Papey is an island off the coast in Iceland’s Eastern Region. It is close to Djúpivogur village. All of 2 sq. km., it is one of a handful of small islands abutting the country’s coast, outside the Breiðafjörður bay on the west coast that has been inhabited. Papey is like a group of islands, as it comprises a few tiny islands, skerries, and ocean rocks scattered around the main island. It was considered a great place to live from the settlement times until the 20th century. The name is Celtic, derived from Papal. According to old Icelandic manuscripts from Ari the learned, Irish monks lived on the mainland in the East Region when settlers from Norway first came to Iceland around 875. The settlers were heathens and chased the Christian monks away.
Some of the monks managed to escape to this tiny island where they lived out of sight of the settlers who lived on the mainland and soon forgot them. In history books, the settlement of the monks is often referred to as "some kind of settlement" before the "actual" settlement kicked in, for little is known about their arrival and how long they lived here. The settlement of the monks is also supported by archaeological evidence.
A small island inhabited until 1966
The earliest records of people living in Papey were documented after the 1000 A.D. It was inhabited until the last full-time resident left around 1966 and even until the eighties. The island is now owned by descendants of the family who purchased it in 1900. In 1910, the wife died tragically during childbirth. A few years later, the husband married her sister, and they had a good life. Life was pretty good on the island despite it being no more than a rock in the ocean.
No matter how hard life was on the mainland, the islanders of Papey always had enough to eat: lamb, birds, eggs, fish, seal, and later on, potatoes that they cultivated during summer months. They also had a water well on the island. Even the weather in Papey was a bit better and warmer compared to elsewhere in Iceland. For instance, the sheep could wander around and graze outside during the whole of winter. This is impossible almost everywhere else. The island is renowned for its birdlife and is an excellent place to see puffins, among other species, up close.
Visiting the island is very nice!
If you visit Papey, you will see a lot of interesting wildlife, many species of birds, and seals. A stroll around the small island is highly recommended. You can pay a visit to the houses and the smallest church in Iceland—it was built in 1904 and is just 16 sq mtrs. You will also get to see the family's house at the end of the inhabited part of the island and the ruins of older houses. From some of the hills, you will also see interesting views toward the fjords, mountains, and the spectacular coastline along the East Fjords.
Unfortunately, there is only one way to visit Papey, which is by boat. In the months of June, July, and August, you can take a boat tour with a guide to Papey from Djúpivogur village. Currently, there are no scheduled tours, but information about private boat tours is available at the Langabúð tourist information center in Djúpivogur village.