In just a few years, Iceland has become a must-see destination for nature lovers in search of adventure. For a good reason: The landscapes of this island in the Atlantic Ocean offer its visitors countless spectacles. Read on to learn about the best activities to discover Iceland.
With glaciers, mountains, volcanoes and breathtaking views, we knew that Iceland was mostly prized for its hikes with unforgettable views, but thrill-seekers are also very fond of this timeless place. If you are looking for a change of scenery and unique sensations, then you have found your next destination.
Obviously, given its location, a down jacket, fleece jacket and mittens are much more recommended than beach gear, but if the cold doesn’t scare you, the landscapes will warm your heart. Just a stone’s throw from the Arctic Circle, Iceland will amaze you with its ability to offer original spots whatever your favorite sport and whatever the season.
So, in order to do activities that procure you with a daily dose of thrills while making you discover the incredible nature of Iceland, let yourself be inspired by our selection of unusual activities below. Get ready and enjoy!
Snorkeling between two continents in the Silfra fissure
With this first activity, we propose nothing less than to swim between two continental plates – the North American and the Eurasian.
Indeed, Iceland is divided in two, hence the numerous geysers and active volcanoes on the island that offer incredible natural spectacles. The crack between the two plates has also made a unique underwater world emerge: the Silfra Rift, only 50 minutes from Reykjavík.
A snorkeling excursion in the Silfra Rift allows you to explore the four main parts of Silfra. First, the Big Crack, the narrowest section of Silfra. Here, the continental plates almost touch each other! Next, the crack widens into Silfra Hall where the full spectrum of Silfra’s color and clarity becomes clearer. If you take the time to find the perfect angle, you can see as far as Thingvallavatn, more than 150 m away. Further on, and almost reaching Thingvallavatn, you will enter the Silfra cathedral with a depth of 23 m. The tour ends at the Silfra lagoon.
All equipment – mask, snorkel and wetsuit – will be provided by the guides for this unusual exploration. The only thing you need to bring is warm clothes, underwear and socks to keep you warm when you get out of the water. And the hot chocolate that awaits you after the excursion will also help to warm you up faster.
If you are a certified PADI Open Water Diver or equivalent, you can also explore the Silfra Rift by scuba diving.
Whale watching in Húsavík on Skjalfandi Bay
Although you can find several wildlife watching spots in Iceland, there is only one whale capital and that is Húsavík, on the northern coast of the island. The 2300 inhabitants of this small town live mainly from fishing but also from tourism, as many visitors come from all over the world to observe the impressive inhabitants of the ocean in their natural habitat.
On a whale watching trip in Skjálfandi Bay you will not only discover beautiful scenery, such as the blue water bay surrounded by the beautiful Vik Mountains, but above all you can meet many species. The most famous are: harbor porpoises, white-beaked dolphins, minke whales, humpback whales and blue whales.
But do you see whales every time in Húsavík? No one can promise you that, of course, because it is a wilderness activity and therefore very unpredictable. However, Húsavík is a spot where your chances are good, especially between May and September and recently also during April, October and November.
For the whale watching tour in Húsavík, a guide will take you to the bay on a specialized boat and search with you for these gentle giants. During this activity, you will spend a lot of time outside on the boat looking for whales. We therefore recommend that you dress warmly and ideally with water-resistant clothing. We also recommend that you bring warm waterproof shoes and a protective bag for your camera.
Glacier Hiking and Ice Caving in Skaftafell
Since about 11% of the island is covered by glaciers, number 3 of our activities to discover Iceland is pretty obvious: explore the glaciers from the outside and the inside! And why not start directly with the largest glacier in Europe in the southeast of the island?
The best way to explore the impressive Vatnajökull from the outside is a glacier hike from Skaftafell. The large snow-covered fields, surrounded by high snow-covered peaks, offer you the wilderness for which Iceland is so well known.
The starting point of the tour is the Skaftafell area, located in Vatnajökull National Park. Here you will meet your guide and be equipped with everything you need for the adventure: crampons, ice axe, harnesses and helmets. During the glacier hike, the guide will not only ensure your safety, but will also provide you with interesting details about the history of the glacier and its surroundings. During almost 2 hours of walking on the ice, you can admire the impressive crevasses, cracks and the stunning blue of the ice. No previous experience with crampons and ice axes is needed, this tour is open to everyone.
If hiking the glacier sounds spectacular, then how about exploring it from the inside? On an ice caving trip from Skaftafell you will visit an impressive natural ice cave with a guide. Located higher up, it takes a short hike on the glacier to reach it. Once again, you will meet the guide in Skaftafell and then set off together to explore this magical cave.
Snowmobile tour on the Longjökull glacier in Gullfoss
Wherever there is snow, snowmobiles are often not far. In addition to getting the adrenaline pumping, these snow scooters allow you to explore beautiful places that are difficult to reach on skis, on foot or on snowshoes. And in Iceland, there are plenty of such places and therefore many snowmobile tours. One of them takes you to the Langjokull glacier in Gullfoss. Iceland’s second-largest glacier is a winter sports mecca with breathtaking arctic scenery.
The meeting point for this snowmobile tour on the Langjökull glacier is Selfossi, 2 hours from the Icelandic capital, where you will take a shuttle bus to reach the snowmobile base on the glacier. Even though overalls, gloves and helmets will be provided by the guides, it is essential that you dress warmly and wear hiking boots. Don’t forget sun cream and sunglasses, as the snow reflects light, even without a blue sky. Then you’re off for an hour of fun on the snow in an exceptional setting. To drive the snowmobile, you need a driver’s licence. However, you have the possibility to bring a passenger from 12 years old.
There are many options for snowmobile trips in Iceland. You can combine it for example with a visit to the ice cave at Gullfoss or cross the frozen lake of Myvatn by snowmobile.
Tandem paragliding flight over Vik i Myrdal
Our activities to discover Iceland include not only snow activities, but also summer adventures. We suggest you, for example, to explore the island from the air on a tandem paragliding flight over Vik i Myrdal.
Attached to your instructor, you will fly over the southernmost village of Iceland. Although there are only 750 people permanently living in Vik i Myrdal, it is the largest village within a 70 km radius. The cliffs and stacks of the Vik area may remind you of the Normandy or English coasts, but the basaltic black sand beaches have nothing to do with it.
When flying over Vik i Myrdal you will not only have a breathtaking view of the Atlantic Ocean and the coast, but you will also experience one of the best sensations ever: flying free like a bird! The certified pilots will take care of everything, all you have to do is to take a few vigorous steps during take-off and admire the landscape at your feet. This activity is however only possible in summer, from the beginning of May to the end of September.
Kayak in Sólheimajökull Glacier Lagoon
Still in the south of Iceland, 30 minutes by car from Vik, another adventure awaits you: a kayak tour in the lagoon of the Sólheimjökull glacier. Paddling through the massive ice structures is simply amazing. A wetsuit will keep you dry and warm, because even in summer the water in the lagoon is frozen.
During the approximately two-hour trip, you will follow your guide and enter into mesmerizing glacial landscapes with calm waters. Admiring the icebergs from a unique perspective makes you feel as if you had been transported to another world.
No previous kayaking experience is required, this trip is open to everyone from 16 years old (children between 12 and 16 can participate if they are in a double kayak accompanied by an adult). All equipment for the activity will be provided, but it is up to you to make sure you dress warmly, bring your sunglasses and put sunscreen on your face. Since this freezing cold kayak trip is only organized during three months in the summer, from June to August, places are very popular, and we strongly recommend that you book in advance.
Scenic flight over Reykjavík
Among our activities to discover Iceland, this one requires a larger budget, but offers you the most unique views of Icelandic nature from Reykjavík!
Reykjavík is the northernmost capital in the world and gathers, with its agglomeration, almost two thirds of the island’s population. Not surprising that this city is the political, commercial, industrial and cultural center of Iceland. Surrounded by two fjords, numerous hot springs and mountains, Reykjavík is very green (or white in winter). Access to nature and outdoor activities is undoubtedly one of the city’s strong points.
To convince yourself of its uniqueness, what better way than to take a helicopter ride over Reykjavík? Thanks to the different flights proposed, you have the opportunity to discover a wide variety of landscapes.
Let’s start with the most classic flight. From the Reykjavík airfield, only 5 minutes from the city center, the pilot takes you to the heights to admire the Icelandic capital from a new perspective. This is the time to realize what a beautiful natural setting the city is in, between snow-capped peaks and fjords as far as the eye can see. On this tour, you’ll even land on top of one of the mountains to experience the wilderness that lives outside the city limits. Make sure you don’t forget your camera to capture this moment.
Other scenic flights take you to the volcanoes, specifically to the eruption site of Geldingadalur, or to the crystal clear lagoon of the Vatnajökull glacier.
Ice climbing trip in the Skaftafell Glacier
You might have already done some rock climbing. But have you ever tried ice climbing? Whether the answer is yes or no, Iceland offers spectacular spots for this experience, such as the walls of the largest glacier in Europe.
A half-day guided tour allows you to learn the basics of this form of climbing and to mount the ice walls of the Skaftafell glacier with the help of the guide’s instructions and the appropriate equipment: crampons, ice axes, harness and helmet. The guide will install massive ice screws and attach a rope. While you climb, the guide stays at the foot of the route and secures you with the rope that attached to the anchor system at the top. This type of climbing is called “top rope” and is one of the safest methods for beginners.
Throughout this adventure, you will be surrounded by ice as far as the eye can see, as well as snowy fields and peaks. Ice climbing on the Skaftafell glacier is an unusual activity and should not to be missed if you want to get out of your comfort zone.
Zip Lining over Grafargil Canyon in Vík
The activities to discover Iceland are numerous and sometimes unusual: from snowmobiling to kayaking and from diving to caving. But this penultimate excursion in our list is clearly one of the most extraordinary, with guaranteed thrills! We are talking about the zip line over the Grafargil canyon in Vík.
Located right next to the village of Vík these zip lines are only accessible by foot. From the meeting point with the guide, a 20-minute walk takes you to the take-off platform. After a detailed safety briefing and putting on your certified equipment, it’s time to whizz!
On the first 771-feet long zip line, called the “Gentle Giant”, you zip over the Grafargil Canyon and enjoy a breathtaking view of the river at your feet and the green hills and waterfalls around you. But once you arrive, it’s not over! The adrenaline continues with the second zip line, named “Little Rush”. With a length of 443 feet, this one is certainly shorter but no less spectacular. It will take you above the amazing Hundafoss waterfall. Clearly an adventure full of thrills and pure fun for all thrill seekers!
Quad excursion from Reykjavik
Iceland’s nature is extraordinary, there is no more doubt about that. But nature in Iceland is also raw and wild, which requires adapted vehicles to go through it, like quad bikes. This is why one of our best activities to discover Iceland is a quad bike ride.
There are many options for excursions, but one of the most accessible ones is the quad bike tour from Reykjavík. The starting point is about 30 minutes from the city centre, where you will meet the guides and get equipped and briefed. The quads are fully automatic and very easy to drive. With the following three different itineraries, everyone will find a ride that suits their needs.
- The 1-hour excursion takes you along Lake Hafravatn and through a variety of grounds to enjoy. Then you’ll climb to the top of Hafrafell Mountain for a great view of Reykjavík and the surrounding nature.
- On the 2-hour trip, you will leave the beaten track to climb the two mountains Hafrafell and Úlfarsfell by quad bike. Here, too, breathtaking views await you.
- Finally, the 3-hour trip takes you not only to the Hafrafell and Úlfarsfell mountains, but also to the backcountry of the Mosfellsdallur valley where you can have fun testing all kinds of terrain – asphalt, gravel, rocks, mud, river crossings and old bridges.
All the above are great activities to discover Iceland and its unique nature. There is something for everyone. Find the adventure that suits you best among all our activities in Iceland and get ready to explore this beautiful island and get blown away! Immerse yourself in these extraordinary landscapes between volcanoes, glaciers and lagoons!
And if Iceland’s landscapes fascinate you, then there’s a great chance that you are also enchanted by Norway’s nature. Here are the 10 best activities to do in Tromsö, in Norwegian Lapland.