Westman Islands

Nordical Travel, last updated: July 20, 2021

On the South Coast of Iceland lies an archipelago where one of the most famous and destructive eruptions in Iceland occurred.

On January 23rd 1973, at around 02:00 am, the residents of Heimaey on the Westman Islands awoke to the sounds and quakes of the earth exploding. A fissure had opened in the earth only 1 km away from the town, taking everyone completely by surprise and threatening to engulf the entire town in ash and lava.

What followed was a desperate attempt to flee the island in the fishing boats that were docked in the harbor. Families packed onto boats were able to escape with their lives and were not able to return to the island until 6 months later when the eruption was officially declared as having ceased.

What they were met with was complete devastation, and over one-third of the town had been either burned or covered in ash. What followed was a significant cleanup of the damage and the town has now been largely restored and is a popular area to visit in the summer months, and is now referred to as “The Pompeii of the North”.

How to get there and what to do

Heimaey can be reached by ferry from the port of Landeyjahöfn, and there are also flights to the local airport. Once there, you will find that there are far more things to do in Westman Islands than you might expect from such a small archipelago.

You can embark on one of many types of boat ride to explore the sea caves, visit the famous ‘Elephant Rock’ or to pay a visit to the puffin colony on Bjarnarey. You can go hiking or take an ATV tour to visit the Eldfell volcano, as well as a visit to Eldheimar museum to learn more about the eruption in 1973.

Animal lovers might want to visit the Beluga Whale Sanctuary and Puffin Rescue Centre, where two Russian Beluga whales, Little White and Little Grey, swim freely in a large bay area. The rescue centre is where that ‘Puffling Patrol’ rescue injured and lost baby puffins in order to nurse them back to health, so they can be released back into the wild.

The Westman Islands is also the site of the yearly music festival, Þjóðhátið. This is an extremely popular event, especially amongst younger revellers, as they arrive often dressed as fishermen, to enjoy music from some of the biggest names in Icelandic music and a spectacular fireworks display. 

There are also wonderful restaurants in the Westman Islands and so guaranteed to spend a relaxing evening in one of Iceland’s best-kept secret locations.


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