Iceland is an adventure lovers paradise. There are endless possibilities for adventures in every corner of the island from rafting to snorkeling to glacier hiking or even whale watching; there is an adventure tour for everyone. We haven’t had a chance to experience every adventure activity throughout the country, but we have been able to sample a variety of experiences that have left us craving more of this small island nation in the north. Here are seven adventure activities in Iceland that we feel are a must to check out on your next trip to Iceland!
More than 10% of Iceland is covered with glaciers, so “The Land of Fire and Ice” is the perfect place for glacier hiking and ice climbing. Glacier hiking tours range from easy to extreme, which means there’s an adventure that is sure to fit your style. When you join a tour, you will be provided with glacier equipment, safety gear and a guide to show you the ropes. The easier tours will explore the lower portion of the glacier and provide an introduction to walking on a glacial ice, and the more difficult tours will take you to the icefall or the cap of the glacier and might even include some ice climbing.
We joined a 6.5 hour tour on the largest glacier in Iceland (and Europe!), Vatnajökull. Our group hiked past crevasses, rivers, and an ever-changing scenery as we made our way towards the icefall. We even took a break to drink from the fresh water glacier runs and refill our water bottles. Once our guides found the perfect ice for climbing, we took tours scaling the massive ice walls with ice picks in our hands and crampons on our feet. When everyone had their fill of climbing, we explored even more crevasses and ice formations on our way back to the bottom of the glacier. Because the ice is constantly moving and changing there are always new and exciting formations to explore on every tour!
Snorkeling and Iceland don’t seem to go hand in hand, but there is one spot on the island that is particularly well suited for underwater exploration: Silfra. Located in Thingvellir National Park, the Silfra rift is a fissure that lies between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. The water is fed from the meltwater of a nearby glacier and visibility is top notch. Because the water is between 2–4°C, dry suits are necessary for the 30-40 minute float tours through the rift. Diving tours are also offered here, but only for advanced divers as it is a very technical dive.
Our snorkeling tour took place in the evening, and after we wiggled into our dry suits, we hopped in the water. As we made our way through the four main parts of the rift, we were amazed at the vibrant colors and water clarity that was unfolding before our eyes. The giant boulders, neon green algae and seaweed, and bright blue waters left us mesmerized throughout the entire snorkel excursion.
If you are up for a white water rafting adventure during your trip to Iceland, you are in luck. Even though none of the rivers in Iceland offer Class 5 rapids, there are three rivers that offer adventurous rides down the river, one of which is categorized as a Class 4 river.
The Class 2 Hvítá river is accessible on a day trip from Reykjavik, which is the river we paddled. When signing up for rafting tours on the Hvítá river, you can decide to paddle in a larger raft with around 4-8 people per boat, or in a canoe made for two. We decided we were looking for a more adventurous ride, so opted to run the river in a canoe. The canoes aren’t the traditional hard sided canoes that most people are familiar with, but they are essentially smaller two person rafts. No matter the size of your raft, you are sure to have an adrenaline packed adventure on the river, and you will even have a chance to do a little cliff jumping, as well!
Iceland is filled with wonderful opportunities for hiking; there are hiking trails in every direction. No matter which way you turn, you will find a hiking trail, but make sure to stay on the trails so you don’t ruin the natural landscapes. There are plenty of short hikes with big rewards, such as stunning waterfalls, or you can partake in a multiday hiking adventure like trekking through Landmannalaugar in the highlands.
We fit in plenty of hikes throughout our time in Iceland. One of our favorites was hiking the trails at the Látrabjarg bird cliffs where we saw puffins and an artic fox! We also hiked to many waterfalls including Dynjandi, Seljalandsfoss, and Svartifoss, as well as the Krafla Crater and Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon. Every hike we went on offered a unique experience and vastly different landscapes—there is certainly no shortage of trails to explore on foot.
Another spectacular feature in Iceland is the abundance of caves to explore. There are glacier caves, lava caves and man-made caves that you can visit on a tour. Some of the lava caves are accessible year-round, while the glacier caves are only accessible in the winter.
We went on a tour of the 8,000 year old lava cave called Vatnshellir. This cave is located on the Snæfellsnes peninsula and it is only accessible with a guide. When you enter Vatnshellir, you will walk 200 meters into the cave and end up 35 meters below the ground. After descending the spiral staircase to the bottom of the cave, you will turn off your flashlights and find yourself in complete darkness. It’s so dark, you can’t even see your hand in front of your face!
With the abundance of geothermal landscapes, no visit to Iceland is complete without a visit to a hot spring or a hot spring tour. Whether you prefer the natural hot springs in the fields and rivers of Iceland or at one of the many geothermal pools, there is a hot spring for everyone. You can hike an hour to Reykjadalur (aka Steam Valley) for natural hot springs in a river, or head to the popular Blue Lagoon for soaking in a more spa-like setting.
During our time road tripping in Iceland, we soaked in a variety of geothermal waters. One of our favorites was Hellislaug in the Westfjords, where we relaxed in a natural rock pool right next to Breiðafjörður Bay. The Drangsnes hot pots are also situated with views over the water, but instead of a pool made from rocks, the Drangsnes hot pots are tubs that rest on top of a wooden platform. We couldn’t resist visiting the Blue Lagoon to experience the relaxing milky blue waters, and we even splurged on an in-water massage. It was heaven. Last but not least, the Myvatn Nature Baths was another option that we loved—the water contains minerals and alkaline to sooth your skin. You are free to swim around in the large pool or there are several little alcoves and benches for relaxing.
The cold waters off the coast of Icleand make great conditions for whales, which means it’s also a wonderful country for whale watching. During the summer months, there are over 20 species of whales in the waters surrounding the island and whale watching tours are offered all over the country. The small fishing village, Húsavík, in northern Iceland is said to be one of the best spots to take a whale watching tour.
Because Iceland has 24 hours of sunlight in the summer, whale watching tours are offered throughout the day and into the evening. We joined one of the last tours of the day, which departed from Húsavík at 8:00 p.m. As we sailed out into the calm waters of the Skjalfandi Bay on the Greenland Sea, the sunlight turned to a soft golden hue. Throughout the evening, we spotted humpback whales, minke whales, harbor porpoises and a wide variety of birds. It was a magical evening and an adventure we won’t forget anytime soon.