The Eldheimar Museum is a museum in Vestmannaeyjar (the Westman Islands) exhibiting the 1973 Eldfell volcano eruption, one of Iceland’s most significant natural disasters in recent history.
Travelers can book Westman Islands tours to visit the museum and explore the natural treasures of Heimaey, the largest and only inhabited island of the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago. Take a 10-hour private excursion or a full-day Westman Islands super jeep tour from Reykjavik to discover its fascinating history and marvel at the volcanic landscapes that have made it famous.
The 1973 Eldfell volcano eruption caused widespread destruction across Heimaey, with lava and ash destroying most of the town and 400 buildings wiped out. However, due to a solid emergency and evacuation plan, only one person died due to the eruption. Since May 2014, the Eldheimar Museum has offered visitors a glimpse of Heimaey before, during, and after the eruption through engaging audio-visual exhibits.
An Overview of the Eldfell Eruption and Aftermath
Eldfell is a 660-foot (200-meter) volcanic cone created in the 1973 eruption. Its name translates to “Hill of Fire” in Icelandic.
Heimaey had a population of around 5,300 residents and a thriving fishing community before the eruption on January 23, 1973. Wholly unexpected and without warning, a rift opened on the outskirts of town in the early morning. Within hours it was over 1.2 miles (two kilometers) long and shooting lava up to 492 feet (150 meters) into the sky.
Less than six hours later, emergency services had facilitated the evacuation of almost all the residents (apart from rescue workers). Although the Eldfell event destroyed most of the town, workers saved the harbor by pumping seawater onto the lava to cool it quickly.
The eruption ended five months later, and the meticulous rebuild began.
Heimaey’s land mass expanded after the eruption, and today, visitors can drive on land that didn’t exist before 1973. Eldfell itself has dropped slightly in height since the eruption due to erosion and compacting of the volcanic cone. The island residents have planted grass around the lower slopes to protect the cone from further deterioration.
Residents were slow to return, and now, the population is smaller than it was pre-eruption. Although the eruption caused widespread devastation, the community has shown incredible resilience. Often called the Pompei of the North, the Eldheimar Museum is one of the top attractions in this thriving tourist destination.
Location and Getting There
The Eldheimar Museum is on the east side of Heimaey town, close to Eldfell volcano and only 765 yards (700 meters) from the Eldfell trailhead. Museum visitors could combine their visit with a volcano walk for an immersive experience.
Walking up to and around the crater is possible, a journey that takes you straight to the source of destruction. You can marvel at the red volcanic rock underfoot as a reminder of the burning lava that once flowed here.
The museum is one mile (1.7 kilometers) south of the Herjolfur ferry terminal and almost the same distance north of the Vestmannaeyjar airport, making it an easily-accessible attraction. Visitors can fly to Heimaey or take the 35-minute ferry ride from Landeyjahofn. Landeyjahofn is 85 miles (137 kilometers) southeast of Reykjavik.
The Eldheimar Museum is open every day from 10:00 until 18:00 with reduced hours and days over winter. Visitors can spend as much or as little time at the museum as they wish. Other travelers recommend allowing around 60 to 90 minutes to experience the museum.
Group bookings are available outside opening hours upon request. A discount is available for bookings of 15 people or more. Museum prices include the entry fee and an audio guide.
The captivating exhibits at the Eldheimar Museum offer visitors a vivid and compelling picture of the devastating effects of the eruption. Photos and interactive displays preserve the event and serve as a reminder of the power of nature and the tragedy endured by residents.
The central feature at the Eldheimar Museum is an evacuated, once-buried house resurrected from the ashes. Artifacts retrieved from the home are a poignant reminder of the volcano’s impact on people's lives.
Located in the middle of the museum, visitors can walk around the home’s exterior and view the interior via remote-controlled cameras.
This exhibition is emotionally evoking, bringing guests close to the lives of the family who lived here. Mrs. Gerdur Sigurdardottir and Mr. Gudni Olafsson lived here with their three children, including a baby, only weeks old.
They fleed in the dark of the night with only a bottle for the baby, and their home was covered in lava and ash a few days later.
Now it stands as a reminder of nature’s power and how it can have a devastating effect on everyday life.
Visitors can listen to an audio guide in several languages detailing events before, during, and after the eruption. The audio guide brings the home and pictures to life, weaving stories for a relatable and engaging experience.
You’ll hear about the museum’s featured home, the evacuation of almost all the 5,300 residents, and the rebuilding process.
Various interactive exhibits in the Eldheimar Museum offer a hands-on experience designed to help educate and inform excitingly. Visitors can turn a giant wheel to illustrate how the lava spread, covered part of the town, and increased the island’s land mass.
Plus, try your hand at building excavation via virtual sand digging.
The museum also showcases the Surtsey eruption, a small uninhabited volcanic island south of Heimaey, named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Also, part of the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago, Surtsey formed from a four-year underwater volcanic eruption in 1963, and scientists have closely studied it as new ecosystems have gradually come to life.
The exhibition concludes with a movie screening, bringing visitors closer to the people whose lives were affected by the eruption. Visitors can step back in time and listen to Heimaey residents' first-hand accounts of the disaster and aftermath.
Other Museum Features and Facilities
Eldheimar Museum is fascinating in several respects, one being that it lies at the destruction site. Just a few steps from the museum’s main entrance, you can see another partially-excavated house, the ruined building still intact and peeking out from its burial spot on the volcanic hillside.
Visitors to the Eldheimar Museum can enjoy a drink at the second-floor coffee house. Relax indoors or take your coffee outside for excellent views of the Heimaklettur mountain hiking area on the island's north side.
The wooden decking and modern furniture are an ideal extension of this well-designed museum.
The Eldheimar Museum gift shop offers hand-crafted, locally-made gifts for the perfect souvenir to take home and remember your visit.
Photo by Regína Hrönn Ragnarsdóttir
Travelers can combine their visit to Eldheimar Museum with other nearby attractions. The compact island boasts several other things to do besides a walk up the infamous volcano.
The Sagnheimar Museum
Extend your taste of history with a visit to the Sagnheimar museum, 984 yards (900 meters) from the Eldheimar museum. Learn about aspects of life on the Westman Islands from settlement to today. This family-friendly museum shares insights into the fishing industry, traditional clothing, volcanoes, and pioneers.
Avid walkers will enjoy a short trek up Helgafell, Eldfell’s neighboring volcano. All you need is decent walking shoes to enjoy the short hike to the top, which starts from the football field. Enjoy beautiful panoramic views from the top and venture into the crater if you choose!
Stroll Around Town for Further Volcanic Insights
Explore the town and look out for the black volcanic columns illustrating the height of the pumice and cinders left here after the eruption. One by the town hall is five foot four (165 centimeters), and another by the graveyard is five foot nine (180 centimeters).
Herjolfsdalur Camping and Hiking Area
Head to Herjolfsdalur, a charming landscape on the island's north side, to experience more of Vestmannaeyjar’s beauty. Just 1.6 miles (2.7 kilometers) from Eldheimar, this is an excellent area for hiking, camping, and enjoying nature. Phenomenal coastal views, rugged green terrain, cute cabins, and turf-roof huts await.
The Puffin Lookout
Travelers will find more natural treasures at the south end of the island. Visit Vikin black sand beach, check out the hiking trails, and don’t miss a visit to the puffin lookout. Sit and observe birds on the rugged cliffside and look for seals and whales below.
Note you can only see puffins from June to September.
What Makes the Eldheimar Museum so Unique?
The Eldheimar Museum is a must-visit museum because it allows visitors to learn about volcanoes and their impact somewhere they happened. Tours are self-guided, enabling guests to decide how long they want to spend there.
The museum offers a moving experience, both intellectually and visually stimulating. Perfect for those keen to learn about Vestmannaeyjar’s people, culture, geology, and history, travelers should plan a visit to Eldheimar as part of their vacation in Heimaey.