Heimaey, Westman Islands
Heimaey island is known worldwide for the extraordinary eruption that saw the earth's crust crack open, to spew flaming lava high into the air. Despite the destruction, the volcanic forces that lie below Heimaey have to be credited for crafting an island of extraordinary beauty – decorated with twin volcanic peaks, and photogenic, scorched black beaches. Take thrilling hikes along the cliffs, and spot pods of orcas cruising by amongst the rolling waves offshore.
Whether you remember the eruption from the news headlines, or are learning the stories of the mass evacuation for the first time, the Eldheimar Museum offers a fascinating chronicle of the events. Visit to look inside extraordinary blistered houses, which archaeologists managed to reclaim from the hardened lava. Frozen in time, with everything from tablecloths to peeled wallpaper still intact – these houses offer a stunning snapshot of the fateful day when the earth cracked open.
Walk out along some of the new land that was created during the eruption, to find the viewing point at Stórhöfdi. While this may be Europe’s windiest location, it’s ideal for puffin viewing. The residents of Heimaey share their island home with some eight million puffins, and these adorable birds waddle around the rocky cliffs, their flame-coloured beaks shining brightly against the black rock.
If you’d prefer to meet the cute birdlife in a little more comfort, then the small Aquarium and Natural History Museum is well worth a visit. The museum offers a further look at the eruption, but let’s be honest, it’s all about Toti the puffin, who is something of a local celebrity. This much-loved rescue puffin happily struts around, posing for photos with visitors. When it's time to eat, Icelandic specialities like tender lobster, and hill-reared lamb, are waiting at the city’s welcoming restaurants.