Vestmannaeyjar in Iceland – also known as the Westmann Islands – are the perfect getaway from the Ring Road on your Iceland itinerary. This off the beaten track archipelago is perfect for bird watchers, hike lovers and adventurous volcano climbers. In this blog, I will tell you everything you need to know about this highlight in Iceland.
The ferry to the Westmann Islands
The Vestmannaeyjar islands are located in the south and off the coast of Iceland. You can fly to the island from Reykjavik or take the ferry from mainland Iceland. I prefer the 35-minute ferry from Bakki / Landeyjahöfn port which is easiest and cheapest.
Tip: Landeyjahöfn is close to the famous Seljalandsfoss waterfall at the Ring Road, the main road around the island. So be sure to visit this waterfall – and the three others nearby! – before or after your visit to the Westmann Islands.
In the winter months, the ferry schedule is a lot less frequent than during the summer. Make sure to take that into account in your travel schedule and check the departure schedule online in advance. Sometimes the ferry won’t depart from Landeyjahöfn, but only from lorlákshöfn which is much further from the islands. When we visited the islands, the weather was a bit turbulent and there was a big chance that our return trip would only bring us to lorlákshöfn. The ride would than take about three hours, so we were happy we got to return to Landeyjahöfn.
You can (and should!) bring your rental car on the ferry. Though the island is small, it is much easier to get around and you can only get to the southern peninsula by car.
Base yourself at the town of Heimaey
When you visit the Westmann Islands, you actually only visit one: Heimaey, the largest and the only one inhabited. Choose the town on Heimaey – near the harbor and also called Vestmannaeyjar – as your base. It offers campsites, hotels and bed & breakfasts.
The best hotels in Vestmannaeyjar are:
- Hotel Vestmannaeyjar | Current prices | The most beautiful hotel on the island with beautiful rooms and a sauna and restaurant.
- Cabin Miðleiti | Current prices | A wooden, cozy cabin via Airbnb south of the town and within walking distance of the peninsula.
- Luxury villa | Current prices | Charming and luxurious villa in the center via Airbnb with five bedrooms for ten people.
- Puffin Nest Capsule Hostel | Current price | Budget-friendly capsule hotel with a futuristic touch.
- Lava Guesthouse | Current prices | Good hotel with a 9.1 on Booking.com and within walking distance of the ferry dock.
The highlights of the Vestmannaeyjar Islands
Heimaey has one small town and is all about dramatic cliffs, volcanoes and puffins. Two days should be enough to cover all of Heimaey, but a day trip would also give you enough time to see at least the major highlights. I’ll list the highlights you should definitely visit.
# 1 The Stórhöfði peninsula
Drive along the coast to the southern peninsula of Stórhöfði, one of Iceland’s windiest spots. You have great views, pass some local sheep and get to one of the best puffins viewpoints on the island. This is also where you’ll find the Vestmannaeyjar Ligthouse.
# 2 Spotting puffins
Heimaey is home to one of the largest puffin colonies in the world. They are only at the island from April / May to August / September. So make sure to pack your binoculars when visiting in summer time to spot these cute birds. The best spot is at the Stórhöfði peninsula, where a bird watching hut provides a perfect view. But the black cliffs near the golf course are also a perfect place to see puffins.
# 4 Climb the Eldfell volcano
The Vestmannaeyjar islands were once created by volcanic activity and today Heimaey is still dominated by volcanoes. The Eldfell and Helgafell are both close to the small town on the island. The Eldfell is the largest and erupted in 1973. The climb to the top is a highlight of your visit. From the top you’ll have a beautiful view over Heimaey and the other Westmann Islands. You can walk from the village to the base of the volcano – or take your rental car and park it at the base – and hike up in about an hour through the black lava rocks.
# 5 The lava fields
The Eldfell erupted in 1973 and that has left its mark on Heimaey island. The entire island had to be evacuated and the eruption lasted for months. Part of the town was covered with lava. You can now visit the black lava fields. It’s a bizarre idea that there are remnants of the city underneath, like an Icelandic Pompeii.
# 6 The black Stafkirkjan Church
The black church Stafkirkjan is located near the old Skanskinn ford, close to the lava fields. It is one of the most photogenic places on the Westmann Islands. It is a replica of an ancient church in Norway and was a gift from Norway to Iceland. The church was dedicated in 2000.