Vestmannaeyjar walking tracks – The best walks on Heimaey
Mysterious peaks rising out of the sea, just off the south coast of Iceland, these stunning islands 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 (Vestmannaeyjar)
Heimaey is the main island in the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago, and the only inhabited one. I made detailed descriptions of several local hiking routes around Heimaey, including lots of photo’s of what the track is like and what you can expect along the way.
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.
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 a lot 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 also has 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.
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 in spectacular fashion. The entire island is now a Unesco World Heritage site, and strictly off-limits for everyone except scientists for 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 most beautiful hikes on Heimaey, with a short summary of each route. I update these articles on a regular basis, so you’ll often find extra information and practical tips. If you want to know more, just click on the link in the title to see the full description with photo’s of the walking track. I also made a handy interactive map to show the details for all of these routes.
I hope you 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 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 (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 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
What is your favourite hike on Heimaey? I’d love to hear about your experiences! Let me know in the comment box at the bottom of this page. Your input can also be valuable for other readers. You’re welcome to share these articles with others who are interested in visiting this beautiful place. 💚
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Last update: 13 May 2023
First published: 11 April 2018
© 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.
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
Vierdaagse of Nijmegen – Four days of long-distance trials & tribulations
Island hopping on the Aeolian Islands – A volcanic archipelago
6 thoughts on “Vestmannaeyjar walking tracks – The best walks on Heimaey”
I received this question by email from Tina & family from Germany: ‘It is such an inspiration to read your blog. We will come in a couple of weeks to visit Iceland and do not want to miss Heimaey. Is there a walk / hike you can recommend for smaller children age 6-8? Thanks so much.’
Here’s the reply I sent them, so other families with similar questions can read this too. 🙂 – ‘Hi Tina and family, thank you for your lovely comment! I’d definitely recommend the walk through the Eldfell lava fields. There are beautiful paths throughout the fields, and they’re easy to reach from the town (the steps near the houses on the edge of the lava) or from the Eldheimar museum. The beach of Klauf and the puffin hut on Stórhöfði is also a great option. With a car you can drive directy to the beach (about 5 kms from town), or you can do the entire coastal walk. It’s a beautiful walk and you can see lots of puffins along the way. Have a great time on Heimaey!’
I do not normally comment on articles very often but I just wanted to thank you for this amazing article. I have been to Iceland 4 times before and I make a custom itineraries for people who want to explore this beautiful country. Even though I have not been to Vestmannaeyjar myself yet, your blog post provided me with amazing information and helped me to create an amazing itinerary that involves the Vestmannaeyjar. Thank you!
Thank you for your compliment! 🙂 I know a lot of visitors to Iceland bypass Vestmannaeyjar when they bumble along the South coast. But those who’ve taken the effort & made the journey all love it. You will have an amazing time! What is your favourite place in Iceland?
Vi (5 voksne i god form) har kun 6 timer her på øen. Hvad skal vi prioritere? Vi har i øvrigt bil til rådighed. Elsker naturen. På forhånd tak for input. Helle
Hæ Helle, if you only have 6 hours on the island I would definitely do the hike up to Eldfell and through the lava fields by the harbour. Not only for the fantastic views & variety of colours, but also because it’s such a significant part of the history of Heimaey. If you have enough time, I’d also recommend the ridge hike above Herjólfsdalur, or a walk around the valley. With a car you can drive up to the puffin hut on Stórhöfði or to the lighthouse, and do a short walk around there too. Enjoy your time, and hopefully you’ll have the opportunity to come back & explore some more. 🙂