Iceland is a country defined by it’s outdoors. Inspiring scenery at every turn, extraordinary landscapes, and astounding natural wonders; when visiting a country with nature so inspiring, it would be a waste to spend your time solely holed up in the cities without making time for exploration of the outdoors.
The following are the top 10 outdoor activities, though these are just some of the many amazing things in Iceland to do. Think adrenaline activities amid scenery so spectacular that the experience will leave you raving about your travel to this country as the trip of your lifetime for years to come.
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Nothing gets you closer to Iceland’s raw, natural landscapes than hiking across it, and with the choice of grassy meadows bursting with wildflowers, lava fields, black-sand deserts and icefields, the options of hiking terrain here are both varied and vast. Best Iceland hikes, where to hike in Iceland
Established trails throughout the country range from an hour to a week, and the most popular include those at Landmannalaugar, Jökulsárgljúfur National Park, and Skaftafell. Though the magic of Iceland is in creating your own path.
Pick up an Iceland car rental and set off on a cross country drive of the Ring Road. Opportunities for hiking are truly endless; just pull off to the side of the road and set off from where you have parked. Best hiking in Iceland
Iceland is known for having tapped into the natural wonder that is geothermal energy, and almost every Icelandic town boasts an outdoor geothermal swimming pool, always with accompanying “hot pot” tubs, and some with saunas and water slides as well. Best swimming pools in Iceland
Swimming is a popular pass-time in Iceland, with the tradition of public bathing having become deeply rooted in the local culture. With surreal blue water, steam and black lava boulders, the ultimate hot spot for bathing is the Blue Lagoon. Best swimming pools in Iceland, where to swim in Iceland
Thermal baths are an Icelandic tradition which dates back to the twelfth century, and of the thirteen baths that are known to have been used in the early days of the Icelandic society, four are still standing.
From multi day tours which will take you deep into the Icelandic highlands, to short day trips through the outback, Horse riding is a unique way to experience the incredibly scenic country. Can you horseride in Iceland
Iceland’s most specific breed of horses arrived with the Vikings. Though lacking the size and speed of Arab horses, they have a unique gliding gait, called “tolt”, used for moving softly over the rough terrain. Horse riding tours today follow the ancient riding trails which have allowed even the earliest Viking settlers to travel cross country. Can you ride horses in Iceland?
Enjoy utter solitude in the wilderness and long hours in the saddle as you develop an intimate connection with nature. Many riding schools and farms offer excursions. Where to ride horses in Iceland
“When making a trip to Iceland, it is hard not to pay special attention to the country’s namesake—namely, its 4,500 square miles of glacier. Ice climbing on the glaciers is practiced year-round and takes place mainly on the Sólheimajökull and Svínafellsjökull glaciers in the south of Iceland, to which day trips are offered from Reykjavík (and Skaftafell).”
Do note that Ice-climbing should not be undertaken without a professionally trained guide. Best adventure adrenalin outdoor activities in Iceland
Ice-climbing tours offer tourists an amazing first-hand experience of some of Iceland’s untamed nature, and this is an experience which can be undertaken at various levels of experience and difficulty. Visit Iceland advises that crampons and ice axes are generally provided, but it is recommended that you bring a waterproof jacket and trousers, a light sweater, quick dry trousers, a hat and gloves. In addition, hiking boots are often available for rent. Iceland ice cave tours are also a popular outdoor activity along the same lines.
White Water Rafting
White Water Rafting is a fairly epic adventure, and Iceland is a pretty spectacular location for it. What Iceland’s rivers lack in size they make up for in drama, tearing through narrow volcanic gorges, forming lively rapids. Two of the longest – the Þjórsá and the Hvítá – are accessible for white-water rafting, with trips during the summer. White water rafting in Iceland
We gently floated through scenic canyons, paddled furiously through exciting rapids, and put our balance to the test by standing on the side of the rocking raft, dangerously close to the edge!
Throw in some cliff jumping for glacial swimming, and a relaxing hot tub and sauna back at basecamp at the end of the day, and you’ve got yourself an incredible amount of river fun!
Home to one of the most unique scuba sites in the world, there is only one area to scuba dive in Iceland – Silfra and other spots around Pingvallavatn. Silfra is rated one of the best freshwater sites in the world, with crystal-clear, pale blue water and submerged lava formations as the main draws.
Quad biking is the ultimate Icelandic adventure, and monster quads will have you zipping through the Icelandic Outback regardless of season or terrain.
Choose a quad bike adventure to travel well off the beaten path, off-roading through rivers, lakes and ravines, through back roads and mountain trails while navigating mud and grass routes, and climbing steep hills on the side of intimidating mountain tops. Watch the countryside change into wilderness during the summer, or the northern lights dance over your head on a night tour during winter.
Skiing and Snowboarding
There are established winter skiing and snowboarding venues around Reykjavik, Akureyri, Hlíðarfjall and in the West Fjords, complete with bunkhouses, ski lifts and graded runs. The most accessible is Bláfjöll, outside Reykjavik and the summer slopes at west Snæfellsjökull, with winter cross-country opportunities around Mývatn.
Perhaps even more exotic than majestic glaciers grinding their way through cracked lava fields, and more captivating than witnessing glittering ice caps pierce the sky, is the opportunity to witness and interact with the country’s exotic variety of seabirds and wildlife.
Seabirds like the comical puffin arrive by the million for the breeding season between April and August, and nest on coastal cliffs all around the country in massive colonies. And to say that they arrive in the million is no understatement – we literally spent days shooting seabirds (photography) and have more photography than we could possibly hope to edit in a lifetime.
You may not be a bird person now, though Iceland will make you realize that perhaps this isn’t a horrible hobby after-all!
Snowmobiling or skidooing is an expensive but exhilarating way to tear across snowfields and glaciers at 40kmph.
The best place to try it is at Skalafellsjökull, an outrunner of Vatnajökull.
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Photo credits: Pinterest Images, the Blue Lagoon & Ice-climbing photography by the Legendary Adventures of Anna. White Water Rafting by Arctic Adventures.
I’ve wanted to go to Iceland for as long as I can remember. I really want to go to the Blue Lagoon and see the Northern lights. Is the Blue Lagoon stupidly busy?
I hope you get there soon Mellissa! The Blue Lagoon actually limits the amount of people allowed in at any one time so it doesn’t become over crowded and remains enjoyable. Though some people have come back and said that it was stupidly busy, so I would recommend heading in early in the morning to avoid the crowds.
Iceland is at the top of my list for 2016. I’m absolutely in love with all the photos I see and the adventures that await! I love the idea of horseback riding along ancient Viking trails and strapping on a pair of crampons to do some ice climbing! I’m storing this post away to refer back to later. Thanks for the great ideas!
I’m so glad to hear Jackie! Hope you can incorporate a few of these epic outdoor adventures into your itinerary. Feel free to reach out if you have any Q’s in the lead up to your trip :)
I want to go horseback riding SOOOOOO badly when I’m in Iceland in a few weeks, but I just can’t fit it into my itinerary. Looks like I’ll have to go back for some of the other activities you suggested!
Sounds like the perfect excuse for a return visit – trust me though, Iceland is one of those countries which will see you leaving with a determined mindset to return anyway, so I’m sure you’ll have plenty of opportunities on future trips to take in all of these!
Happy travels, and enjoy your introduction to Iceland!
I have wanted to go to Iceland for a long time but you really made me want to go there right now! :) Ice climbing sounds like an activity for me – I love glaciers, challenges and the landscapes they offer! It looks like you had so much fun!!!
Do it :D! Give into peer pressure and book a flight :D! You’ll absolutely love Iceland, especially if you’re very keen for glaciers and an adventurous challenge.
Hope you can get there soon :)
I’ve been wanting to go to Iceland for as long as I can remember, mostly to see the Northern Lights. I’m really hoping to go soon, since more and more people are discovering how beautiful it is. I’m worried that if I don’t hurry it will spoiled by the large amount of tourists.
I hope you manage a trip to Iceland soon Vicky – the Northern Lights are one thing which still remain on my bucketlist too – I would LOVE to see them one day. I keep missing them or traveling during the off time of the year!
And yes, definitely make Iceland a priority before it becomes too touristy and commercialized. It would be a shame to see such a spectacular country ruined by mass tourism.
Great post! I’ve wanted to go hiking in Iceland for ages. I had no idea you could go diving there too, it sounds pretty awesome!
Thanks Gemma! Combine hiking and diving and you’ve got the perfect adventurous trip! Enjoy!
Ahh, this post makes us want to go even more! Guess we will have to figure out a way to bump iceland on our list!!! I really want to see the Northern Lights and of course the Blue Lagoon! Great post! Thanks for sharing!
Travel during winter for the Northern Lights, the summer is a fantastic time to visit for the 24 hour daylight, though the one draw back is that you miss the Northern Lights. So really Iceland is one of those destinations where you need to set aside two trips so truly experience everything that each season has to offer :D
Hope you manage to organize a trip there soon :)
Awesome post! We definitely want to visit Iceland in the future, and had no idea of all the great activities that can be done! It’s just moved up on our list ;)
Thanks Kim! It’s got to be one of the most diverse countries on earth when it comes to the range of outdoor activities on offer, really should be up there with NZ as one of the adventure capitals of the world!
Iceland is a mixture of amazing landscapes, nature spaces and history of a virgin land. Congratulations for the post and thanks
It is indeed! One of the most magical countries on earth! Glad you enjoyed the post Laura :)
This is why Iceland is such a great destination. You can do just about any outdoor activity there and if you aren’t into something there are 900 other choices. We loved it there!
Psyched you also enjoyed your time Laura! Iceland really is a destination which has something on offer for everyone :)
I’m cold just looking at your pictures. But, of course, I’ll go swimming and rafting and hiking–whenever I get to Iceland.
Haha yes, especially during winter you do need to travel with weather appropriate clothing. Though the good thing about the swimming is that they’re all geothermal hot springs and pools, so it’ll heat you right up, and the rest get your Adrenalin pumping so that you end up not even feeling the cold :D
I would love to visit one day
I hope you do get the chance :) Let us know if you’re looking for any tips in the lead up to a trip.
This post makes me sad because I was supposed to be going to Iceland on the 23rd but had to cancel due to landlord obligations but your list has many things I did not even know were possibilities in Iceland. White water rafting? Who knew! Great list here!.
Oh no, sorry to hear that Melody – though I’m sure there’ll be another opportunity to visit in the near future. You’ll have a seriously fantastic time when you do manage to make it happen :)
Iceland looks just like Alaska! I would love to go there and see the glaciers and go horse back riding. The hiking looks pretty fantastic too!
There are a lot of similarities indeed – we did Alaska pretty much exactly a year after we did Iceland, and loved both destinations. I think Iceland manage to give off more of an exotic feel however, and was a little less touristy and more off the beaten path. But both fantastic choices of destination for outdoor adventure :)
Another Iceland article for me to drool over. I now we can’t complain at the epic trip we are on just now but Iceland is a #1 priority for me when we return. There really isn’t a shortage of things to do there as you can see from your article! The saunas and lagoons are calling!
Definitely plan to spend at least 2 weeks in Iceland – we thought we had given ourselves plenty of time but in the end felt that it wasn’t enough. The thing I love about Iceland mainly is that a lot of these activities, like hiking, bird watching, pools, etc don’t have to be via organized activities and you really can just pull off on the side of the road and go with the flow.
Such a fabulous destination, I hope you can get there soon!
I’m adding one more to the list: running! The marathon there is hugely popular and everyone goes to soak in the hot springs after they’re done.
Oooh great tip, thanks Vanessa! I can imagine a hot spring soak after a marathon would be an amazing way to end the day!
Iceland is a beautiful place with so many diverse outdoor activity possibilities involving wildlife and the natural physical world. It is amazing how the traditional thermal public baths are still a thriving part of the culture today. Great post and fun suggestions!
Glad you enjoyed the post Mary- Iceland truly is such a stunning place from both a cultural and a natural perspective. So much to offer tourists and visitors, I do hope that it manages to hold onto it’s natural and cultural charm as more and more tourists flock to experience the country too.
Thanks for sharing this very interesting and informative article! I really enjoyed reading it! keep the great work! looking forward to reading any other stuff on your blog!
Glad you enjoyed the post – happy travels!