All You Need To Know About Kayaking in Iceland

All You Need To Know About Kayaking in Iceland

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Where is it possible for guests to go kayaking in Iceland? Can kayak tours be combined with other activities, and what can you expect to see? Read on to find out all you need to know about kayaking in Iceland. 

Kayaking in Iceland is great fun.

Photo by Michael Chapman

A Brief History of Kayaking

A kayaker in Jokulsarlon.Photo from Excellent 1.5 Hour Guided Kayaking Adventure on Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

Kayaking has a history that spans 5000 years, originating from the arctic and Inuit people of Siberia. Constructed of whale bones and sealskins, these watertight vessels were designed primarily for hunting and fishing, though later adaptations were perfected for both scouting and transport. 

Stealthy and light, kayaks were particularly advantageous when sneaking up on prey on the shoreline. It was not until the mid-1800s that European interest propelled kayaking into a sport, especially among German and French enthusiasts. 

Kayaking is a great way to meet seals.Photo from 2 Hour Kayaking Power Challenge Circle Tour in South Iceland with Transfer from Stokkseyri

Adolf Anderle, in 1931, was the first individual to kayak down the tempestuous waters of the Salzachöfen Gorge in Austria, renowned for being the birthplace of white-water rafting.

A mere five years later, kayaking was introduced to the Berlin Olympic Games. Today, over ten separate kayaking events are included in the Olympic Games. 

In the 1950s, fiberglass kayaks were developed, only to be overtaken in the early 1970s by polyethylene plastic. This technology opened people’s eyes to the boats’ potential; freestyle kayaking quickly increased in popularity, with paddlers able to achieve greater speeds, sharper turns, and better overall control of the vessel. 

What is recreational kayaking?

All You Need To Know About Kayaking in IcelandPhoto from Amazing 2.5 Hour Guided Kayaking Tour on Solheimajokull Glacier Lagoon

Kayaking can be distinguished from canoeing by both the number of paddle blades and the sitting position of the paddler.

In a canoe, the rider kneels on the boat’s base, moving through the water with a single-bladed paddle. In a kayak, the rider uses a double-bladed paddler while sitting down.

Today, kayaking is considered one of the easiest and most accessible water sports in the world. Those with a moderate level of fitness will quite capably maneuver their craft through the water, but after a time, may experience fatigue–especially in the arms and shoulders.

Why go Kayaking in Iceland?

Iceland is well-regarded as one of the most planet’s most scenic countries, characterized by its sweeping glaciers, ice-berg-filled lagoons, black sand coastlines, and domineering smoky mountains. 

With sightseeing tours now the bread-and-butter of the Icelandic economy, kayaking provides a unique vantage point from which to appreciate these landscapes. Let’s face it; guests stuck in a packed minibus will seethe with jealousy thinking on your maritime, sightseeing adventure. Kayaking only adds to the incredible experience of soaking in the Icelandic countryside. 

Even better, kayaks are often utilized on wildlife tours, allowing guests to get up close and personal with some of Iceland’s most iconic wildlife. Naturally, this includes iconic birdlife such as Black Guillemots, Arctic Tern, Eider Ducks, Razorbills, and, of course, the Atlantic Puffin

Seals are often interested in Iceland's kayakers.Photo by Jene Yeo

Especially lucky guests may also see any one of the seal species that call Icelandic coastal waters their home, i.e. Ringed Seals, Hooded Seals, Harp Seals, Common Seals, and even, in rare circumstances, Walrus.

(As a side note; did you know that Iceland once had its own special breed of “Icelandic Walrus”, though recent research has revealed the species was all but wiped out by the early settlers.)

An orca appears in Iceland's waters.Photo by Tamara Bitter

This is to say nothing of the possibility of spotting cetaceans; whales, dolphins or porpoises. Over twenty different species are thought to live around Iceland, including such giants Blue Whales, Humpbacks, and Orcas.

One of these incredible creatures surfacing a short distance from your kayak is sure to be one of the most memorable experiences of not just your holiday, but your entire life.

Where can I go kayaking in Iceland?   

There are countless places from which to embark on a kayaking tour in Iceland. The easiest option for most travelers will be excursions based close by to the capital city, Reykjavik.

A kayaker passes Icelandic horses.Photo from 2 Hour Kayaking Power Challenge Circle Tour in South Iceland with Transfer from Stokkseyri

One such example is the Power Challenge Circle Tour | Kayaking in South Iceland. Approximately forty minutes from the city in the quaint village of Stokkseyri, this particular operator uses sit-on-top kayaks, known for their safety and ease of handling.

With an experienced guide leading up front, guests will paddle across the tranquil waters of Lake Löngudæl, then slip up the winding canals of Hraunsá River out to the open ocean. With seals and birdlife aplenty, paddlers are bestowed with plenty of great photographic opportunities. At the end of the tour, guests retire to the Stokkseyri swimming pool where they can relax in the hot tubs and drink a nourishing cup of hot chocolate.

Kayakers pass a shipwreck in Iceland.Photo by Michael Chapman

For those on the eclectic western peninsula of Iceland, the best option is to undertake Sea Kayaking Tour | Departure from the Snaefellsnes Peninsula with Kontiki Kayaking, based in Stykkishólmur village.

Your voyage will see you venture out amongst the many islands of the prepossessing Breiðafjörður Bay, all the while in sight of the region’s mountains and glaciers. One of the most notable sights on this trip is the shipwreck, Þorgeir, which crashed on the island of Landey during a violent storm in the 1980s.

You can read a full review of this tour here: Kontiki Kayaking | Open Sea Adventures Off Snæfellsnes.

Kayaking and fishing tours can be combined in Iceland.Photo from Relaxing 3 Hour Kayak Fishing Adventure by Mt. Kirkjufell with Transfer from Grundarfjordur

On the subject of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, many visitors arrive at the peninsula with one attraction in mind; Kirkjufell Mountain. Grundarfjörður town’s landmark is most famous as the “mountain like an arrowhead” from Game of Thrones, as well as holding the title for Iceland’s most photographed mountain. It's a good idea to book accommodation in Snaefellsnes if you're planning on going kayaking there.

For those looking to kayak around this stunning feature, why not check out Kayaking Under Mt. Kirkjufell | Midnight Sun Adventure or Kayaks Under Mt. Kirkjufell | Snaefellsnes Day Tour. To add further adventure to this activity, including a spot of angling with the Kayak Fishing Adventure by Mt. Kirkjufell tour.

Kayakers get great views of Iceland's glaciers.Credit: South Coast Kayaking Tour | Waterfalls & Solheimajokull Glacier Lagoon

So what of kayaking on one of Iceland’s many spectacular glacier lagoons? South Coast Kayaking Tour | Waterfalls & Solheimajokull Glacier Lagoon is one excellent option, given that you will discover the glittering pool that rests at the base of the glacier tongue, Sólheimajökull, a part of the much larger ice cap, Mýrdalsjökull.

Drifting among the towering icebergs, you will get up-close and personal with these frozen giants, able to capture photographs and memories to last a lifetime. This particular tour also allows you to sightsee some of the South Coast’s most iconic waterfalls, including Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss.

Of course, when most guests consider glacier lagoons in the land of ice and fire, they think of Jökulsárlón, “The Crown Jewel of Iceland”. Jökulsárlón has been bestowed this flattering nickname given the ethereal quality of the surroundings, the dramatic glacial tongues of mountain ridges of Vatnajökull National Park making for a truly sublime backdrop. For those interested, Kayaking Adventure on Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon is, no doubt, the best option.

Kayakers prepare to embark on an adventure in Iceland.Photo from Amazing 2 Hour Kayaking Tour in the Westfjords with Transfer from Isafjordur

Another option is to kayak from Iceland’s most isolated region, the Westfjords. Westfjords Kayaking Day Tour | Two Fjord Adventure and Kayaking in the Westfjords are two solid choices that leave from the town of Ísafjörður. Both provide guests with incredible views over the stark and empty mountains of the Westfjords, as well as a wealth of tumbling waterfalls and sweeping fjords.

Those who have time to spare in the Westfjords could also choose to undertake the Paddle in the Wild of Hornstrandir | 6-Day Kayak Tour.

Not only will you be paddling around the wonderful nature reserve that is Hornstrandir, but you’ll also experience the stunning glacial fjord Jökulfirðir, Drangajökull ice cap and the Atlantic Puffin nesting ground, Vigur Island. During the evenings, you will camp out on the scenic coastlines of the Westfjords.

What should I bring on my kayaking tour?

Guide to Iceland's Mike prepares for a kayak adventure.Photo by Michael Chapman

Quite obviously, there is no need to bring kayaking equipment with you on your tour; the operator will have every piece of kit you need! This includes the kayak itself, the double-sided paddle, a waterproof oversuit, and a life-vest. 

There are other items that will no doubt aid your tour experience, however. Extra towels and an extra pair of clothes are a necessity, especially should you be one of the minority of guests who capsizes their kayak, thus being thrust into the frigid waters of the North Atlantic. 

A thick, cushioned jumper is also recommended given that sitting can become uncomfortable on the lower back as the kayak presses against you. As for trousers, make sure to avoid jeans as denim is notoriously difficult to get dry.

Comfortable shoes are all you’ll need for footwear, and a wooly hat and gloves are sure to make your time on the kayak more enjoyable. 

Another essential is your camera. Given the landscapes and wildlife you are sure to see, it would be a tragedy to not capture the scene for recalling later. One note; be aware that kayaking is a water-based activity, so you will want to either protect your equipment with a waterproof pouch or own a protected camera such as a GoPro. 

Book Your Kayaking Tour Today!

A kayaker enters Jokulsarlon.Photo from Excellent 1.5 Hour Guided Kayaking Adventure on Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

So don’t delay your kayaking tour any longer!

If you’re planning to visit Iceland in the near future, check out this incredible selection of Kayaking Tours and find the perfect excursion for you and your family.

Kayaking is sure to be one of the most memorable and exciting tour activities you can engage in Iceland, up there with glacier hiking, snorkeling and scuba diving, hiking trails, and even paragliding. Not only will you partake in a sport that is rarely undertaken in daily life, but you will earn a new appreciation for Iceland’s wildlife, landscapes, and ocean. 




Have you ever been kayaking in Iceland? Where did you go kayaking in Iceland, and how did you find the experience? Make sure to leave your thoughts and queries in the Facebook comments below. 

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