Last update: 18 February 2022
Heimaklettur is the biggest rock in the jumbled chain of cliffs wrapped around the harbour of Heimaey, the main island of the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago south of Iceland. It looks inacessible, but it is possible to climb all the way to the top. In this article I will give you a detailed description of the Heimaklettur hike on Vestmannaeyjar. The views from the top across the islands are incredible!
Prettiest harbour entrance in Iceland
The Heimaey harbour entrance is stunningly beautiful. People coming in on the ferry are often triggered into a photo-frenzy when they sail into it, through a narrow passage along mountainous rocks. They shelter the harbour like a protective arm from fierce tides and rogue winds coming in from the north. Heimaklettur rises up at the end of it, and sits proudly across from the harbour, watching over it.
Heimaklettur and the harbour entrance.
The Home Rock
At 279 meters, Heimaklettur is the tallest mountain on Heimaey, and the defining landmark of the island. Its bulky shape is visible all around town. It literally means Home Rock.
Sheer cliffs, ladders and chains
With sheer cliffs rising up on all sides, Heimaklettur may look a bit daunting and inacessible at first sight. But there is actually a walking track to the top. And there are ladders and chains to help you up the steep sections at the bottom.
Wilderness Coffee on the rocks!
Climbing up to Heimaklettur
I made a detailed description of the Heimaklettur hike, including lots of pictures of what the track is like. This will give you a good idea of what to expect along the way. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I do!
From the start of the track it takes about 45 minutes to reach the top, and another 30 minutes to get back down again. This is not counting the time you need to enjoy the great views, a picnic or a Wilderness Coffee along the way 😉
Hiking track on the upper part of Heimaklettur.
Vestmannaeyjar island shapes.
Shaped by volcanic activity
The chain of craggy rocks on the north side is the oldest part of Heimaey, forged by volcanic activity from the hotspot underneath about 40.000 years ago. Initially the harbour kletturs and the cliffs around Herjólfsdalur were two seperate islands. Later on they were connected by Eiðið, the narrow strip of land between them. Stórhöfði, the peninsula in the south, was formed as a third island about 6000 years ago. When Helgafell arrived to the scene, all three were merged together into the present island.
The shifting and changing is still an ongoing process. Only as recent as 1973 Eldfell made its sudden and spectacular entrance, when it erupted out of nowhere in a grassy field next to Helgafell.
In case of emergency, dial 112 😉
Start of the Heimaklettur hike
The gravel path up to Heimaklettur starts at Eiðið, behind the narrow end of the harbour. The first part consists of a series of ladders against the cliffs. After those you will reach the grassy slopes and rolling meadows that lead to the top.
The walk can be a bit tricky in some places, with narrow paths, steep drop-offs and provisional steps carved into the rocks. There are chains attached at crucial points, to help you along the more precarious parts. But it should not be attempted in howling winds or horizontal rain. Or if you are sensitive to vertigo or fear of heights.
This track contains steps and ladders – not to mention ropes and chains…
Recently a new sign has been placed at the bottom of the first ladder, to inform people and encourage them to take care and responsibility when they go up the track.
If at any point you feel unsure about continuing, whether it’s a case of wobbly knees or a sudden bout of nasty weather rolling in, you always have the choice to turn back. It’s no fun being blown off the mountain, or slide down a steep grassy slope into the harbour.
But don’t let that discourage you. It’s a spectacular and exhilarating walk, with stunning views to be enjoyed on all sides along the way. Especially when the weather is fine.
Looking down the steep slopes above the harbour.
The start of the track at the bottom of Heimaklettur.
The steep & rocky part
After scrambling up the gravel heap at the bottom, you’ll reach the first set of ladders. They are connected by small plateaus. Above them, a path of wooden steps leads across a grassy slope full of wildflowers up to the third ladder.
The first and second set of ladders.
Steps up to the third ladder.
Ladders up to Heimaklettur
The third and last ladder goes up to a ledge with a (usually empty) sheep cage. The sheep are roaming freely around the grassy meadows further up on Heimaklettur. When you come in on the ferry, you can often see them grazing on the steep mountainsides above.
There’s a chain and a rope attached onto the ledge, and some small steps carved out in the rocks just on the left of the ladder.
The third ladder leading up to the sheep cage ledge.
Looking down the track (and several ladders)…
New and improved ladders and steps
Up until a few years ago, this last ladder didn’t reach all the way to the top of the ledge. You had to balance on the upper steps to get hold of the ropes, braving wobbly knees and decide if you felt confident enough to make this rather big leap. With nothing else but the rope to hold on to while doing so…
But now the old rickety ladder has been replaced by a new and improved version, reaching comfortably above the ledge. This makes it a lot less complicated to get hold of the ropes and step onto the ledge. After that, the rest of the way up is relatively easy.
Still, it’s probably the trickiest part of the track. And don’t forget: on the way down you’ll have to do this in reverse, and lower yourself from the ledge onto the ladder again…
Looking up to the sheep cage.
Ropes and chains on the ledge below the sheep cage.
Pleasant grassy ridge on the side of Heimaklettur
If you feel unsure about continuing at this point: there is a nice alternative. A broad & pleasant grassy ridge near the bottom of this ladder, around the corner to the right. It’s an excellent place to enjoy a picnic and great views over the harbour and town.
Usually it’s quite sheltered from the wind too, and worth a little side-trip at any rate.
The grassy ridge to the right of the third ladder.
The dazzling view from the end of the ridge.
The track above the sheep cage
After a relaxing break on the grassy ridge, it’s time to finally conquer the daunting sheep cage ledge. And continue on the track further up. There are chains attached to some of the steeper and trickier parts.
The path above the sheep cage.
More narrow & rocky tracks, some with chains attached to the side.
Traffic jam on the track may occur at any time… 😉
The intersection halfway up
After some narrow and rocky tracks along steep sides, you’ll reach an intersection of paths and sheep tracks. Here you take a sharp turn to the left. Soon after, you will reach the broad and grassy upper slopes of Heimaklettur.
There are a few sheep trails circling around Heimaklettur, but the path to the top is quite obvious once you’re on it.
The intersection and the path to the upper slopes.
Grassy meadows with a view to the Eldfell lava field.
Final approach to the top.
Puffins flying around
In summer you can often see lots of puffins sitting on that stubby rock sticking out on the left near the top of Heimaklettur. They are also flying around the slopes down the other side, towards Miðklettur and Ystiklettur near the harbour entrance.
The best time to see them is late in the evening before sunset.
Steep drop-off to the seaside… the notorious Dufþekja.
At the top there’s a guestbook to leave your thoughts and impressions of the walk. Some locals frequently write in it; they go up on a regular basis as a way of exercise. And perhaps some friendly competition amongst each other as well – to see who has gone up the most times within a year. When the sun goes down, the guestbook area is a popular hangout spot for the local sheep too 😉
Heimaklettur is the only Vestmannaeyjar peak with its own guestbook. The light on top also doubles as a beacon for incoming and outgoing regional planes.
Guestbook and airplane beacon at the top.
Ring of kletturs and harbour rocks
Don’t miss the hidden view behind the top! Beyond the guestbook, walk a little further down the slope on the other side. You’ll be greeted by a stunning view over the other kletturs, forming a beautiful circle of cliffs around the harbour.
On clear days you can see the main land with Eyjafjallajökull and Hekla in the distance, and the vast lava fields coughed up by Eldfell in 1973.
Ring of kletturs and lava fields panorama.
Candles on Heimaklettur
When the days grow shorter, candles are often placed on the slopes along the cliffside facing town. These candles are lit by dedicated locals who frequently go up to Heimaklettur – so people in town can enjoy some pretty lights blissfully shining during the darker days of the year.
It’s a quirky and enchanting Vestmannaeyjar tradition that has been going for over a decade. Some of the regulars even have their own ‘candle spot’ 😉
Candles light the way in the impending darkness.
Chrismas and New Year’s extravaganza
Usually you can spot one or two candles. But around Christmas and New Year it gets totally out of control, when Heimaklettur is decorated with a multitude of candles all over the upper slopes.
It’s an incredibly beautiful sight.
Christmas and New Year’s candles on Heimaklettur.
Candles on mountains – A contagious Vestmannaeyjar tradition
It inspired me to become an avid candle lighter too. I took part in the New Years’ Eve candle lighting session in 2017, and went & lit candles on several other kletturs as well. I’m proud to contribute to this unique tradition ❤️
Kveikjum eldana! 🔥
I’ve added my own candles a couple of times too… 😉
Heimaklettur hiking map
This handy interactive map shows the walking route from Eiðið up to the top of Heimaklettur.
Note: the map is a bit distorted because of the steepness of Heimaklettur… You can see some details when you zoom in, but it doesn’t really show the finer details of the track itself. See the pictures further up in this post for that. But there’s only one way up and down Heimaklettur, so you won’t get lost.
Other tracks & hikes on Heimaey
If you’re up for another klettur, you can continue on to Klif – with the flat top and the beacon on the other side of Eiðið. Or go up behind Klif to the HáHá plateau, for the stunning ridge walk around Herjólfsdalur.
Not sure if Heimaklettur is the right track for you? There are plenty of other walking tracks around Heimaey. And not all of them involve ladders or ropes and chains 😉
Heimaey harbour and volcanoes in the background.
Where is Vestmannaeyjar?
Vestmannaeyjar is a volcanic chain of islands just off the south coast of Iceland, directly across from Eyjafjallajökull. They are also known as the Westman Islands. Heimaey may look tiny on the map, but there’s a lot of spectacular scenery densely compressed into its 13,4 square kilometres. The ferry to Heimaey departs from Landeyjahöfn and takes 35 minutes. You’ll see the turn-off to the harbour near Seljalandsfoss on the Ring Road.
(c) Nancy Claus – Wilderness Coffee & Natural High
You can read how to travel to Vestmannaeyjar in this article.
Looking towards Klif and Dalfjall across from Heimaklettur.
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Covid travel restrictions Iceland
In these uncertain times, things can change quickly. Procedures are constantly evaluated and updated. For the current situation regarding Covid-19 related travel advice and restrictions in Iceland, see Covid.is (in English).
Video – Midnight sun in Iceland
The sunset views from the top of Heimaklettur are absolutely magical. This is what the midnight sun looks like… Luminous clouds & pink skies throughout the night. It’s like fiery red & orange northern lights!
This was taken around 01.30 hrs on Solstice night (20-21 June 2018), with an amazing view to Eyjafjallajökull across on the other side. The sun took a short break down the horizon at 23.40 hrs, and was bright & shining again at 03.05 hrs.
Fireworks in the sky, above and below
The first New Years Eve fireworks on Heimaey, while the last sunset of the year is simultaneously blasting a firework in the sky. View from the top of Heimaklettur at the NYE candle lighting session (2017).
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More to explore & discover
Vestmannaeyjar – Þar sem hjartað slær
Ode to the mountains – The magic of Mount Taranaki
Island hopping on the Aeolian Islands – A volcanic archipelago
Dalalæða – Spectacular waterfalls of fog
Thórsmörk – Rjúpnafell and the hidden valley