Vestmannæyar is
an archipelago of about 15 islands, located in the south of Iceland (that take
30 minutes to get to by boat from Landeyjahöfn). These islands were formed by
submarine volcanic eruptions and most recently, in 1963 the island Surtsey
emerged during an eruption. Heimæy (the largest Island of 13.4 km2) is the only
Vestmanæyar Island inhibited with a population of more than 4,000 people.
Heimæy island lives
mainly from fishing and hunting and is especially well-known for bird hunting
(including puffin hunting). With the growing tourism in Iceland, the Westman
Islands have become a popular destination in the summertime. On the first
weekend in August, when Iceland celebrates the shopkeepers holiday
(Verslunarmannahelgi), the Westman Islands host the festival Þjóðhátið í Eyjum
that welcomes between 11,000 and 13,000 people (most of the crowd are
Icelanders from the mainland). 

Vestmannæyar: The Westman Islands
The festival was first celebrated in 1874 while
the rest of the Icelandic nation celebrated the millennium of the settlement of
Iceland; the bad weather did not allow residents of the Westman Islands to join
the party on the mainland of Iceland, so they decided to organise their own
festival. Ironically, Þjóðhátið í Eyjum is now one of the largest Icelandic
festivals!
The Eldheimar Volcano Museum traces the history of the Eldfell volcano on Heimæy
Island, including the most recent eruption on January 23rd, 1973, when a lot of
damage was done to the Island and over 360 houses were buried in lava and ash.
Archaeologists have been uncovering what remained of the buildings, and the
Eldheimar Volcano Museum is built around the remains of one of the homes. 

Vestmannæyar: The Westman Islands
You’ll be dumbfounded to see that the objects and souvenirs in the ruined
houses seem to be intact despite the ash and dust. The entire population was
evacuated during the eruption in 1973, that lasted six months, and a majority
of people have returned to the island. Today, you can climb up the volcano
Eldfell and still feel the heat from the eruption more than forty years later.
The
Heimaey island also has the Sagnheimar Folk Museum, and the Natural History
Museum and Aquarium. You can get around most of Heimaey on foot, or you can
rent a bike. There are also organised bus tours that go around the island and
boat tours also. 

The island is very lively, especially in the summertime, with
plenty of cafes, restaurants and shops to keep you busy and many art galleries
too. It is said that the highest point of the Heimey Island is the windiest
place in Iceland.

Vestmannæyar: The Westman Islands

If
you’ve watched the movie Stormy Weather by film director Sólveig
Anspach, you´ve already caught a glimpse of Heimaey Island and its beautiful
atmosphere. Djúpið, by film director Baltasar Kormákur, is another movie
filmed on Heimæy. This movie tells the true story of Guðlaugur Friðþórsson, a
fisherman from the Westman Islands, whose fishing boat capsized, causing him to
swim for six hours in cold 5 ° C water, and he miraculously survived. A truly
fascinating story!

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