsula.
The Snæfellsnes Information Centre, on the other hand, is located at Hellissandur, a little further on.
I like the photo of Mt. Stapafell and Amtmannshúsið house a lot, but most people prefer the photo with the cliffs and the white house, as it also shows parts of Snæfellsjökull glacier, given that it is not cloudy.
Mt. Stapafell is a pyramid-shaped 526 m high palagonite mountain and a volcano right next to Snæfellsjökull glacier and volcano.
The mountain looks like a pyramid only from this direction, but if you drive up by it and visit Sönghellir cave then you will have a totally different view of Mt. Stapafell.
Mt. Stapafell as seen from above - it also looks like a pyramid from this angle
These two volcanoes make an out-of-this-world pair. There seem to be some supernatural forces at work here.
When I meditate on the glacier and Mt. Stapafell I sense a lot of violet energy coming from Mt. Stapafell, so this mountain seems to be as magical as Snæfellsjökull glacier.
I have read several accounts of elves residing at Arnarstapi. Purkeyjar-Ólafur tells us about one such incident on New Year's Eve when he was a farmer at Arnarstapi.
Three or four of his people went outside and saw a convoy of about 10 horses, plus the horses which people were riding on.
Three women were riding in a sidesaddle; these women and the convoy rode towards a hill in the rocks above the rift Pumpa. The whole group seemingly disappeared into the hill: they were elves relocating.
The Icelandic medium Margrét Thorlacius from Öxnafell (1908-1989) had a summer cottage at Arnarstapi. She was well-known in Iceland for her psychic abilities.
In the book Skyggna konan II by Eiríkur Sigurðsson, published in 1963, I found an account about Margréts sightings of elves at Arnarstapi.
From her summer cottage at Arnarstapi she had a view of Sölvahamar cliff. You might remember Sölvahamar from my Bárður Snæfellsás travel-blog: Bárður Snæfellsás - the Mythical Protector of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West-Iceland.
Margrét saw elves in the Sölvahamar cliff and she saw several times a big dining hall, where many seamen were dining by a big table. The women waiting on them were dressed in white clothes.
One summer day in 1962 Margrét saw a big cargo ship by Sölvahamar cliff. Nobody else saw this ship. She believed it was the cargo ship of the elves and many different goods were being unloaded.
Margrét had seen such an elf-ship in Eyjafjörður, where she was living.
(Translated into English from pages 90-91 in the book Skyggna konan II)
Mt. Stapafell as seen from Arnarstapi
Now, let's go back to sightseeing on Arnarstapi :) Walking around Arnarstapi is one of my favourite things to do on the Snæfellsnes peninsula, to me this is a truly magical place, like so many places here on the Snæfellsnes peninsula.
I love when Mt. Stapafell reflects in the pond at Arnarstapi as you can see in the photo above. So you see that there are many ways of photographing Mt. Stapafell.
Arnarbær turf house restaurant with the backdrop of Mt. Stapafell
Sometimes feel like I have stepped into a magical world when I travel in my country and Arnarstapi is one of these magical places.
If you look at the photo below you will see a hole in the middle of the ground, so let's be careful while walking around Arnarstapi!
It is extraordinary though having a peek down this hole or chasm.
At Arnarstapi - watch your step
What I am doing in the photo below looks very dangerous and there were some visitors who pointed at me and told one another that I was behaving stupidly.
Probably I am behaving stupidly most of the time, but what cannot be seen in the photo is that the stone cross-over is wide and easy to step on.
Walking on the stone bridge in Arnarstapi
We Icelanders are brought up to fear the dangerous powers of our country, which resulted in me being extra careful when travelling.
Of course, this cross-over can always collapse as has happened to stone bridges in some places, and you can slip etc., so maybe it is best to skip this one?
Photoshoot on the stone bridge
Last time I visited Arnarstapi in the summer of 2023 there was a line of people waiting to cross the stone bridge and have their photo taken.
It is possible to walk along/above the shore both from the small harbour, or leave your car by the big statue of Bárður Snæfellsás and walk from there, a short walk, to an observation platform above the beautiful Gatklettur - Arch Rock at Arnarstapi.
Gatklettur - the Arch Rock in Arnarstapi
From the platform, you will also see the most beautiful basalt columns, which reach inside a beautiful cave.
I am totally in love with basalt columns and call them artwork of nature as they are ever so beautiful and look like they have been sculptured by an artist.
Beautiful basalt columns at Arnarstapi
Do you remember Bárður Snæfellsás, the Protector of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula? I have mentioned him in several travel-blogs as there are so many places in this area, which bear his name.
Bárður Snæfellsás was the settler of this area, half a troll and half a man, but his mother was human.
You can read his story in one of our Sagas - the Saga of Bárður Snæfellsás. And I have dedicated one of my travel-blogs solely to Bárður Snæfellsás.
By the statue of Bárður Snæfellsás at Arnarstapi
Bárður, who was Dumbsson, sailed from Norway with his men in the 9th century and came ashore in Djúpalón and Dritvík cove.
He then built his farm at Laugarbrekka further east on Snæfellsnes and became a prominent figure on the peninsula.
Bárður gave Snæfellsnes peninsula its name.
The statue of Bárður Snæfellsás and Mt. Stapafell
He saw the ice on the Snæfellsjökull glacier, which dominates this part of Snæfellsnes. Seeing so much ice and snow he called the peninsula Snjófellsnes, but snjór is the term we Icelanders use for snow.
Snær is another term for snow, less used though. The name later changed to Snæfellsnes.
Here is another photo I love of Mt. Stapafell and Arnarstapi. You can take many interesting photos of Bárður Snæfellsás with this pyramid-shaped mountain and either make him big or small in comparison to the mountain.
Bárður Snæfellsás - see how many new buildings there are at Arnarstapi
The artist Ragnar Kjartansson created the statue which was unveiled on the 17th of June, 1985.
Arnarstapi is a place in Snæfellsnes that should not be missed! And there is a 2.5 km long hiking trail leading through the lava field between Arnarstapi to Hellnar.
Hellnar is the next stop in Snæfellsnes when travelling in this area.
Here at Hellnar used to be one of the biggest fishing stations in Snæfellsnes with the oldest documented information about Hellnar being a fishing village dating back to 1560.
In the year 1703, 194 people were living here plus all the people, who were doing seasonal work at Hellnar.
All in all, there were 38 buildings of some sort at Hellnar with various functions; farms, lodgings for the seasonal workers and fish-related structures.
How times have changed at Hellnar - now there is a hotel, a restaurant and a very popular café, Fjöruhúsið café, down by the sea.
The Visitor Centre for Snæfellsjökull Glacier National Park used to be located here, but in the summer of 2016, the Visitor Centre moved locations down to Malarrif opposite the lighthouse a little bit further east from Hellnar.
And in 2023 a new Visitor Centre was opened at Hellissandur village a little bit further on.
Down by the sea, you will see beautiful rock formations and a protruding rock, Valasnös, with a huge opening. It is possible to walk right up to the opening.
The beach is a bit rocky though as there are lava rocks on the beach, which are quite unique, some of them are black and some of them are white.
The beach at Hellnar with the black and white stones
When I visited Vatnshellir cave which is very close to here, the guide told us about the different colours of the rocks on the beach, that they were from different periods of the same volcanic eruption and that it was rare seeing them together on the beach like this.
Supposedly there is a cave called Baðstofuhellir inside the cliff, but I have never managed to see it - it has been described as very colourful in a certain light.
Watch out for the tide when taking photos here, I have been taken by surprise by the tide here and had to jump!
You will see a lot of fulmars and kittiwake in the cliffs and it is so lovely watching them up close and personal, as it were. Usually, they are on high sea cliffs and you can only hear (and smell them) from above, but I have rarely seen them from below.
My aunt has got a summer cottage at Hellnar, overlooking Snæfellsjökull glacier and the sea. She and her husband often watch Orca whales playing in the sea from their living room.
I love visiting her and I stay overnight with her from time to time, as this part of the Snæfellsnes peninsula is like heaven to me.
Hellnar and the café
I also have ties to this place on my mother's side, as one of my great-grandmothers, Ingibjörg was born at Arnarstapi and raised at Hellnar.
Hellnar where my great-grandmother grew up
She had studied management of creamery dairies in Borgarfjörður and had met my great-grandfather at Hvanneyri Agricultural School where he was studying agriculture.
They had 8 children in this remote valley in the Westfjords of Iceland.
Sæbólskirkja church at Ingjaldssandur in the Westfjords
What a big change this must have been for her, moving from Snæfellsnes peninsula to such a remote valley where their turf farm was located by the open sea and thus in wintertime, the valley could only be reached by boat or by walking the shoreline between the fjords when the tide was out!
There is a lovely little café called Fjöruhúsið right by the sea at Hellnar. It opened in 1997 and is very popular amongst Icelanders as well as foreign visitors.
The location is fantastic, hidden away right by the sea and the cliffs.
One cannot see the café from the road, it is well hidden until you reach the top of the hill. They offer homemade cakes and bread, hot chocolate, waffles and fish soup.
Fjöruhúsið restaurant in very beautiful surroundings
It is a café, not a restaurant, so only light meals can be bought here. And it is very small, so only a limited amount of guests can visit the café at a time.
The hike from Hellnar to Arnarstapi starts here by Fjöruhúsið on the right-hand side. And if you walk a bit further up behind the café and turn left there is a statue of the Virgin Mary by holy spring water.
Maríulind holy spring water
Maríulind holy spring water
According to legend, Guðmundur góði biskup - Bishop Guðmundur the Good had a vision in the year 1230 at Hellnar of a woman accompanied by three angels.
She bade him consecrate the spring, which he did. I have not been able to find any written records on his vision, but have heard about it frequently.
The statue was donated and erected by the owners of Hellnar in 1989.
The statue of the Virgin Mary by Maríulind holy spring water
It is believed that the water in the spring will never dry up and that it has healing powers. I have been up there several times to pray.
I visited Maríulind when my father was dying back in July 2008, and prayed for him and always visit this holy spring when there are difficulties in the family.
Photo taken in July 2008 by Maríulind
To reach the statue you drive down the road from the Hellnar viewpoint towards the Fjöruhúsið café, but instead of turning to the right for the café when you are down the hill you drive on and turn left for Maríulind.
There is a sign leading the way. When you see it from the road the white statue of the Virgin Mary looks so tiny and lovely.
I believe that there are healing powers at work here.
The statue of the Virgin Mary by Maríulind holy spring water
To visit this area you can rent a car in Reykjavík and reach Arnarstapi in around 2.5 hours. But there are so many beautiful stops on the way that give yourself ample time to visit the Snæfellsnes peninsula. At least 2-3 days to be able to enjoy it to the fullest.
I have joined two of the guided tours of Snæfellsnes and written travel-blogs on my experience:
The marina at Arnarstapi
I have also written a 5-part series of travel-blogs on Snæfellsnes in chronological order, as there is just so much history and places of interest everywhere you look:
Have a lovely time at Arnarstapi and Hellnar :)
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