Vestmannaeyjar (The Westman Islands)

Of course Iceland is an island worth visiting in its own right, but around the coast there are many more small island gems that are definitely also worth your time. 

5. Viðey Island

Videy is the closest and easiest to get to since it's actually located in Reykjavik. At 1.6sq kms, it's small enough to walk around in just a couple hours. It's spotted with trails through the bird sanctuaries and calm beaches where you often see seal heads popping up and down. Videy is a historically important island, with many interesting archeological finds from the 10th century. It has only one building on it, an old stone building now converted into a cafe that can be rented out for weddings and holiday parties. Yoko Ono also built her Imagine Peace tower of light on this island, which shines every winter from October 9 (John Lennon's birthdate) to December 8, the date of Lennon's death. 

Imagine Peace Light Tower

Ferries run 4 times daily on Saturdays and Sundays during the winter, and in mid May the summer schedule will offer daily trips. A roundtrip costs 1000 ISK and it only takes a few minutes to cross by boat - but at the closest distance Videy is only a few hundred metres away so you could swim or kayak your way over too!

4. Flatey Island

Between the wonderous Snæfellsnes Peninsula and the West Fjords is Flatey, a tiny Island in Breiðafjörður – a 2011 contender for UNESCO World Heritage Site listing. In the long winter months, it's almost totally deserted, with only a few resident farmers and their sheep, but in the summer it's a bustling little tourist town when all the locals inhabit their summerhouses and run a few restaurants, shops and accommodation services out of their 100+ year old homes.

The quaint homes on Flatey

Get there with the Baldur ferry from quaint little Stykkishólmur, or Brjánslækur in the north. Sailing through the archipelago in Breiðarfjörður is definitely its own highlight. Best thing to do there? Take a walk around the Flatey Nature Reserve bird watching, or, if you're feeling polar worthy, go sea swimming in Stykkishólmur when you're waiting for the ferry.

3. Drangey Island

Drangey is an island rock in Skagafjordur bay in north Iceland, made famous by Grettis' Saga. He was an Icelandic hero in some senses, defeating his enemies with enormous strength and wit, but became outlawed in medieval Iceland for his rebellious, deadly behaviour. The story says he lived on Drangey with his brother and slave, kept some sheep, and survived safely from his revenge-seeking enemies since there was only one way on to the island. It's a steep and slippery slope, so if you're not sure-footed or if you are afraid of heights, I wouldn't recommend making the trek. Today it's a common tourist destination, and the crumbling path up has ropes, chains and ladders to make it accessible to most. There is also a small hut build on the island where bird hunters stay.

the steep and treacherous path up Drangey

To get there, drive north from Saudarkrokur to Grettislaug, where they've built up a campground and two natural hot water pools. There Siggi and his son take a small fishing boat to the island daily during high season. Check out Drangeyjarferðir for more info. 

2. Grimsey Island

This is the only part of Iceland truly in the arctic, with the northern tip of it crossing the 66th parallel. Like Flatey, you can walk around the whole thing in an hour or so, and the jagged cliffs forming the coastline are home to many nesting birds. There is a huge puffin population, infinitely outnumbering the 100 human inhabitants living in Sandvik. If you want to do as the locals do, harness yourself in some rope and scale the cliffs to pick seabird eggs. What to do then? Eat one, raw.

Grímsey island in North Iceland by MosheA from Wikimedia Commons

To get there, take the Saefari ferry from Dalvík (with connecting bus service to Akureryi), or fly from Reykjavik (connecting in Akureyri airport) with Air Iceland. 

1. Vestmannaeyjar (The Westman Islands)

My father is from Vestmannaeyjar, and so are all true viking Icelanders (joke!). But they are considered some of the hardiest fishermen in the country, and live on the oldest inhabited part of Iceland. It is an archipelago of more than 10 islands, but Heimaey (´Home Island´) is the only one inhabited today with a population of 4000. They have survived gruesome 17th century pirate raids and abductions from North Africa, and a devastating volcanic eruption in 1973 that lasted more than 5 months, buried many homes and extended the island by a few kilometres.

The Eyjafjalljokull eruption spewing ash beside Heimaey

From the mainland, you can see the islands as a group of spectacular rocks rising up from the sea, huge and steep, topped with lots of green grass (no trees, of course) and white fluffy speckles (sheep). It's more accessible than ever with the new harbour in Landeyjahöfn. Now Herjólfur ferry only takes 20 minutes to cross the sea from the Icelandic mainland, instead of the old, often sea-sickening, 2 hour journey. When you're there, try smoked puffin, or make sure you visit during the Þjóðhátið national holiday festival in August.