Poor old Helgafell is often a bit overlooked, as everyone flocks to its famous neighbour Eldfell. For a long time, Helgafell was the ruling volcano on Heimaey. The one that merged the chain of rocks to the north and Stórhöfði to the south into the present island, its classic volcano-shaped silhouette dominating the interior. Until Eldfell turned up right next to it in 1973, and stole the show.
The twin volcanoes of Eldfell and Helgafell shimmering on the edge of Vestmannaeyja town.
Vestmannaeyjar is a volcanic chain of islands just off the south coast of Iceland, directly across from Eyjafjallajökull. Heimaey, the main island, may look tiny on the map, but there’s a lot of spectacular scenery densely compressed into its 13,4 square kilometres. The ferry departs from Landeyjahöfn and takes 35 minutes. You’ll see the turn-off to the harbour near Seljalandsfoss on the Ring Road.
Midnight sunset on Helgafell.
The impressiveness of Eldfell is undeniable. But on some days it can also be a bit of an ant-heap, with lots of people going up & down the tracks and circling around its crater, all at the same time. Especially in high season and when there’s a cruise ship in the harbour.
In the meantime, you may have Helgafell with all its beautiful views virtually for yourself. It’s got a heart-shaped crater, and there’s a viewdial on the top too, with the names of the mountains that can be seen in all directions. The track can be somewhat challenging in parts due to its steepness and loose gravelly bits along the way. But it doesn’t take long to go up.
The start of the track
Walk up to Heiðarvegur, the main road leading south from the harbour. Pass by the only two sets of traffic lights on the island, and after about 15 minutes you reach an intersection with a signpost to Helgafell on the left. The track starts behind the red house with the same name.
Update 2019: Sadly, this cute historical house is now being demolished. A new house will be built on the same site, so there’s a lot of construction going on in the meantime. To get to the start of the track, continue a bit further on the road towards the airport (Flugvöllur) and then take the next path to your left. You will see a signpost pointing towards Helgafell.
Before you take on the rocky upper slope, you can turn left into a grassy field for some fine views of Eldfell and the nearby islands of Elliðaey and Bjarnarey. And the ominous Eyjafjallajökull looming in the background on the mainland.
View to the famous Eldfell. Sometimes it looks a little like an ant-heap, with lots of people circling around its tracks and crater at the same time…
It gets a bit grittier on the upper slope. In the meantime arctic flowers are taking hold and blooming in spite of adversity.
Broad and sweeping views
Once you get to the top, broad and sweeping views unfold all around you. Behind Helgafell there’s a breathtaking view towards Eldfell, the lava flow that came from it, and the remains of the fissure that erupted out of nowhere.
Sweeping view from the top of Helgafell.
The famous ones – Eldfell and Eyjafjallajökull looming in the background.
Fine views all around. And another brooding volcano, Hekla, in the background to the right.
Looking out over the airport, Stórhöfði and the islands to the south.
Yes, Heimaey actually has its own airport; its landing strip barely fitting across the island. Surtsey is the last island on the horizon, and the latest addition to the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago. It rose from the sea in 1964.
You can walk around and into the crater, and go down Helgafell from the other side of it. The first part of this track is quite steep and full of loose gravel. But it quickly gets more even along the side.
The track around the crater rim, leading up to the viewdial.
Colourful panoramic views to mountains, volcanoes and islands all around.
Wilderness Coffee with a view, and a candle in the lava <3
Inside the crater rim.
Helgafell’s heart-shaped crater <3
Not long after, you are back at the grassy meadow at the foot of Helgafell, where the track goes up around the other side.
Moonrise, sunset & candles
Helgafell also provides a stunning background when the full moon is rising from behind it. And if you’re lucky, you might be treated to this incredible spectacle 🙂
Want to explore more of these spectacular views? Here you can find a variety of walking tracks around Heimaey. The biggest challenge is choosing just one 😉
You can read how to travel to Vestmannaeyjar in this article.
(c) Nancy Claus – Wilderness Coffee & Natural High
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A Christmas candle on Helgafell 😉
A beautiful winter sunset & surround view from the top of Helgafell.
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