You'll Feel Like You Stepped Back In Time At This Gorgeously Secluded Island In Europe

As the world becomes more connected than ever before, it's increasingly rare to find a corner of the globe that's far away from the crowds. On Flatey, a remote island in the Breidafjordur Bay off the coast of Iceland, you can enjoy the stunning scenery all to yourself without being too far off the beaten path. Between the peaceful terrain and day-long summers the north is famous for, this island is a picturesque haven for nature lovers, bird watchers, and introverts in need of a secluded getaway.

For starters, there are only two farmers who live there year-round. The other permanent residents are animals, like sheep, chickens, a dog, and migratory birds like puffins, seagulls, Arctic terns, and eider ducks. The vibe is tranquil and classic. There are no cars allowed on the island, and only one dirt road into town. As you use a wheelbarrow to transport your luggage from the port to the only hotel on the island, you'll truly get a taste of "old Iceland."

Things to do in Flatey

Flatey is a mile long and half a mile wide. For its compact size, you'll find lots to do during a relaxing stay. The first stop for many is the Flatey Library, which was constructed in 1864. It's the oldest and smallest library in Iceland and houses 100 books, including the Book of Flatey, which was written by 11th-century monks. Right next door, Flatey Church is beloved for its ceiling murals and depiction of Jesus wearing a wooly sweater, a staple for locals during Iceland's colder months.

As you poke around the island, you may come across a statue of Freyr, a fertility god, decorated with rocks, flowers, and notes from tourists, all hoping an offering will bring them good fertility for life. On a more somber note, you may also come across Flathey Cemetery, which offers a fascinating glimpse into the past with graves from fishermen lost at sea to families who were lost to the Spanish flu.

Finish your exploration with a hike around the island to spot some of the 50 species of birds that nest and feed on this volcanic terrain. The sheep are free-range, so they leave plenty of paths to get around that can be used by humans. When you're ready to call it a day, stop at the island's only bar, the Salt Cellar, for the "Flajito," a twist on a classic mojito with gin and local herbs.

What to know before you go

To get to Flatey, you'll need to take a car from Reykjavik to Stykkishólmur, which is about two and a half hours northwest from the capital. Take the ferry called Baldur, which makes a stop in Flatey on the way to Westfjords twice a day. Keep your eyes peeled for humpback whales, orcas, and harbor porpoises, as they are known to frequent the area.

Once you're on the island, you'll stay at the Hotel Flatey, the only place reserved for guests. The hotel is open from June to August and costs between $236 and $409 per night, depending on what type of room or suite you choose. There's a restaurant on site with plenty of hearty meals, like scallops, creamy seafood soup, and the catch of the day. Though you can't go wrong anywhere in Iceland, Flathey is one of the few places where you can experience the charm of a 19th-century village in the modern era. For that alone, it's well worth the visit.