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Flatey Island, Breiðafjörður

Photo credit: Visit Húsavík / Foter / CC BY
Flatey Island, Breiðafjörður
  • (worth a detour)
  • 3-5 km
  • Easy
  • Average
  • full day
  • 2 2

Small but historically important and exciting island

Even though Flatey Island on Breiðafjörður (please, do not mistake this one with the one up in Northern Iceland) seems like just a tiny spot on the map, you will be surprised to find out how incredible significance and value it carries in terms of preserving and shaping Icelandic culture.


Flatey is the largest of western islands and in fact besides the main island it encompasses 40 smaller islands and inlets. Being only ~2km long and 1km wide, the island indeed is not too impressive in its size but nevertheless few centuries ago it had a high status and it used to be cultural centre of whole Iceland.


One of the reasons was its monastery which unfortunately is not there anymore. What particularly impressed me is the connection of Flatey with Icelandic sagas and its importance in creation of this undoubtedly unique Norse legacy. Flatey book (Flateyjarbók) used to be kept on the island in a building which in fact is known as the oldest and smallest library in Iceland (it was established in 1864) and since it was held there for quite a long time the people start to know it as Flatey book.  Flateyjarbók is one of the most notable (“most extensive and perfect” as some describe it) medieval Icelandic manuscripts  as it contains many sagas of the Norse kings and lots of information, stories, poems and descriptions which do not appear in any other sagas. The original owner of the book used to be a wealthy farmer named Jón Hákonarson. Hákonarson lived somewhere in the area of Víðidalstunga and hence it is believe that the book was written there as well. The impressive job that includes great calligraphy and thorough drawings was done by two priests – Jón Þórðarson and Magnús Þórhallsson.


As for the sightseeing highlights, you will find mainly old houses there that dates back to the 19th century and it generally is a nice feeling to stroll along the “old village”, as they call it, and have a sense of what it is like to live on such a tiny and remote island. Even though many Icelanders and bunch of foreigners have chosen Flatey to be a good location for summer residencies, it still is quite a harsh place to live on and hence the total population of Flatey in winter-time consists of around 5 persons, though it used to be more inhabited in its days of glory. Another thing Flatey is quite famous for is its puffin colonies that can be easily observed there. It does seem that there is not much to do there compared to what other parts of Iceland has to offer but I would still kindly suggest you not to underestimate Flatey and visit it for at least a day or couple of hours – it will be a time worth spent.

How to get there

The only way to reach Flatey of course is by taking ferry. If you are person that suffers from sea-sickness, do check the weather on your planned trip because on stormy days (which happen relatively often in Iceland), the ride will be pretty rocky.

There is a ferry called Baldur which sets off from Stykkisholmur and Brjanslaekur in Westman Islands. The duration of one ride lasts around 2.5h. The ferries are going only couple times a day but they have been arranged in a way so that travelers could have at least 3 hours to see the island for those who do not want to spend the night there.