The Westman Islands are an archipelago of 15 islands off the south coast of Iceland. The islands are known for their beautiful landscapes and rich birdlife.
In 1973, Heimaey – the largest and only populated island of the Westman Islands – reached newspapers all over the world. On January 23, the volcano Eldfell started erupting unexpectedly. The eruption buried around 400 homes in lava and ash, and almost destroyed the island’s harbour. Since then, the town has recovered and Heimaey has been known as the Pompeii of the North.
The Westman Islands have something to offer for everybody, and in this article, we will tell you all about it.
How to get to the Westman Islands
The cheapest way to get to the Westman Islands is by ferry. There are two harbours from where the ferry can depart, depending on weather conditions.
The first is Landeyjahöfn harbour. In summertime and when weather is favourable, the ferry will depart from there. A one-way trip to Heimaey takes about 35 minutes. Landeyjahöfn lies 130km from Reykjavík, and driving there will take about 1 hour and 40 minutes.
The second option is Þorlákshöfn harbour. The ferry will leave from this harbour when the weather is bad, or when there is too much sand in Landeyjahöfn harbour. The ferry ride from Þorlákshöfn to Heimaey takes 2 hours and 45 minutes, and it takes about 50 minutes to get there from Reykjavík.
You can also fly to Heimaey from Reykjavík Airport in about 25 minutes.
Things to do on the Westman Islands
Heimaey is perfectly sized for discovering on foot. We recommend walking around the island and enjoying the views and stunning landscapes. Especially the hike up Eldfell is recommended.
If you don’t feel like walking, check out the islands by boat. A small RIB will take you past the small islands around Heimaey, caves and the famous elephant rock. Along the way, you have the chance to see wildlife like seabirds and killer whales.
Heimaey also has one of the most beautiful golf courses in the world, located inside an old volcanic crater. The par-70 course is known to be demanding, but definitely worth a visit.
Why not check out museum Eldheimar when the weather is bad? The centrepiece of the exhibition is an actual house damaged in the eruption in 1973. It’s been conserved inside a new building and is the focal point of an exhibition dedicated to the volcanic eruption. Walk around the museum and listen to the story of the events that night and the recovery during the months following it.
Every year at the beginning of August, a festival is organised on Heimaey called Þjóðhátíð (The National Festival). It is one of the biggest festivals in the country. If you are in the area at the beginning of August next year, be sure to check it out (and book your ferry tickets on time).
Read this article for more things to do in the Westman Islands.
Oh yes, one more thing. Every year in August and September, locals kids come to the aid of lost pufflings. In autumn, when it’s starting to get dark, pufflings that have up until then been fed and cared for by their parents, start leaving their nests. But instead of going to sea like they are supposed to do, the lights from the village attract them and they flock into town, scared, landing on the streets, where the danger of cats or cars awaits them.
The kids of Heimaey roam the streets, pick up all the lost pufflings and throw them out to sea. It’s a pretty cool local tradition to witness if you are in the area at the end of August or beginning of September.
Where to eat on the Westman Islands
If you feel hungry after exploring the island, head to the cosy Gott restaurant for fresh seafood, a wrap, or a vegan burger. Or try Tanginn right by the harbourside for a hearty salad, sandwich, or soup. In the mood for something greasier? Then step into 900 Grillhus and order a pizza, fish and chips or a hamburger.
Where to stay on the Westman Islands
There are numerous hotels and guesthouses on Heimaey. To name a few, Lava Guesthouse, Guesthouse Sólbakki, and Hotel Vestmannaeyjar. Hostelling International runs a youth hostel on the island, so if you’re looking for a budget-friendly option, that’s the way to go.
If you want to camp, there are excellent possibilities at the campsite in Herjólfsdalur. Next to places to pitch tents, there are also cabins for rent.
It’s also possible to take a ferry to Heimaey in the morning and back in the evening. Just make sure you have your tickets booked to make sure you can get back, because the ferry does occasionally get fully booked in summertime.
Head to the Volcano House in Reykjavík if you want to learn more about the volcanic eruption on Heimaey.