Hrísey is Iceland´s second largest island, the largest being Heimaey in the Westman Islands. At its widest, Hrísey is about 7.5 km., at the southern end but narrows towards the northernmost tip where the highest point is around 110 metres above sea level.
Hrísey has been inhabited right from the time of the Viking settlement. Helgi the Lean, settler of Eyjafjordur sent Steinólfur Ölvisson the low to Hrýsey. He built a farm at Syðstibær that was for many years the chief farm on the island. It is known that a church was built on this spot around the year 1200. Many famous historical characters have lives at this site, Þorvaldur the Elder, Narfi Þrandarsson, and Shark-Jörundur Jónsson of whom a statue was erected in 1955 at the bottom of the hill below Syðstibær.
On your approach to Árskógssandur village the island of Hrísey looms clearly into view and invites you to step aboard the little ferry which chugs its way back and forth to the island eight or nine times per day. The cruise takes around fifteen minutes, and setting foot on the island the traveller is amazed to discover the tidy little village with its paved roads, pretty gardens, bird song in the air and beautiful mountain views in every direction.
The rocky foundations of Hrísey are mostly basalt, 10 to 11 million years old. There are many examples of "berggangar", lava sikes formed by lava runs in periods of volcanic activity. Houses in Hrísey and the delightful swimming pool are heated by hot water from Hrísey´s own borehole on the west of the island. Hrísey also has its own cold water supply from an underground spring.
Neither mink nor fox live on Hrísey. All egg collecting and game hunting is banned. The ptarmigan is the easiest bird to spot, being very tame and unafraid, particularly in the autumn when flocks of them gather on the roads and in the gardens.
Bird population has been under close surveillance in Hrísey during the last few decades and a comprehensive count was done in 1994. The results showed more than 35 breeding species on the island. Hrísey has the largest breeding colony of Arctic Tern in Europe.
In 1974 Hrísey became the Icelandic quarantine centre so Galloway cattle could be imported. Very strict quarantine laws required that all farm animals on the island should be slaughtered. This radical move has had its benefits, as Hrísey now enjoys some of the lushest vegetation in Iceland. Forestry had also flourished both in the northern reserve Ystibær and on the public land areas.