Mysterious peaks rising out of the sea, just off the south coast of Iceland, the stunning islands of Vestmannaeyjar are a must-see. Many people don’t make the effort to go there while travelling the Ring Road, but they are missing out. Vestmannaeyjar offers awesome walking tracks and is one of the most beautiful spots in Iceland. In this article you will find out why.
Hiking on Heimaey
Heimaey is the main island in the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago, and the only inhabited one. When I was living on the island, I made detailed descriptions of local hiking routes around Heimaey. The articles include lots of photos of what the track is like and what you can expect along the way. I hiked all of these tracks (and more!) many times, and I keep coming back to Vestmannaeyjar every year.
The hidden gem in plain sight
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. You’ll be greeted by hundreds of puffins and other sea birds flying above as you enter the harbour.
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 with 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 harbour and takes 35 minutes. You’ll see the turn-off to Landeyjahöfn near the Seljalandsfoss waterfall on the Ring Road.
@ Read how to travel to Vestmannaeyjar in this article.
Artistic composition of rusty pillars at Landeyjarhöfn harbour, with Katla glacier in the background.
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 lots of visitors on Vestmannaeyjar and in Iceland. Some people I met on trips to the mainland even changed their itinerary, specifically to visit Vestmannaeyjar and Heimaey. And they were all happy that they did. The one thing everyone mentioned is that they wished they had taken more time to spend on the island.
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. Heimaey is 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 even a magical valley. And Vestmannaeyjar is home to the biggest puffin colony in the world.
On Heimaey you can find a variety of nice restaurants, interesting activities & museums, and one of the best local breweries in Iceland – with their own Eldfell speciality beer. It has hints of spicy pepper and seaweed and is probably my favourite beer in the world. A great reward after conquering the volcano! 😉 The Tuljak travel blog features a comprehensive article about Vestmannaeyjar and the many places to see & things to do on Heimaey.
The island even has its own glacier named after it – the ‘IslandMountainGlacier’. Not actually on the island itself, but directly across on the mainland. It’s also known as Eyjafjallajökull.
Eyjafjallajökull looming behind Elliðaey, the island with the little house on its grassy slope.
Islands shaped by volcanic activity
The chain of jumbled rocks on the north side is the oldest part of Heimaey, 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 narrow strip of land between them. The rest of Heimeay didn’t emerge until about 6000 years ago and was constructed by a combination of several eruptions.
Stórhöfði, the peninsula in the south, was formed as a third island. When Helgafell arrived to the scene, all three were fused together into the present island.
The twin volcanoes Eldfell and Helgafell.
Volcanic hotspot of Iceland
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 with spectacular fireworks. The entire island is now a Unesco World Heritage site, and strictly off-limits for everyone except scientists with specific research purposes. Only as recent as 1973, the Eldfell volcano 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.
Heimaey harbour entrance, with the Eldfell lava fields and the towering shape of Heimaklettur on the other side.
Vestmannaeyjar walking tracks
In this article you can find an overview of the best hikes on Heimaey, with a short summary of each route. I also made an interactive map to show the details for all of these routes. If you want to know more about a particular hike, just click on the link in the title or on the photo. This will open the page with the full description and photos of the walking track. I update these articles on a regular basis, so you’ll often find new information and practical tips.
I hope you will enjoy these walks as much as I do! 🙂
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.
Hiking time: About 1 to 1,5 hours return.
Difficulty: Challenging. Steep and exposed sections with ropes and chains.
The walking track to Eldfell – The Fiery Mountain
The hike to the top of Eldfell is the one every visitor to Heimaey wants to do. It’s the famous volcano that 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 (just over) 50 years ago…
Hiking time: About 1,5 to 2 hours return.
Difficulty: Moderate. Some exposed sections that can be (very!) windy.
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. Hike to the top and you may have Helgafell with its beautiful views virtually for yourself.
Hiking time: About 1 to 1,5 hours return.
Difficulty: Moderate. Steep and gravelly sections near the top.
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!
Hiking time: About 1,5 to 2 hours one-way.
Difficulty: Challenging. Steep sections and narrow gravel paths on the ridge.
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 on the hike to the top. Including Blátindur casting its mighty shadow majestically into the bowl of Herjólfsdalur, if you go up in the afternoon.
Hiking time: About 1,5 to 2 hours return.
Difficulty: Challenging. Very steep sections with rock scrambling.
The walking track to Klif – The beacon rock
This 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 the hike is actually a lot of fun. It’s not as difficult as it looks and well worth the effort. There’s also an incredible view of a multitude of jumbled rocks from the top of Klif.
Hiking time: About 1 to 1,5 hours return.
Difficulty: Challenging. Steep gravelly sections with ropes and chains.
The zen of Stafsnes – The hidden beach
The walking track to Stafsnes, a beautiful hidden beach. It’s peacefully nestled in a cove behind the impressive folded cliffs of Blátindur. Stafsnes is almost like Hawaii, but without the palm trees. It can be blissfully sheltered and significantly warmer than the rest of the island. The only way to get there is to hike down the steep slopes behind Herjólfsdalur. On the way you’ll pass by the little house on the giant plug.
Hiking time: About 2 to 2,5 hours return.
Difficulty: Challenging. Very steep sections up and down.
The coastal track to Stórhöfði – Puffin colony and geological beach
Stórhöfði peninsula is the southernmost point of Heimaey, and home to the biggest puffin colony in Iceland. Beneath Stórhöfði 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.
Hiking time: About 4 to 5 hours return from Herjólfsdalur to Stórhöfði.
Difficulty: Moderate. Relatively flat terrain most of the way along the coast.
What is the best hike on Heimaey?
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 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 hiking routes on Heimaey in this PDF file.
@ This is one of the top-5 reader’s favourites of 2018, 2020, and every year since.
Places to stay in Vestmannaeyjar
There’s a variety of 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 Vestmannaeyjar and Westman Islands Inn 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.
@ What is your favourite hike on Heimaey? 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 Þrídrangar rock islands, home of the incredible Þrídrangaviti lighthouse, perilously perched on top of one of those rocks…
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 up 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
Vierdaagse of Nijmegen – Four days of long-distance trials & tribulations
Island hopping on the Aeolian Islands – A volcanic archipelago
© 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.
Last update: 22 January 2024
First published: 11 April 2018