Last update: 29 December 2020
Vestmannaeyjar is one of those fascinating places that will leave you in awe with the beauty of it all. Sailing into Heimaey harbour, through a narrow opening surrounded by a jumbled chain of steep cliffs and a huge field of intimidating lava flows, is an amazing experience in itself. Don’t be misguided by the island’s small size though. With its incredible density of spectacular sights and features, a daytrip would simply not do it justice.
The intriguing island shapes of Vestmannaeyjar, bathing in sunset colours and the moon rising above.
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. 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.
How much time do you need on Vestmannaeyjar?
This depends of course on what you want to do, and how much time you have in Iceland altogether. I’ve spoken to a lot of visitors. Some of them (whom I met on trips to the mainland) even changed their itinerary, specifically to visit Vestmannaeyjar. The one thing everyone mentioned is that they wished they had chosen more time to spend on the island.
Artistic composition of rusty pillars at Landeyjarhöfn harbour, with Katla glacier in the background.
Things to see & places to explore
You’ll want to have at least a couple of days to explore the walking tracks with stunning views everywhere you look. It’s like a great variety of Icelandic landscapes densely compressed into one small island. There are steep and craggy mountain ridges, rocky coastlines with dramatic sea cliffs, hidden beaches, a couple of volcanoes, mossy lava flows and a magical valley. And the biggest puffin colony in the world.
There’s also a variety of nice restaurants, interesting activities & museums, and one of the best local breweries in Iceland – with its own Eldfell speciality beer. An appropriate & fitting reward after conquering the volcano 😉 The island even has its own glacier named after it – the IslandMountainGlacier. Not actually on the island itself, but directly across on the other side. It’s also known as Eyjafjallajökull.
Eyjafjallajökull looming behind Elliðaey, the island with the little house on its grassy slope.
Hiking on Heimaey
I made detailed descriptions of several local walking tracks around the main island of Heimaey. Including lots of photo’s of what the track is like, what you can expect along the way, and of course the beautiful views that await. And a handy route map! I hope you enjoy these walks as much as I do 🙂
Islands shaped by volcanic activity
The chain of jumbled rocks on the north side is the oldest part of the island, 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 small isthmus that runs between them. The rest of Heimeay didn’t emerge until about 6000 years ago. It was constructed by a combination of several eruptions. Stórhöfði, the headland to the south, was formed as a third island. When Helgafell arrived to the scene, all three were fused together into the present island.
Heimaey harbour entrance, with the Eldfell lava fields and the towering shape of Heimaklettur on the other side.
The volcanic presence can be seen all around, and continues to create more additions at irregular intervals. In 1963 another island, Surtsey, bubbled up from the sea in spectacular fashion. And only as recent as 1973 Eldfell made its sudden entrance, when it erupted out of nowhere in a grassy field and created a whole new mountain.
The resilience of Heimaey
The eruption almost devastated the island, causing the entire population to evacuate overnight. Without knowing if they would be able to return, or if their beautiful island would ever be habitable again. The ingenuity that was pulled off to save the harbour is legendary. No-one had ever fought an erupting volcano and won – but on Heimaey they did, in spite of it all and in the face of adversity.
Vestmannaeyjar walking tracks
This is an overview of the various hikes around Heimaey, with a short summary of each post. Click on the link in the title to see the full description & photo’s of the walking track. I also made a handy interactive map showing the details for all of these routes.
The walking track to Heimaklettur – The Home Rock
Heimaklettur is the iconic Home Rock of Vestmannaeyjar. It may look a bit inacessible at first sight, but there are ladders and chains to help you up the path to the top. In the darker days of the year, people like to light candles on Heimaklettur. And around Christmas and New Year they get totally out of control, with a multitude of candles all over the upper slopes. It’s an incredibly beautiful sight.
The walking track to Eldfell – The Fiery Mountain
The walk to the top of Eldfell is the one every visitor to Heimaey wants to do. It’s that famous volcano that spectacularly erupted out of nowhere in January 1973. Eldfell is very colourful, the track is easily accessible, and the views are absolutely stunning in all directions. From the top you can gawk onto the impressive lava flow that was furiously roiling & boiling only a few decades ago, and single-handedly enlarged the island by several square kilometers. It’s incredible to think it didn’t even exist 50 years ago.
The walking track to Helgafell – The twin volcano
Helfgafell offers sweeping surround views of brooding volcanoes and a heart-shaped crater. 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.
The walking track to Herjólfsdalur – The Valley of Magic
Herjólfsdalur is intimidatingly beautiful, whichever angle you look at it. It looks like a giant natural amphitheatre, with stupendous rocks rising up on all sides as you enter the valley. The walk along the top ridge is one not to be missed. The distraction rate is very high, and there’s a great density of spectacular sights and features along the way. Herjólfsdalur is also the setting for the yearly Þjóðhátíð festival in August. On the last evening, the mountainside is set alight with a row of flames along the entire length of the valley – a magnificent sight to see!
The walking track to Blátindur – The dazzling heights of Dalfjall
Blátindur is the imposing peak rising up above Herjólfsdalur, beyond the daunting peaks of Dalfjall. It takes a bit of effort to scramble up there, but you’ll be rewarded with some truly jaw-dropping views. Including Blátindur casting its mighty shadow majestically into the bowl of Herjólfsdalur, if you go up in the afternoon.
The walking track to Klif – The beacon rock
The is is more like the scrambling track to Klif, with ropes down the slope and a beacon of light on the top. You can haul yourself up this stunning cliff along ropes and chains attached to the upper parts. That may sound a bit discouraging, but it’s actually a lot of fun, not as difficult as it looks, and well worth the effort. There’s also that incredible view of a multitude of jumbled rocks.
The zen of Stafsnes – The hidden beach
The walking track to Stafsnes, a beautiful hidden beach, peacefully nestled in a cove behind the impressive folded cliffs of Blátindur. It’s almost like Hawaii – but without the palm trees. It can be blissfully sheltered – and wind-free! – and significantly warmer than the rest of the island. On the way you’ll pass by the little house on the giant plug.
The coastal track to Stórhöfði – Puffin colony and geological beach
Stórhöfði is the southernmost point of Heimaey, and home to the biggest puffin colony in Iceland. There’s also the surreal geological beach of Klauf, formed by volcanic eruptions from several directions. On the coastal track to Stórhöfði you can see incredible views, wild cliff formations and lots of puffins along the way. This is an easy walk that follows the west coast of the island, and doesn’t involve as much scrambling or balancing across tiny paths above steep drop-offs as the other hikes.
Easiest: The coastal track to Stórhöfði (in terms of relatively flat terrain) and
Eldfell (in terms of gradual ascent).
Most challenging: Blátindur and Klif (because of the steepness and scrambling).
The best one? As for that, I can’t make a choice. They are all beautiful 😉
This is one of the top-5 blog posts of 2018.
Heimaey hiking map
This handy interactive map shows the locations of all these awesome hiking spots around Heimaey. You can zoom in for more details as well, click on the icons for pictures or go directly to the description of each track.
There’s also a printable map of Vestmannaeyjar hikes and walking tracks in this PDF file.
Places to stay in Vestmannaeyjar
There are several cozy & comfortable guesthouses on Heimaey. Some of them have (shared) kitchen facilities, so you can cook your own meal if you like. The guesthouses Árný, Sunnuhóll, Hamar and Hóll are all nice places to stay, as well as Lava House & Apartments. Other options are the charming Glamping Cabins in Herjólfsdalur or the Aska Hostel on one of the main streets. Hotel Eyjar and Hotel Vestmannaeyjar are also right in the centre of town. Ofanleiti Cottages are situated near the airport, with great views over Herjólfsdalur and the west coast of the island.
Read how to travel to Vestmannaeyjar in this article.
(c) Nancy Claus – Wilderness Coffee & Natural High
Have you done one of these walks? What is your favourite Heimaey hike? I’d love to hear about your experiences! If you have a question or a comment, please share them in the comment box at the bottom of this page. Other readers can also benefit from your feedback and the extra information in my reply. You’re welcome to share these articles with others who are interested in visiting this beautiful place 💚
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
This is what the midnight sun looks like from the top of Heimaklettur… Luminous clouds & pink skies throughout the night. It’s like fiery red & orange northern lights! The video 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.
More to explore & discover
Ode to the mountains – The magic of Mount Taranaki
Thórsmörk – Útigönguhöfði and Hvannárgil canyon
Solar eclipse – A mind-blowing experience
The Vierdaagse of Nijmegen – Four days of long-distance trials & tribulations
Island hopping on the Aeolian Islands – A volcanic archipelago
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