Iceland is most definitely not a tropical island and is, therefore, not known for its elephants. Or, so you would think. Just on the western coast of Iceland’s largest island, you will actually find an enormous petrified rock elephant jutting out of the Atlantic Ocean.
You often hear of these rock phenomena, and when you visit you squint your eyes and try all different angles but still you barely manage to see it. Well, with the Elephant Rock it’s pretty easy to see. It is as someone went out and carved an elephant into the gigantic rock. Some even like to think a troll-like elephant simply caught too much sun and turned into stone, which is a common belief of rock formations in Iceland.
However, neither of these explanations are actually true. So, in this post, we’ll go over how the rock actually formed, how you can visit it, what other attractions are close to it and other fun facts about the island it rests on.
Where is the Elephant Rock?
The elephant rock is located at the brim of Heimaey, the largest and only inhabited island of the Westman Islands. The island rises 200 meters (656 ft) from the sea. It is only 13.4 square kilometers (5.2 sq mi) of which 2,2 square kilometers (0.85 sq mi) were added in a voluminous volcanic eruption in 1973. The Elephant Rock is located at the western part of Heimaey sticking out from the Mountain Dalfjall.
How did the Elephant Rock form?
The Elephant Rock is believed to have formed in one of the island’s many volcanic eruptions but it considered especially active for such a popular living location. However, the last significant eruption was in 1973 and due to a full evacuation, the population has still not reached those numbers again.
The elephant is a basalt rock structure and its texture adds even more authenticity as it resembles the skin of an elephant. Basalt is very common in Iceland. Some of the more famous ones are found in Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, Svartifoss Waterfall and Gerðuberg on Snæfellsnes.
How to visit the Elephant Rock?
First, let’s start with how to get to Vestmannaeyjar (Westman Islands). The best way for you to get there if you have a car is to take the ferry, Herjólfur. It will allow you to take the car with you and drive around once on the island. In summer you can take it from Landeyjarhöfn (35 min) near Seljalandsfoss waterfall and make it into a brilliant detour off the Ring Road.
However, in winter you will need to take the ferry from Þorlákshöfn (3 hours) which does delay the trip a bit but still makes for a great day, or even days if you have the time.
Another option is to fly as there are daily domestic flights from Reykjavik airport to Vestmannaeyjar airport.
Now that you have landed in Vestmannaeyjar, it’s time to see the Elephant Rock. In order to get a good visual, you need to access it by boat and then view it from the sea.
Here are some amazing options for adventurous sightseeing:
Note, rib boat tours to see the elephant are only operated from the 15th of April to the 30th of September each year.
Fun Fact About Iceland’s Elephant Rock
- Elephant Rock sticks out from Dalfjall Mountain. Which is the second highest summit of Vestmannaeyjar islands.
- Mistaken Identity: Three pictures thought to be of Iceland’s elephant rock went viral. And, can still be seen circulating around the internet. They show two headshots and one aerial photo claiming to be of the elephant rock in Iceland. Although the close-up headshots are real and located in Iceland the aerial shot is of another island, located in Asia.
- Every year during the first weekend in August, a huge festival is held in Vestmannaeyjar, called Þjóðhátíð. Then, thousands of locals join to party and enjoy the musical acts bringing the population of the island up by about 10,000. This is an incredible opportunity to explore the islands! FYI: if you plan on joining this weekend it is better to make all your reservations way in advance!
- Herjólfur, the ferry that takes you to the Islands is named after the first settler in Vestmannaeyjar. But Herjólfur, along with his brother, found Iceland!
- H.P. Lovecraft’s mythical creature: Some superfans have thought the Elephant Rock to resemble Cthulhu. One of Lovecraft’s mythical creatures, a sea monster with the face of an octopus
What is there to see and do near the Elephant Rock?
- Eldheimar Volcano Museum tells an incredible tale of life on a volcanically active island in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. The exhibition focuses on one of Iceland’s best known natural disasters. When Mt. Eldfell started erupting in the middle of the night and the 5,300 inhabitants had to be evacuated from the island as quickly as possible. The eruption kept going for five months destroying over 400 houses.
Inside the museum, you’ll find the ruins of one of these houses preserved perfectly under the thick ash. The sight speaks louder than words!
- Skansinn Church is a small black turf church in the original Viking style. You can explore it inside out! The church was a gift from the Norwegian governments. Given to Iceland to celebrate 1000 years of Christianity in Iceland. It is located right by the harbor, within walking distance from where the ferry comes in.
- Slippurinn restaurant is my ultimate favorite stop to make in Vestmannaeyjar. It is where quality Icelandic local cuisine appears in its purest form. The chefs use natural ingredients from the islands, going out to pick sheep’s sorrel, rhubarb and other things that grow wildly in the islands and mix it together with fresh lamb or fish from the harbor. Treat yourself to their food and don’t miss out on their cocktails. That’s an order!
- Beer Tasting at the Brothers Brewery. What started as a side-project/hobby for some local beer lovers has now grown into a full-blown business. And, thankfully so, if I may add. I just love this place! Also, the tend to name each beer after a lively character so ask about the ones you try.
- A hike up Heimaklettur. Not recommended for those afraid of heights but for the rest, this trail is absolutely gorgeous. Prepare for a lot of “oh my gads” followed by a few long “woooows!