Over the Easter Weekend, I visited Vestmannaeyjar (or Westman Islands) and can highly recommend adding this destination to your Iceland bucket list for 1-2 days. Taking over your Happy Camper is a cinch as well, especially when the campsite is up and running from mid-May!
Heimaey (the main island) has interesting history and exciting outdoor activities for everyone, and is easily one of my most memorable trips since moving to Iceland. The island is compact and can be navigated quickly by foot, so park your Happy Camper and spend your time walking around. I have a lot to share from how to get to the island and where to stay overnight to what to do and what do eat and drink! This is my Happy Campers’ guide to visiting Vestmannaeyjar!
How To Get There
There are two options to get to the island: ferry or fly. The most common- and cheapest- way is by ferry from Landeyjahöfn, a 1 hour and 45 minute drive from Reykjavík. It only takes 35 minutes between Landeyjahöfn and Heimay and costs 1320kr. each way, less if you’re a student. One tip of advice: book your Happy Camper van spot on the ferry IN ADVANCE (this will be a separate cost from passengers) as we booked our passenger tickets the evening before, but the car park on the boat was completely full (argh!). In the case you must leave your car on the main island side, there is ample parking space at the harbour. There may be a small fee if you leave it overnight.
Where To Stay
Herjólfsdalur campgrounds is the one and only campsite on Heimaey surrounded by the valley of the same name and this is where your Happy Camper base camp will be. It’s open in the summer months from mid-May to mid-September and at the time of writing, charges 1300kr. for adults per night. It’s a great site used by locals and travellers alike, offering good facilities. It´s prime location means close proximity to the swimming pool and walking paths to the top of the cliffs.
If you’re travelling outside of the camping season like we did I recommend staying at Hotel Vestmannaeyjar, located midtown. Long story short, we were upgraded from the HI Hostel and had an excellent experience with an ensuite bathroom and killer view of the town’s landscape (score!).
What To Do
An avid outdoorsman, my boyfriend insisted I hike up Eldfell (fire mountain) with him. For someone who isn’t used to climbing mountains, I was in for an adventure! It turned out to be a very windy walk up and there were definitely a few moments I feared for my life. But the success of making it to the peak took my breath away- literally and figuratively- with 360-degree views of the surrounding landscapes.
Since the next day turned out to be beautiful and sunny, I was motivated to climb the cliffs on the other side of Heimaey. In my opinion, the hike was a little more challenging, however, the spectacular panoramic views turned out to be a great reward as we snapped photos and enjoyed the refreshing sea breeze. We walked a bit over an hour along the valley where we ended at the “sprang” rope, a popular spot to practice the island’s famous sport of mini cliff repelling.
Vestmannaeyjar’s local swimming hole is found near the camping grounds (please accept this gorgeous view to make up for my lack of pool pictures). You can’t miss it as you hear the screams of children splashing down the waterslides. Which, by the way are so much fun! There are a total of five slides, but my favourite was Dufþekja, named after a cliff on Vestmannaeyjar. It’s a short, but steep tube slide that ends with a long trampoline where the goal is to land on your feet and “surf” into the pool below. Besides the slides, for 900kr. we had access to an indoor saline pool, three outdoor hot pots (tubs), and a steam bath. There was also an area to sunbathe- perfect for the day we were there- and a cold pot.
Eldheimar “The Pompeii of the North” – Must-Visit!
In the wee hours of January 23rd, 1973, a volcanic eruption changed the lives of 5,300 inhabitants on Heimaey- including my boyfriend’s mother and grandmother (the picture is of his grandmother in her mid-20’s working at a fish factory pre-eruption). It’s easily one of the biggest natural disasters in the history of Iceland. Eldheimar, found at the base of Eldfell, is a museum of remembrance (2300kr. per adult, less for students). It does an excellent job educating the public with an informative audio guide, interactive exhibits, and full-length documentary on the subject. Perhaps the focal point was the house dug up from the volcanic ash, left as-is decades later with shattered windowpanes and belongings left by the owners. The second floor also highlights the newest island in Iceland, Surtsey, if you’re interested in the science of volcanoes and geothermal activity.
Where To Eat/Drink
It’s easy to visit Bónus, Krónan or Vínbúdin (government-run alcohol shops) for your food needs, especially if you’re trying to stick to a budget. But if you’re able to indulge in some of Vestmannaeyjar’s stand-out food and drinks, here are the best local joints.
Just a minute’s walk from our hotel was GOTT, a family owned restaurant focused on local ingredients. While the fish of the day is picked up the same morning, all breads, cakes, sauces, and soups are made in-house to ensure the freshest tastes. Some of their delicious looking meals included the GOTT appetizer plate for two, spelt wraps, and the spicy noodle soup. You can probably guess I had a difficult time choosing what to order.
And because we were graced with such a sunny day, we sat outside, a rare thing! I settled for the GOTT burger (2390kr.) and wasn’t disappointed. It was served in a home baked bun topped with creamy guacamole, pickled onions, and aioli with a salad and sweet potato wedge. My boyfriend went with the Eldfell burger, equally as pretty and yummy. After our mains, my temptations took over and all of a sudden we finished a slice of ooey-gooey chocolate cake topped with a bright red strawberry. I regret nothing! Plus, it was Easter, right?
Starting out as a hobby in the garage, Jóhann, Kjartan, Hannes, and Hlynur are now living the dream as they sell micro brews on tap internationally, in Reykjavík, and now at their headquarters in Vestmannaeyjar. Of course, my beer-loving boyfriend jumped on the chance to visit this local brewery and I obliged.
We were lucky enough to catch a couple of the brothers at the brewery on their own and chatted about their road to success. Now they serve from 10 taps (range from 1000-1290kr.) consisting mostly of their own creations with interesting stories behind each like Gölli (IPA), Heimir (Pale Ale), Þrasi (Pale Ale), and Togarinn (Imperial Stout) named after a local sailor who gets drunk every night. With this one at 10%, it all makes sense! The BB also gives their customers cute bowls of popcorn for a nice touch.
When you’re planning your trip to the South of Iceland, don’t overlook this quaint town full of history, life, and great outdoor activities. You’re really in for a treat, like my last snack on the island, when visiting Vestmannaeyjar.
Are you ready to book your Happy Camper and head to Vestmannaeyjar?!
To read more about Lea’s Happy Camper Adventures in Iceland check out these articles:
Snorkeling in Silfra with Scuba Iceland
What to Do in Reykjavik on a Rainy Day
Happy Campers’ Basic Guide to Icelandic