Things to do in Iceland: Activities
Iceland is a captivating country to visit and explore. Every region of Iceland offers an abundance of activities, from leisurely relaxation and family quests, to activities through which the visitor can really engage with the environment, to exhilarating pursuits and adventure activities. Some of the activities require expert guides and special equipment.
Birding and birdwatching: more than 70 bird species breed in Iceland, and Iceland is a major stopping ground for north-south and east-west migrating birds. Seabirds, such as puffins, can be seen in many places around Iceland. Látrabjarg (Latrabjarg) in the Westfjords is the largest bird-cliff, home to a great variety of cliff-nesting species, including the largest razorbill colony in the world. The Westman Islands are Iceland’s largest puffin colony. Lake Mývatn (Myvatn) in North Iceland has more breeding duck species than any other place in Europe, while South Iceland has the biggest skua colony in the world. Spring and autumn are the best time to enjoy bird watching in Iceland.
Whale-watching is one of the top activities in Iceland, between May and September. There are numerous seafaring companies offering whale-watching voyages from various harbours all around Iceland’s coastline. Tours from Reykjavík (Reykjavik) are extremely popular, as well as from Húsavík (Husavik) in the North, one of the world’s best spots for cetaceans.
Swimming and relaxing: every city and town in Iceland has swimming pools, heated by nearby hot springs, usually with “hot pots” (outdoor hot tubs) and saunas. Bathing in hot springs and natural geothermal baths around the country is a memorable experience. Blue Lagoon, a natural spa that contains many skin-enriching minerals, is world famous. Landmannalaugar geothermal pool in the highlands is one of the most popular. Close to Lake Mývatn (Myvatn) in North Iceland, there are also some lovely natural geothermal baths.
Cycling and mountain biking tours: both touring bicycles and mountain bikes can be rented in Reykjavík and in various places around Iceland. Organized touring with bike rentals is also available.
Hiking is a great way to see the countryside of Iceland. A network of outstanding walking routes is available and it’s possible to explore independently as well as to join organized hiking tours. The best known trek is the Laugavegur hiking trail through Iceland’s highlands, a geologically unique area of astounding beauty. Landmannalaugar geothermal pool is on this route, the valley of Þórsmörk (Thorsmork), hot springs, extraordinarily coloured rhyolite mountains, as well as many waterfalls and river canyons.
Glacier hiking with experienced guides offers a fascinating perspective on Iceland. Several glaciers are accessible, the most popular being Langjökull (Langjokull), Gígjökull (Gigjokull) and Vatnajökull (Vatnajokull) glaciers.
Mountain climbing can include glacier climbing, hiking up to volcanic craters, ice climbing or cross-country skiing. Experienced mountain guides can take you to Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Europe.
Super Jeep treks and tours: the super-jeep, or super-truck, is an Icelandic invention, where 4x4s have been mounted on enormous tyres to give maximum ground clearance and otherwise modified to manage wilderness terrains and glacier-driving. This makes it possible to experience the ruggedness of the hinterlands of Iceland in total comfort. Off-roading, driving up steep, rocky tracks to viewpoints and crossing lava fields to get close to volcanoes and glaciers are all uniquely Icelandic, fantastic experiences. In summer, you can enjoy a Midnight Sun super jeep safari; in winter, you can enjoy hunting for the Northern Lights and unforgettable mystery tours through the magical winter landscapes.
Snowmobiling and dog sledding on a glacier are wonderful fun activities that can be combined with Super-Jeep tours, available on the glaciers in south-western Iceland, as well as on Vatnajokull icecap. A guided snowmobiling trip will provide far-reaching glacier views and an unforgettable experience.
River rafting, white-water rafting and kayaking are invigorating and fun activities, available on the many beautiful rivers in Iceland, including the milky-blue coloured glacial rivers, such as the Hvítá (Hvita) River, close to Reykjavik. Professional guides will help you navigate a mixture of calm river floating and exciting rapids through stunning canyons.
Sea kayaking in the protected bays and fjords is also available, as well as surfing off a black-sand beach and diving. Diving in the unpolluted, clear seas around Iceland is great fun, and it’s even possible to dive or snorkel in the pristine glacial waters of the fissure Silfra that separates the diverging tectonic plates at Þingvellir (Thingvellir) – a unique experience in a class of its own.
Boating and sailing are activities available around Reykjavik, Westman Islands, the Westfjords, as well as North and East Iceland. One of the most fascinating activities is a boat trip cruise on Jökulsárlón (Jokulsarlon), the awe-inspiring, iceberg-filled glacial lagoon on the south-eastern coast of Iceland. Gliding between naturally formed ice sculptures, carved by the elements into eclectic shapes of mesmerising colours, while observing seals and birdlife on the lagoon is another unique, incomparable experience. You can also easily take photographs directly from the black sand beach, encompassing the extraordinary contrasts of colours and forms into the composition.
Winter skiing is available in many parts of the country. Skiing resorts with both cross-country and downhill skiing, as well as snowboarding, are found throughout Iceland. Heli-skiing is also available.
Horseback riding is extremely popular in Iceland, and a delightful way to see the countryside. The Icelandic horse has been purebred for over a 1000 years, since it was first brought over from Norway by the Vikings. Intelligent, beautiful, surefooted, famous for their four-beat smooth gait – the “tölt” (running walk), Icelandic horses are friendly and ideal for overland travel. Riding through the diverse, dramatic Icelandic landscapes on traditional riding trails is a very special experience.
Fishing: angling, classic fly-fishing, ocean fishing, ice-fishing and salmon fishing are all available throughout Iceland. Icelandic salmon rivers are world famous and the salmon fishing sport is extremely sought after, making it advisable to obtain salmon fishing permits well in advance.
Hunting is an active sport in Iceland: reindeer hunting and ptarmigan hunting, for example, are available during the different hunting seasons.
Golf is immensely popular in Iceland and there are more than 50 golf courses around the country, most of which offer spectacular scenery along the coastline, or high in the hills. Several golf tournaments are organized annually; perhaps the most unusual is the Arctic Open Golf Championship in Akureyri, North Iceland, featuring round the clock golf under Midnight Sun.
Sightseeing and cultural exploration: Iceland has countless unique attractions and natural wonders, more fully described on our Nature and Regions and Attractions pages, and there are numerous sightseeing tours available for individuals and families as well as groups. For Icelandic saga enthusiasts and travellers wishing to explore Iceland’s inestimable historical, cultural and literary heritage, Saga Trails are accessible in every part of Iceland.