Islands in Iceland – The Small Worlds of Wonders

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Recently, a remote Icelandic island with a population of just 6 people has been named as the world’s best island by Big 7 Travel. We are talking about Flatey Island. But that’s not the only beautiful island out there that belongs to the nation of Iceland. There are more than 30 minor islands off Iceland’s coast waiting to be discovered by someone and that someone can be you. To give you an example, just north of the country is Grimsey and Videy is just across the capital, Reykjavik. These islands are a perfect escape for a peaceful time-spent or who knows self-discovery!  Welcome to Iceland, the land of ice and fire.

A very geologically active volcanic island, Iceland is located in the North Atlantic Ocean.  Iceland presents vivid contrasts of geography, climate, and culture. Sparkling glaciers, fjords, volcanoes, hot springs, geothermal areas, islands, a sky filled with dancing greenish lights; the country offers so much to explore that you might think of applying for a permanent residency. That’s pretty easy, marry an Icelander! But if you are on a short trip or just want to spend your time in an uncrowded place far off from the noisy world, these Icelandic islands are simply perfect hideaway.

puffin in Vestmannaeyjar island in south Iceland, Westman Islands

Some Must-Visit Islands of Iceland

While these islands are trickier to travel to, they host some of the world’s most amazing scenery and wildlife that you will surely love to experience on your travels to the land of ice and fire. To give you some inspiration, we have created a list of some of the best islands we think worth your visit and time:

Flatey Island

A small landmass located on the west coast of Iceland is perhaps the most beautiful island on our list. This island in the Breiðafjörður bay was once used to be a popular stop on trade routes but now is more popular with visitors in the summer. Flatey Island is indeed a flat and a very small island measuring just 2 km by 1 km. The island gets almost deserted in the winter months except for 6-10 people and their sheep staying here. Come the summer months, the island becomes a bustling tourist town. Locals along with others make this place hospitable for wanderers and travelers. They run a few small restaurants, shops, and accommodation services. The calm, carefree vibe of the island, without its handful of residents, might make you think you being “Cast Away”. Worry not! This is a relatively safe wilderness, the chances of getting lost are minimal. One day will be enough to explore the island, but you can stay longer if you wish.

Places to See

1. Birdlife

Flatey is a paradise for bird lovers. There are more than 30 bird species you can see during their breeding season. From Atlantic Puffin to Cormorant, the islands offer some of the best bird watching experiences. The common Icelandic bird, Arctic Tern is also found around the island. Just make sure you don’t get near to young Terns, as their mother will come after you with all its might.

2. Flatey Library

Although the library is small and has only 100 books, Flatey Library is one of the smallest and oldest (1864) libraries of Iceland. Only 4.75m long and 3.43m wide library with few books is surely enough for the island of 6 people.

3. Flatey Church

The church next door can be your next stop. The 17th-century old church was replaced by a new church in 1960. Today it hosts a ceiling painted by famous Icelandic artists like Baltasar and Kristjana Samper.  Don’t get surprised to see Jesus, wearing a traditional Icelandic lopapeysa.

4. Salt Cellar Bar

It’s time to hit the bar, the Salt Celler, serving some of the regular drinks and snacks into the chilly night. However, it’s most famous drink is Flajito. According to one story, one night at a bar in Flatey, someone ordered a mojito thinking that this remote island’s bar would have all kinds of drinks. The bartender, not wanting to disappoint him, created a mojito-looking drink with some herbs and rhubarb. And this is how Flajito was born, a mojito with Icelandic touch.

How to Reach?

There is a ferry service available from Snæfellsnes peninsula. The ferry takes roughly 1h and 30 minutes to reach Flatey Island. Another way to reach this island is from Brjánslækur in the Westfjords. This is available in summers only.

The Best Place to Stay: Hotel Flatey provides decent amenities for a comfortable stay.

Viðey Island

Viðey island has a Peace tower that lights up the sky on 9 October every year in memory of famous pop-icon John Lenon. One more reason for a Beatles fan to visit Island! Located just across Reykjavik’s north shore, you can visit the Viðey in a couple of hours. Its proximity to the capital makes it a good choice for travelers who don’t want to leave the comfort of a city.

Although summer is considered great to see birds and roam around its beautiful beaches, the winters have a unique attraction. The famous artist Yoko One in 2007 installed the Imagine Peace Tower on Viðey. The tower is lit every year from 9 October to 8 December, commemorating and remembering his imaginative lyrics “Imagine there are no countries…”

Places to See

1. Home of Skuli Magnusson

Archeologically remains to indicate human inhabitation since the 10th century, and the island was also the site where the father of Reykjavik Skuli Magnusson constructed his home Videyjarstofa. Danish Skuli Magnusson is credited with establishing wool workshops around the capital city. The house is now converted into a restaurant and an art center where works of renowned Icelandic artists are displayed.

2. Áfangar (Milestones)

One of the most influential sculptors of the 20th century, Richard Serra made a gift of Áfangar (Milestones) to the Icelandic people. These nine pairs of basalt pillars are just a feast for the traveler’s eyes.

3. Virgin Mary Statue

To celebrate the thousand year’s association with Christianity, a statue of the Virgin Mary was erected in 2000.

How to Reach?

The ferry service from the harbors of Reykjavik is available throughout the year. The journey takes roughly 15-20 minutes to reach the island. The best way is to buy a Reykjavík City Card which provides free access to many sites including the ferry ride. Unlike other isolated islands, the best time to see Viðey in its full glory is winters. You can either stay in hotels on the island or can stay in Reykjavik hotels, the choice is yours.

Grímsey Island

The northernmost inhabited of Iceland is Grimsey Island. Straddling in the Arctic Circle, the island is 40 km north of the mainland. The serene and desolated island is endowed with scenic beauties, but due to its location, not many people sail here. Occupying an area of roughly 5 square kilometers, courageous fishermen and their families totaling around 100 people still reside on this island. The climate is generally mild here despite the northerly latitude. The mean temperature remains around 10°C but can fall below in winters. Interesting facts: In Grimsey, the sun doesn’t set during the summer solstice on June 21 for 24 hours; and doesn’t come up during the winter solstice on December 21st. The midnight sun on June 21 gives makes this island a truly magical place. During the winter solstice, you can catch the sight of the Northern Lights here (check the aurora forecast).

Places to see

1. Bird-Watching

As in many other Icelandic islands, Grimsey has amazing views to offer for bird-lovers. A perfect place to see puffins. Puffins make their nest in the cliffs around April and leave in August. The other bird-species found here include Black-legged Kittiwakes, Auks, Razorbills, Thick-billed Murre, and Northern Fulmar. 

2. Sea Diving

The waters surrounding the island provide perfect conditions for sea diving. The divers would love to explore its sea fauna and different fauna consisting of Algae and marine life provided by its clean and transparent waters. 

3. Hikes

The 5.5 km long island is comparatively flat, a rising a maximum of 105 meters from sea level on the east side. The longest hike tour (10 km) starts from the harbor and goes through a round trip before ending again at the harbor. You can also select shorter tours such as Red Track (7.5 km) which covers the north part of Grimsey.

How to Reach?

You can reach Grimsey in two ways. First is the ferry service that sails from the northern village of Dalvik which is available 3 days a week. If you are not fond of sea travel, Air Iceland is at service for you. Three-times a week flight is available from Akureyri. There are two guesthouses on the island: Gullsól and Básar. Alternatively, you can camp around the public pool situated in the village.

Drangey Island

The remnant of a 700000-year-old volcano, Drangey island is located in Skagafjörður fjord, northern Island. When winter comes to an end, several bird species fly here to nest on this rugged island.  It looks like a huge rock castle from the distance. According to a legend, Iceland’s strongest man Grettir found refuge on the island after being outlawed from the mainland. Grettir is the famous bad boy of the Icelandic Saga.

Places to see

1. Bird watching

Another bird watching the paradise of Iceland. The island is nesting home to many birds including seabirds, including puffins, guillemots, gannets, kittiwakes, fulmar, and others.

2. Hiking

You can reach the top of the island through a long-ago man-made path. While hiking remembers the story of great Grettir who once lived alone in the stone-castle. However, hiking is not suitable for people suffering from vertigo.

3. Boat Journey

Probably the best way to explore this island is through a boat journey. As the island is uninhabited, a boat will take you on a half-day journey on and around the island. Hiking is usually included in the fare of the boat journey.

How to Reach?

The boat service is available from Reykir harbor near Saudarkrokur village. It takes roughly 3 hours to reach the island. 

Vestmannaeyjar / Westman Islands

Nature’s best-kept island, Westman Islands is an archipelago of 15 islands on the southern coast of the Island.  Most of the islands emerged around 11.000 years ago, except one – Surtsey island – it came out from the sea in 1963. The largest island, Heimaey is the only inhabited island on the Westman Islands. This island with a sizeable population of 5.300 was living happily until 1974 when a previously unknown Eldfell volcano erupted without anyone’s notice. Surprisingly, no one was harmed and the entire population was lifted to a safe location. However, once the eruption ended, the Heimeay island repopulated but at a slower speed. Today, around 4.300 people live on the island. However, after recovering from the eruption, the island has become a tourist hotspot for various reasons.

Places to See

1. Eldheimar Museum

Located in Heimaey’s only town Vestmannaeyjabær, the museum constructed around a family home excavated from the lava remembers the tragic eruption of Eldfell volcano and the heroics of people with great pride. Self-guided and interactive media tours depict the history of Heimaey Island.

2. Eldfell Mountain Hike

The mountain was created during the eruption, the 220-meter-tall hike is a perfect expedition surely not to be missed while your visit to this island.

3. Whale sanctuary

Situated in the Vestmannaeyjar islands, Sea Life Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary consists of a stunning natural sea inlet in Klettsvik Bay. The Sanctuary has space for 10 Beluga Whales and currently, two whales White and Little Grey are inhabited here. It is open for tourists from August to October.

How to reach?

The ferry service is available from Vestmannaeyjar to Landeyjahöfn which is located in the south of Iceland. You can also fly to Vestmannaeyjar with Eagle Air, which takes less than 25 minutes.

Hrísey Island

The small island of the Hrisey is off the north coast of Iceland, 22 miles away from Akureyri. The island covers a 7.67 km2 area, it is the second-largest island off the coast of Iceland, after Heimaey. The island has approximately 120 people. Also called the ‘Pearl of Eyjafjörður’, its tranquil environment and scenic beauty have made this island a must stop for nature-lover travelers.

Places to see

1. Birdwatching

Iceland is a paradise for bird-lovers, and Hrisey Island is no different, the small island hosts more than 40 species of birds. Most abundant are, however, ptarmigans. Along with them, Arctic terns and different types of moorland birds can be also found on the island.

2. Geothermal Hot Spring Pool

Although all of Iceland is endowed with hot water and geothermal heat, one of the pools here heats up to 60°C. The pool disappears during a sea waterflood.

How to reach?

The sea ferry service is available from the village of Árskógssandur, on the west coast of Eyjafjörður. The 15 minutes long sea voyage is available every two hours. 

There are plenty of accommodation services on the island.

Vestmannaeyjar island in south Iceland, Westman Islands
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