Vestmannaeyjar – A force of nature that can’t be denied

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. 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. I decided there & then I just had to go back to Iceland to see those islands. It was like a force of nature that can’t be denied.

Vestmannaeyjar volcano islands on the south coast of Iceland.
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 view from Eldfell, Vestmannaeyjar volcano islands, Iceland.
Midnight sunset on Heimaey, from the top of the new volcano Eldfell.

Sailing into Heimaey harbour, Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland.

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 tracks on Heimaey. Explore new volcanoes, stunning sea cliffs and the puffin colony on Stórhöfði, the southern tip of the island.

Herjólfsdalur valley, Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland.
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 art, Iceland.
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 Elephant Rock on Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland.
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… 😉

Eyjafjallajökull, view from Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland.
The ‘unpronounceable’ but utterly beautiful IslandMountainGlacier, three years before it literally erupted into world fame…

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.

(c) Nancy Claus – Wilderness Coffee & Natural High

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Last update: 16 September 2023
First published: 10 February 2017

Vestmannaeyjar volcano islands, Iceland.
The island shapes of Vestmannaeyjar.

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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)

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

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