The thing that some of the people might not be aware of is that Iceland has nearly 40 named islands around its shoreline. The only ones that are currently inhabited are Heimaey, Grímsey, Hrísey, Vigur with only one farm with 5 people living there all year long and Flatey with only 5 people staying there during wintertime. All of them are unique and have a lot to offer. They might not be for everyone but it’s worth thinking it through; they’re so different from the mainland and they bring that true remote feeling of being on a tiny scrap of land with so much water around you. The ones listed below are the most worth a visit. And who knows, maybe you’ll spot a whale on your sail to one of them? 🙂
The only inhabited island that belongs to the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago. Called the Westman Islands in English, they consist of 15 islands in total that were formed thanks to underwater eruptions. The youngest one is called Surtsey after the Norse fire god Surtur. The eruption began in 1963 and laster four years. It’s the southernmost point of Iceland. Heimaey itself was haunted by Eldfell volcano that erupted in 1973. Lots of buildings were destroyed and it forced the inhabitants to evacuate to the mainland. Legends say that if you dig in the ground, you can still feel the warmth of it. One of the reasons that it’s worth to visit this island is the museum called Eldheimar that takes you on a journey of the eruption. Heimaey is a stunning place thanks to the dramatic rock formations. You’ll be stunned when approaching it with a fully electric ferry, it really leaves you in awe. You can book your short cruise here. It’s possible to bring your car with you but if you only plan to stay there for one day it’s not necessary. It’s convenient if you plan to visit the Puffin Lookout but you can always hitchhike. So what are the attractions of this unique island? As it was mentioned before, the Puffin Lookout is a great option. But bear in mind that you have to time your visit well as puffins leave early in the morning and come back around 5-6 PM. If you’re not lucky enough to see these clumsy creatures that’s okay, you’re left with absolutely breathtaking views of the ocean and the glacier on the mainland that’s visible if the weather’s good. Another idea is to hike Eldfell, which takes you to another, raw world. There’s something magical about being surrounded only by lava and rocks, it really makes you respect the power of nature. Be careful though, Heimaey gets extremely windy and the wind doesn’t help if you hike on such unstable, steep surface.
After a whole day of activities, it’s nothing else like having a great dine out. The most popular ones are Gott and Slippurinn and they’re famous for a reason. The offer wonderful dishes that are made of local ingredients. Make sure you don’t miss the opportunity to treat yourself! Vestmannaeyjar is definitely the archipelago that has the most to offer. But since lots of us are looking for unique experiences, let’s jump right into the other islands.
Located far in the North, 40 km away from the mainland. One of the reasons why it’s an attractive destination is the fact that the Arctic Circle runs through the island. According to Wikipedia, due to Earth’s axis oscillations the Arctic Circle moves northward about 14.5m per year! That means it won’t cross Grímsey any longer by mid-21st century. So hurry up as it might be one of your last chances to have this experience on this little island. To draw attention to this occurrence a 3m concrete sphere (Orbis et Globus) was placed in the Northern part of the island and it’s moved every year to mark the actual reach of the Arctic Circle. It’s a very popular attraction and everyone wants to actually touch it and step beyond the Arctic.
The island is home to about 60 people and their most common source of income is fishing. You can get there either by ferry from Dalvik or by plane from Akureyri. Though treeless, the flora is still very rich as for such a remote part of the globe. The island is also home to many seabirds; they nest on high cliffs all around it. It’s best to see puffins between from the end of April to the beginning of August. There are two guesthouses where you can stay overnight if you wish. Other activities consist of visiting the lighthouse, the church and the wonderful basalt columns placed in the south-west corner of the island.
It’s the second-largest island of Iceland, right after Heimaey. It’s often called „The Pearl of Eyjafjörður” thanks to its barely touched nature. It’s located approximately 35km North of Akureyri and you can reach the island by a ferry called Sævar. It’s popular to book a tractor tour that takes you around the island. It has to be booked in advance and it takes around 40 minutes. It’s home for about 200 people who mainly work in the fishing and tourism industry. The hard work is paid off by the stunning views around. It’s been inhabited since the age of settlement.
It’s said that the Eastern area of the island is full of energy, therefore it’s called The Energy Zone. It’s a great idea to have a rest there after having a major walk around the area – the longest marked trail is about 5km long. If you’re not up to some not really confirmed theories, you’re more than welcome to boost your energy by having a grand meal at a local restaurant. Don’t worry, if you decide to stay overnight and watch the lively birdlife, there’s also a grocery store where you can stock up on the necessities. The island also offers a commonly called Shark museum, where you can learn how they had been caught, a regional museum and an old fishing station that got turned into a place where you can buy local souvenirs made of resources found on the island itself, like seashells.
Although this island is not a typical tourist destination, it certainly stands out and it deserves way more attention. Located in the Westfjords it’s possible to reach it from two locations – a 40- minute boat ride from Ísafjörður or a 15-minute one from Súðavík. It’s only possible to visit from April to October and you have to obey the rules of not bringing dogs or drones with you and it’s also forbidden to the smoke of any form. For some, it may be a little off-putting but it’s for the good of the island and its fragile environment. It needs a lot of protection as it’s a paradise for bird nesting. The most popular and special one living on this tiny island is eiderdown, which feathers are collected annually by the only family that lives on Vigur. The feathers are extremely valuable and are used in the highest quality duvets.
There are a few more activities except watching birdlife. Sending a postcard from the tiniest post office in Europe can be one of them as well as visiting the northernmost windmill in Europe and the only one in Iceland. It’s possible to stay overnight on the island, either on the campsite or by renting one of two unique rooms that the local family offers. Further information is available on their website.
It’s impossible not to mention this picturesque island located in-between Snæfellsnes Peninsula and the Westfjords. Its name translates directly to „Flat Island” which is a literal representation of how it looks like. It’s about 2km long and 1km wide and it’s the largest island among a cluster of about 40 nearby ones. It’s possible to reach this remote island both from Stykkishólmur and Brjánslækur; the tickets can be bought here. Bear in mind that it’s a car-free piece of land and there’s no grocery shop! Getting off the board, you’ll immediately see picturesque old houses painted in cheerful colours. They’re beautifully renovated which makes it really cosy. There’s also a handful of all-year-round residents but many house owners come to the island during summertime to breathe with the crystal clear air. It’s possible to stay overnight at a hotel called after the island itself. I highly recommend doing so as it’s such a unique, tranquil place which tries to fulfill guests’ requests (e.g. vegan diet) even though it’s such a remote location.
Flatey is also home to the tiniest library in the whole world. It was built in 1864; it’s 4.75m long and 3.43m wide and even though it’s so small, it’s a fully functional library. There’s also a church nearby that’s worth a visit thanks to the ceiling mural. You can also see a painting of Jesus wearing a traditional Icelandic sweater. Cheeky! It’s wonderful to stroll around the island, breathing in the fresh ocean air and watching the birds living their lives. As much as it’s tranquil, you have to be pretty cautious if you get into the area of Arctic tern. This bird will protect its children like it’s his last day. It’s absolutely not afraid to dive right into your head to peck your head with its peak! Apparently holding a stick above your head is supposed to prevent from having your head riddled. After a whole day of little adventures, it’s best to wind down by having the famous, local drink – Flajito! There was a time when the whole of Iceland was having a total craze about mojito. But since there are no such exotic products like mint or lime, the barman had to improvise. It resulted in a delicious drink with rhubarb and lovage herb. It’s best to travel to Flatey during summertime; all of the other information can be easily found here.
It’s the only uninhabited island on this list and the closest one to Reykjavik – it lays basically a kilometre or two away from the city’s shoreline. Why is it worth a visit? Well, it’s absolutely a perfect spot if you’re having a stopover in Iceland and you’re short on time. Or maybe you’ve seen most of Reykjavik and you’d like to spend some time in nature. You can get there from three locations: Skarfabakki, Harpa and Old Harbour, the boat leaves multiple times a day and it’s only about 20 minutes ride so it’s a win-win situation for those with seasickness. The most popular attraction on this island is Imagine Peace Tower. It’s a piece of artwork conceived by Yoko Ono in memory of John Lennon. It’s supposed to bring awareness to what are the most important and also lacking things in the world – love and peace. It’s a way to symbolize the work both of them put into bringing the world peace. It’s visible from October 9th which happens to be Lennon’s birthday until December 8th, which is the anniversary of his death. There’s something magical about this strobe of light carving through thick wintery clouds.
Viðey is home to the first stone building in Iceland, which was completed in 1755. The House now hosts exhibitions and is the perfect spot to have coffee and typical Icelandic waffles before coming back to the mainland. On the island, you can also stumble upon a sculpture called Áfangar (Milestones) by Richard Serra. It consists of basalt pillars of different height but they’re parallel at the same time and they’re placed on uneven terrain. They are supposed to symbolize landmarks and important destinations. There’s something raw and mystical about them. There are also a couple of ruins which date back to the 10th century when the island was first settled. Besides the man-made attractions, it’s a perfect place to have a stroll around the island, where you can admire black beaches, the multiple bird species and high cliffs with mountains on one side and Reykjavik panorama on the other. Even though it’s actually so close to the city, it’s really quiet and it feels so peaceful. Don’t forget to bring a blanket and some food with you so you can have a picnic if the weather’s good!