The Westman Islands or Vestmannaeyar is an archipelago in Iceland that consists of 15 islands and 30 rock formations. Out of all these islands, it’s mainly Heimaey island that is inhabited (and just with over 4000 people). But over the years, the interest in this interesting collection of rocks and islands has grown. Today, many visitors to the island opt to visit the Westman Islands as well.
Have we piqued your interest? If so, read on. In this article, we give you the lowdown on how to get to Vestmannaeyjar and what to do in the Westman Islands. This way, you can decide if it’s worth adding to your Iceland trip itinerary.
The History of the Westman Islands
The history of the Westman Islands in Iceland sounds like something out of a blockbuster Hollywood movie. Westmen is what the Irish were once referred to, and is precisely what Ingolfur Arnarson arrived with in Iceland in 875 – westmen slaves.
Shortly after Ingolfur and his wife settled in Iceland, his brother, Hjörleifur, came to join them. Sadly, Ingolfur’s westmen murdered him and fled. But they didn’t get far. Ingolfur, motivated by rage, followed them and caught them at what we refer to as Vestmannaeyjar today. And that is the very reason why it is called the Westman Islands.
Things to do on the Westman Islands
It’s astounding how much there is to do on the Westman Islands, despite it being such a small and unpopulated region in Iceland. If you’re planning to stop by, these are a few things you might want to add to your Westman Islands trip itinerary:
Explore the Westman Islands by Boat
Get a unique perspective on the Westman Islands by taking one of the boat tours. They'll take you sailing around the islands, cliffs, and rock formations such as Elephant Rock. Not only will you get to see the Westman Islands from different angles (many angles, in fact), but you might also spot some of Iceland’s marine life.
The Westman Islands actually has one of the top 200 golf courses in Europe called Golfklubbur Vestmannaeyja. And if you take a look at the breathtaking views and beautiful scenery, it’s not hard to understand why. You do not need to come prepared, you can rent clubs at the golf course.
Visit the Vestmannaeyjar Swimming Pool
This is an absolute must-visit spot, especially if you’re traveling with the family. Here you will find a heated indoor pool, an outdoor pool with three water slides, a sauna, hot tubs, and much, much more.
Spot Some Puffins
The Westman Islands is one of the best places to go Puffin spotting in Iceland when they come to breed on the island from May to September each year. Encounter Puffins, the "clowns of the sea" in the Westman Islands while hiking along the cliffs. Or on a local boat tour, or by helping kids escort Pufflings back to their nests in Heimaey!
Hike to the Top of Heimaklettur
Heimaklettur is the highest point of the Westman Islands, and if you have the time, and it’s not a cloudy day, we highly recommend taking a hike to the top. It’s a bit of a challenging climb, but you will be greatly rewarded with views of the town, the harbor, the coastline, and Eyjafjalljökull Glacier.
Learn All About the Westman Islands at the Sagnheimar Folk Museum
If you’re interested in the rich and fascinating history of Iceland’s Vestmannaeyjar, the Sagnheimar Folk Museum should be your go-to place. Here you will learn all types of interesting things about the local fisheries and even a pirate invasion.
Eldfell is the volcano on Heimaey that erupted in 1973. At just over 180 meters, it should be a fairly easy climb. Today, Eldfell volcano is a popular tourist attraction. It offers visitors a glimpse into the awesome power of Iceland's volcanic landscape.
But as its claim to fame is being one of the windiest places in Europe, it might take a little longer than expected. Yet, we can assure you that the climb is well worth it.
Getting to the Westman Islands
The Westman Islands lie south of Iceland’s mainland. It’s approximately 110 kilometers from the capital city of Reykjavík to the Westman Islands. If you intend to visit the islands, there are a few ways how to get to Vestmannaeyjar:
Via Vestmannaeyjar ferry
The Landeyjahöfn Ferry is the easiest and cheapest way to get to the Westman Islands and makes for quite a nice outing as well. As the name suggests, the ferry departs from Landeyjahöfn. The trip is about 40 minutes long.
There are seven trips scheduled throughout the day during the peak season. Still, operational hours may change during the “down” season, so please double-check departure times.
Visit the Westman Islands by Plane
Another quick way to reach the Westman Islands is by taking a domestic flight from Reykjavík Airport. Watch out, not to be confused with Keflavik Airport. The flight will depart from Reykjavík and land at Heimaey and will take a mere 20 minutes.
Via Organized Westman Islands Day Tours
There are plenty of guided tours that depart to the Westman Islands each day. These can range from bus tours to boat tours, can be day outings or multi-day tour packages, and can be for volcano viewing, Puffin spotting or Island exploring – the options really are legion. Most of these tours depart from Reykjavík.
How to See the Best of the Westman Islands in 1 day; a Trip Itinerary
If you would like to visit the Westman Islands in Iceland, but have just one day to do it, follow our 1-day trip itinerary below:
08:15 – Take the Landeyjahöfn Ferry to the Westman Islands.
09:30 – Take one of the boat tours around the island.
Go to the Sea Life Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary.
Visit the Eldheimar Museum.
Stop by one of the local restaurants for lunch.
Explore the town and go to Skansinn and Stafkirkjan.
Take a short hike to Storhöfdi where you will be able to spot a few Puffins if you’re visiting between May and September.
End the day with a cold one at the Brothers Brewery.
Take the ferry back to the mainland.
Extra Tips for Visiting Heimaey Island
If this is your first time visiting the island, the following tips will come in handy:
Leave your Bad Habits at Home
Smokers will struggle on the island. You are not allowed to smoke anywhere indoors or in public spaces. So, unless you can burrow yourself a little smoking hole in the ground, this is one place you’ll need to leave your bad habits at home.
Watch Your Step
When hiking and spotting the wildlife here on the island, you’ll need to watch your step. That’s because most of the time, you’ll find yourself on the edges of cliffs and pathways where the wrong step will either end in a fatal fall or have you step through a Puffin burrow.
Dress in Layers
As is the case in Iceland, you can experience all four seasons in a day in the Westman Islands. Wearing layers is the easiest way to manage unexpected weather in Iceland. You may not be able to quickly grab a jacket or raincoat from your hotel room or bag.
The Westman Island; Well Worth the Visit
The Westman Islands is a wonderful experience, but we do recommend going between May and September. That's when the ferry is most likely to run on its usual schedule, and you get to see the Puffins.
For the ultimate cuteness overload, you should visit in July, when the Pufflings start moving around on the island. If you have a rental car in Iceland, you will be able to take it with you via the ferry. However, you won’t need it much when exploring the island, so many leave it in the ferry parking lot where it will always be found safe and sound upon their return.