In November 1963 the crew on the fishing boat Ísleifi II noticed something odd – the sea south of Heimaey appeared to be on fire. Rather than flee, the boat drew up for a closer look – and its crew were the first to set eyes on the world’s newest island.

The incredible subsea eruption lasted for 4½ years, throwing up cinders and ash to form a 2.7 sq km piece of real estate (since eroded to 1.4 sq km). What else could it be called but Surtsey (Surtur’s Island), after the Norse fire giant who will burn the world to ashes at Ragnarök.

It was decided that the sterile island would make a perfect laboratory, giving a unique insight into how plants and animals colonise new territory. Surtsey ( is therefore totally off limits to visitors (unless you’re a scientist specialising in biocolonisation). Just so you know: in the race for the new land, the blue-green algae Anabaena variabilis got there first. Another discovery? Fossils were carried up by lava during the eruption and are now part of the island.

Both Ribsafari and Viking Tours run boat trips around the island (no entry on the island). You can get a vicarious view of Surtsey’s thunderous birth by visiting the display at the museum Eldheimar.