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29 September 2023

The ultimate guide to outdoor activities in Iceland

What to do in Iceland? Well, if you´re looking for your next adventure and a fan of the great outdoors, you´re in luck! Not only is Iceland full of incredible scenery and natural wonders, but there is also so much to do here all year around. 

In this article we will go over the most popular outdoor activities available in the land of fire and ice.     

One of the most important aspects of any vacation is having something to do. A key factor of getting the most of any vacation is knowing what you want and plan accordingly. 

With these guidelines you will have no problem giving your vacation more meaning while filling your lungs with fresh air. 

There is nothing better and there is no better place to do so than Iceland! 


Hot spring hot spots in Iceland 

In case you didn't know. Iceland is a geothermal hot spot. The island sits between two tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia. This explains all the volcanic activity we experience. Therefore, the ground is mostly made from lava rock and can be extremely hot underneath. 

On top of that, there is also a lot of water here. Although it is often in the form of snow and ice. Over time this water collects underground, creating hot springs all over Iceland. 

Due to this endless supply of natural hot water, we have found many practical and fun ways to use it. We have been using the hot water ever since the first settlers arrived. Today it's used to heat up most homes in Iceland. 

On a more fun note. Taking a dip into warm water is a very popular activity here. Not surprisingly as hot water is so easily found. In some places it literally pours out from the ground. 

So, wherever you go and whatever you do in Iceland you should have no problem warming up. 

The Hot Tub Social Club 

Is there anything better than getting into a hot tub after a long and exciting day? In our modest opinion, the answer is no. We just love it, both at home and at the public swimming pool. 

Public swimming pools all have hot tubs, and they are extremely common. In every town there is a public pool and there are always hot tubs as well. 

Going into a hot tub is also one of the best ways to interact with local people in Iceland. It is like a wet and warm social media platform of its own. 


Snorralaug: The hot tub saga

The hot tub culture in Iceland can be traced all the way back to the sagas area. The oldest known man-made geothermal pool in Iceland is Snorralaug in Reykholt. Built in the 12th century by Snorri Sturluson, the author of many of our most famous Sagas. 

Amazingly this accent hot tub is still there and fully functional. Since the Saga era, there was no turning back! Hot tubs became an inseparable part of Icelandic culture.

Swimming pools in Iceland

Although we have enough hot water, private pools are partially non-existed in Iceland. This could be related to the incredible number of public pools in Iceland. They are everywhere! In all communities, towns, and villages.

You should have no problems finding a swimming pool on your travels. They are easy to find. It is actually common for roads in town lead to the public swimming pool in the area.

There are many reasons why public swimming pools are so popular in Iceland. To start with, they have long opening hours. Usually opening very early in the morning and closing late in the evening. If you want to enjoy the midnight sun or watch the Northern lights while swimming or relaxing in the warm water, going to the pool is a great option.

Also, there is no need to make an appointment. You can simply show up, pay the fee, and go into the water. The fee is usually low, which is a great attraction for many locals and visitors. It is for example, much lower than on all the lagoon tourist hot spots.


Why should you visit the Blue lagoon?

Speaking of the lagoons in Iceland. The Blue Lagoon is of course the most famous of our geothermal lagoons. As such you need to make an appointment and book ahead, but there is a good reason for that.

It is simply incredible. It is made to impress every visitor. It might cost more to get in than other geothermal pools, but it is a unique place and is listed as one of National Geographic´s 25 wonders of the world.

What is the Blue Lagoon?

The Blue Lagoon is another amazing example of how geothermal energy is used in Iceland. Next to the lagoon is a geothermal power plant. The excess hot water from the plant is released to the lava field creating the lagoon. The looming blue color which gives the Blue Lagoon its name, arrives from the minerals in the water.

Making the Blue Lagoon not only looks cool and out of this world beautiful, but also extremely healthy and good for your skin.

It's also located within 20 minutes’ drive from Keflavik International airport and Reykjavik. So, visiting can easily be your first or last outdoor activity on your trip to Iceland.


Other amazing lagoons in Iceland

The Blue Lagoon is far from being the only geothermal lagoon worth visiting. You might also want to visit Sky Lagoon, Secret Lagoon or Mývatn Nature Baths and the Forest lagoon next to Akureyri.  

Horseback riding in Iceland

If you like animals and are looking for an outdoor adventure in Iceland, horseback riding might just be what you´re looking for.

Horseback riding is possible in most parts of Iceland as we do have horses all over the island. That's also one of the main attractions of horseback riding here. You can choose from so many different environments for your tour.

Beach tours are among the most popular types of horseback riding in Iceland. If you want to see the black sands of the south coast or red sands of Snæfellsnes peninsula, why not do so on the back of a horse?

Horse riding tours are available for most of the year but are more common during the summer. There you can ride into the midnight sun as you explore the wilderness. The same way as the Vikings did.


What's so special about Icelandic horses?

Speaking of the Vikings. They were the ones who brought horses to Iceland. Over the centuries they have adapted to the extreme environment here. Making them very different from other horses in the world.

The most notable feature is their size. The Icelandic horse is small, being in size somewhere between a regular horse and a pony.

Did you know that the Icelandic horse has five types of walks? One of them being unique only to the Icelandic horse.

Seasons: Winter or summer tours in Iceland

When looking for things to do in Iceland, it can make a difference when you plan on visiting. Weather conditions play an important role for your outdoor activities. There is perhaps no place on earth where that’s more relevant than in Iceland. The weather here is tricky and can be unpredictable.

Whether you are hiking a glacier or taking a boat trip, you need to be well prepared. Having the right outfit will affect your experience.

You also need to consider that some outdoor activities are only available during a certain part of the year. For example, it's impossible to enjoy the midnight sun in winter and see the northern lights in the summer.

Luckily, most tour operators display when outdoor activities are available. If you are going by yourself, make sure they are available at the time when you plan to visit Iceland. You don't want to lose precious vacation time looking for something which is not doable. And most importantly you don't want to put yourself in any kind of danger.


Enjoy the midnight sun

Our summer days are long and bright. From June to August there is daylight almost throughout the entire night. The calm evening weather is the perfect time for your outdoor adventure.

If you´re a night person, going on a hike or any other outdoor activity in the midnight sun might just be what you’re looking for in Iceland.

Visit the Winter wonderland

If you want to take a walk in a winter wonderland, Iceland is the perfect place for you. The winter here is long, cold, and dark. But it is also full of wonders worth exploring. This season offers many incredible outdoor activities which are only available during winter.

See the northern lights in Iceland.

The northern lights are only visible during the winter. The auroras borealis, as they are also called, are the main attraction for many visitors.

If you visit Iceland during winter, you must see the Northern lights dance in the night sky. You do not want to miss nature's most spectacular light show!

The visibility of the northern lights depends on conditions. Therefore, you might have to go look for them while you are here. You can find northern lights tours but the best way to hunt for the northern lights is by having a rental car. Then you can simply follow the aurora forecast and take a road trip to where there is high aurora activity and clear sky.



Skiing in Iceland

Skiing is by far the most popular winter sport in Iceland. There are many great skiing areas located all over the island where you can go skiing, snowboarding or take a cross country route.

There are two skiing areas close to Reykjavik. Skálafell and Bláfjöll, both within a few minutes’ drive from the capital area.

Akureyri also has a large skiing area. Being the capital of the North, winter sports are very popular and the sloops there are considered to be the best in the country.

These are the three biggest skiing areas, but you can find good skiing areas in other places in Iceland. Such as in, Ísafjörður, Siglufjörður, Dalvík, Sauðárkrókur and Neskaupstaður.

Most skiing areas offer equipment rentals. Especially the larger ones like in Reykjavik and Akureyri.

Explore Ice caves in Iceland

Glaciers are a world full of wonders. There are so many interesting features to explore from these natures’ giants. One being ice caves. Formed naturally underneath the ice, these caves are natural marbles well worth exploring.


Visiting ice caves has become extremely popular over the past years. As ice caves form under moving glaciers and are made of ice, which melts over time, it is dangerous to explore them without having an experienced guide to escort you.


Sledding in Iceland

Although more commonly known in Greenland, you can go dog sledding in Iceland. After all, there is enough snow here for most of the year to go both dog sledding and on a snowmobile tour. Tours are more common in the winter, but it is also possible to take glaciers tours at times of the year.

Scuba diving in Iceland

When you think of scuba diving, Iceland is perhaps not the first place that pops into your mind. Well, it should! Scuba diving has become an incredibly popular sport in Iceland and here's why.

Iceland might be cold but there is no shortage of clean water here. These crystal clear and ice cold waters are the perfect conditions for scuba diving. Adding the amazing volcanic landscape and you get a diving experience found nowhere else in the world.


Silfra Thingvellir national park

The most famous scuba diving spot in Iceland is Silfra canyon at Thingvellir National Park. To dive there, you need to book in advance and have experience guides. Once you´re in the freezing cold water, you understand why it´s world famous.

The water is so clear that under the surface you get the feeling you are not just diving in water but much more floating in the air.  

Whale watching in Iceland

Take to the sea and watch the genital giants of the oceans. Going whale watching is among the greatest outdoor activities found in Iceland. It is a lifetime experience to see earth's biggest animals in their natural habitat while breathing in the fresh sea air.

There is no place better for whale watching than Iceland. Off the coastline is the feeding ground for numerous species, including the largest animal in the world, the Blue whale.

Other whales you are likely to see are Minke Whales, Fin Whales and Humpback whales.


Whale watching is available around the year. Although it is more common during summer. It can be a bit more difficult to spot the whales if the weather is bad.

How good does a boat tour in the midnight sun sound like? Where you are surrounded by the largest animals in the world! Or in winter where you sail into the night with the northern lights dancing in the sky above?

Like any other outdoor activity, a boat tour requires you to dress according to conditions. Once you are out at sea there is no turning back until the tour is over. So, don´t forget your coat or hat at the docks.

There are a few hot spots for whale watching around the country where boat trips are available. To name a few are Reykjavik, Húsavík, ÓIafsvík and Akureyri. Each tour can take a few hours at most and the whales are often not far from the coastline. Therefore, you don't need to be an experienced sailor to enjoy the tour.


River rafting on glacier rivers

The mighty glaciers of Iceland are natural wonders like no others and getting in contact with them is a life changing experience. The glaciers offer all sorts of outdoor activities around the year. Some are more extreme than others.

One of the most exciting ones are not on the glaciers themselves but on the icy rivers from them. The glacier rivers are ideal for river rafting and there are plenty of them here. All you need to do is book, suit up, and let the powerful rivers of Iceland entertain you in ways you can´t even imagine.

River rafting is a full kit outdoor deal. It offers excitement, exercise, and beautiful scenery all in one ride.

Boat tours in Iceland

River rafting and whale watching aren't the only boat tours available here. Not at all. There are plenty of other amazing aquatic activities you can, and should, enjoy on your trip.

In recent years kayak tours have become popular in Iceland. There you can take to the sea, lakes, or rivers with experienced guides.

If you want to go on a boat trip near a glacier then you´re in luck. At Glacier lagoon you can take a boat tour on the lagoon and sail in the icy water surrounded by icebergs.

You can even take northern light tours on boats. During winter you can find a boat tour specially for just that. There you take to the sea during the night and sail underneath the auroras. Many consider this to be the best way to hunt for the northern lights as there is no light pollution at sea. Making it the perfect conditions to see the northern lights in all its glory.


Fishing Trips in Iceland 

Iceland is a fishing nation. The nation is built up from fisheries. We catch a lot of fish, and it has been our main export product for centuries. The waters around Iceland are among the best fishing grounds in the world.

You can also be a part of our fishing culture. There are boat tours for fishing offered all over the island. At docks you can find tours and go rod fishing.

Salmon fishing in Iceland

Fishing on a boat at sea is most certainly not the only fishing you can do in Iceland. Did you know that Iceland has some of the best salmon rivers in the world?  

Iceland in the summer is ideal for sportfishing. Especially freshwater fishing. Anglers will have no problem finding a lake or river to their liking.

Not only is Iceland known worldwide for great salmon rivers. Here you can also find large trout and is among few places in the world where you can fish arctic char.

Trout and arctic char fishing season starts in April and lasts until the end of October. It is, however, highly dependent on conditions when it starts and ends.

The salmon season starts around the middle of June and ends at the latest in October.

Fishing usually requires permits. These permits can often be bought online or simply by visiting local farmers and landowners.

Playing Golf in Iceland

Golf is the most popular outdoor sport in Iceland. It might sound strange as green golf courses are perhaps not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Iceland.

There are, however, 66 listed golf courses in Iceland. They are spread all over the island and easily found at or close to population areas. About half are full sized 18 holes and the rest 9 holes or more.

Here you can find golf courses surrounded by stunning and unique features. Such as on the Reykjanes peninsula and in the Westman Islands where they are in lava fields. So, be careful when playing there, if the ball goes out of bounce it is most likely gone forever.

Due to the popularity of the sport, players may have to book in advance over the summertime.

Hiking in Iceland

If you like hiking, you must visit Iceland. Iceland is most known for its incredible nature and stunning scenery. Making it a hiking paradise. There are literally countless exciting trails and mountains to explore.  

Iceland is largely inhabited except for the coastline. Therefore, most of the island is untouched wilderness just waiting to be explored. As roads will only get you so far, you might have to walk or hike in order to get to more exclusive areas.

Here you can walk across glaciers, lava fields and volcanos. Follow canyons and waterfalls, climb mountains, battle sandhills or experience the arctic tundra on the high plains in the highland. Visit geothermal areas and so on. The list is endless. It just depends on where you want to go and how far you are willing to test yourself.

If you're unsure on where to go, here are a few popular hikes you might find interesting.


Glymur Waterfall

If you´re looking for a rather short hike you might want to look at Glymur waterfall. It is one of the most popular and beautiful hikes found in Iceland.

Glymur is the highest waterfall in Iceland. Located in Hvalfjörður, it is only about 40 minutes’ drive from Reykjavik. Once there it is a bit of a hike up a trail from the parking lot to the waterfall.

Laugavegur: Hiking to Landmannalaugar

If you´re looking for something a bit more extreme and are willing to test your hiking skills, you might want to look at Laugavegur hike.

Not to be confused with Laugavegur, the main shopping street in Reykjavik. The Laugavegur hike is a four days hike through the highland, between Landamannalaugar and Þórsmörk.

The wilderness is challenging so it is most important to be prepared. Having the right equipment will ensure a better experience.

Visit a Volcano in Iceland

There are about 130 volcanoes in Iceland. If you´re interested in seeing an actual volcanic crater, there is no better place in the world. Some are more accessible than others and you might have to do some hiking. But we promise it is worth it. 

We can't guarantee that it will be active, but we do experience eruptions about every five years, so we can't rule it out either when you visit a volcano in Iceland.

Crystal caves

While not technically an outdoor activity, cave exploration is a popular attraction. Large caves can from underneath the volcanic landscape. Creating stunning underworlds, such as crystal caves. 

One of them is Þríhnúkagígur in the Blue Mountains, close to Reykjavik. It is a huge cave where minerals cover the walls in all colors. So, if you´re not claustrophobic you might want to explore some of Iceland's amazing caves.



Driving in Iceland

As you might have noticed the list of outdoor activities in Iceland is long and there are so many interesting things to do. Keep in mind that Iceland is a large island and in order to explore it you need to have transportation.

The best way to travel in Iceland is by car. Whether you plan on traveling the Ring Road, the Golden Circle or the Highland. Therefore, we strongly recommend getting a rental car and doing a self-drive tour, where you plan where and when you want to travel. 


Practical information

When planning your trip, we also recommend resourcing the places you want to visit. Make sure you have the time and equipment to enjoy your activities.

The purpose of this article is to give travelers a better view of what Iceland has to offer when it comes to outdoor activities. The list above is not nearly completed. There is so much more to do. More hot spots to discover and more outdoor adventures to add on the bucket list.

However, this will hopefully assist you in planning your dream trip to Iceland.

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