Known locally as Vestmannaeyjar, these islands will charm and delight
Visiting the Westman Islands is up there with the most memorable experiences you can have in Iceland. This small group of islands is home to fiercely proud locals, who saved it from destruction after an eruption in January 1973.
The only inhabited island in the group is Heimaey (literally ‘Home Island’), which also happens to be the largest. You can see signs of the volcanic forces that shaped the island as you sail past giant basalt cliffs on your way into the harbor.
The Westman Islands are called Vestmannaeyjar in Icelandic, and are located just off the south coast of Iceland. Around the largest island, you’ll find a cluster of small islands, including one with a famous hunting lodge perched on a steep hillside.
Altogether, the group contains 15 islands. The newest is Surtsey, which was formed in 1963 during a volcanic eruption. Today this island is off limits to everyone except scientists, who study how plants are colonizing the area.
Experience the Westman Islands for yourself
Other attractions in the area
FAQs about the Westman Islands
Absolutely! The Westman Islands offer such a contrast to the rest of Iceland, it’s almost like being in a different country. The sheer cliffs and steep hillsides look similar to those you’d find in the Faroe Islands.
The charming town of Vestmannaeyjabær is compact and filled with quaint buildings, including a reproduction black stave church. Wander its streets until you reach the lava field that swallowed half the town in the 1973 eruption.
The Westman Islands are perfect for a day trip. You can easily take the ferry across, spend an afternoon exploring, and return to the mainland later that day.
If you want to have more time to explore, you could stay overnight on Heimaey.
For such a small place, there’s a surprising number of things to do in the Westman Islands:
- Take a boat tour from the harbor to spot puffins and whales
- Tee up in stunning natural surroundings at the golf course
- See a house excavated out of the lava at the Eldheimar museum
- Walk above the buried streets on top of the solidified lava field
- Visit the beluga whale sanctuary and learn about these gentle giants
- Hike to the Eldfell volcano and admire the view of the islands
- Admire the unusually shaped Halldórsskora cliff, aka ‘Elephant Rock’
- Fuel up and refresh at the local cafés, restaurants, and bars
A big draw to the islands in August is the Þjóðhátíð music festival, a rite of passage for many Icelanders. Find out more about cultural events in Iceland.
The Westman Islands are one of the best places to see Atlantic puffins in the country. In fact, the bird colony here is thousands strong. If you visit in summer, when the puffins nest, you’ve got a good chance of seeing them up close.
There are 3 main places you can see these undeniably cute creatures:
- Heimaklettur – This is the large cliff you sail past on your way into the harbor. If you look up, you’ll often see them weaving paths overhead.
- Ofanleitishamar – These are the cliffs on the east coast of Heimaey, right next to the golf course. A 25-minute walk from the town center.
Stórhöfði – This is the southernmost tip of Heimaey island, surrounded by cliffs on all sides. Here you have the best chance of seeing them.
There are 2 ways to get to the Westman Islands: by ferry or plane.
The easiest is the ferry, known locally as Herjólfur. It departs multiple times a day from the Landeyjahöfn harbor, which is a stone’s throw from Seljalandsfoss waterfall. You can travel by foot or with a car.
Good to know: Sometimes the ferry docks in the town of Þórlákshöfn on the mainland if conditions mean it’s not possible to sail into Landeyjahöfn. Check the ferry website for details.
The other option is to take a flight from Reykjavík Domestic Airport. The flight time is around 25 minutes and departures are twice a week.
The ferry from Landeyjahöfn to Heimaey harbor takes around 35 minutes. If the ferry is going to Þórlákshöfn, the sailing time is around 2 hours.
During the sailing, you can walk about on the upper decks and take in the fresh air and stunning views.
There’s also an onboard cafeteria with hot food and drinks so you can arrive refreshed.
Yes, you can sail to the Westman Islands with a car. That said, if you’re just going for the day, it’s probably not worth it. Parking at the Landeyjahöfn harbor is free and there are plenty of spaces.
Vestmannaeyjabær town is compact and walkable, and local transport is available. You can rent bikes and e-scooters on the island, or take a taxi if you want to visit Stórhöfði.