The Westman Islands are a group of 15 islands situated south of Iceland. They are reachable by either ferry or by airplane. The main island of Heimaey has a population of 4,135.
Vestmannaeyjar or Westman Islands are a great detour for anyone traveling along the South Coast.
What to see in Westman Islands?
You can explore exhibits from the ‘Pompeii of the North’ excavation site aimed at restoring this tiny fishing village buried in lava and ash from a massive five-month eruption in 1973, in the Eldheimar Exhibition. The eruption destroyed many buildings and forced a months-long evacuation of the entire population to mainland Iceland.
You can also hike to Herjolfsdalur valley and see the restored viking houses there, but excavations in Westman Islands have shown that the islands were settled very early. There are also a few absolutely great restaurants in the town, most of which focus on superb seafood.
The eruption in 1973
Shortly after midnight January 23rd the eruption in Heimaey island started in a 1600 meter long fissure on the eastern part of the island. The alarm horns were sounded and in less than an hour almost all the people in the island were at the docks.
The weather conditions had been very bad the day before, which meant that almost all the fishing fleet of the island was at the docks. The first boat headed out half-an-hour after the eruption began. Though the weather wasn’t as bad as it had been the day before, there was still some wind, making the boat ride to Iceland an unpleasant one. The elderly and patients of the hospital were flown to Reykjavik. At dawn all the people, which numbered over 5000, had been evacuated.
The eruption lasted until July 3rd and claimed over 100 houses, but no lives were lost due to the diligence of rescuers and well organized efforts of the locals.
Westman Islands are perfect for birding
The beautiful islands have magnificent ocean cliffs which are home to thousands of playful puffins, and a marvelous golf course with incredible views. All of Iceland‘s seabirds can be found in Vestmannaeyjar: the guillemot, gannet, kittiwake and Iceland gull. However the puffin is the most plentiful species and is the Vestmannaeyjar emblem. Heimaey is also home to Eldborg volcano, which is still warm to the touch today from an eruption that took place more than 40 years ago.
Iceland is very young, geologically speaking and is still being created before your eyes with ongoing volcanic eruptions. On a boat ride around the island visitors are treated to a view of the newest land, Surtsey Island. The island is also known as ‘The Youngest Place on Earth’. Surtsey burst from the North Atlantic in a dramatic ocean floor eruption in 1963. In 2008 it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Check out our complete guide to the South Coast.