Vestmannaeyjar – A force of nature that can’t be denied
On my first spontaneous trip to Iceland I drove along the south coast, and got lost in some of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen. It was beyond anything I could have imagined beforehand.
Mysterious peaks shimmering on the horizon
The mysterious island shapes of Vestmannaeyjar, rising like a crown of peaks above the surrounding waters, captured my attention. When I saw them shimmering on the horizon, I felt immediately drawn to them. I decided there & then I just had to go back.
It was like a force of nature that can’t be denied.
Vestmannaeyjar shimmering in the distance. Those mysterious wisps of fog swirling around the island to the left (Elliðaey) are what is called ‘dalalæða‘ in Icelandic – a spectacular phenomenon to see!
The volcano islands of Iceland
The Vestmannaeyjar archipelago – also known as the Westman Islands – is shaped by volcanic activity. The islands were coughed up from the sea in a series of eruptions from the hotspot that flows underneath, which continues to create more additions at irregular intervals. The latest island, Surtsey, rose from the sea with spectacular fireworks in 1963.
Ten years later a grassy field erupted out of nowhere on the main island of Heimaey in 1973, and created a whole new mountain. It was aptly named Eldfell – the fiery mountain. Parts of it were still steaming when I stood in its crater, during my first visit in 2007.
Midnight sunset on Heimaey, from the top of the new volcano Eldfell.
Spectacular harbour entrance
Sailing into Heimaey harbour is just mind-blowing. The ferry enters through a narrow opening, surrounded by a jumbled chain of steep cliffs and a huge field of intimidating lava flows. The history of the island, and the way the people dealt with their erupting backyard is fascinating.
Vestmannaeyjar volcano museum
In 2014 the Eldheimar volcano museum opened on Heimaey. Here you can experience the compelling story of the Eldfell eruption with impressive images and interactive displays. Eldheimar is built around one of the houses excavated from underneath the lava field. It also features the Surtsey eruption.
Some houses in the town itself still have a massive wall of rocks in their back garden, where the lava flow stopped just in time.
See more: The beautiful hiking tracks on Heimaey. Explore new volcanoes, stunning sea cliffs and the puffin colony on Stórhöfði, the southern tip of the island.
Herjólfsdalur – the Valley of Magic.
How to get to Vestmannaeyjar
Since 2010 the ferry connection is from the new Landeyjahöfn harbour, directly across from Vestmannaeyjar on the south coast of Iceland. The ferry takes only 35 minutes and departs from Landeyjahöfn most of the year. However, Landeyjahöfn harbour is prone to shifting sands washing in from the coast, and needs to be dredged out on a regular basis.
Winter and bad weather ferry route
When the weather conditions are bad or the waves too high & furious for the ferry to come in, the company will divert to the old route to Þorlákshöfn, further to the west. This route takes nearly 3 hours. During winter time the ferry will only go to & from Þorlákshöfn. The exact schedule can vary, but usually includes the period from December or January to March.
Landeyjarhöfn harbour, with an artistic composition of rusty pillars in the background.
Bus from Reykjavík to Landeyjahöfn
There are two daily buses from Reykjavík Mjódd bus station connecting with the ferry; sometimes three in Summer. You can find the timetable here. Another option is to take the 25-minute flight directly from Reykjavík domestic airport.
New Vestmannaeyjar ferry
The Herjólfur Vestmannaeyjar company operates the new Vestmannaeyjar ferry from 2019. The link is updated with their new website and details.
The famous ‘Elephant Rock’ on Heimaey. There are actually two elephants… 😉
The unpronounceable glacier mountain
A beautiful craggy mountain massif with a glacier on top looms on the mainland across from the islands. It dominates the views all around Vestmannaeyjar. It was that very sight that had got me raving on my first visit to Iceland, but I had no idea what this mountain was called.
I finally found out when I bought a card on Heimaey with a stunning view from the islands towards the glacier mountain. Its unpronounceable name was written underneath.
A couple of years later, it actually became rather famous… 😉
The ‘unpronounceable’ but utterly beautiful IslandMountainGlacier, three years before it literally erupted into world fame…
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(c) Nancy Claus – Wilderness Coffee & Natural High
Vestmannaeyjar island map
This handy interactive map shows the locations in the pictures above. You can also zoom in for more details of the island itself.
The Visit Vestmannaeyjar website offers more information about places to stay & things to do.
Remote Islands – Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland
This article was originally published as a NaturePic Challenge: pictures of epic nature with a specific theme, and places that will trigger a natural high.
Last update: 23 March 2023
First published: 10 February 2017
© All photo’s and content on this blog are my own, and subject to copyright (unless credited otherwise). Please contact me if you would like to use a picture or quote a piece of text from one of my articles. You’re welcome to share a link to my blog articles and pictures on social media, with a tag or mention to Wilderness Coffee & Natural High.
Surtsey and Eldfell – Iceland’s youngest volcanoes
Vestmannaeyjar boasts the youngest volcanic island as well as the newest volcano in Iceland. Well, at least until Fagradalsfjall erupted onto the scene in March 2021.
You can see a fascinating summary of the Surtsey and Eldfell eruptions in this short documentary, featured in the ‘Savage Earth’ series from the early 2000’s.
‘No-one had ever fought a volcano and won‘ – but on Heimaey they did, in spite of it all.
More to explore & discover
Vestmannaeyjar – Þar sem hjartað slær (A spectacular island and festival)
Kerlingarfjöll – Steaming valleys and surreal landscapes
Thórsmörk – Rjúpnafell and the hidden valley
Island hopping on the Aeolian Islands – A volcanic archipelago
Candles on mountains – An enchanting ritual of fire