Iceland is a country of polar extremes and opposites. Iceland has a large landmass (103,000 km²) and a minuscule population (334,252 people). It is situated in the North Atlantic Ocean, neighbouring Greenland to its west and mainland Europe to its east, and sits upon an active volcanic fissure called “The Icelandic Plume”, smack bang in the middle of the North American and European continental divides.
Known as the “Land of Ice and Fire”, Iceland is just as known for its creeping glaciers, dazzling ice caves and frostbitten winters as it is for steaming fumaroles, warm and relaxing natural pools, and for its actively bubbling volcanoes. In the summer, guests and locals alike are privy to the Midnight Sun, whilst the winter sees an eternal night, forever holding the promise of Northern Lights dancing above.
All of these elements combined make for a great sporting location, open to all skill levels and gradients of experience. This means that regardless of whether or not you have one day or five to fill with action-packed adventure, you’re bound to find something that is to your liking, whether that be a spot of horse riding, ATV riding, river rafting or something entirely new to you.
We here at Guide to Iceland have compiled our list of the top adrenaline-fuelled activities in the country. Some are more demanding than others and do require prior experience, whilst others are open to experts and beginners alike. Even small children are invited to many of the adventures, which means that parents need not miss out on finding action-packed activities while travelling in Iceland.
Some first-time visitors to Iceland might worry that by partaking in an adventurous activity, they might miss out on some of the more staple attractions available.
Fear not, as Iceland’s most popular sightseeing routes, such as the Golden Circle, have a number of tour choices that readily include a physical activity, such as snorkelling at Silfra Fissure, Þingvellir, or snowmobiling on the country’s second largest glacier, Langjökull.
Credit: Snowmobile tour from Akureyri
Everyone over the age of 6 has access to the snowmobiles as a passenger but you must be 18 or over and hold a full international driver’s license if you wish to operate one.
Don’t worry too much if you’ve never been on a snowmobile before as your experienced and knowledgeable guide will take you through the process step by step, as well as provide you with all necessary safety equipment, including helmets, gloves and overalls.
Snowmobiles are very easy to manoeuvre, allowing you to cross snowy landscapes and glaciers in a fast and adrenaline-pumping way. Most snowmobiling tours in Iceland operate on top of glaciers, so in addition to the action on the snowmobile, you'll also have stunning views over the surrounding area.
Ice climbing and glacier hiking take the basics of both activities and bring them to entirely new heights with incredible, creaking glacial landscapes, dark crevasses, towering frozen walls and intricate ice sculptures.
Children as young as 10 are permitted to climb the glacier, but guests must be 14 and over in order to participate in the ice climbing segment of the tour.
Exploring the glaciers independently is strictly prohibited in Iceland because of the inherent dangers associated with such an activity. Certified guides mean that you receive information on the glacier, all necessary equipment (including helmets, crampons and ice poles) and provide a safe passage to your destination.
Credit: Photo by Aurora Arktika.
Skiing and Snowboarding are available in the winter months in Iceland, but unfortunately, you'd be surprised at how often the ski areas are closed due to the lack of snow. Sometimes they're closed due to bad weather conditions.
Either way, if you do manage to try your hand at skiing or snowboarding whilst in Iceland, you are in for a treat. Here, we have a fantastic mixture of beginning, intermediate and expert slopes, as well off-piste trails for the more adventurous travellers. Ísafjörður and the surrounding mountains also offer great ski pistes.
Ski areas around Reykjavík, Bláfjöll and Skálafell can open as early as December and close as late as April, although the opening times vary a lot. The ski area next to Akureyri, Hlíðarfjall, tends to be open for more days in the season than the ski areas near Reykjavík, as it is further north and normally gets more snow.
Ice Caving may not be too physically demanding, but it is an incredibly exciting and other-worldly activity. Ice caves form in Iceland at the beginning of the winter, meaning that glaciers operators are out searching for and exploring new caves for the upcoming season.
Ice caves are famed for their dazzling blue interiors, their wealth of intricate ice sculptures and amazing photographic opportunities. You will be provided with all of the necessary gear, including helmets and crampons, and will be given a short lesson on how to walk on the ice before entering the cave.
Glacier caves also have their fair share of danger, as they fill with water when the temperature is above freezing. They are therefore only accessible during the peak of winter, between mid-October to November and March, and are only accessible with a guide that knows the ice cave well.
You can meet your ice cave guide on location if you drive to Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, about a 5-6 hour drive from Reykjavík, or choose between plenty of multi-day ice caving tours.
Dog sledding can be done year round, although you will only go dog sledding on a glacier during the summertime.
In winter, the weather on the glaciers can be too harsh so the dogs are kept on the South Coast of Iceland where the weather is milder, so there's actually not a guarantee that you will go dog sledding on snow during wintertime—but it's guaranteed during summer!
Dog sledding is a fun activity for all ages, and kids as young as 2 years old can go on the dog sleds. You also get plenty of time to fuss over the cute and fun dogs, in amidst travelling in a beautiful landscape in style.
Picture from Silfra Diving Tour.
In Iceland, certified open water divers with dry suit experience are qualified to dive in one of the world’s top dive sites, Silfra Fissure.
The dive site is situated in Iceland’s only UNESCO World Heritage site, Þingvellir National Park, and has water that's so clear the visibility can exceed 100 metres. The temperature of the water stays cold all year round, between 2° and -4°C (39° and 25°F), but it never freezes thanks to a gentle underlying current in the fissure.
To make it even more remarkable, you'll be diving directly between the North American and the Eurasian tectonic plates, making it one of the rarest and memorable diving experiences available in the world. Although Silfra is the most popular diving spot in Iceland, you can also choose to dive in the North Atlantic sea or in a geothermal hot spring.
Credit: Snorkelling Silfra Day Tour.
Those who do not have a scuba diving qualification can still experience the dazzling blue majesty of Silfra Fissure with a dry suit snorkelling tour.
Unlike scuba diving, the only breathing apparatus you need to worry about is the plastic tube in your mouth. You will also be provided fins, neoprene hoods and gloves, a dry suit and a mask.
Unlike scuba diving, wearing a dry suit whilst snorkelling will keep you buoyant at the surface, meaning there is no chance you’ll sink. Instead, you’ll feel as though you are flying over a sweeping canyon.
In both the snorkelling and scuba diving tours, you will experience all sections of Silfra Fissure, including the mesmerizing and dramatic Silfra Cathedral, and the “Real Blue Lagoon”, an area of charming sandy shallows.
Picture from East Glacial River
River Rafting in Iceland is a favourite among the local population and has risen in popularity since the 1980s. While Iceland lacks dramatic rivers such as those found in Nepal or Mainland Europe, they are still tumultuous enough to provide a challenge to even the most experienced river rafters.
Iceland boasts both easy rivers (classified as Grade 2) up to more demanding rivers (Grade 4+), meaning you can choose the river that best fits your level of experience.
It is possible to try your hand at rafting on the Hvíta´ river, found in the south, and two rivers up north, Jökulsá Austari (East Glacial River) and the Vestari Jökulsá (West Glacial River).
Most of the river rafting tours are available from May/June until September.
The gentle past time of canoeing/kayaking is also available on Hvítá, making for a fantastic, blended afternoon of sightseeing, physical activity and, undoubtedly, getting a little wet.
Canoeing and kayaking are also available on other rivers and patches of coastline in Iceland.
Many choose to go canoeing instead of river rafting in order to ensure smaller group sizes and a more personalised experience. Some people also want to avoid the more difficult sections of river rapids.
The minimum age for canoeing is 18 and two people can go in one canoe, meaning a more relaxed boat ride with less heavy physical work.
This is a definite favourite among Icelanders, a nation whose history and culture has been built on fishing for over 1000 years. Let's put it this way: if an Icelander can't help you to catch a fish, no one can.
Fishing has always been a big part of the Icelandic culture, so it's no surprise that you can choose from a number of fishing tours, available from April until September. The most common types of fish to catch in Iceland are Arctic Char, Salmon and Brown Trout. It is possible to fish in Iceland's lakes, river systems (granted you have permission from the landowner) and the ocean.
Be aware that all fishing gear being brought into Iceland must be sanitized beforehand. This can be done for a small fee at Keflavík International Airport.
Surfing in Iceland is not only for hardcore surfers but for anyone looking for something a little different during their stay. Although the waves can be big and the sea is ice cold, surfing here presents some unique benefits, such as incredible surroundings, endurance training and some fantastic surf breaks.
Without a doubt, the best time to go surfing in Iceland is between October and March, when most of the country is battered by rain, storms and strong winds. Of course, strong winds means strong waves along the coastlines, thus a better and more challenging experience.
The majority of surfing in Iceland is done off the moon-like landscapes of the Reykjanes Peninsula, home to such attractions as Lake Kleifarvatn and the Bridge Between the Continents.
If you're the type that prefers solid ground underneath your feet rather than ice and water, don't worry, you won't be left behind. Iceland has something for everybody and some breathtaking activities both for those who have the need for speed and those who like to take life a little easier.
Picture from 3 hour ATV Ride in Reykjavík
ATV/Buggy Rides are yet another means of exploring the Icelandic countryside, presenting a burst of adrenaline balanced with some beautiful natural surroundings. This is also the only means of driving "Off-Road" in Iceland, as you will be taking designated trails that do not harm the fragile Icelandic ecosystem.
ATVs seat the rider in a forward-leaning position, from where they control the throttle and brakes from the vehicle's handlebars. Alternatively, a buggy seats the rider in a sitting position and utilised a steering wheel and pedals. Both vehicles are quite capable of reaching speeds exceeding 50 miles per hour.
Since you're in charge, it's up to you how fast you go, meaning this type of activity suits all levels. Just make sure to bring with you some warm under layers and a full international's drivers license. Those who do not a have a license can still ride as a passenger.
Everyone loves a cyclist. Pedalling away on their two-wheelers, this interesting breed of sportsman has long found Iceland to be particularly suited to cycling; the roads are long, scenic and hold little traffic, and most of the major attractions can be accessed from the island’s Ring Road.
This has allowed cyclists to merge their passion with traditional sightseeing, extending the process over a number of days in order to allow passage from destination to the next.
If you want something more demanding, then pick a route, bring your bike over in the summertime and remember to pack warm clothes, food and camping gear.
Wikimedia. Creative Commons. Gummao.
Hiking may not sound like a very extreme sport at first, but when you consider that people can go hiking for a number of days carrying all their food, tent, sleeping bags and extra clothes over glaciers, deserts and volcanoes, then you may decide to include hiking within the arena of extreme sports.
It is extremely popular to go hiking in Iceland thanks to its eclectic, yet ever stunning landscape. It's a real pleasure to trek in the country and there are plenty of hiking trails to choose from, including those found in the Icelandic Highlands, particularly in the region of Landmannalaugar ("The Pools of the People").
The most popular route is called Laugavegurinn, between Landmannalaugar and Þórsmörk Valley (in total, measuring out 55 km long). You can also choose to go on shorter, guided hikes around the country.
Horseback riding is very popular in Iceland, the Icelandic horses being world-known for being sturdy, friendly and having 5 unique gaits, including the 'tölt'. The stout, muscular bodies the breed withstand the harsh Icelandic elements throughout the year, which is the result of generation upon generation of concentrated breeding.
Icelandic horses, whilst indeed regarded as horses, are in fact almost pony-sized, meaning they are the perfect fit for younger riders and beginners. This famous horse breed is renowned for its intelligence and curiosity and is very used to people, meaning you're safe hands (or hoofs) throughout the duration of the tour.
You can choose from a large number of horseback riding tours that last from just a couple of hours for beginners up to multiple days. This also means, thankfully, that horse riding tours are available across the country.
Although infinitely more exciting when they are erupting, this tour inside a volcano is still a pretty impressive caving tour available in the summertime. Fear not, you won't see any flowing magma, but instead, a dazzling caldera made up colourful inner rock faces.
Volcano tours provide a fascinating insight into the geothermally active nature of Iceland's landscape, as well as presenting one of the more unique activities on earth—actually being inside a volcano!
When there is a volcano erupting in Iceland—the last volcanic eruption in Iceland was from 2014-2015—there is a high chance that you can go on a tour to see it, either in a helicopter or 4WD car. So if volcanoes are your thing, make sure to come over the next time one goes off.
Heli-skiing and Heli-snowboarding are two of the ultimate extreme sports you can experience in Iceland. They are also one of the priciest, unfortunately, but then again, whenever did something so spectacular come cheap?
Heli-skiing and Heli-snowboarding are, quite obviously, more extreme than their usual counterpart, meaning that a higher level of experience and skill is required in order to participate in this type of tour. For those who fit the description, you will have the rare opportunity to ski/snowboard from the summit of a mountain all way down to the coastlines of the Atlantic.
Nothing beats the feeling of skiing or snowboarding down a steep hill with fresh powder. Such an experience is only complimented by being the only one on the slope. Not to mention when you have breathtaking views all the way down and get to fly around in a helicopter on your way up.
Of course, one can also participate in a helicopter tour without the need to add skiing or snowboarding to it. Helicopter tours provide one of the most exciting, rewarding and easiest methods of sightseeing some of the country's major attractions, as well as presenting the chance to look down on a range of dramatic landscapes below.
Helicopter tours will normally depart from Reykjavik Domestic Airport, travelling to a range of destinations, including mountains in the Reykjanes Peninsula, the beautiful South Coast and even the Central Highlands.
Picture from Tandem Flight in South Iceland
Paragliding is a great way to enjoy the scenic view of Iceland, whilst feeling the freedom of a bird at the same time.
Tandem paragliding tours are operated in the south of Iceland from April to October.
Skydiving is also possible in summertime in Iceland, both tandem jumps and AFF courses, and if you are a licensed jumper already, it's fairly cheap to purchase a jump here.
Did you enjoy our article on the Top Activities in Iceland for Adrenaline Junkies? What activities did you participate in, and what will be you be doing next time you're here? Please, feel free to leave your thoughts and queries in the Facebook comments box below.