Konstancija is a writer who enjoys long walks and hikes in nature, "hunts" for second-hand goods, and is a frequent guest in public libraries where she loves to read and roam around stacks of books.
The Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar in Icelandic) is an archipelago of 15 islands, with only one inhabited by people. It's situated off the south coast of Iceland. Despite its small size, the Westman Islands are worth visiting. Why? Because they're full of unusual attractions and daring activities.
What's nice about traveling to Westman Islands is that it's pretty easily accessible, and there are different ways to explore it: either by foot, a car, a bicycle, an electric scooter, or by simply booking a tour. Want to find out what this place has to offer? Continue to read what exciting things wait for you here.
Attractions in Westman Islands
The Westman Islands is a pretty young archipelago, with its area being only 17 km². It's thought that Vestmannaeyjar started forming between 100-200,000 years ago, but some islands formed much later. Despite this, what makes Vestmannaeyjar so extraordinary is its rich history, especially in volcanic activity.
Eldheimar museum in Westman Island, Iceland
Fifty years have already passed since the volcanic eruption on Heimaey Island. In 1973, more than 5000 inhabitants of the Westman Islands were forced to leave the island because of the erupting volcano and the lava and ashes burying everything along its way. It's reported that some people never even returned after being evacuated from the island. To understand the extent of this tragedy, Eldheimar museum provides its visitors with an exciting and educational exhibition. The display was created to mix interactive technology and real-life exhibits, such as one of the houses buried in the ashes.
Eldfell volcano mountain is perfect 2-hour hike opportunity, Westman Island
One of the must-visit places when traveling through the Westman Islands is the "culprit" of the tragedy that happened in 1973 – the Edlfell volcano. Referred to as the "Fire Mountain", it's pretty easy to reach its top to admire the scenery the mountain opens up for you. It takes about 2 hours to finish its trail. Those who want to spice up their experience, instead of climbing to Eldfell by foot, should try an ATV ride on the volcano. This way, you'll explore the area and leave with fun memories for a lifetime.
Sea Life Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary / Sæheimar Aquarium
Beluga whales which can be found in Sea Life Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary, Westman Island
A haven for those who are lovers of marine life, Sea Life Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary is an important and interesting place to visit in the Westman Islands archipelago. It's the world's first whale sanctuary that also established a puffin rescue center. There's quite a story about the first residents of the sanctuary: Little White and Little Grey are two 12-year-old Beluga Whales. When they were just two years old, they were kept in captivity for entertainment, but now they live freely, protected by the sanctuary.
Elephant Rock formations on Heimaey island, Iceland
Elephant Rock catches the interest of many visitors because of its name and the myths surrounding it. This natural rock formation on Heimaey island greatly resembles an elephant head submerged in the water. Some people find it similar to a cosmic creature named Cthulhu, created by H. P. Lovecraft. Its incredible form made many speculate whether it was just a rock shape or it was actually a real elephant that turned into a stone. So the best way to discover the truth is by seeing it with your own eyes!
Skansinn fortress and Stave church (Starfkirkjan)
Starfkirkjan church in Westman Island, Iceland
A long time ago, Skansinn fort was known to stand there to protect the place from intruders, but now it's an attraction that tells the history of the Westman Islands and surprises its visitors with its uniqueness. Here you'll also find Starfkirkjan – a church that was gifted to Iceland by Norway in 2000. The reason for such a big gift was to remark 1000 years since Iceland converted to Christianity. This beautiful black church is used to this day for big celebrations and commemorations, such as the eruption of Eldfell.
Stórhöfði (Great Cape)
Stórhöfði - famous puffin-watching spot in Iceland
Known as the windiest place in Europe, it's located at the southernmost point. And this cape is called great for a reason as this is where many puffins come to nest, making it a perfect bird-watching spot. And if you're afraid of chilly weather, be afraid no more since Stórhöfði has a special shelter from which you can see puffins and appreciate the stunning view of the islands.
Sagnheimar Folk Museum
Sagnheimar Folk Museum where you could get to know history of Heimaey island
If you're looking for interesting and engaging ways to learn more about the history of Heimaey island, then you definitely should go to the Sagnheimar Folk Museum. This interactive museum will tell you about the island's life: from past experiences such as the Turkish invasion and Eldfell eruption to the importance of the fishing industry and puffin "culture". This attraction differs from the museums we usually visit because it invites its guests to participate in the whole storytelling.
Heimaklettur - highest peak in Heimaey island, perfect hiking adventure!
A spot for hiking enthusiasts – Heimaklettur is the highest peak in Heimaey. At first glance, it might seem hard to conquer, but if you're not too afraid of heights, you're in for a nice and spectacular walk. As some areas are quite steep, you'll have to make your way by going up the ladder. This shouldn't be too hard, but those afraid of heights might find this challenging. It takes from 30 minutes to an hour to reach the top of Heimaklettur.
Surtsey Island - a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in Iceland
This volcanic island is situated 32 kilometers from the south coast of Iceland. It was formed in 1963, making it Iceland's youngest island. It took almost four years for the island to form, and in 1967 Surtsey already stood 150 meters above sea level. This attraction is now closely monitored as it gives a unique possibility to see how a new island develops. For this reason, tourists cannot go to the island but can learn more about it at Surtsey Visitor Centre in Heimaey. In 2008 the island was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Top activities to try in Westman Islands
Once you're done with the sightseeing part, it's time for amusing activities to make your trip even more memorable. By trying some of these well-known interests, deepen your knowledge about Iceland, its customs, and everyday life.
Play golf near a volcano
Golf field in Westman Vestmannaeyjar surrounded by mountains
You might be surprised by the fact that, here, in the Westman Islands, you can play golf and admire the spectacular view of a volcano. Opened in 1938, The Golf Club is the third oldest club in Iceland. Three of the first opened holes are used to this day. The golf course is exceptional because it's on the list of Europe's 200 best golf courses.
Attend Þjóðhátíð festival
Þjóðhátíð festival or "National Festival" is an annual festival taking place in Heimaey, Iceland
"National Festival" is an annual festival taking place in Heimaey on the weekend before the first Monday of August. This historical celebration was first held in Westman Islands in 1874. This was the year when the islanders couldn't reach Iceland and celebrate the 1000 years of the Settlement of Iceland because of the bad weather. So they decided to commemorate the occasion at Vestmannaeyjar. This tradition is followed to this day when people celebrate over the weekend with bonfires, fireworks, and many torches lit together, reminiscent of a volcanic eruption.
Westman Islands is a famous location for puffin-watching
Westman Islands are known to have the largest puffin colony. These beautiful birds can be found in many places, but Heimaey island is known as a to-go place for such occasions. If you're looking for ways to seize the day, you can book a day tour to see puffins and enjoy other attractions on the island, such as Eldheimar Museum or a Norse Viking Church.
Enjoy puffins or see mesmerizing rock formations by having a boat tour in Westman Islands
The distance between Iceland (Landeyjahöfn) and Vestmannaeyjar is no more than 15 kilometers. Since the archipelago is surrounded by water, one of the fun and convenient ways to explore it is by taking a boat tour. Imagine going on a RIB speedboat tour and seeing the famous Elephant Rock, watching the puffins wandering on the cliffs, and enjoying the magnificent views of interesting rock formations and blue waters.
Test your strengths with Sprangan
Sprangan or cliff swinging in Westman Islands, Iceland
Sprangan or cliff swinging is a popular sport among Icelanders. What you have to do here is to take the rope and swing your way from one side of the cliff to the other. At first, it might seem like an easy and fun activity, but it actually requires a lot of strength and preparation to ensure safety.
Try out The Brothers Brewery
Brothers Brewery and their brewed beer in Vestmannaeyjar. Photo by: The Brothers Brewery
How to feel the local "spirit" when traveling? In Vestmannaeyjar, go to The Brothers Brewery, which sells brewed beer. The place is loved by many, perhaps because it was founded by four men, two friends who brought their two brothers into the "scheme" and now manage a successful brewery. Here you can sit down and try out some fresh and local beer or go on a whole tour where you'll learn about brewing processes and test out different beers.
It's easy to admit that Iceland falls under the none-like-other places for its unique nature and captivating history. But another thing that makes it special is its little gem – Westman Islands. This place is ready to enchant all kinds of travelers and offers an unforgettable trip.