Gatklettur – How did this Icelandic stone arch form?

The stone arch at Gatklettur in Iceland is one of the country’s most iconic natural wonders. It draws in thousands of visitors every single year and provides an excellent opportunity to take beautiful photographs. The impressive stone arch has formed naturally over hundreds of years and reminds us all of how powerful the sea is. So how did the arch form and what will happen to it in the future?

The processes that formed the arch

The arch at Gatklettur has been carved by the continued erosion of rock for centuries. The hard rock has been worn away by the strong crashing waves and has created a large opening through the rock.

The arch was formed due to a combination of weathering and erosion. The strong winds and waves caused the softer material in the cliff face to erode, leaving the harder stone behind, and creating the arch. The arch itself is made of basalt, a volcanic rock which is very resistant to weathering.

While the gaping opening is marvellous as it is, the circular hole to the right of it in the rock face is just as mesmerising. The Gatklettur arch really does highlight the powers of nature.

Where is the Gatklettur arch?

The arch is located near the shoreline of the small village of Arnarstapi in Iceland. This is on the west side of the island, north of the capital Reykjavik. Arnarstapi is located in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Further west of here is the Snæfellsjökull National Park – a natural area with black sandy beaches and more rock formations. The park also gives views of a glacier-topped volcano, Snæfellsjökull.

The surrounding cliffs around Gatklettur are often covered by native seabirds such as puffins, which nest in the summer months making the place bright and colourful.

It is estimated that the formation of the arch is between 500 and 1000 years old, making it one of the oldest stone arches in the world.

But Gatklettur isn’t the only stone arch to occupy the coastline of Arnarstapi. Another, perhaps even grander arch is found just a short distance up the coast and is favoured among lots of photographers and travellers.

The Stone Bridge in Arnarstapi

The Stone Bridge is still attached at both ends to the cliff faces and so provides an opportunity for brave adventurers to cross over the roaring waves below. Its height above the sea is another reflection of how powerful nature can be, eating through what was once a solid wall.

How would I get to the Gatklettur stone arch?

If you’re looking for a magical adventure to the Gatklettur stone arch to take in the views then there are multiple ways of getting there. Here are two different methods of travel to help you make the journey.

By car

The first option is to rent a car. From Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, you’ll drive north on Route 1 until you reach the small town of Borgarnes. From there, you’ll begin your travel west, taking Route 54 until you reach Arnarstapi. The drive takes about two and a half hours, but it’s definitely worth it. Once you’re there, you can take in the majestic views of the sea, cliffs, and the arch itself.

By coach

The second option is to take a tour. There are several tour companies that offer guided trips to the arch. You can choose from a variety of tours, from half-day trips to multi-day excursions. These tours typically start in Reykjavik and will take you through the same route as above. The tour guides are knowledgeable about the area and will give you plenty of information about the history, culture, and natural beauty of Iceland.

No matter which option you choose, you’ll love the experience of visiting the Gatklettur stone arch. It’s an amazing sight that you’ll never forget and the photos you’ll take will be ones to be framed.

The future of Gatklettur stone arch

Unfortunately, the arch is in danger of collapsing due to the effects of erosion. The cliff face to which the arch is attached to is constantly eroding, threatening the stability of the arch. To protect the arch, local authorities have put in place measures such as fencing off the area and controlling the number of tourists visiting the site. While these will work for a time, the arch will eventually succumb to the forces of the waves and will collapse.

This is just a natural cycle which occurs all over the world at coastlines. Two stacks will remain when the top caves in and further erosion and weathering will wear them down into stumps.


The Gatklettur stone arch is a beautiful site to see and is a perfect example of the erosion processes that happen at coasts. The village of Arnarstapi is a prime location for spotting arches in the cliffs and draws in thousands of visitors every year. The Snæfellsjökull National Park is just another short drive west and offers more beautiful coastal scenery. While the arch remains stable at the moment, the authorities want to protect this natural beauty and so have had to put in some safety precautions. Inevitably, the arches will collapse due to the forces of nature, so it is best to see them at the first opportunity you get.