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The Westman Islands

Westman Islands are also called Vestmannaeyjar. The largest island is called Heimaey and is the only one of the islands that is inhabited. The island was first settled in 930 A.D., although some sources (with evidence supporting) claim that fishing village had been established there 300 years earlier and that, by that time, Irish monks had already been to Heimaey, too.

The islands are also the only part of Iceland to have endured violent foreign invasion. In the 15th century, the English came to Iceland to trade and occasionally to raid. They kidnapped one governor of Iceland and killed another, and bought local children, which gave rise to the contemporary legend that Icelanders gave away their children but sold their dogs dearly. Their headquarters were on Heimaey, where they built the fortress Skansinn which still remains. But after a war with the Danes and the Hanseatic League in 1468-73, the English withdrew.


A more violent invasion was the "The Turkish Raid" in 1627. Actually, this was launched by Algerians, Moroccan-converted Europeans and commanded by a Dutchman. But as the captives were taken to Algeria, then a suzerainty of the Ottoman Sultan in Constantinople, the raid was blamed on the Turks. It was not until the 1970s that a contemporary law stating that any Turk found in Iceland should be killed on sight was withdrawn. Thankfully, this was never enforced.

The Turks killed and captured some 400 people, most of these from Heimaey, and burned down the church and the warehouse. Ten years later, 27 of the captives were ransomed back to Iceland. The place where the Turks came ashore is still called "Ræningjatangi", or robber's peninsula.


Heimaey has a population of about 4800 residents. Its economy is primarily based on commercial fishing. Over 50 fishing vessels work out from Vestmannaeyjar employing over 500 people. Two large fishing plants and several smaller ones employ another 400 residents.The island has a hospital, retirement home and apartments for the elderly, several nursery schools, two elementary schools and one secondary school. A scientific research institute operates in cooperation with the University of Iceland and the town of Vestmannaeyjar.

An eruption on Heimaey in 1973 destroyed 417 houses and the island needed to be evacuated during the night. Over 5000 town residents left in a hurry on sea or air and the eruption added a total of 250 million cubic meters of new volcanic material to the island. To save the port people used sea to stop and re-direct the lava flow and today the Vestmannaeyjar port is good, one of the best in the world in fact.


The Vestmannaeyjar´s natural majesty is rich sea and bird life and the island is also home to a burgeoning ecotourism industry. Visitors can tour the island both on land and sea and a visit to the aquarium devoted to local wildlife is an experience one should not miss. The Vestmannaeyjar archipelago is group of 15 islands first formed by volcanic eruptions some 10.000 years ago. The latest island, Surtsey, formed in 1963 in an eruption from the bottom of the ocean.

The puffin colony in Vestmannaeyjar is the largest in the world. Millions of Atlantic puffins return to Vestmannaeyjar each spring and summer and provide base for a traditional, seasonal industry. Residents collect puffin eggs and hunt birds using nets, according to an elaborate and age-old set of rules and ethics. Annual catches do not exceed 1% of the total puffin population.


The island is well known for cliff-hanging, a sport centuries old and involves climbing and descending the island's most dramatic rock formations using ropes suspended from the cliff tops. Children and teenagers still practice this sport for its own sake as well as a puffin-hunting technique. Island's children also save young puffins that have lost their way and direct them to the ocean. They also compete which puffin flies the farthest.


Two overlooks with interpretive signage give breathtaking views of Klettsvik Bay and the town of Vestmannaeyjar. East of Eldfell is a monument to Guðlaugur Fridþórsson, who swam for six hours to reach shore in 1984, when his boat sank five kilometers east of Heimaey.

At Hamarinn, on western Heimaey, there is a monument to Jón Vigfússon, who in 1928, scaled what is considered an unclimbable vertical cliff after his boat stranded, thereby saving the lives of his comrades as well as his own. A small sanctuary or oasis in the middle of the lava field called Eldfellshraun is cultivated by Erlendur Stefánsson and Guðfinna Ólafsdóttir. It throws into high relief the great contrasts in Vestmannaeyjar landscape.


One of the best 18-hole golf courses in Iceland can be found on the island. It is situated in an old volcanic crater under steep cliffs. In spring there is a deep-sea fishing contest and a jazz festival. In summer the islanders host the national soccer tournaments for children and the annual islands festival is in August. Cliff scaling on ropes, can be observed, horses can be rented and many marked hiking trails up volcanoes, over lava fields and through puffin colonies interest visitors. Bird watching is great on the island and the island has a good swimming pool with sauna and hot tubs. A movie about the eruption and rebuilding of the town can be seen and the Folk and Art Museum should not be missed

The Westman Islands
GPS Points N63° 26' 38.985" W20° 16' 23.178"
Postal code

900

Travel directory for The Westman Islands

The official travel index of Iceland

Others

Hotel Eyjar Apartment Hotel
Apartments
  • Bárustígur 2
  • 900 Vestmannaeyjar
  • 481-3636
Glamping & Camping
Camping
  • Herjólfsdalur
  • 900 Vestmannaeyjar
  • 846-9111, 863-4224
Lava Guesthouse
Guesthouses
  • Bárustígur 13
  • 900 Vestmannaeyjar
  • 867-0068
Ofanleiti guesthouse and cottages
Guesthouses
  • Ofanleitisvegur 2
  • 900 Vestmannaeyjar
  • 6942288, 661-1963
Hrafnabjörg guesthouse
Guesthouses
  • Hásteinsvegur 40
  • 900 Vestmannaeyjar
  • 858-7727
Vestmannaeyjar Camping Ground
Camping
  • Herjólfsdalur
  • 900 Vestmannaeyjar
  • 846-9111
Guesthouse Hóll
Guesthouses
  • Miðstræti 5a
  • 900 Vestmannaeyjar
  • 546-6060
Kátakot
Cottages
  • Miðkot
  • 861 Hvolsvöllur
  • 863-7130
Skíðbakki Guesthouse
Guesthouses
  • Skíðbakki 3
  • 861 Hvolsvöllur
  • 847-3880
Kross farmhouse
Farm Holidays
  • Kross 1a
  • 861 Hvolsvöllur
  • 859-3515, 487-8515
Bryggjur
Cottages
  • Skíðbakki 1
  • 861 Hvolsvöllur
  • 849-9929
Bergþórshvoll
Guesthouses
  • Bergþórshvoll 2
  • 861 Hvolsvöllur
  • 487-7715, 863-5901
Lagafell
Guesthouses
  • Lágafell
  • 861 Hvolsvöllur
  • 8918091, 897-8091
Guesthouse Árný
Guesthouses
  • Illugagata 7
  • 900 Vestmannaeyjar
  • 6909998
Vestmannaeyjar HI Hostel
Hostels
  • Vestmannabraut 28
  • 900 Vestmannaeyjar
  • 481-2900
Syðri Kvíhólmi
Cottages
  • sandhólmavegur 247
  • 861 Hvolsvöllur
  • 868-278
Aska Hostel
Guesthouses
  • Bárustígur 11
  • 900 Vestmannaeyjar
  • 662-7266
Syðri-Rot
Guesthouses
  • Syðri-Rot, Sandhólmsvegur
  • 861 Hvolsvöllur

Others

Seljaland TAXI
Day Tour Provider
  • Eystra Seljaland
  • 861 Hvolsvöllur
  • 894-1595
EyjaTours
Hiking Tours - Hiking
  • Básaskersbryggja
  • 900 Vestmannaeyjar
  • 852-6939
Vestmannaeyjar Golf Club
Golf Courses
  • Torfmýravegur
  • 902 Vestmannaeyjar
  • 481-2363
Lyngfell horse riding - Ása Birgisdóttir
Horse Activities
  • Lyngfell
  • 900 Vestmannaeyjar
  • 898-1809
Kayak & Puffins
Day Tour Provider
  • Ægisgata 2
  • 900 Vestmannaeyjar
  • 8393090
Seabirds and Cliff Adventures Tours
Day Tours
  • Illugagata 61
  • 900 Vestmannaeyjar
  • 8932150

South Iceland

Towns & Villages

The south of Iceland has several towns and villages, each with its own style, charm and points of interest. Selfoss is the largest town and has a variety of shops, services, many restaurants and fast food places. Most towns are close to the main route, making them accessible and enjoyable.

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Map Höfn Kirkjubæjarklaustur Vík Vestmannaeyjar Hvolsvöllur Flúðir Laugarvatn Reykholt Laugarás Borg Brautarholt Hveragerði Árnes Selfoss Hella Stokkseyri Eyrarbakki Þykkvibær Þórlákshöfn