If you like the outdoors and appreciate spectacular natural beauty, there are few better places in the world to visit than Iceland. In fact, you might be surprised at the number of different outdoor adventures that await in this land of other-worldly sights, no matter what time of year you arrive.
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The Snaefellsness Peninsula, and the Snaefellsjokull glacier in particular, are world renowned as the inspiration for Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth. The region has also developed a reputation as one of the world’s major energy centers, not to mention its incredibly alluring natural beauty with everything from jagged mountains, black sand beaches, cascading waterfalls and gorgeous bays. Here, you can snowmobile on the glacier year round, suiting up at the snow line and then gliding across the ice fields dodging snow mounds to the 4,800-foot summit. If you arrive during the summer months, you can take advantage of the 24 hours of daylight with a midnight snowmobile ride. Mountaineers of Iceland operates day tours, half-day tours and evening tours, as well as custom tours for both small and large groups.
Lava tube tours
Whether you’re a novice or experienced spelunker, you can enjoy the winding lava tunnels and the twisted rock formations left behind by raging volcanoes, deep underground. The Leidarendi lava tube, easily accessible from Reykjavik, situated in a lava field near a volcanic crater southeast of Hafnafjordur, is nearly a half-mile long with certain stretches that will force you to get on your knees and crawl. You’ll enter through narrow cave entrances that open out to reveal extraordinary scenery and unexpected bursts of color. These passageways were formed when surface lava hardened, yet liquid lava raged on in tubes below, the same path that you’ll follow.
Ice cave tours
Ever wondered what it looks like underneath the ice? Iceland is the perfect place to find out, with the “crystal caves,” (as they’re often referred to), found in Icelandic glaciers one of the most mesmerizing wonders of nature. A number of tour operators, including Extreme Tours, offer guided tours of the caves in glaciers like Vatnajokull, which covers nearly 8 percent of the country as Europe’s largest glacier. An expert guide will take you inside to what looks like a beautiful work of art. Accessed through a narrow entrance, the caves are only safe to enter in the winter when cold temperatures have hardened the ice. You’ll view brilliant blue frozen ceilings studded with stalactites that hang over icy paths and stalagmites, crawling into long, frozen chambers under their cathedral of dazzling translucent blue waves. The densely packed glacial ice glows blue due to the lack of air bubbles that normally spread colors of the spectrum as sunlight filters down from above.
If you want to walk on a glacier, you can do that too. A number of outfitters offer this tour, including Icelandic Mountain Guides, which will take you on a journey that begins with a walk on the Svínafellsjökull glacier tongue crossing a glacial wonderland of ridges, crevasses and ice formations. This glacier is one of the most scenic outlet glaciers in the country, offering views over the picturesque Hrútsfjallstindar Mountains and the highest peak of Iceland, Hvannadalshnúkur, at nearly 7,000 feet high. Along the way, watch for arctic fox and reindeer that are sometimes spotted.
Dog sledding is one of the most popular adventures in Iceland, and it’s available in the summer and winter months, thanks to the country’s always snow-covered glaciers. You’ll be guided by a musher, who drives the dog sled team over one of Iceland’s largest glaciers. You’ll meet the pack – friendly, energetic and hard-working dogs, getting to known the dogs as well learn about dog sledding from the musher while taking in spectacular views of the mountains, glacier and lava fields around, with the glistening white snow in every direction, it feels like a magical, winter wonderland paradise. In the summer, you can enjoy the mind-blowing experience of gliding over the surreal landscape under the midnight sun, when the sky turns red, but never gets dark.
Four-wheeling can be enjoyed regardless of the weather, so this adventure is available year-round too. Off-road quad biking in Iceland is a favorite way to get off the beaten path, getting access to track trails, rough terrain and extreme conditions. Quad bikes are super easy, and super safe to drive, even if you don’t have any experience, the expert guides will help you get going so that you can enjoy an unforgettable trip. And, with some much wilderness, you can be out there in just minutes from the capital city, taking in the raw beauty while driving across lava fields, through canyons and mountain valleys. Check out 4×4 Adventures Iceland if you’re in the area.
Diving in Iceland? Believe it or not, the country is home to one of the world’s top dive sites, Silfra. It’s located on a rift between the tectonic plates which continues to grow two centimeters wider every year, which means divers or snorkelers can literally float through a crack between the American and Eurasian continents. The incredible visibility, typically about 100 meters, rivals even the air above, allowing one to enjoy incredible neon colors and other-worldly-like topography. Of course, the waters aren’t exactly warm, barely above freezing, making it pretty chilly even in a dry suit, but the reward is an incredible unique experience. DIVE.IS is Icelands’s first and leading 5 star PADI IDC dive center and would be a wonderful option if you’re looking to check this off your bucket list.
Iceland is home to the Icelandic horse, a unique breed of smaller horses that arrived with the first settlers from Norway some 1,100 years ago. Archeological digs in Europe discovered that the beautiful creatures are descended from an ancient breed of horses that is now extinct outside of Iceland, but has been preserved here in isolation. They’ve become famous for their small size, strength, intelligence and unusual extra gaits, like the “tolt,” sort of a cross between a canter and a trot. They offer an especially smooth, comfortable ride that makes exploring the countryside on them the ultimate horse riding experience. You’ll find the opportunity to ride throughout Iceland, with numerous outfitters, including Extreme Iceland, offering day tours from Reykjavik as well as longer tours in the Highlands.
There is nothing like seeing Iceland’s striking beauty from above. Nordurflug offers helicopter tours that reveal the country’s incredible geology and awe-inspiring landscape of rugged coastline, soaring mountains and magnificent waterfalls. There are a number of options available, including the Waterfalls & Valleys tour which highlights the grand Glymur waterfall, Thingvellir National Park and the Hengill geothermal area, where you’ll land, checking ou the natural hot springs and mud pots in areas only accessible via helicopter. In addition to being a sacred place of Icelandic people, and an important part of the country’s history, seeing it from above is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Take the glacier landing tour and you can set foot on Iceland’s second biggest glacier, Langjokull. If you’re looking for a reccomendation, look up Norðurflug tour agency.
Surfing generally conjures up images of places like Hawaii or the California coast, and certainly not a spot up in the Arctic, but adventurous surfers are beginning to take off from destinations like those and experience Iceland’s surf that offers raw natural beautiful, world-class waves and no crowds. Arctic Surfers hopes to bring the fantastic surfing options to more visitors and offers tours year round, though you’ll find the best conditions in the late spring and early autumn, when water temperatures are similar to what you’d find in Northern California or the United Kingdom. While the water is cold, you’ll be outfitted with an Icelandic water-tested wetsuit.
There are few people who aren’t familiar with the Blue Lagoon, but that means heading there, you’re likely to bump elbows with countless other tourists who’ve got it on their bucket list. Instead, head out to one of the more remote areas. Extreme Iceland will take you out to the edge of Laugahraun lava field where several hot water streams and hot springs spring up as well as sources of cold water which mix together in a little warm river. The natural warm water pool is unique and an ideal bathing place all year around, with temperatures ranging from around 97 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit – even in the middle of a snowy winter. The area is also a starting point for the popular hiking route “Laugavegur,” south to the forested valley of Thorsmork, which is about 33 miles long.
This is the whale watching capital of Europe, and you can spot a variety of different types of whales from many various locations throughout the country, even Reykjavik. Whale watching tours are available from the capital city, the northern region from Husavik through Arctic Adventures as well as from the breathtaking Snaefellsness Peninsula near the town of Grundarfjordur with Laki Tours. In fact, in this region, in the winter, you can enjoy some of the best whale watching in the world when the orcas follow the herring in the waters that surround the peninsula. Minke whale sightings are common, and in the late spring and summer, you’ll have a good chance to see fin whales, sperm whales and even blue whales. And, you don’t always have to be out on the water to catch a glimpse – just gazing out at the sea from the shore you might see a tail fin or a whale’s back breaking the surface.
Sea kayaking during the warmer, summer months is yet another unforgettable, breathtaking adventure. Paddling a sea kayak over the tranquil waters of a rugged glacial fjord, breathing in the fresh, crisp air is one of the most exhilarating experiences imaginable. While there are numerous idyllic spots throughout the country, the Hvalfjörður inlet, which sits deep in a ring of mountains that reach over 3000 feet above the sea, is especially ideal. There are multiple experienced guides that lead sea kayak tours around the coastline, from half-day trips to multi-day expeditions in the Icelandic highlands.
One activity that is certainly no surprise to find in this land of ice is ice climbing. This is a haven for ice climbers, with numerous uncharted routes that offer lots of solitude and magnificent scenery in previously mapped areas. If you’re new to the sport by have always wanted to try it, join one of the no-experience-necessary excursions available that take place on the Sólheimajökull glacier. Ice axes, crampons and safety lines are all provided. Arctic Adventures offers this opportunity to climb on the glacier tongue, a rugged, raw and ever changing hub of ancient frozen water, exploring the crevasse riddled outlet glacier.
Zodiac Tour in the Glacier Lagoon
Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon has become one of Iceland’s most popular destinations, with many travelers noting that it’s the highlight of their trip. This large glacial lagoon that was created by glacier melt a half-century ago can be explored via a zodiac boat tour from about May through the end of September. The icebergs are constantly breaking off the glacier, drifting through the short river and into the sea. The thundering sound they make as they crash to the water is something that must be experienced firsthand to be believed. The lagoon is so enchanting it’s been featured in films like “Tomb Raider,” “Batman Begins,” and “View to Kill” as well as the hit HBO series, “Game of Thrones.” If you visit outside of the summer months, when there is too much ice for the boats to plow through, it’s still quite a sight to see, with seals languishing on the ice, protected in the lagoon from the killer whales that wait nearby in the sea for an easy meal.
There’s a good chance you’ve seen or heard about the insane jet boat adventures on New Zealand rivers, but did you know that it’s something you can do in Iceland too? The Iceland Riverjet offers adrenaline packed blasts up and down the Hvítá River in southern region of the country and is the only whitewater jet boat company in Europe, located right along the Golden Circle route. You’ll speed through the narrow basalt canyon, experience heart-pounding 360 spins on the river and jump the rapids – while taking in the dramatic scenery that includes an awe-inspiring mix of canyons along with adrenaline surges throughout the 40-minute adventure. If you’re especially fearless, you can even cliff-jump into the frigid glacial waters.
Believe it or not, mountain biking is a year-round activity in Iceland too. As the country is still seldom visited in the winter and spring, between November and April you’ll have much of Iceland to pedal alone, with only the jaw-dropping scenery that surrounds. During this time of year, you may even be able to ride as the northern lights dance overhead. Of course, summer adventures are fun too, and Bike Company Iceland offers both day and multi-day bike tours that will take you out into the countryside on a journey you’ll never forget.