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!
This is nice! Interesting place. Love that cute little puffin. And that colorful door. Im thinking of doing the same to my front door! All in all, I love the artistic personality of this island, its refreshing image, and that amazing view of the coastline.
Thanks Vanessa. It’s indeed a great and colorful place. There were a few other doors just like that one and lots of wall paintings with fishing related “drawings”. Interesting place for sure. One of our favourites in Iceland, without crowds!
Great blog! Just curious…how long would you say it takes to hike to the top of Eldfell? And any recommendations on where to have lunch on the island? Thank you!
Thanks, Jan! We really appreciate it.
It’s not that long. There are different routes up to the top. We went up using the southwest approach, going around the base coming from the town/north (I believe this is the suggested one). Going down we did half of it using the same path but then headed north as this way allows to go down to the bottom of the crater. There is at least one other yet more complicated path from northeast. Overall it’s a bit steep in parts, but I would say 15-30 minutes depending on fitness level and starting at the foot of the volcano. Mind the wind up there, it can get chilly.
Let us know if you need anything else!
Oh, forgot. About the lunch. We had sandwiches, as we usual do during the day not to waste too much time. Besides that, I believe that there is a couple of places to have good fish, close to the harbor. It’s a small town, so it shouldn’t be difficult to find them.
Also, head to the tourist office (there are signs all over pointing there) and get a local map, it’s really useful as it includes walking/hiking trails.
Loved seeing all of the beauty there from the mountain top view to the art. Street murals add so much to experiencing a place. And the Puffins..how I love those colorful birds!
This Island is a great place to visit in Iceland and, still, not very busy. When we went in September, there was virtually no one there.
Puffins are adorable 🙂
I didn’t know about the Westman Islands. We visited Iceland in winter and weren’t able to travel far from Reykjavik because of the snow and storms, so we missed seeing a lot of the things you’ve mentioned. We did see a lot of mustaches though!
The islands are not very well known yet. It was a bit of a gamble to go there because of the weather, but we got really lucky. Even the sea wasn’t that rough.
Winter travel is tricky but can be done. You need a plan B and C, just in case. The pace will be much slower.
The cliffs to the entrance of the harbor are my favorite! They are stunning.
They are pretty dramatic! Can’t get any better in terms of natural harbor protection.
Oh my god that little puffin is the cutest thing ever!
Possibly the biggest attraction of the island!
Thanks for the great personal information, and practical stuff as well. This looks like an epic spot – that trek sounds great, difficult but worth it! I love the art work too, great photos guys 🙂
Thank you, guys! It’s a lovely place. Great photographic and outdoor opportunities to enjoy!
Love this! Iceland was one of our favorite trips of all time – we didn’t get the chance to do the Westman Islands, but I really do want to get back and explore more. We only had a week and a half and thought that would have been enough time, but I fell in love and really could spend a lifetime there!!
LOVE the street signs!! Puffins are the BEST 😀
One of our favourite as well! Keep thinking on returning again and again.
You clearly need more time 🙂 With a month in total, I still feel I haven’t seen much of it.
Puffins are awesome!
I’m sorry you didn’t get to see puffins in the wild. They are on my Bucket List. They are such curious little creatures!
We knew it would be highly unlikely to see any because it was too late in the season. Counting on seeing them next year!
Stunning and how fortunate to have such beautiful weather to walk about in. Great post.
Couldn’t have asked for better weather, really. And it was raining cats and dogs in the mainland.
I had no idea that Iceland was more than just one island. Silly me! This looks like a lovely, charming place for a day trip.
It has a few more islands as well. This is the only one with that is properly populated 🙂
One day is great, but two is better for more hiking time!