15 things to see and do in Westman Islands
The Westman Islands are a stunning place to visit, with beautiful nature steeped in history and culture. There is even a local brewery and it’s home to one of the highest rated restaurants in Iceland.
The Westman Islands, Vestmannaeyjar, is an archipelago just a half an hour sailing from Landeyjarhöfn harbour, South Iceland. The biggest island is called Heimaey, it’s the home to the town Vestmannaeyjarbær, of roughly 4000 inhabitants.
Here’s a list of the top 15 things to see and do while visiting Heimaey.
1. Eldheimar Museum
In 1973, what seemed to be the impossible happened. An eruption started in the Westman Islands. The locals were shipped away. The eruption lasted months, covering half of the town in rocks and lava. Only one man died, which is all in all lucky as the eruption started only a few metres from the last house on the east part of town.
The eruption in this Pompei of the north is significant and interesting in many different ways. Eldheimar museum tells the story as well as any exhibition can do. A must stop if you visit the island.
2. Eldfell crater
Take a hike up the newest mountain in Iceland, outside the highlands. Eldfell Mountain is the result of the 1973 eruption. It’s just over 200 metres high and offers a nice view. Standing up there, you can’t help wondering how the island looked like before, without the mountain and the surrounding lava.
As the eruption is so recent, the lava is still cooling down. With a shovel in hand, a small hole in the lave field will render quite enough heat to bake bread.
3. Slippurinn Restaurant
Slippurinn is one of the highest rated restaurants in Iceland, and one of the best located outside the capital area. The food is seasonal and inspired by what’s available locally, using many old fashion Icelandic cooking techniques to prepare the food with a modern twist.
A visit would not be complete without a cocktail. Utilizing local ingredients, the cocktails are some of the most interesting you’ll find in Iceland.
Gísli Matt, head chef at Slippurinn flavours even his deserts with local herbs. Photo: Facebook/Slippurinn
There is a long standing tradition in The Westman Island to climb the islands cliffs and fetch the seabird’s eggs. The fetcher’s job is not for the fainthearted, as they hang in ropes from the edge of the cliff, springing from one place to the other. Before hanging in cliffs, they could visit a training ground. And so can you. It’s called Sprangan and it’s close to the harbour. It is however recommended that you are accompanied by a local when trying your hand at it for the first time, as it can be dangerous.
Joy is an ice cream shop that also sells sandwiches and juices. A great stop for lunch or a snack in the middle of the day. The place is popular both among locals and tourists, and has rave reviews on Tripadvisor.
6. Sæheimar Aquarium
Sæheimar is Iceland’s oldest aquarium. There you can get a glimpse of the amazing nature in the sea surrounding the island.
The aquarium has a special place in the heart of locals, so much that precautions were taken during the eruption. A backup generator was brought when the main generator of the town was destroyed by the lava, keeping the pumps in the fish tanks going. For months of eruptions which destroyed much of the town, the aquarium and the fish survived.
Sæheimar give a glimpse into the nature below the surface of thesea surrounding the islands. Photo: Sæheimar
Stórhöfði is the southernmost point of Heimaey. It is known for being the windiest place in Iceland, perhaps even in Europe as the strongest wind recorded in the northern hemisphere was recorded there. In the world it’s only rivalled by the winds in Antartica.
It is pretty amazing to stand at Stórhöfði, experience the forces of nature and think that there after the smaller islands of Westman Islands archipelago, there pretty much isn’t anything other than sea in front of you, all the way to the South Pole.
8. Explore the islands from sea
The Westman Islands are stunning to view from sea. Rough stones, cliffs, caves and beautiful rock formations. One of which looks like a gigantic elephant head. Sailing around the island is a magnificent way to get to know this unique area. There are different boats and different tours, you should easily be able to find a tour suited for your interests.
9. Stofan Bakhús
Stofan Bakhús is the place to go for a sit down, a cup of coffee and a slice of cake. It’s located in centre of town, recently opened, and offers a great variety of absolutely delicious baked goods. If you’re visiting this year, be sure to have a slice of the 2017 cake. A creation of the bakers of Stofan Bakhús and winner of an annual cake competition amongst Icelandic bakers.
10. Go golfing
If you are into swinging golf clubs, the golf course in the Westman Islands is considered one of the top 200 in Europe. There can’t be many golf courses with such an amazing scenery, the view is nothing short of breath taking. Don’t worry if you didn’t bring your own clubs, you can rent them and a golf cart at the club house.
11. Visit the pool
No not in the ocean, the pool. Like most in most towns in Iceland, there’s a pool in the Westman Islands, but it’s even better than in most places. There are plenty of water slides, hot tubs and a big pool for swimming, well suited for a family activity. A great stop in either winter or summer, as the water is warm.
The highest point of the Westman Islands is Heimaklettur. It’s not the easiest hike, but it offers a great view over Heimaey, the harbour and town, and if it isn’t too cloudy, over the shore of Iceland and Eyjafjalljökull glacier.
13. Gott Restaurant
For something healthy and delicious, Gott is the place to go. Everything is made from scratch and the fish is brought in fresh every morning. Head chef is Sigurður Gíslason, a former member of the Icelandic National Culinary Team. He and his wife, Berglind Sigmarsdóttir have published cook books both in Iceland and in Germany, which have been very well received.
14. Taste the local brew
There is a great craft brewery in the Westman Islands called Brothers Brewery. A small brewery founded by brothers that unexpectedly won an award for Best Beer of the Year at Hólar Beer Festival. You can either go to a tasting and hear about the beer and the brewery, or visit their brand new Ale House.
15. Sagnheimar Folk Museum
For a glimpse at local history, go to Sagnheimar Folk Museum. There you can find out just about everything of the fascinating history of the Westman Islands in diverse exhibitions. From a pirate invasion in the 17th century where 242 Icelanders were abducted and sold as slaves in Algeria, Þjóðhátíð (one of the oldest and most popular ongoing outdoor festivals in Iceland), local Mormon missionaries, and Fisheries.