Updated: Nov 11, 2020
For those heading to Iceland for a few days only, know that you don’t have to go far to experience some of the wonders this country has to offer. The south-west of the island (where the capital city, Reykjavík, and the international airport in Keflavík are located) contains a variety of both natural beauty and wildlife. A popular day trip is a visit to Viðey Island, located only a kilometer off the coast of Reykjavík.
What’s on Videy Island?
This island is split into parts which are separate or connected depending on the tide. It’s famous for many reasons; for one, it has an abundance of bird life- 30 species of bird go there to breed. There are also at least 156 species of plant growing on the island. It’s steeped in history; the island was first inhabited in the 10th century, and a monastery was even built there. Since the 1940s, however, the island has been abandoned.
Famous American sculptor Richard Serra created a piece of artwork and placed it on West Island in 1990. It consists of nine basalt columns, placed to frame certain landmarks, and is known to Icelanders as Áfangar. Viðey was put on the map to an even greater extent when Yoko Ono, widow of the late John Lennon, created the Imagine Peace Tower and built it on the island, as a memorial to her husband. Unveiled in 2007, this work of art includes a beam of light that shines into the sky at specific times of the year. Written on the tower are the words ‘Imagine Peace’ in 24 languages.
This island is so small, covering 1.7 square kilometers (0.7 square miles) that it can be hiked in a day, so bring your hiking boots and make the most of the beautiful views and serenity. The island is particularly wonderful on a sunny day. During the summer you can hire a bike for free and explore Viðey on wheels. Take care when walking along the cliffs; some are very fragile due to constant coastal erosion.
Videy Island Iceland Ferry Schedule
From May 15th to September 30th, ferries run daily from both Skarfabakki pier and Ægisgarður harbor in Reykjavík. The last ferry from Viðey back to the city is at 18:30. From October 1st to May 14th, the ferry runs only at weekends, and the last return ferry is at 16:30. It’s worth noting that ferry rides to the island are free if you have the Reykjavík City Card. Otherwise, the adult rate for a return ticket is 1.600 ISK (USD 11,75), with reduced rates for children, the elderly, and students.
Other Islands to Visit
The Westman Islands
Another popular place to visit off coast is Vestmannaeyjar, or the Westman Islands. These are found off the south coast of Iceland, although only one of the 15 islands, Heimaey, is inhabited. This is another paradise for bird watchers, with many species coming here to breed in the summer, including puffins. The ferry company that services this route, Herjólfur, is actually a car ferry, so you can drive around Heimaey if you like. Once again, however, the island is small enough to be hiked or cycled around. This island also hosts a popular festival in August every year, known as Þjóðhátíð (The National Festival). Thousands attend, both from Vestmannaeyjar and mainland Iceland.
Off the north coast of Iceland is Grimsey Island. With a permanent population of around 100 people, it will really give you a taste of village life. Again, cars can come along to the island via the ferry company Sæfari that sails back and forth from the mainland. It’s frequented by yet more bird life in the summer (including puffins) and a variety of sea life, so don’t forget your camera for this trip. Because this island is so far north, in the summer the sun will not set at all, and in the winter it will barely rise. It’s great for northern lights viewing in the winter, and great for not being able to get to sleep in the summer.
Both islands have guesthouses in case you want to extend your trip beyond a day; the tranquillity is certainly hard to walk away from. Note that both of these ferry routes, and all ferry routes in Iceland, are subject to weather conditions, and Iceland’s extreme winters can occasionally get in the way of plans like this. Check the forecast on the Icelandic Meteorological Office’s website, https://en.vedur.is/ to make sure you have a clear day ahead of you.
Don’t forget that many species of whale are known to frequently pass along Iceland’s coastlines, particularly in the summer months. Whenever you are on a ferry, keep a look out for these majestic creatures. Of course, there are specific whale watching tours that will actively search for whale pods, and these run from most major towns in Iceland.
Samuel Hogarth, Reykjavik Cars.