Eldheimar Museum – Heimaey, Iceland - Atlas Obscura

AO Edited

Eldheimar Museum

This museum explores how a 1973 volcanic eruption forever changed this small Icelandic island. 


On January 23, 1973, a volcanic eruption on Heimaey buried hundreds of homes and forced the inhabitants of this small Icelandic island to flee. Eldheimar is a museum that explores how this geological event changed this island, chronicling life on Heimaey before, during, and after the eruption.

The museum is located in the island town of Vestmannaeyjar. Small tremors had started several days before the eruption, but they went largely unnoticed by residents until early in the morning of January 23, when a large fissure opened up on the east side of the island. The eruption was concentrated on a vent just outside the town, which quickly built up into a tall cinder cone.

The first evacuation boats left just half an hour after the eruption began and over the next few hours, all 5,000 of  Heimaey’s residents made it to safety on the mainland. Back on the island, lava flows and volcanic ash blanketed the landscape. Eldfell’s eruption went on for about five months, during which more than 400 houses were destroyed and the island gained new land from lava flowing into the sea.

Eldheimar offers a window into the archaeological efforts to uncover buried homes and the toll the eruption took on people who lost their homes and way of life. The centerpiece of the museum is a small cottage as it might have looked soon after its residents evacuated; largely intact with their belongings still in place, but buried under a thick layer of black ash.

The museum offers audio guides in multiple languages, digital and hands-on displays, storytelling, artifacts, and an actual home that had been buried by ash, including a destroyed home. It’s a thoughtful, moving, and very interesting experience that conveys the tremendous impact of this natural disaster.

The second floor of the museum is dedicated to an in-depth exploration of Surtsey, a neighboring island in the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago (as well as a cafe). Surtsey was formed by undersea volcanic eruptions in the 1960s. Public access was immediately prohibited so that scientists could observe the island as plant and animal life slowly began to colonize it. Surtsey became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008. It is visible in the distance from the shores of Heimaey, but since visits are still forbidden, the Eldheimar exhibit offers one of the best ways to experience it.

Know Before You Go

You can reach Heimaey by ferry from Landeyjahöfn, the point on the mainland closest to Heimaey. Landeyjahöfn is just under two hours by car from Reykjavik, and the ferry takes about 35 minutes to reach the island.

The museum is on the outskirts of town, about a 1-mile walk from the ferry.

In partnership with KAYAK

Plan Your Trip

From Around the Web