Once the site of a 12-century monastery, this tiny island is now home to only five permanent residents.
Located in the bay of Breiðafjörður, the small, windswept island of Flatey is often overlooked by travelers. But despite being only two kilometers (1.2 miles) long and one kilometer (0.6 miles) wide, this tiny speck of land boasts a surprising wealth of culture, history, and natural beauty.
A former monastery was founded on the island in 1172, and it long served as the resting place for an important medieval manuscript known as Flateyjarbók. Flatey later received a trading license from the Danish Crown in 1777, sparking an increase in island residents. Toward the end of the 19th century, however, most left to seek opportunities off the small island.
According to a June 2020 article on Traveo, only five people live on Flatey throughout the year. Given that fact, Flatey is not well-catered to mass-tourism—though it is popular with those who stay on the island over the summer—and has only modest offerings when it comes to entertainment. Those looking for a “thrilling” night might try bingo at Frystihúsið (“The Freezer”) cafe.
Built in 1926, a small white church is Flatey’s most prominent landmark, and its steeple marks the highest point on the island. This, however, is not particularly impressive, considering Flatey takes its name (“flat island”) from its low-lying meadows and bays. The interior of the church was decorated by the painter Baltasar Samper and shows scenes of the island’s past fishermen and farmers.
The rest of Flatey’s architecture has remained almost entirely unchanged since the late 19th century. With their peeling paint jobs and corrugated iron rooftops, the island’s historic homes give off either a quaint or eerie feel, depending on the weather.
During the summers, the lush green beauty of Flatey is readily apparent outside of its village: Atlantic puffins swoop in the sky, unshorn rams strut in the fields, and skeletal shipwrecks are left to wither away on the shoreline. It is a place where nature still reigns supreme, with particular allure for those guests in Iceland looking to truly get away from it all.
Know Before You Go
The ferry from Stykkishólmur, on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, to Brjánslækur port, in the West Fjords, departs twice a day in the summer. It makes a stop en route at Flatey.
Flatey has a cafe, a restaurant, and a bar, but no fully-stocked grocery store. Make sure to bring provisions with you if you’re planning an overnight stay. The island has a hotel and campsite that are open only during the summertime.
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