Iceland has always been high on my list countries to visit and when my boyfriend K and I finally went, we weren’t disappointed. I was surprised to find that this small island nation has a constantly changing landscape with a wide variety of natural features and breath taking scenery. Much of the south is blanketed in emerald green moss and grass where you can see hundreds of sheep grazing. In the north east, specifically in the area surrounding Dettifoss and Myvatn, you may feel like you took a wrong turn and ended up on Mars as you explore its lunar-like landscape. Then there’s the mountains covered by enormous glaciers, the fjords, the ocean and an infinite number of waterfalls (they are literally everywhere!) flowing with pure glacial water. For adventure seekers and outdoor enthusiasts, there is a plethora of things to see and do! Iceland is a mecca for the outdoors and I’ve written a summary of the top 7 adventures to try in Iceland.
Go Inside a Volcano
Yep, you read that right! You can actually go inside the magma chamber of an extinct volcano, the only one in the world that humans can enter. Inside the Volcano has only been operating for 2 summers now (out of Reykjavik) and are only open from July to mid-September. Your tour begins with a 3 km hike over a rough and rocky lava field to the company’s temporary base camp. Once you get suited up with a climbing harness, helmet, and head lamp, you hike to the peak and descend in a window washer basket straight down into the belly of the beast. The color of the rock inside is unexpectedly amazing and your given time to roam around on your own. After exploring the volcano, they offer you delicious meat (lamb) soup (a local favorite), before you begin your 3 km hike back out to the road.
Super Jeep Tour
You can sign up for a super jeep tour, with pick-up in Reykjavik, that usually takes you around the Golden Circle (Thingvellir National Park, Geysir & Gullfoss) and includes some off-roading to other sites or onto a glacier. This varies with your tour and many tours do combination trips, which is what we did. Our tour included visiting the 3 sites that make up the Golden Circle (driving in a super jeep) but also included snowmobiling on Langjokull Glacier. Super Jeeps are a fun way to explore and get off the main roads. And for those short on time, a nice way to do two activities at once. We used the wonderful company Arctic Adventures.
I have to start by saying, so much fun! As I mentioned above, our Super Jeep tour included driving over some very rough terrain and right onto a glacier to where a fleet of snowmobiles were waiting for us. We were given all the necessary gear and then followed our guide across the snow covered glacier, high in the mountains. At the start we had poor visibility due to fog but when it finally lifted we had spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and it truly felt like we were on top of the island. Again we used Arctic Adventures for this activity.
For us, this was a must. Being active white water canoeists at home, and me being a former river rafting guide, we ventured to the North to raft a 4+ river. The East Glacial River Gorge with the Austari-Jokulsa River has been rated one of Europe’s best rafting rivers and I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a high adrenaline activity. The views we had while rafting down a narrow canyon were breath taking and the constant action from paddling these rapids kept the blood pumping and left permanent grins on our faces. There are smaller rivers with shorter, gentler rafting trips closer to Reykjavik if big white water isn’t your forte. Again we booked through Arctic Adventures (they were an awesome company!), although there was an option to make a reservation with the rafting company, Viking Rafting, directly.
We went on a whale watching tour out of the northern town of Husavik, which is said to be the best place in Iceland to spot whales. If you can’t make it to the north you can also go whale watching right in Reykjavik. Of course no company can guarantee sightings but by going all the way up to Husavik we put the odds in our favor. We ended up spotting a pod of dolphins and watching humpback whales when the surfaced from deep diving. As a wild life enthusiast, it was such a thrill to be able to see the magnificent creatures in their natural environment! We went with a company called North Sailing, who have a good track record of being an ecofriendly company and try not to disturb the whales. Their boats are old wooden schooners and they act as a host for the local whale researchers. You can book ahead online or when you arrive, as they have an office right on the main road in the parking lot.
While you can go ice climbing in many different locations in Iceland, we chose to climb on Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajokull, located in Vatnajokull National Park in the south. We booked our one day tour through Arctic Adventures who are partnered with Glacier Guides, the climbing company. Glacier Guides has an office in the parking lot of the south entrance of the park, and this is where we met our guide. Crampons, ice axes and a climbing harness came as part of the tour but we also had to rent ice climbing boots (at an extra cost). From there, we all piled into a bus which dropped us off near the bottom of the glacier. Once we arrived at the starting point it was a 15-20 min hike across the rocky volcanic terrain until we arrived at the ice. Then it was time to strap on our crampons for the hike across the glacier. Once we were high enough, our guide scouted out a nice ice wall for the group to climb. We ended up doing 3 different climbs, the last one being a rappel into a crevasse which we then had to climb out of! The views we had from simply being on the glacier were breath taking and to be able to climb on the glacier was an experience I won’t soon forget.
Being a horseback rider at home, I was very excited to ride an Icelandic Horse. Horseback riding is one of my favorite ways to explore a new place, as you often get access to areas you wouldn’t otherwise get to go. There are many horseback riding tour operators all over the country offering much the same tours. Some companies offer only multi-day trips while others specialize in ½ day – full day tours. Any age and ability are generally accepted and it’s a great way to explore and take in the amazing landscapes of Iceland. Some companies offer rides for experienced riders, which is what I ended up doing. I went with a larger company right outside of Reykjavik called Ishester and they were amazing. To experience riding the unique Icelandic Horse in Iceland was a once in a life time experience.
For many of our tours we went with Arctic Adventures which is the parent company to many of the smaller, activity specific operators. I booked online but they also have a main office in downtown Reykjavik. As I mentioned at the start, we didn’t have the time to do all the outdoor activities that Iceland has to offer, but here’s a list of a few more you can tackle on your trip (all can be booked through Arctic Adventures or most other tour companies).
Caving Scuba Diving / Snorkeling
Bird Watching Surfing
Sea kayaking ATV Tours
Mountain Biking Trekking
Northern Lights Geothermal Hot Springs
Want to see more of Iceland? Have a look at this GoPro video we shot of our whirlwind tour around Iceland!