South Iceland : Vestmannaeyjar
Vestmannaeyjar is a town on the island Heimaey. Heimaey is the largest of 15-18 islands in the Westman Islands archipelago, located just off the south-west coast of Iceland's mainland. Vestmannaeyjar has a population of around 4200 people.
The Westman Islands were formed by submarine volcanic eruptions along a 30 km long fissure lying south-west to north-east. The largest island is Heimaey, 13.4 km2. Most of the islands have steep sea cliffs, and are well vegetated. Bird hunting and egg collecting are traditional to the islander's culture.
Read John McPhee's The Control of Nature to understand Heimaey's volcanic significance.
The car- and passenger ferry Herjólfur has scheduled trips daily between Þorlákshöfn (pronounced "Thorlawkshoefn") and Vestmannaeyjar.
To get to Þorlákshöfn, either drive west from Reykjavík through Þrengslin to the south coast, or take bus 3a from the BSÍ bus terminal in Reykjavík. The bus leaves Reykjavík approx. 1 hour before Herjólfur leaves dock. See www.bsi.is for details on bus schedules.
Herjólfur's trip takes 2 hours and 45 minutes. The ship takes up to 500 passengers and 50 cars. On board there is a cafeteria and sleeping quarters that can be booked.
In 2010, a new harbor – Landeyjahöfn – was constructed on the mainland coast south of Hvolsvöllur, just 11 km from Heimaey. When weather and harbor conditions permit, Herjólfur will operate on this much shorter run, making four or five return journeys daily. Fares are lower on this faster route, and the one-way trip requires approximately 30 minutes. Buses from Reykjavik to Landeyjahöfn via Selfoss are operated by Sterna: .
Eagle air (Ernir) flies a daily scheduled air service in the summer between Westman Islands and Reykjavík. The flight time is only 25 minutes.
Telephone: (+354) 481-3300
Heimaey is a rather small island, only 7x4 km, so everything is within walking distance. There are hiking paths all over the island so any reasonably fit traveler should be able to enjoy the sightseeing on foot.
Cars can be hired at the airport or in the town. Prices start from about 8.000 ISK a day.
Tour the Natural History Museum (Náttúrugripasafnið), the only natural history museum in Iceland worthy of the name: watch fish and other creatures from the sea swim, crawl or creep in their aquariums, a fine display of stuffed birds and one of the best collections of Icelandic minerals anywhere.
Drop by “Skansinn”, the place by the harbour where past and present meet, where the lava flow stopped in 1973. There you will find a Norse timber church, the only one of its kind in Iceland, a gift from the people of Norway, and Landlyst, the second oldest building on the islands, now housing a small medical museum.
Take a walk on our most recent lava field, many meters above the street level and buildings that used to be, where you will find signposts to mark their former place and aid the imagination. A fine walk would include the “geothermal” area, where the returning islanders constructed a heating system for their houses using the heat from the cooling lava, then eastward to Prestavík and Viðlagavík and then end in Gaujulundur, a lava garden, an oasis in a desert.
Play golf, nine or eighteen holes on a course chosen by the magazine Golf Digest as one of Europe's 200 most enjoyable courses. Players have even been known to forget to hit the little white balls, being too engrossed in the view and their surroundings.
Sail around the islands, a roundtrip taking about 90 minutes. Accompanying you is a guide who might perhaps be in the mood to play trumpet or saxophone inside one of the caves. You will see the birdlife up close and personal and, if lucky, whales playing their various games.
Whale watching/sea Angling sightings of whales, dolphins and puffins (depends on season) are frequent around Vestmannaeyjar. Trips can be booked directly with companies at Vestmannaeyjar Harbour.
Climb Heimaklettur, the highest rock formation on the islands. Its highest peak is no more than 283 meters, not demanding too much of your valuable time. Neither does it demand arduous climbing as ladders have been placed in the most difficult areas. And the view from the top is magnificent, whichever direction you prefer to look.
Drive to the top of Stórhöfði, the windiest place in Iceland and possibly the whole of Europe, where four calm days are the limit in an average year and wind speed can pass 100km/ph. Needless to say the view is fabulous.
Swim in village's fine swimming pool, where the salt water makes it even easier and more enjoyable to swim. Afterwards you can relax in the sauna or if you prefer more exercise, visit the gym.
Go round the harbor on your own two feet or by car and have a look around one of the cleanest harbor areas in Iceland. The harbor is usually teeming with activity, not least Friðarhöfn (Peace harbor) when the catch of the day is beeing landed.
Visit Landakirkja, the local Lutheran church and the oldest building on Heimaey. A dignified house of God with a pulpit in the centre, right above the altar. On Sundays, everyone is of course welcome to attend the service.
Visit the scene of Tyrkjaránið, (the Turkish plunder): Lyngfellisdalur, Ræningjatangi (Robbers spit), Prestasteinn (Priest rock) Sængurkonusteinn (Childbirth rock), Fiskhellar (Fish caves) and Hundraðmannahellir (the Cave of Hundred). We can unreservedly recommend the local theatre company´s production of Tyrkjaránið 1627.
Horse riding is a popular activity amongst locals as well as visitors. Two companies offer one hour to five hour long trips.
See the Volcano film.
Þjóðhátíð, Vestmannaeyjar's national festival
Celebrating the end of the eruption.
The puffling time
An annual event, unique to the Westman Islands and a particular favorite time of year for the children. It is impossible to put a more precise date to it than early to mid-August, as it is determined by the pufflings themselves. Leaving their cliff nests, they fly into town attracted by the electric lights and discover a harder and considerably more complicated world than they have been used to. Everywhere, however, saviours are waiting: The local children, armed with their cardboard boxes, prepared and ready to gather the lost and totally bewildered pufflings, rescue them and take them down to the shore to release them into the sea. In recent years whole families have visited Heimaey to take part in the puffling adventure, a unique event, full of joy.