The day we arrived in Iceland, our first day, we drove 2.5 hours to the ferry terminal in Landeyjahöfn to head to The Westman Islands, known as Vestmannaeyjar. My cousin, who lived in Iceland, highly recommended that we make a stop there as part of our trip. So off we went, bleary eyed and tired, but full of excitement and adrenaline! Exploring the Westman Islands turned out to be a great decision as we learned so much about this island that we never would have otherwise.
What to See While Waiting for the Ferry
We arrived about two hours before the ferry was due to leave, but knowing this beforehand we had planned to go to the nearby waterfalls of Seljalandsfoss and Gljufrabui. The Icelandic term for waterfall is “foss” and these particular waterfalls did not disappoint. We were able to get up close and personal as we were allowed to climb up and walk behind Seljalandsfoss. The mist of the water sprayed on us as we walked around looking at it from all directions. About 1/3 mile down the path is Gljufrabui, which means “Dweller of the Gorge”. It’s about 40 meters high and because there’s a big rock in front of it, not many people notice it. You can wade through the gorge and jump on the rocks on the river or walk up to the rock and see the top.
Onward to the Island
We drove about 15 minutes to the ferry, parked the car, and walked on. The weather wasn’t the best so we decided to stay in and chill, where we ended up passing out for just about the whole 30 minute trip. The rest of the day is a little bit of a blur. We went right to the hotel, checked in, and had a delicious lunch at a local favorite restaurant. We were so tired we went back to the hotel for a little nap to catch up on some sleep before we had a spectacular dinner.
After getting about 10 hours of sleep (!) we awoke to a gorgeous, sunny, and warm day. Luckily we were able to sleep through the daylight the night before since we brought our eye masks – the hotel (or any other place we stayed for that matter) didn’t have blackout curtains. At this time of year (July 2) the sun doesn’t set until almost midnight and then rises again around 2:45am. During those few hours the sky doesn’t even come close to being black!
A Brief History on the Westman Islands
The Westman Islands are a series of islands south of the mainland formed by eruptions about 10,000 years ago. Only one island, Heimaey, is inhabitable, and it came to international attention with the eruption of Eldfell volcano in 1973. The eruption last about 6.5 months and destroyed about a fourth of the island, while increasing the size about 20%. Luckily, everyone was evacuated quickly so no one was killed. Families came back to the island to rebuild, and now climbing the volcano and visiting the museum is a pretty big attraction there, along with puffin watching.
After breakfast we set out on a clearly marked path towards the volcano Eldfell. They call this area the “Pompeii of the North” due to so many houses and other structures being buried (and most likely preserved) in mounds of lava. We walked past those memorials of houses and schools that were buried 16 meters below where we stood. We continued to get nice views of the town as we walked through 40 year old lava on either side of us along the way to Eldfell. On our walk we learned that heat from the volcano provided the town of Heimaey with geothermal energy from 1976-1985!
We started the somewhat steep climb on the collapsed northern end of the volcano taking breaks to snap pictures of the gorgeous view.
We made it to the top and wow, what a view! Once we got up there the wind hit us and all we could do was stand out facing the ocean with our arms stretched way out. We could basically see the entire island, including the teeny tiny airport. We were also able to see the other small islands that make up Vestmannaeyjar. This was such an incredible view and a great way to start out week in Iceland.
We made our way to the town and walked to Eldheimer. This is a museum detailing the 1973 eruption, and life on the island before and after it. The museum incorporates one house that was excavated and is still intact, including toppled household items left behind. The museum is beautifully done and we learned so much about the island.
Before we knew it we had to board the ferry again so we could continue our journey (but not before stopping at a delicious restaurant for some lunch)!
We’re so glad we spent some time exploring the Westman Islands. Plus, we got to learn some history about it that we otherwise wouldn’t have known about! After we disembarked we continued eastward on our Iceland journey. Starting our week with this beautiful island was just what we needed!