About Westman Islands: How to Visit and Top Things to Do on Heimaey Island, Iceland

These are a must see in Iceland. Heimaey is the biggest island in Westman Islands. There’s lots to do here. This guide will help you plan.

Aerial view of a coastal town on the Westman Islands, featuring numerous white buildings with colorful rooftops, a calm harbor with large docked ships, and a prominent green hill overlooking the town. Smaller islands and the expansive ocean are visible in the background under a partly cloudy sky. The lush green landscape adds to the scenic beauty of this Icelandic archipelago.

The Westman Islands, or Vestmannaeyjar, are an archipelago off the south coast of Iceland. 15 islands and numerous rock stacks. Volcanic landscapes, rich history and wildlife. Of these islands Heimaey is the biggest and the only inhabited one, natural beauty and cultural attractions. The Westman Islands are a popular day trip destination from Reykjavik or the South Coast.

Heimaey Island is the centre of the Westman Islands where nature and history meet. From its dramatic volcanic landscape to its quaint town Heimaey has something for everyone. Whether you’re an adventurer, nature lover or history buff Westman Islands will be an experience to remember.

In this guide we will cover everything you need to know about visiting the Westman Islands. We will look at how to get there, what to see and do, where to stay and practical tips to make your trip easy and fun. Read on and discover Westman Islands and plan your perfect trip to the Westman Islands.

What Are the Westman Islands?

Panoramic view of the Westman Islands in Iceland, featuring a coastal town with colorful buildings, a bustling harbor, rugged cliffs, and clear blue waters under a sunny sky.

The Westman Islands, or Vestmannaeyjar, are an archipelago off the south coast of Iceland. They are known for their rugged beauty and rich history. The islands were formed by volcanic activity around 11,000 years ago. One of the most famous events in their history is the creation of Surtsey Island which emerged from the sea during a volcanic eruption in 1963.

The islands are named after Irish slaves who escaped to the islands after killing their Norse master Hjörleifur Hróðmarsson around the 9th century. The Norse called these escaped slaves “Vestmenn” meaning “Westmen” and that’s how the islands got their name. The Westman Islands have many more fascinating stories to tell. Heimaey Island is the biggest of the group and has seen some big events in its history, the invasion of the Barbary Pirates in 1627 and the eruption of the Eldfell volcano in 1973, which led to a month-long evacuation of the entire population to mainland Iceland.

Today the Westman Islands are famous for their landscapes, wildlife and culture. Visitors can explore volcanic craters, birdwatching sites and historic landmarks. The islands are also home to one of the world’s biggest puffin colonies so they are a birdwatcher’s paradise.

Westman Island

Heimaey Island is the biggest and only inhabited island in the Westman Islands archipelago. A place of natural beauty and community life. The island is 13.4 km² and has around 4,500 inhabitants.

This little island has faced significant historical events such as the pirate invasion and volcanic eruptions. Heimaey is a volcanic landscape with the Eldfell and Helgafell volcanoes. The last eruption was in 1973 when Eldfell erupted and damaged the town of Vestmannaeyjabær. Today the volcanic landscape is a major attraction and offers unique hiking opportunities and views.

Heimaey is also known for its wildlife. Every summer millions of puffins and other seabirds come to the island to breed. The cliffs and rocky shores are the perfect nesting sites for these birds. Besides birdwatching visitors can hike, boat and explore the island’s many natural and historical sites.

How to get to the Westman Islands

Travel Options

Getting to the Westman Islands is easy. The most common way is by the ferry Herjólfur. The ferry departs from Landeyjahöfn on the south coast of Iceland and takes 40 minutes to get to the Westman Islands. The ferry ride is a great way to see the Icelandic coast and the islands.

Another option is to fly to the Westman Islands. Flights depart from Reykjavik and take 20 minutes to get to Heimaey. This is a quicker option but more expensive. The flight is a bird’s eye view of the landscapes and a good choice if you are short on time.

If you prefer guided tours there are day tours to the Westman Islands from Reykjavik. These tours include transportation, guided tour of the island and sometimes meals. This is a convenient way to see the best of the Westman Islands.

Transportation on Heimaey

Once on Heimaey there are several ways to get around. The island is small so walking is a popular and easy option. Most of the main attractions are within walking distance of the harbor so it’s easy to explore the island on foot.

Biking is another great way to see the Westman Islands. Bikes can be rented on the island and there are several bike routes to choose from. Biking allows you to see more than walking and is a fun way to experience the island’s natural beauty.

If you prefer to drive you can also bring a car to the island. Cars can be transported on the ferry and there are car rental options on the island. Having a car gives you more flexibility and is useful for visiting the more remote parts of the island, like the puffin nesting sites at Stórhöfði.

Top Attractions and Activities in Westman Island

Eldheimar Museum

Eldheimar Museum is a must see on Heimaey. This museum tells the story of the 1973 eruption. The eruption of Eldfell volcano buried about 400 houses in lava and ash and the whole population had to evacuate the island. The museum is built around one of the houses that was excavated from the lava and is a unique and immersive experience.

Inside the museum you can see how the eruption affected the town and its residents. The exhibits include photos, videos and personal stories from those who lived through the eruption. There are also interactive displays where you can learn more about volcanic activity and its impact on the environment.

Eldheimar Museum is not only a place to learn about the island’s history but also a place to reflect on the strength of its people. The museum’s name means “Home of Fire” and is a fitting tribute to the islanders who rebuilt their lives after the disaster.

Hike Eldfell Mountain

Hiking Eldfell Mountain is one of the top activities on the Westman Islands. Eldfell means “Fire Mountain” in Icelandic and is a volcano that erupted in 1973 and created a new landscape on the island. The hike to the top of Eldfell is easy and takes 30-40 minutes.

The trail to Eldfell starts near the Eldheimar Museum and goes through the lava fields. As you hike up the mountain you’ll see signs of the eruption, lava rocks and craters. The trail is well marked and suitable for most fitness levels but can be steep in some parts.

The view from the top of Eldfell is stunning. On a clear day you can see the whole island, the surrounding ocean and even the mainland of Iceland. The summit offers a unique perspective on the island’s volcanic landscape and is great for photos. Make sure to wear good shoes and bring water as the hike can be tough in some parts.

Sea Life Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary

The Sea Life Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary is a special and sweet attraction on the Westman Islands. This sanctuary is home to two beluga whales, Little Grey and Little White, who were rescued from a marine park in China. The sanctuary is a safe and natural environment for the whales to swim and play in the open water. Check the weather before you plan your visit as bad weather can affect the experience and may cancel the visit.

On the sanctuary you can learn about the whales and their journey to the Westman Islands. The sanctuary offers guided tours that include a visit to the whale enclosure and an exhibition about marine conservation. The tours are educational and suitable for all ages.

Besides the beluga whales the sanctuary also has a puffin rescue center. Puffins are common on the Westman Islands and the rescue center takes care of injured and orphaned birds. You can see the puffins up close and learn about the efforts to protect these cute birds. The Sea Life Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary is a must see for animal lovers and those interested in marine conservation.

Elephant Rock

elephant rock iceland

Elephant Rock is one of the most famous natural attractions on the Westman Islands. This rock formation looks like an elephant with its trunk dipping into the sea is a must see for visitors. The rock’s shape and texture is formed by volcanic activity and is great for photography.

The best way to see Elephant Rock is from the water. Several boat tours go around the island and offer a close up view of this amazing formation. The tours also visit other sea caves and rock formations. A scenic and educational experience.

If you prefer to stay on land you can also see Elephant Rock from the Westman Islands Golf Course. Although it’s from a distance it’s still a great opportunity to see the shape of the rock. By boat or on land Elephant Rock is a must see on Westman Island.

Westman Islands Boat Tours

Ribsafari boat tours In Westman Islands

Boat tours are a great way to explore the Westman Islands and see the natural beauty from a different perspective. The tours go around Westman Island and sometimes to other islands in the archipelago. You’ll see sea caves, cliffs and the abundant birdlife up close. After the tour you can eat at one of the several restaurants on the island that offers many different dining options.

One of the most popular boat tours is the Heimaey Circle Tour. This tour goes around the whole island and you’ll see the different landscapes and wildlife. Highlights are sailing into sea caves, seeing puffins and other seabirds and the dramatic cliffs and lava formations.

If you want a bit more adventure the RIB (rigid inflatable boat) tours are a great choice. These fast tours cover more ground in less time and is a thrill ride. You’ll also see wildlife like whales and seals. Whatever tour you choose a boat tour is a must do when visiting the Westman Islands.

Skansinn and Stafkirkjan

Visit Westman Islands

Skansinn is a historic fort on Westman Island from the 16th century. It was originally built to defend the island from pirate attacks and later from British invasions. Today Skansinn is a popular tourist attraction and a glimpse into the island’s turbulent past.

Next to Skansinn is Stafkirkjan a beautiful wooden stave church. This church was a gift from Norway to Iceland in 2000 to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of Christianity in Iceland. The church’s wooden architecture and peaceful surroundings makes it a nice place to visit.

Both Skansinn and Stafkirkjan are within walking distance from the harbour and can be included in a day of exploring Westman Islands. You can walk along the paths that follow the original street grid, now partly covered by lava from the 1973 eruption. These sites gives a great insight into the island’s history and culture.

Westman Island Bus Tours

If you prefer a guided tour bus tours of Westman Island is a great option. The tours cover all the main attractions of the island and the guides are very knowledgeable. They are especially good for those with limited time.

One of the most popular tours is the Puffin and Volcano Minibus Tour. This tour takes you to the best puffin watching spots and includes a visit to the Eldfell volcano and the Sea Life Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary. The tour covers all the natural and cultural highlights of the island.

Bus tours are around 1.5 to 2 hours and depart from locations near the harbour. They are a great way to see the main sights without having to walk or bike a lot. Book in advance especially during the summer months.

Other activities and hidden gems

Stórhöfði & Puffins

Stórhöfði or Great Cape is located at the southernmost point of Westman Island. It’s a popular spot for birdwatching, specifically for seeing puffins, guillemots, and other seabirds nesting on the cliffs. It’s called the windiest place in Europe and offers stunning views of the ocean and the surrounding islands. Stórhöfði is also one of the best places to see puffins on the island.

The puffins nest in the cliffs and grassy slopes of Stórhöfði and can be seen here from May to August. During this time thousands of puffins come to the island to breed and it’s a real spectacle. You can see the puffins up close and take great photos.

Besides puffin watching Stórhöfði is home to one of Iceland’s oldest lighthouses, built in 1906. The lighthouse is part of the scenery and a great place to visit for its historical value.

Sagnheimar Folk Museum

Great restaurants and a museum with a local guide

The Sagnheimar Folk Museum is a new museum on Westman Islands, opened in 2011. Curated by local people it tells the story of the Westman Islands and its people. The museum gives a great insight into the island’s history, culture and daily life.

The exhibits at the Sagnheimar Folk Museum covers the island’s volcanic eruptions, fishing industry and famous local people. There are also interactive exhibits and activities for children like dressing up as pirates. The museum is suitable for all ages.

The Sagnheimar Folk Museum is open daily during summer and weekends during winter. Admission is free for children under 18 so it’s a great family destination. The museum gives a great and fun overview of life on Westman Island.

Climb Heimaklettur

Westman Islands, Iceland

Heimaklettur or Home Rock is a big rock formation situated across the harbour on Westman Island. It’s the highest point on the island, 283 meters (928 feet) high. Climbing Heimaklettur is a challenging but great activity with stunning views.

The hike to Heimaklettur involves a trail with chains and ladders to help you climb the steep parts. The hike takes about 45 minutes to an hour depending on fitness level and weather. The trail can be tricky especially in bad weather so be prepared.

The views from the top of Heimaklettur are amazing. Climbers are rewarded with a 360 degree view of Westman Island, the ocean and the other Westman Islands. The climb is not for the faint of heart but if you make it to the top it’s an experience you won’t forget.

The Brothers Brewery

The Brothers Brewery is a local craft brewery on Westman Island where you can unwind after a day of exploring. The brewery was founded by two brothers who are passionate about brewing good beer using local ingredients. It’s become a local and tourist favourite.

At the Brothers Brewery you can take a tour to learn about the brewing process and the history of the brewery. The tour includes a tasting where you can try different beers, from classic lagers to craft beers. The brewery is a cozy place to unwind.

The Brothers Brewery is open daily from 2 PM till late. It’s located in the middle of Vestmannaeyjabær so it’s easy to visit after a day of sightseeing. Whether you’re a beer lover or just looking for a nice place to chill out the Brothers Brewery is a must see.

Try Sprangan (Rope Swinging)

Puffin and Volcano Tour

Sprangan or rope swinging is a traditional Westman Islands sport. It’s swinging on ropes to collect seabird eggs from the cliffs. This has been part of the islanders way of life for centuries and is now a popular activity for visitors to try.

You can try Sprangan at a special training ground near the harbour. The training ground has ropes for beginners to practice their swinging skills. It’s a fun and challenging activity that requires strength and coordination. Safety equipment is provided and instructors are on hand to guide you.

Sprangan is a great way to experience a part of Westman Islands culture. It’s an adventure and a chance to test your agility. While it can be tough it’s also super rewarding and you’ll feel accomplished.

One Day Itinerary for Westman Islands

Make the most of your day on Westman Islands

If you only have one day on Westman Islands here’s a suggested itinerary:

  1. Morning:
    • 8:15 AM ferry from Landeyjahöfn to Westman Islands
    • 9:30 AM boat tour around the island. The RIB boat tour is highly recommended.
  2. Late Morning:
    • Visit the Sea Life Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary. Spend about an hour learning about the beluga whales and the puffin rescue centre.
  3. Lunch:
    • Lunch in town. Slippurinn is a great choice for a local meal. Or pack a picnic and eat at one of the scenic spots on the island.
  4. Early Afternoon:
    • Explore the town and visit Skansinn and Stafkirkjan. These historical sites are within walking distance of the harbour and give you an insight into the island’s history.
  5. Mid Afternoon:
    • Visit the Eldheimar Museum. Spend about an hour there.
  6. Late Afternoon:
    • If the weather is good climb Eldfell Mountain. The hike takes about 1.5 hours round trip and has amazing views from the top.
  7. Evening:
    • Walk to Stórhöfði to see puffins (in season). Great spot to watch the birds and the coastal views.
  8. End of Day:
    • End your day at the Brothers Brewery. Take a tour and tasting before heading back to the harbour.
  9. Departure:
    • 5:00 PM or 7:30 PM ferry back to the mainland.

This itinerary covers all the main sights on Westman Islands so you can make the most of your day. Adjust as needed to your interests and the weather.

Where to Stay on Westman Islands

Accommodation

If you decide to stay overnight on Westman Islands there are several options to choose from. The island has hotels, guesthouses and rental properties to suit all budgets and tastes.

Hotel Vestmannaeyjar is a top choice for visitors. Centrally located with comfortable rooms, restaurant and great service. A great base to explore the island and within walking distance of many of the attractions.

For a more budget option guesthouses and hostels are available. These offer a warm and homely atmosphere. Many guesthouses offer breakfast and local advice.

Rental properties are another option if you prefer more privacy and space. There are several vacation rentals on the island from apartments to cottages. Renting a property allows you to live island life on your own terms and is great for families or groups.

Tips for Visiting Westman Islands

Transportation and Safety

Westman Islands is small so getting around is easy. Walking is a great option for the town and nearby attractions. If you want to cover more ground biking is a good choice. Bikes can be rented on the island and there are several scenic routes to follow.

If you prefer driving you can bring your car on the ferry or rent one on the island. Having a car gives you more flexibility and is useful for visiting more remote areas like the puffin nesting sites at Stórhöfði.

Be careful when exploring the natural attractions on the island. Always stay on marked paths and be careful around cliffs and steep areas. The weather can change fast so be prepared for different conditions. Wear good shoes and bring water when hiking.

Packing and Weather

The weather on Westman Islands can be unpredictable so pack accordingly. Dress in layers to stay warm in different temperatures. A waterproof jacket is a must as it can rain at any time. Wear good shoes for hiking and exploring.

In addition to clothing pack sunscreen, hat and sunglasses for sunny days. A small backpack is useful for carrying water, snacks and other essentials. If you are visiting during puffin season bring a camera with a zoom lens to capture these cute birds.

Being prepared for different weather will make your visit to Westman Islands comfortable and enjoyable. Check the weather forecast before you go and pack accordingly.

Summary

Westman Islands is a special and beautiful place in Iceland. Westman Islands with its dramatic landscapes, rich history and wildlife offers something for everyone. From hiking volcanoes to museums and puffins, there is something for all.

Frequently asked question: Visit Westman Islands

VikingTours is a family-run business with extensive experience and deep knowledge of the Westman Islands. We offer a wide range of tours, including car, bus, and walking tours, all guided by locals who share fun stories and fascinating facts about the islands. Our tours allow you to explore the magnificent nature, diverse birdlife, and rich volcanic history that make the Westman Islands so unique. Whether you're interested in hiking scenic trails, exploring volcanic formations, or learning about local traditions, we have an adventure for you. Our sea and land experiences are tailored to provide the perfect blend of excitement and education. Whether you're in a group or traveling solo, we strive to create the perfect day for you on the islands. Join us year-round to discover the hidden gems of the Westman Islands, from its stunning landscapes to its vibrant wildlife. Let VikingTours be your guide to an unforgettable adventure, where storytelling meets exploration. See you in the Westman Islands soon!

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