Who knew that our favourite island outpost in the North Atlantic had its own island outposts that are - if possible - even more quirky than Iceland itself? Welcome to the Westman Islands, or Vestmannaeyjar, a collection of 15 main islands and sprawling islets. Well, 15 to date, that is. Surtsey Island only emerged from beneath the waves between 1963 and 1966, while the main island of Heimaey grew by an estimated eight billion cubic feet after its own eruption in 1973. As you can see, the Westmans are, geologically speaking, quite an active place, but if you choose to stay here (and you really,
really should) then you’ll also have the chance to be pretty active yourself. For instance, there are several huge puffin colonies which can be visited on 4x4 safaris or – for added adventure – on a RIB safari where you will also explore a series of huge sea caves and some of the smaller outer islands. The puffins are normally in residence between May and September, while killer whales make an appearance in July. Westman Islands holidays also include trips to see the centre of the Eldfell volcano, lava flow walks, riding excursions and watching a display of the traditional Westman sport of sprangan, which involves rappelling from cliffs. Originally a technique honed by hunters for reaching puffin nests, over the centuries the locals have turned the skill into an art form that is even taught to young children.
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When is the best time for a Westman Islands holiday?
Picture yourself standing on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the rugged coastline of the Westman Islands. In the distance, you see a flock of red-flecked puffins taking flight, their wings flapping in unison against the vast blue sky. Their calls echo through the air as you take in the breath-taking scenery around you. If you’re a nature lover and dream of getting up close and personal with these little feathered friends, then the summer months (May to August), are the perfect time to go. The islands become a sanctuary for thousands of these charming white-chested chicks during this time, and you can watch them play, feed their young and fly around the island to your heart’s content. You can even take a guided tour to see them up close and learn more about their habitat and behaviour; be sure to have your camera at the ready.
If you're more of an adventurer and love exploring the great outdoors, then the months of June to August are ideal. The weather is mild, and the days are long, giving you plenty of time to hike the rugged volcanic terrain, explore the island's natural caves and cliffs, and hop on a boat for a tour around the islands. Holidays to the Westman Islands also offer opportunities for kayaking and diving for those who are more daring. On the other hand, if slower paced evenings spent stargazing or spotting the Northern Lights are more up your street, then the months of September to March are your best bet. As the nights grow longer and the skies darken, you can (hopefully) witness one of the most spectacular natural phenomena on Earth. The Westman Islands are located far enough from the city lights, providing a perfect viewing experience of the aurora borealis.
Special Things to Do on Westman Island Holidays
Heimaey is the largest island in the archipelago and also happens to be a haven for wildlife. Puffins flock here in their thousands and the chilly waters that lap the rocky outcrops boast some of the best whale-watching opportunities in the country, with fin, minke and humpbacks in the summer and orcas all year round. Heimaey is also home to the world’s first beluga whale sanctuary, a watery oasis for belugas Little Grey and Little White, who were rescued from their previous home in a Shanghai water park. Hop aboard a boat and head out to learn about the whales before catching a glimpse of their home from a distance. On your way, keep your eyes peeled for flecks of red and orange as puffin colonies are scattered across the cliff faces.
A holiday to the Westman Islands wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Eldfell Volcano. This fiery feature erupted in 1973, spewing volcanic ash and red-hot lava, leading to a temporary evacuation of Heimaey’s residents (its name means ‘Hill of Fire’, so its ferocity makes sense). Now, you can hike to the summit to see the crater and visit the Eldheimar Museum which was constructed around a family home evacuated because of the eruption. Learn all about the shocking eruption and what Heimaey’s residents did to stop it – pumping seawater onto the lava to cool it, stopping it from destroying the harbour.
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