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. The Vestmannaeyjar volcano islands immediately captured my attention.
Mysterious peaks shimmering on the horizon
The mysterious island shapes of Vestmannaeyjar rise like a crown of peaks above the surrounding waters. When I saw them shimmering like a fata morgana on the horizon, I felt immediately drawn to them. It was like a force of nature that couldn’t be denied.
I decided there & then I just had to go back to Iceland to see those islands.
Vestmannaeyjar shimmering in the distance. Those mysterious wisps of fog swirling around the island to the left (Elliðaey) are what is called a 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 the harbour 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 routes 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 Strætó buses from Reykjavík Mjódd bus station connecting with the ferry. Throughout the year there’s one bus in the morning and another one late in the afternoon. Sometimes a third bus is added in the summer. You can find the Strætó timetable here.
New Vestmannaeyjar ferry
The Herjólfur Vestmannaeyjar company operates a new Vestmannaeyjar ferry since 2019. It’s one of the first hybrid electric ferries in the world. The new ferry also has a lower draft, so it’s less prone to getting stuck in the sands of Landeyjahöfn harbour.
Flights from Reykjavík to Vestmannaeyjar
Another option is to take the 25-minute flight directly from Reykjavík domestic airport. But in recent years the Vestmannaeyjar flight schedule has often changed and switched between Eagle Air and Icelandair. In some parts of the year there may be no flights going at all.
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… 😉
Vestmannaeyjar island map
This handy interactive map shows the locations of the pictures above and the mainland across from Vestmannaeyjar. 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.
@ If you have any questions, let me know in the comment section below. I’d love to hear from you! Your questions, comments and suggestions can also be helpful for other readers. Thank you for sharing.
Nancy Claus – Wilderness Coffee & Natural High
The island shapes of Vestmannaeyjar.
More to explore & discover
Vestmannaeyjar – Þar sem hjartað slær (A spectacular island and festival)
Candles on mountains – An enchanting ritual of fire
Island hopping on the Aeolian Islands – A volcanic archipelago
Thórsmörk – Rjúpnafell and the hidden valley
Kerlingarfjöll – Steaming valleys and surreal landscapes
© All photos and content on this website are my own, and subject to copyright (unless credited otherwise). Please contact me if you want to use a photo or quote a text from one of my articles. You’re welcome to share a link to my blog articles and photos on social media, with a tag and mention to Wilderness Coffee & Natural High.
Surtsey and Eldfell – Iceland’s youngest volcanoes
Vestmannaeyjar contains the youngest volcanic island as well as the newest volcano in Iceland. Until recently, when 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.
Last update: 22 January 2024
First published: 10 February 2017