Islands of Iceland I: Vestmannaeyjar
This is the first of a four-part Easter series presenting and celebrating some of the islands which decorate the edges of this island nation. Our first destination is Vestmannaeyjar.
Vestmannaeyjar (often known as ‘the Westman Islands’ in English) is an archipelago of fifteen islands located of the coast of South Iceland.
The islands are very much the new kid on the block geologically – most were formed just 11,000 years ago by submarine eruptions of the underlying volcanic system. The very youngest island, Surtsey, emerged from the sea in 1963.
The biggest island Heimaey is the only permanently inhabited one, and is currently home to some 4,300 people.
Vestmannayjar hit the headlines in January 1973 when a massive volcanic eruption in Heimaey spewed out millions of tonnes of lava, leading to the evacuation of thousands of inhabitants by boat to the mainland.
Stranded islanders stayed with friends and families on the mainland and watched the eruption – which lasted five months – from afar. Only two-thirds of them returned to the ruins.
How to get there
Eagle Air operates 2-3 return flights from Reykjavik City Airport (RKV) every day except Saturday during the winter season, and two flights a day every day during the summer season. Prices are currently quoted as €89-130, one way. Flight time: approx. 25 minutes.
The passenger and car ferry Herjólfur sails return services between the South Iceland port of Landeyjahöfn and Vestmannaeyjar 3-5 times a day in winter and 4-5 times a day in summer.
In the event of bad weather, Herjólfur sails instead to the mainland port at Þorlákshöfn. The price for an adult passenger is ISK 1,260 (€9), and for a normal-sized car ISK 2,030 (€14.50). Crossing time: 35 minutes (from Landeyjahöfn); 2 hours 45 minutes (from Þorlákshöfn).
You can find a selection of possible accommodation options for Vestmannaeyjar on Iceland Monitor here.
What to do
Vestmannaeyjar is most famous for its annual Þjóðhátíð outdoor festival, which attracts thousands of visitors and party-goers in early August every year. A full account of the history of the festival can be found here.
The islands are also a bird-watcher’s paradise, as millions of brightly coloured puffins come to Vestmannaeyjar each year to breed.
Outside of festival and puffin time, Vestmannaeyjar is always worth a visit thanks to its interesting volcanic history, its striking green and black landscapes, and the friendliness of its inhabitants.
Join us again tomorrow as Islands of Iceland moves on to the Reykjavik island of Viðey.