Videy Island is an incredibly lush island off the coast of Reykjavík that carries an incredible history as well as artworks and nature. On this island, you can witness renowned artwork, see a third of all plant species in Iceland, and see roughly 30 species of birds nesting in the summer.
What do you do on a day in Reykjavík when you just want to get out of town for a bit and enjoy nature? Videy Island is the perfect answer to that question. Here you can indulge in culture, birdwatching, and hiking. It’s a small island with an intriguing history. Read on to find out just what we’re talking about.
Visiting Videy Island
Videy Island is a small island about a kilometer off the coast of Reykjavík and is one of the top things to do in Iceland. It is roughly 1.7 square kilometers (0.7 square miles) and is well known among locals and explorers for its beautiful scenery. Apart from a rich history and art scene, the island houses numerous birds that come there to breed, and an impressive number of plant species.
Videy Island is a perfect place to spend the day if you are staying in Reykjavík. You can take the Videy Island ferry over and spend the day exploring the art and hiking trails that can be found all over the island.
Just like most places in Iceland, Videy Island was once an active volcano and is an island that has an incredibly lush landscape and a rich animal life.
Videy Island became populated right after the Vikings settled down in Iceland. Around 1225, an Augustine monastery was also founded there. This monastery soon became the second-richest monastery in Iceland and owned up to 116 estates. In 1539, however, it was raised by Danish soldiers as a part of the religious reformation of Iceland.
For roughly two hundred years after that, the island was owned by the royal estate Bessastadir, which set up homes for the poor and destitute. In the mid-1700s, Skuli Magnusson built his residence on the island, which is now used to display the artworks of Icelandic artists.
Skuli Magnusson is an important character in the history of Reykjavík since he is often credited as “the father of Reykjavík”. He was the one who brought the industrial revolution to the area. Skuli created the prerequisites for urban areas to be established in what is now the Icelandic capital.
At the end of the 1700s, the island became the home of the first Icelander to be chosen as Governor of Iceland. In the early 1900s, the island was home to a number of farming and fishing enterprises. Unfortunately, as the businesses eventually disappeared, the inhabitants did too. Somewhere in the middle of the 1940s, the island was completely uninhabited.
What Can Be Found on Videy Island
The lack of people living on the island soon meant that flora and fauna could develop without any competition. And thus, nature flourished at Videy Island. The dilapidated houses on Videy Island were salvaged and renovated by the city of Reykjavík. That made the main house (Videyjarstofa) a pristine house for art displays.
There are three types of art on Videy Island: The Imagine Peace Tower, Milestones, and the art displays in Videyjarstofa.
Videy Island is internationally known for the Imagine Peace Tower that Yoko Ono constructed there as a tribute to her late husband John Lennon and their shared vision of world peace. This isn’t an actual tower, but rather a circle of strong lights that creates a “tower of light” when they are lit.
The tower is lit from the date of John’s birthday (October 9th) until the date of his death (December 8th). It is also lit from the winter solstice (December 21st) until the morning of New Year’s Day, as well as the first week of spring (March 20th – March 27th).
On the western part of the island, you can visit an installation by an American sculptor, Richard Serra. Here, he placed nine basalt columns that are made to frame some landmarks. It is known as Afangar by Icelanders and is well worth the short hike to the west.
Videyjarstofa in itself is a piece of art, since it is one of the oldest houses in Iceland, as well as the first house in Iceland that was built in stone. In the basement, you can go through a historical display, while the main part of the house is run as a restaurant for visitors. This restaurant also serves as the gallery, making lunch here more than just an eating experience.
Videy Island is the breeding ground for about 30 bird species in Iceland. During nesting season, parts of the island are closed off so that no one can disturb the birds while they’re nesting. Not disturbing the birds is always important, which is why visitors need to keep to the marked paths, even outside of the nesting season.
At Videy Island, you can come across Iceland’s most famous bird: the Puffin. You can also encounter many others that have played an essential role in Icelandic history. One, in particular, is the eider which produced the expensive, lightweight, and incredibly insulating eiderdown. Roughly 75% of all eiderdown in the world comes from Iceland.
Over the centuries, Videy Island has been regarded as one of the best estates in Iceland when it comes to agricultural properties. The fields were known to produce a high yield, and Skuli Magnusson even conducted a series of horticultural experiments that yielded good results. One of the results is the caraway plant, a type of fennel, that has taken a foothold on the island and gets ripe in August.
On Videy Island, you can find roughly one-third of all the plant species you can find in Iceland. In total, there are about 156 different types of plants on the island.
Treating Videy Island Right
Luckily, Videy Island has developed for the last decades without any major interference from humans. And we would naturally want to keep it as undisturbed as possible. Since it is the breeding place for over 30 species of bird, and the home to over 150 plant species, knowing which bird and which plant you encounter will make your stay more fun. See below for some tips for apps that can aid you in your trip to Videy island.
All of these plants have names, functions, and interesting information. When you see a plant on Videy Island, you can simply take a picture and upload it on PlantNet to get lots of information. Challenge your traveling partner(s) and see if you can catch all 156 different plant species on the island!
Merlin Bird ID
For those of us that are not bird experts, having an app that can help identify feathery friends on Videy Island is always welcome. With Merlin Bird ID, you can either take a classy photo of the bird to get help identifying it, or you can simply record the bird song and get the ID that way. Regardless, it’s always fun to know what’s sitting in a bush, or fishing at the shore.
Trash is trashy. Litterati is an app that is good to have regardless of whether you’re going to Videy Island or not. This project is mostly about gathering data to show stakeholders and decision-makers that something needs to be done about littering in certain areas.
You take a photo of the trash, and log it as the type of trash it is (coke can, straw, Starbucks cup, etc. It then gets uploaded to a database and an interactive map that can show you just how much litter is in your area. Doing these things also makes you engage with the trash and makes it more likely that you will pick it up and throw it away. The result is an area that is a little bit cleaner.
Videy Island Ferry
To get to the island, you need to take the Videy Island ferry. It goes from either the Skarfabakki pier or the Reykjavík Old Harbor.
In the summer, between May 15th and August 31st, you can take the Videy Island ferry once every hour between 10 and 17. Be sure to make it to the last departure, so you don’t get stuck on the island, though.
In the wintertime, between September 1st and May 14th, you can only take the Videy Island ferry from Skarfabakki pier on Saturdays and Sundays, once every hour between 13 and 15. So, visits will have to be somewhat short this time of the year.
From the Old Harbor, you can only take the Videy Island ferry between June 1st and August 31st at 11:50 and 14:50.
How to Explore
Now you know everything there is to know about this lush island, and you’ve got a taste for just how much can be found in such a small place. Make sure to rent the perfect car in Reykjavik to explore the rest of what this country has to offer.