Arnarstapi is a village on the southern side of the Snæfellsnes peninsula, once a fishing hub and now a place for travellers to refuel before entering Snæfellsjökull National Park. The area has several old and charming houses with interesting stories to them and is renowned for its beautiful nature.
Records of settlements around Arnarstapi date back to the Bárðar saga Snæfellsáss, an ancient Icelandic Saga that tells of the half-human, half-ogre who once lived on the Snæfellsnes peninsula. Since his death, he has been considered the area's guardian spirit.
The region was popular with settlers due to its natural harbour, meaning fishing in the rich herring grounds of the surrounding waters was easy. When Norway, and to a much greater extent when they took over, Denmark, were in control of Iceland, Arnarstapi grew increasingly as a trading port.
Denmark invested a lot of money into Arnarstapi throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (for their own interests, unfortunately not those of the Icelanders). Many of the resulting buildings still stand today, being some of the oldest in the country, such as the Danish Prefect’s Residence, which was built in the 1770s.
In the industrial revolution, Arnarstapi’s population radically shrunk which was common in the countryside at this time. The vast majority of Iceland’s jobs were now centralised in Reykjavík, reducing opportunities for small-time fishermen and their businesses, and the town became little more than a hamlet as a result.
As Iceland’s infrastructure rapidly improved after independence in 1943, and more people abroad began to see the many wonders of this island as a travel destination; Arnarstapi, like many other settlements in the area, got a new lease on life.
Fishing and trade remain vital parts of the economy, but they now play second fiddle to tourism and services. The village has essential services for those travelling on the peninsula, a wide array of accommodation options, and tour companies operating from it.
The beach at Arnarstapi holds a particular attraction. It has an eroded circular stone arch, called Gatklettur, and here, the interplay of spectacular waves and the light of the sun create a fascinating spectacle. Large colonies of the arctic tern also nest in the area, and both these features make it very popular amongst photographers.
An old horse trail through the lava field Hellnahraun is highly popular for hiking, due to the impressiveness of the surrounding landscape.
Arnarstapi, however, should never be too long a stop on a tour of the peninsula. As lovely as it is, the natural attractions nearby simply warrant more time. The village, for example, sits on the cusp of Snæfellsjökull National Park, home to the Snæfellsjökull glacier and volcano, the beauty of which has inspired writers and artists for centuries.
This is one of only three National Parks in the country, but it is to the credit of the peninsula’s beauty that it is far from the only must-see destination around. Very close to Arnarstapi is the Lóndrangar basalt cliffs, huge towers of lava that from a distance look like a fortress.
Vatnshellir and Sönghellir and two nearby lava caves (the former of which can only be entered on a guided tour). There is also a beautiful cleft in a mountainside called Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge that it is possible to climb into.
Though a little further away, on the north of the peninsula, Kirkjufell mountain is also a wonderful site to behold.