Vestmannaeyjar or the Westman Islands are a group of 15 islands and a number of rocks and skerries. The largest island is Heimaey where 4,100 people live and host one of the best running events in Iceland.
The Westman Islands are a stunning place to visit, with beautiful nature steeped in history and culture. The islands contain enough magical scenery and birdlife to delight the visitor for days.
Here are our top 7 reasons to run the Westman Islands race.
1. It was voted the best road race of Iceland in 2017
The event is held in the beginning of September and has three distances on offer, a half marathon, 10K and 5k. According to the race director, the emphasis is on creating a half marathon course that shows the amazing beauty of the Heimaey island.
The course takes you through the green Herjolfsdalur valley, past a golf course, around a volcano and through the lava that enlarged the island and destroyed half of the town in 1973. During your run you will enjoy lively bird life, see sheep and horses, and enjoy the smell of freshly caught fish at the harbor. Read more about the race here
2. It’s the best place in Iceland to spot puffins
The Westman Islands is home to the largest puffin colony in the world. There is a convenient bird viewing platform located on the north side of cape Stórhöfði, said to be the windiest place in Europe! Another option is to take a boat ride along the coastline of the islands to get closer to the birds.
3. The hospitality of the locals
The islanders have a reputation for being the friendliest people in Iceland. That is certainly our experience! After the race we recommend a visit to the local swimming pool to soak in the hot tub and have a chat with the locals about what to see and do on the islands. We highly recommend spending a night in Heimaey. The island has more than a few guesthouses and hotels, including the lovely Hótel Vestmannaeyjar.
4. Visit Pompei of the North and hike up a volcano
In 1973 there was a volcanic eruption on Heimaey. Almost the whole population of the island was evacuated overnight to safety on the mainland, mostly by fishing boats. The eruption lasted months, covering half of the town in rocks and lava and since then it has been referred to as the “Pompeii of the North”.
Take a hike up the mountain Eldfell volcano (Fire Fell), a cone of cooled and hardened lava flows. You can also walk around the lava fields that cover the homes that were destroyed in the eruption.
Eldheimar museum tells the story of the eruption and is a must stop if you visit the island.
5. Enjoy fresh local food
There are some excellent restaurants in the Westman Islands. We highly recommend Slippurinn which is one of the highest rated restaurants in Iceland, and one of the best located outside the capital area. The food is seasonal and inspired by what’s available locally, using many old fashion Icelandic cooking techniques to prepare the food with a modern twist.
Another great restaurant is Gott which is a family owned restaurant with fresh authentic ingredients. The fish is bought fresh from the fish market every morning.
6. Experience the islands from a boat
A trip to the Westman Islands used to be a three-hour ferry ride but due to a new harbor in Landeyjar, the islands are only a half an hour away offering a magnificent view along the way.
In addition, a boat trip from Heimaey is one of the best way to see the islands. It is amazing to watch the bird life in the sea cliffs from the sea and you might also spot seals or whales. Cliffs, caves and beautiful rock formations make the trip more than worth your while.
7. It’s near many of Iceland’s main attractions
Many of Iceland’s most famous sights are on the south coast of Iceland. The waterfalls Skógarfoss and Seljalandsfoss, Glacier Lagoon (Jokulsarlon) and Reynisfjara just to mention a few. There are also many great hikes for the active traveler in the area.
Photos: Running in Iceland, icelandictimes.com, Visit Iceland,