Known as the land of contrasts, the land of fire and ice, Iceland attracts visitors for its distinct landscape, from geothermal pools, lava fields, and volcanoes to glaciers and green valleys. In this unspoiled nature, a bounty of experiences in the open air awaits any kind of traveler.
Whether you’re seeking something thrilling or looking for a memorable family activity, here are our 9 unique outdoor adventures to enjoy in Iceland.
1. Go Diving or Snorkeling to explore Iceland under water
Iceland’s landscape is not only unique on land but as well below the sea. The Silfra rift lies right where the tectonic plates of Eurasia and North America meet, boasting an unexpected underwater world perfect for diving and snorkeling. Although the water is pretty cold (between 2-4°C ) all the year, it is crystal clear and has unparalleled visibility. It reveals a magnificent scenery of underwater caves, caverns, and tunnels. Diving here is not about marine life, but rather the intense colors of algae and fluorescent green “troll-hair” weed are a feast for the eye.
2. Climb the Glaciers
Iceland is for 11% covered with glaciers, so it is the ideal island for glacier hiking. Most hiking tours are guided, and you will find for sure one that fits your needs. One of the best places for glacier hiking is Sólheimajökull Glacier, the 4th largest glacier of Iceland.
Hiking the icy grounds is not an easy thing to do; you might fall a few times on your trek upwards. But once you get into the swing of using your ice axe and crampons, you will enjoy this unique experience and awe-inspiring views from the top.
If you have climbed already a glacier, don’t be refrained from doing it again. Glaciers are constantly melting, refreezing, and changing into different forms, so each visit is a new adventure!
3. Descend into volcano craters and underground lava caves
Iceland is a geological hot spot! Lava is flowing miles and miles through underground tubes and caves below the surface. The fascinating thing is that you can enter these caves, of course, without the lava but with an experienced guide! The caves are cold, but they are of exceptional beauty. You will find stalagmites, colorful walls in purple, reds, blue, and yellow tones, as well as lava formations.
Which lava caves can you visit? The first one is Vatnshellir, located on the Snæfellsnes peninsula, 35 m below the ground. Then there is the dormant Thrihnukagigur, where you will be brought 120 m down to the bottom of the crater to explore the tubes and caves of the volcano. It’s so calm and beautiful inside that you almost forget that once, these caves were filled with boiling lava!
4. Out of the extraordinary snow and ice adventures
Ice skating, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, dogsledding, ice fishing. This is just a handful of activities that you can try out in Iceland. But let’s start with a more familiar winter sport: skiing. The months with the best chances of good snow are February and March. Ski resorts you find all over the island, from the West to the East. Besides, most resorts have lights on the slopes because of the limited daylight hours, so you can even ski at night!
You can’t leave Iceland if you have not tried a dogsled ride. Husky dogs pull your sled over a snowy trail with sweeping panoramas. You usually are not steering the dogs but the so-called musher, who can tell you all about the basics of dog sledding!
If you prefer to take a thrilling ride over vast plains of ice and snow, go for an action-packed tour on a snowmobile. Most tours let you explore the glaciers (such as the Langjökull glacier) or go to the top of the volcanoes where you can admire incredible views. By the way, snow scooters (that’s how the Icelanders call them) are not only used for recreational purposes. Many locals own a scooter that serves as their daily vehicle, and they are also used for rescue work.
5. Go White Water Rafting
For those looking for a thrill, white water rafting should be on your bucket list. Rafting in Iceland often means cold meltwater, but as well a spectacular scenery. One of the hot spots (or better said, cold spot) for rafting is the Hvítá River in the south of Iceland. You will pass through the magnificent (and calm) Brúarhlöð canyon with your raft and encounter some exciting rapids. More challenging is the tour on the Jökulsá River (in the North), which passes by towering cliffs and breathtaking canyons. So if you’re looking for a real adrenaline rush… the roaring glacier rivers of Iceland are awaiting you!
6. Search for the Northern Lights
The Northern Lights (their scientific name is ‘aurora Borealis) are without a doubt a unique natural wonder. Catching a glimpse of this colorful light show is at the top of the list of many travelers! Even though Iceland is set on the edge of the Arctic Circle and, therefore, one of the best places in the northern hemisphere to see the aurora, it remains hard to actually spot it.
Yet, there are some parts of Iceland where you have a good chance. First, in the northern part of the island and second, at the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. These areas are longer covered in darkness and count with more clear nights, proving more chances to “see the lights.” However, the most spectacular spot to search for the aurora is the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. Colored by the dancing (green) lights, this place seems to be surreal!
7. Hike up and around Iceland’s volcanoes
Are you looking for some off the beaten track hikes in a stunning setting? Iceland’s volcanoes have left some visible marks and unique landscapes to admire on foot. Let’s start at Landmannalaugar - the pearl of the central highlands - a breathtaking area surrounded by colorful mountains, icy lakes, old lava fields, and hot springs. Its varied nature makes this a mecca for hikers, and if you’re tired, there is no better place to picnic than here.
The hike on the still-warm lava fields of Krafla, a volcanic crater in the off-beaten Myvatn region, is one-of-a-kind. You will pass lava rocks, bubbling mud pools, and boiling springs. In addition, Krafla is home to the enormous crater Viti (which has a diameter of more than 300 m), filled with turquoise water. Nature lovers seeking a bit of excitement cannot miss going here!
8. Go surfing or kayaking on the coast
Surfing in Iceland doesn’t seem to be an obvious choice, but Iceland is an excellent spot for expert surfers (that love the cold)! Iceland is an unexplored surf country, and with 5,000 km of coastline, it has room for everyone! Most surfers head to Grindavik and Sandvik, both close to Reykjavik, while Breidavik and Hoddevik in the western peninsula also invite less-experienced surfers to ride the waves!
If you opt for a calmer activity, but no less special, go sea kayaking. The Western fjords are a wonderful setting for a remote kayaking tour. Escape to Jökulfirðir glacial fjords or Ísafjarðardjúp Bay, where you can see many types of birds and can even spot whales, seals, and puffins.
In between the Western Fjords and the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, you find Breiðafjörður Bay, known for its countless islands and wildlife and thus an excellent choice for a few hours paddling.
9. Icelandic horse rides
Did you know that for centuries horses were the only means of transport in Iceland? Thanks to the construction of the well-accessible road network, this has changed!
Nowadays, reliable Icelandic horses can carry you over black sand beaches and unspoiled grounds with geysers, hot springs, and lava fields. You can explore the most remote areas on the back of the horse, with only the sounds of nature surrounding you. Besides, the horses don’t mind stepping in the scrunching snow either, so if you bear the cold, a horseback ride can be a unique excursion in winter too.
After all these outdoor adventures, there is just one thing left to do… Relax in the natural hot springs in the fields and rivers of Iceland (such as Hellislaug in the Westfjords) or at one of the many geothermal pools (Myvatn Nature Baths). Thanks to the presence of minerals and other properties, the warm waters benefit not only your skin but also your mind. Enjoy the relaxation!