Vestmannaeyjar—or the Westman Islands—are one of Iceland’s most dramatic spots. Accessible daily by plane or ferry, this tiny volcanic archipelago of eleven islands—and some smaller islets—is home to just one town, located on the main island of Heimaey. The twin volcanoes of Helgafell and Eldfell are visible from the town centre, and both are hikeable; the town also has various museums, shops, activities and dining options, particularly in the summer season.
Stay: Hótel Vestmannaeyjar
There are several options for your stay in Vestmannaeyjar, but Hótel Vestmannaeyjar comes with the highest recommendation. It has 43 plush and comfortable rooms, 24 of which were renovated in 2014. Those on a budget might want to consider the humble but affordable Guesthouse Hamar. If money is no object, there are some stunning properties available on Airbnb.
This hulking volcano became one of the most infamous in the world when it erupted suddenly and unexpectedly in 1973, forcing an evacuation of the island, engulfing part of the town, and ultimately added 2.5 km² of new land to Heimaey. The easy 40 minute hike to the summit crosses ash plains and bright red, orange, white and maroon volcanic rocks, and leads to a dramatic view of the sprawling Nýja Hraun lava field, with the mainland’s mountainous coast visible in the distance.
This museum focuses on the aforementioned eruption that destroyed 400 homes and businesses, and forced the entire population of 5,300 inhabitants to flee to the mainland. At the time of the eruption, it seemed doubtful that the islanders would ever return. The museum is newly built and highly modern, and contains some semi-unearthed houses and several engrossing interactive displays.
This legendary family-run island eatery is run by folks who used to work at the much-loved Matur og Drykkur restaurant in Reykjavík. There are few places in Iceland that offer such a high standard of New Nordic dishes, many of which are made with seasonal, locally foraged ingredients. It’s only open during the summer season, so check their dates before you go—if you get lucky, and it’s open, a meal at Slippurinn is worth the trip to Vestmannaeyjar alone.
Trip: Boat Tour
A boat tour of the smaller Westman islands is a highlight of any Vestmannaeyjar trip. A small motorboat will take you out into the choppy water, steering between large rock formations and into watery caves. Between the awe-inspiring views of the islands petering out into the foggy distance, you’ll learn tidbits of information about the history, geology, culture and nature of the islands.
In the winter time, Slippurinn is closed, sadly. The next best place to eat is the cosy Gott café, right in the heart of the town. Ostensibly a health food café, the tag is slightly deceptive—their tasty salads and chunky wraps come drenched in sauce and teeming with rich ingredients. Nonetheless, the menu is hearty and affordable, and the comfortable dining room is a nice place to relax between bouts of exploration.
Read more town guides here.