Situated in the more remote parts of the country, Heimaey Island is often overlooked. But this place with its interesting history and exceptional fauna and flora is definitely one that deserves to be on your trip itinerary.
If this is the first time you’ve ever heard about Heimaey and want to know more, or you’re already planning on taking a trip to Heimaey and want to ensure that you know everything you need to know, then this article is for you.
What is Heimaey Island?
Heimaey Island is the largest and only inhabited island on the Westman Islands. But don’t let the word “largest” fool you, the population of Heimaey is still just 4300 people. The name Heimaey translates to ‘Home Island’, referring to the fact that it’s the only island with residents.
Whilst the island is technically still part of Iceland, it truly feels like you’ve entered a whole new world when traversing its breathtaking terrain. When visiting, you can expect quaint little houses with bright-colored roofs, moss-covered cliffs, spectacular views across the ocean and the mainland, and much, much more.
How to Get to Heimaey Island in Iceland
You basically have three options to choose from when it comes to getting to Heimaey Island:
Catching a Flight
You can catch a flight from Reykjavík to the Westman Islands. It’s only 20 minutes long, but can be a costly option.
Going on a Guided Tour
There are plenty of tours that have Heimaey Island as a destination. Some are dedicated day tours, whilst others are combo tours or even multi-day holiday packages that include a number of local attractions as stops. Many of these tours depart from the capital city of Reykjavík.
Catching a Ferry
This is probably the best option if you want to go for interesting experiences. You can catch the Herjolfur Ferry at Landeyjahöfn Harbor. The harbor is about 2 hours away from Reykjavík, so you’ll need to have your own transport to get there.
Once there, you can opt to take the car with you on the ferry or simply leave your car in the parking lot - it’ll be safe, and you don’t really need a car on Heimaey anyway. But, once again, if your time is limited, having a car to speed things up a bit can be handy. The ferry ride takes about 40 minutes, and you need to ensure that you’re at the Harbor at least 30 minutes before departure.
The History of Heimaey in Iceland
Heimaey has an incredibly rich and interesting history that includes everything from slaves and volcanos to pirates. The most famous story that’s often retold on the island is how the Westman Islands got its name in the first place. The story goes that the founder of Reykjavík’s brother came to join him here in Iceland. He brought two slaves along with him. But these slaves ended up killing Ingolfur Arnarson’s brother and fled.
But Ingolfur was enraged and swore vengeance. He hunted them down till he killed one and cornered the other in such a way that he chose to jump off the cliff to his death. The slaves were Irish and were referred to as Westmen. That’s why the islands are called the Westman Islands today, in remembrance of a murderous injustice and the ultimate chase.
The first settlers on Heimaey made the island their home in 900 AD. However, early settlers faced quite a challenge with pirates raiding Iceland. And whilst settlers could run and hide deeper into the country on the mainland, those on Heimaey found themselves stuck with nowhere to run.
This led to many Heimaey settlers being captured by the pirates and sold as slaves. If this wasn’t already eventful enough for a small island like Heimaey, the year 1973 will forever be remembered here on the island. Residents woke up in the middle of the night to a scene that was almost apocalyptic, as a massive volcanic eruption quite literally ripped through the town.
Fissures of more than a kilometer were snaking through houses, and red-hot lava and ash ended up destroying more than 400 houses. The event was so huge and unexpected that it’s a testament to the Icelanders that only 1 person died, and the rest were safely rescued and taken to the safety of the mainland.
Things To Do & See on Heimaey Island
There are incredibly exciting things to do and see on Heimaey Island. Here are a few things you can look forward to:
Visit the Eldheimar Museum
Take on the Eldfell Mountain Hike
Visit the Beluga Whale Sanctuary
Go and check out the infamous Elephant Rock (best to do via boat tour)
Go on a whale watching tour (recommended from April to September)
Check out the Puffin colony
Have a beer at Brothers Brewery
Take part in Sprangan (rope swinging across the cliffs)
Where To Stay on Heimaey Island
With so much to do and see on Heimaey, it’s simply impossible to do it all in just one day. That’s why we recommend that you stay over for at least a night or two. Some of the places you can consider booking at are:
Heimaey Island; Experience the Adventure
You don’t need to get involved in fights with pirates or adrenaline-fuelled chases to experience adventure here on Heimaey Island. The island is incredible, not only because it’s so beautiful, but because there’s so much to do and see on what is essentially a tiny and remote island that’s barely inhabited.
If you want to spend a few nights on Heimaey, but don’t want to break the bank in doing so, we recommend that you rent a campervan in Reykjavík, take the ferry to the island, and book your spot at Herjolfsdalur Campground.
This way, you’ll be able to experience all the island has to offer at affordable rates whilst still living in comfort and style. So, what are you waiting for? Start planning your Heimaey Island adventure today!