On our trip to Iceland, we went to a small archipelago off the south-west coast of the mainland called Westman Islands or Vestmannaeyjar in Icelandic. A short ferry ride away, Heimaey is the only accessible and inhabited island. There are other islands with hunting cabins, but no one lives there permanently anymore.
We had the whole day to visit the island, so an early ferry in the morning from Landeyjahöfn took us there in just 40 minutes, shortly before 10 am. The sea wasn’t rough and the weather was quite good so it was a very pleasant and enjoyable (mind the wind) trip on the sundeck of the ferry. Despite being a short trip, it’s really nice seeing the other small islands and the way into the harbour.
This was early September and the summer season ended a few days before we arrived, so the island was very calm and uneventful, even most of the tours were closed or limited. We were supposed to rent some bikes, but the plan didn’t work as intended. Instead, we ended up walking a considerable amount, which was probably a good decision as the scenery is best seen by walking anyway.
The puffin is THE bird of the island, but unfortunately they were also not in season. We did run into one in the Natural History Museum, a small almost flightless puffin that we even got to hold for a few seconds before it decided we were not to be trusted. Finding a place in the island is easy as there are plenty of street signs, all decorated with… puffins! There are also some “stamps” on the ground pointing to the attractions and also very interesting street art.
Our first stop outside the town was at the Skansinn area, where a replica stave church can be found. The cliffs to the entrance of the harbour make it a very picturesque place. There are marked trails along this area, which can be found in the map from the tourist office.
Eldfell volcano erupted in 1973 and put to jeopardy the whole place. Today the volcano is a major attraction and different trails lead to the top of it, where the views are truly spectacular. It’s not a very steep hike but shoes with decent grip are a must as it gets slippery.
On our way down we took a different route to the center of the volcano. Then we started to make our way across the town to the other side of the island. Suddenly the beautiful weather stopped and we had to fully equip our waterproof jackets and pants. Good thing it only lasted five minutes, the usual in Iceland.
On the other side of the island is Herjólfsdalur. The campground and golf course on the base of a volcano make it something worth seeing – what a setting. From here there’s a way up to the bird cliffs trail that is marked on the map (pictured below) but which we didn’t try because we were running out of time. There’s also a different way up close to the harbour but this is a very steep one with ropes and not exactly for inexperienced hikers or with less physical ability. Hugo made it to the top and got tired 🙂
It was late afternoon when we made our way back to the harbour to catch the ferry back to the mainland. It was a delightful day in this isolated part of Iceland. A highlight that will be featured in our Iceland guide.
Have you visited the Westman Islands? Let us know your thoughts.
We’ll leave with a couple more pictures from the streets of Heimaey and some practical information on visiting the island.
Bonus! Here’s a video of our day in Heimaey.
Ferry – with Eimskip it takes 35-40 minutes and bookings are advisable (especially for cars).
Fly – from Reykjavik regional airport (more expensive).
Walk everywhere as we did or join a group tour. You can also bring your own car in the ferry or rent one there.
What to do:
Besides hiking and walking around, during the summer season there are more activities, including a festival at the beginning of August that makes the island more than double its population. Also, boat tours and bird watching are available more or less all year-round.
Read more about our trip to Iceland here!