Can you point out Iceland on a map? Do you know where it is or are you not quite sure if it’s Greenland or Iceland? Something else people frequently ask is if Iceland is a part of Europe. The country is closer to Europe than to North America, so for geographical, historical and cultural reasons, it gets grouped in with Europe. Another little-known Iceland fact: Did you know that Iceland is an island with islands? Not only is Iceland an island itself, but the small Nordic nation is composed of the main island surrounded by many insular regions and small islets. One of the more interesting things to see in Iceland is to visit these tiny little havens, so let’s explore!
Vestmannaeyjar (The Westmann Islands)
Legend has it that the Westmann Islands are the original home of real Icelandic Vikings. Known as Vestmannaeyjar in Icelandic, the Westmann Islands are an archipelago formed by 10 small islands. They are all inhabited except for one, so maybe head to Vestmannaeyar and go Viking spotting!
Heimaey Island is the uninhabited one in this group of islands. It was evacuated in 1973 because of a volcanic eruption that lasted for 5 whole months. It’s no wonder that Iceland is known as the land of fire and ice. Heimaey or Home Island is the biggest island in the whole country. According to the ancient stories, Herjulf Bårdsson was the first settler on this island in the year 900. Archaeological excavations have since confirmed that there was a settlement here 100 years before that date.
Another island in the Westmann Islands archipelago is Elliðaey Island. It is the third largest island in Vestmannaeyjar and it became famous when the prime minister Davíð Oddsson wanted to give the island as a gift to Icelandic singer Björk. His intention was to show appreciation for her contribution to the international recognition of the country. Unfortunately, he had to walk back his idea after he was sharply criticized.
Other Islands in Iceland
Next to the Westmann Islands, we find one of the newer islands of the country: Surtsey Island. This new addition is one of Iceland’s points of interest because it appeared after an undersea volcanic eruption in 1963. After one of the longest volcanic events in the country’s history, the eruption finished in 1967, leaving a 2.7 km2 (1.0 mi2) island. The area has since shrunk but fortunately, it will not disappear completely. Surtsey Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and many seagulls, puffins and grey seals inhabit this territory.
Viðey Island is relatively easy to reach as it is located very close to Reykjavik. You can go by ferry but if you really want a challenge and enjoy swimming, hop on in and start paddling. Only do this during the summer of course! As the island is quite small, a nice way to explore it is to take a peaceful stroll along its beaches. This island also has special significance because it is here that Yoko Ono chose to build the Imagine Peace Tower in memory of John Lennon.
Between the Snaefellsness peninsula and the Eastfjords, we find Flatey Island. During winter, this is one the most desolate places in the country. In the summer this remote island on Breidafjordur bay comes alive and fills with tourists and visitors.
Islands for Puffin Watching in Iceland
Drangey Island is located in the north of Iceland and it is very popular with people who visit Iceland and is a popular spot for puffin nesting colonies. This little island is great for hiking and bird watching. There are some tour companies that organize one-day visits.
While Iceland lays in the Atlantic Ocean, Grimsey Island is the only Icelandic territory located in the Arctic Ocean. You can go around the whole island in one hour while watching the puffins socialize.
One hour away by boat from Isafjordur we find Vigur Island. It is a very small place, but perfect for bird watching. Vigur Island is home to puffins, black guillemot, Arctic terns and eider ducks. We recommend taking one of the full day or half day tours available from Isafjordur harbor.
Papey Island is another great place for Audobon enthusiasts to spend a day enjoying bird watching and hiking. It was inhabited until 1998 but there is still a lighthouse, a house, a church and a meteorological station –nowadays automatized. There are boat tours that leave from Djupivogur on the east coast of Iceland.
Iceland’s Islands Are Its Little Known Secret
So there you have your comprehensive guide to Iceland’s islands. We hope you decide to explore this little-known facet of Iceland and that it adds to the unforgettable experiences you have during your trip.