Arnarstapi and Hellnar are two nearby small coastal villages in the south-western part of the Snaefellsnes peninsula along route 574 that runs along the coastline.
The village of Arnarstapi is the departure point for a good number of hiking trails around the peninsula and excursions on the glacier (snowmobiling, guided hikes, etc.). There are good accomodation options too, including the very welcoming guesthouse Snjófell which is ideally located and has a magnificent view of the sea.
The small village of Arnarstapi is very easy to find, being located at the crossroads between route 574, which goes around the Snaefellsnes peninsula, and the 570, which cuts north in the direction of Olafsvík.
Even in winter, the peninsula is generally accessible and the road to Arnarstapi is mostly clear.
Stapafell - Tom Vining @Unspash
In addition to the guesthouse, there is a great campsite at the foot of the charming nearby mountain, Stapafell.
In the village on the seafront, you can't help but notice the dominating feature, a huge stone statue: Bárður Snaefellsáss, a deity from Mount Snaefellsáss. Bárður is half-human, half-troll and, according to legend, became a spirit when he disappeared into the Snæfellsjökull glacier.
The statue of Bárður in Arnarstapi
The port is picturesque too, surrounded by basalt columns and magnificent cliff faces filled with crevices. In the port, as on the coast leading to Hellnar, these cliffs are populated by all sorts of birds between June and August. Seagulls, fulmars and especially Arctic terns above you will keep the skies alive with their cries.
Very close to the port, there is an impressive basalt and lava arch in the sea: the Gatklettur Rock, which was eroded over the years by the ocean and is also inhabited by the local birdlife. This rich avifauna is why this coastline became a nature reserve in 1979.
There is a small hiking trail that starts very close to the statue of Bardur in Arnarstapi, and it's an easy walk. It takes about 2 hours (return trip) along the coastline, a great way to admire the basalt columns, rock arches, and all kinds of birds who live there. The elevation on the trail is minimal, under 20 meters.
This hike is the ideal evening stroll after dropping your luggage in Arnarstapi and a little break to take your breath. The trail has 2 departure points whether you want the long or the short way: the long way starts at the port before taking a path to the coast (extra 10-minute walk), or take the short way and skip the path and go directly to the large Bárður statue on the beach and start from there.
We recommend the port because it's only 10 minutes and the harbour is a scenic postcard of a place, and you'll be at the Bárður statue before you know it. After about 10 minutes, you'll see a sign for the famous Gatklettur arch.
From here, continue along the coastline by following the red pegs. This is where the bird-watchers need to ready the cameras! This small pond is home to entire colonies of seabirds. The rock here is bored with tunnels that communicate directly with the sea and offer the perfect acoustics for all these birds to talk to each other.
After walking through meadows with Arctic terns swooping overhead, the trail crosses a magnificent moss-carpeted lava field. There are seldom many people on this short hike, and this is a place of peace and quiet. Only the waves crashing on the rocks and the sound of birds break this silence. The ocean view with the majestic Mount Snaefellsjökull on the horizon is incredible.
After about 45 minutes, you arrive at the port of Hellnar, which has its share of rock arches and basalt formations to admire. In particular, the Baðstofa rock formation which reflect amazing colors in the water.
In Hellnar don't forget to stop by Fjöruhúsid, Hellnar's top café famous for its excellent cakes. The former fishing village is tiny and home to only a few dozen inhabitants, the very definition of quaint. Just hike back the way you came in about 45 minutes, taking only pictures, leaving only footprints.