The archipelago of volcanic islands that make up Vestmannaeyjar or the Westman Islands can easily be reached on a day trip from Reykjavík, either by plane or by passenger and car ferries from two south coast ports.
The shortest sea trip is a 40 minute journey from Landeyjahöfn, a 12km detour from Route 1 near to Seljalandsfoss, but it’s also possible to sail there from Porlákshöfn.
It’s advisable to check in advance, as tide and sea conditions can affect the sailing schedules.
It’s possible to sail either as a foot passenger or to take a car, but Heimaey is easily explored on foot, so leaving your car behind in the free car park may be the best solution.
The ideal position to take on the ferry is port at first, in order to get a good view of the first outlying islands, Elliðaey and Bjarnarey, and the furthest extent of the lava flow from the 1973 eruption.
As the ferry reaches the harbour, the port side will also offer views of the Skansinn fort and the Stafkirkjan church, while the starboard side comes very close to the “guard” island of Heimaklettur.
The most significant date in recent Vestmannaeyjar history is January 23rd 1973, when Heimaey saw massive volcanic eruptions begin to carve a destructive path right through the town over a five month period, an experience that’s extremely well recorded at Eldheimar.
This fascinating museum is built around one of the houses that were engulfed by lava, now entirely excavated and accompanied by interactive AV displays that tell the amazing stories of the overnight evacuation, the months of strenuous effort to try to halt the flows and the lengthy recovery process too.
From Elheimar, it’s possible to climb up Eldfell, the stark red coloured cone left by the 1973 eruptions and to look down on Heimaey from there.
Signposts bear testament to the hundreds of houses and the streets that lie buried beneath under cooled lava flows.
Heimaey is also another excellent base for puffin and whale watching tours.
There’s also a professional football team that plays at a ground with a dramatic backdrop.
Skansinn, seen on the ferry approach, is worth a look to see the Norwegian church and the old fortifications.
Heimaey is a lovely town to wander, with many brightly coloured homes and shops, as well as museums and galleries.
On departure, it’s worth looking out again for the impressive cliffs on the port side and to look back on the islands as the ferry makes its way back to the mainland.