Iceland is home to an array of landscapes littered with steaming geysers, exploding volcanoes, glittering glaciers, snow-covered mountains, solidified lava fields and majestic waterfalls. Iceland is all about the outdoors and there’s no shortage of activities that make the best of the country’s extraordinary natural assets.
Soaking in hot pools
Iceland’s geothermal activity results in famously volatile volcanoes, but it also means there are some more people-friendly natural wonders on the island in the form of natural hot pools. Some are too hot to swim in, but there are many scattered around the island that are perfect bathing temperature – warm enough to keep you toasty even when the air temperature is below zero. The Blue Lagoon, Iceland’s most popular tourist attraction, is a convenient 20-minute drive from the airport, so you can have a relaxing soak before you fly home, or just after you arrive. Then, in the northeast, there’s the far quieter Lake Myvatn Nature Baths with spectacular views over the surrounding volcanic scenery, and while Landmannalaugar in the highlands is only accessible by 4×4, the adventurous journey is worth it to swim in hot springs surrounded by centuries-old solidified lava and emerald-green grass.
Iceland is a fantastic hiking destination: the island’s mountains, fjords, valleys and coastline are criss-crossed with hiking paths that lead you through untouched landscapes. There are lots of short trails to sights like waterfalls that you can do in a couple of hours, or you can choose to do multi-day hikes during the summer into the highlands, where there are few roads and even fewer people.
Glacier trekking and ice climbing
Iceland has its name for a reason – there’s a lot of the cold white stuff around! You can marvel at Iceland’s glaciers and ice caps while driving the Ring Road around the island, but you really shouldn’t miss the chance to get up close to these huge seas of ice. Strap on crampons to go trekking across glacial ridges and fissures or, for the more intrepid, you can strap yourself up and climb up vertical walls of ice with an axe.
You wouldn’t associate Iceland with diving, but the island has one of the most unique and spectacular diving sites in the world. At Silfra in Thingvellir National Park there’s a fissure of crystal-clear glacial water where you can swim between the North American and Eurasian continental plates and touch both at the same time!
Icelandic horses look more like ponies – they have short legs and stout bellies – but they’re incredibly hardy, extremely beautiful (with long manes and fluffy hair) and wonderful to ride. During the summer there are loads of multi-day horse treks to choose from, which can take you deep into the remote highlands, while, year round, there are stables scattered across the island that offer rides of a few hours or a day – it’s a great way to take in Iceland’s breathtaking landscapes.
While this activity is one of Iceland’s most sedate – involving standing on the deck of a ship as it cruises the chilly waters of the Atlantic – it’s no less thrilling, as it gives you the chance to get close to majestic humpback whales, as well as other amazing marine animals such as minke whales, dolphins and porpoises. You can do whale-watching trips from Reykjavik, but Husavik in the northeast is the best place on the island from which to see whales.
Copy and images by Sarah Duff.