A Beginner's Guide to Island Hopping in Iceland

Heimaey | © Thomas Quine/Flickr
Heimaey | © Thomas Quine/Flickr
Photo of Camille Buckley
29 October 2017

While Iceland is already rather minuscule on the grand scale, there are many small islands worth visiting not far from the coast that can all be easily reached by ferry, but be aware that some are only open to visitors during the summer months. The islands offer activities such as birdwatching, hiking, fishing, and archaeological sites. While other countries in the North Atlantic, such as Scotland and Norway, are awash with many tiny islands covering the coastlines, Iceland’s comparatively young geologic history means it hasn’t yet developed in this way, but here are the islands worth seeing on an island-hopping trip.

The Westman Islands | © Erin Honeycutt

The Westman Islands

Vestmannaeyjar, or the Westman Islands, are a cluster of 15 islands to the south of Iceland and the most interesting to visit are Heimaey, the largest, and Surtsey. It’s easy to get to the islands by taking a ferry from the south coast. Here, the puffins arrive in summer to mate and form the world’s biggest puffin colony, with over 1.1 million puffins laying their eggs there, making it a popular bird-watching destination. You can find boat tours to take you around the coastline of the island where you can observe the birds. Walk among the beautiful green cliffs and, lying on your belly, observe the puffin nests in the rocks below. The Westman Islands were also the site of the volcanic eruption in 1973, the remnants of which can still be seen in ash-filled houses.

Flatey | © Flickr/Ingunn H Nielsen


This tiny, remote and sparsely inhabited island lies between the Snæfelsness peninsula and the Westfjörds in northwest Iceland. It is the largest of about 40 islands located in Breiðafjörður bay, and is very flat – that’s how it gets its name! As there are no cars on the island, and all of it is very walkable, it makes a great birdwatching place with its many seasonal bird colonies of puffin as well as Arctic tern. Stay at the lovely Hotel Flatey, the only hotel on the island.

Grimsey | © Jennifer Boyer/Flickr


Grímsey Island is the northernmost part of Iceland, 40km from the coast, and is crossed by the Arctic Circle. The Arctic puffin, accordingly, makes many nests here in the high cliffs. The island is inhabited by about 100 people who live close to the harbour, and it is home to millions of seabirds who flock here each year. The ferry connects the mainland with Húsavík three times a week.

Skagafjordur | © Giorgio Cassisi/Flickr


Drangey island, in Skagafjordur bay in north Iceland, is most well-known for being a site mentioned in the epic 12th century Saga of Grettir The Strong. According to the saga, Grettir lived on the island of Drangey after being outlawed from medieval Icelandic society for his rebellious behaviour. The only way to make your way onto the island is only for the sure-footed, which is also how he kept away from his enemies. Now the common tourist destination has ropes and ladders to help you traverse the paths, making it less of a challenge!

Viðey | © TheTurducken/Flickr


Viðey is a lovely island just off the coast of Reykjavik. The winding paths, calm beaches, and bird sanctuaries covering the 1.6sq km island can be enjoyed on foot or by bike. The island features the Imagine Peace Tower, an outdoor work of art conceived by Yoko Ono in memory of John Lennon. You can also see American sculptor Richard Serra’s Milestones project, with nine pillars framing the landscape. Make sure to stop for refreshments at the café located in one of the oldest stone buildings in Iceland. Ferries run four times daily on Saturdays and Sundays during the winter, and from mid-May, the summer schedule offers daily trips.

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