World's largest puffin colony - Vestmannaeyjar


Vestmannaeyjar, also known as the Westman Islands, is a group of islands in Iceland formed by undersea volcanic eruptions. Among many other activities, you can see an incredible amount of puffins here, which is why Vestmannaeyjar is also called the Puffin Capital.

The Vestmannaeyjar, also called the Westman Islands, are an archipelago of a total of 15 islands and 30 rocks located 8 kilometers from the south coast of Iceland. The archipelago stretches over a length of almost 38 kilometers and a width of about 29 kilometers. The picturesque islands are surrounded by beautiful basalt columns that form many caves, grottoes and bays, which are among the special features of Vestmannaeyjar.

It is interesting that all islands were formed by submarine volcanic eruptions. The oldest island, which is also the largest and the only one that is permanently inhabited, is Heimaey. The youngest island is Surtsey, which was only formed between 1963 and 1967. Meanwhile, about 4,300 people live in Vestmannaeyjar and in 2019 the municipality could celebrate its 100th anniversary.

On January 23, 1973, the until then undiscovered volcano Eldfell erupted, whereupon the entire population of the island of Heimaey had to be evacuated. Fortunately, despite the huge disaster, no one died. After the end of the eruption, the island slowly repopulated to about 85 % of its former population, but unfortunately about one fifth of the buildings were destroyed by the eruption. However, the city now had a long stretch of new land on which to build a runway, and a volcano that attracts a great many visitors. Since then, the Westman Islands have recovered as a popular tourist destination and thousands of visitors come to the islands every year for a variety of reasons.

If you want to learn more about the 1973 volcanic eruption, you can visit the Eldheimar Museum, or of course climb the Eldfell volcano yourself. In general, the islands are known for their relaxing and idyllic hiking trails. Another recommendation is the local swimming pool, here you can enjoy the evening with super warm water temperatures. In addition, every year on the weekend before the first Monday in August "The National Festival" takes place, for which more than 17,000 people flock to the island. Here is celebrated in a good mood with music, dance and drinks extensively.

But what the archipelago is probably best known for are the puffins. In the early summer months, the birds make their way to the islands and form one of the largest puffin settlements in the world. Annually, more than 1.1 million pairs of puffins come to the islands to nest in cliffs, rocks and even chimneys. They can best be observed on foot or by boat from April to August. In Stórhöfði there is a lookout point that offers a perfect view of the Puffins. This is not to be missed.

The Westman Islands also offer some of the best whale watching in Iceland. Especially in the summer it is not uncommon to see a fin, minke or humpback whale. Orcas can even be seen all year round.

Heimaey, the largest of the islands, is also home to the world's first beluga whale sanctuary.

If you want to travel the islands, you have 2 ways to get there: by plane or by ferry. The plane can be taken from Reykjavik. The ferry takes 3 hours from Þorlákshöfn in the winter months and only 30 minutes from Landeyjarhöfn in the summer.

So if you are already in Iceland, a side trip to the Westman Islands is definitely worthwhile. One idea would be, for example, to participate in our Iceland round trip and then take a trip to the Westman Islands!

Fun Fact

The islands are named after the Gaelic slaves who were captured by the Norsemen. The Old Norse word Vestmenn (i.e. Westmen) was applied to the slaves and retained in Icelandic


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