Just a handful of people live year-round on Flatey, the largest of the 40 or so Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar) scattered about Breidafjordur Bay in northwestern Iceland. The island is actually tiny — just over a mile long and half-mile wide — and quite flat, hence its name. A former monastery, established here in 1172, became a center of learning during the Middle Ages; its monks created the Book of Flatey, considered the finest of the Icelandic saga manuscripts and one of the country’s most important artifacts. A copy rests in Flatey’s library — the world’s smallest — located in the island’s only settlement, which locals call the “old village.”
Follow the sole road from the ferry dock to its collection of cheerfully colored houses, many of which date from the 19th century when Flatey served as the commercial hub for Breidafjordur. Birders flock here each summer to observe its large population of breeding puffins, along with arctic tern, eider duck, and dozens of other migrating bird species.