With its hot springs, active geysers, thundering waterfalls, eclectic cuisine and elusive northern lights, a trip to Iceland is sure to dazzle and impress visitors. There is an abundance of activities on this quirky, geologically diverse Nordic island, available in both summer and winter seasons. Whether you like luxurious spa’s, wildlife watching, waterfall chasing or clinking glasses on a bar crawl there is something for everyone here. Here’s is my guide to some of the amazing adventures in Iceland.
Chase the northern lights
The beautiful aurora borealis are surely the prettiest, electrically charged particles around, with displays of green, pinks and purple light dancing through the night skies of the polar regions. The best time to try and catch the northern lights in Iceland, is during the darkest months from September to Mid-April, when daylight hours drop sharply. Of course, the lights are unpredictable and elusive in their nature and there is a large amount of luck involved as to whether you will spot them and get some envious Instagram worthy snaps.
Location and weather can also have a big impact on their appearance, as Iceland is known for it’s shifting weather patterns and changing conditions. Try and leave the city lights behind and get yourself out into the countryside to increase your chances of seeing one of nature’s most ethereal wonders.
Experience the Blue Lagoon
This unique and luxurious spa is one of Iceland’s most popular tourist attractions and is located in a lava field in Grindavík on the Reykjanes Peninsula in Southern Iceland. The Blue Lagoon has an aqua blue, mineral-rich, outdoor lagoon for bathing, relaxing and treatments. It’s certainly a unique experience to float in its warm waters, surrounded by the striking Icelandic landscape and the bracing elements.
There are a selection of amenities available ranging the silica mud mask station, saunas and steam rooms, a relaxation area and a bookable ‘in water’ massage, should you wish to spoil yourself. The Blue Lagoon is available as part of many organised tours, or you could drive yourself there if you have car hire during your time in Iceland, make sure you book your tickets in advance as this is a wildly popular attraction in Iceland.
Go on a scenic glacier walk
Nothing lets you experience Iceland’s expansive and majestic scenery quite like Glacier walks. Combine picturesque views with the thrill of exploring gigantic glaciers. There is a range of excursions to glaciers in Iceland, from exploring magical ice caves, scaling serene glacier tongues and experiencing the exhiliration of ice climbing, all with varying levels of difficulty. Make sure you book a reputable company to go on an organised glacier kike or ice climb, led by an experienced professional. Be sure to check out the Svínafellsjökull glacier, one of the largest glaciers in the whole of Europe and located in the striking Vatnajökull National Park.
Try traditional Icelandic food
Iceland has a rather unusual array of traditional culinary delights, many of which are not for the faint-hearted. Some of the more bizarre dishes included a fermented shark dish called Hákarl. The shark is prepared by a particular peculiar process that involves it being buried underground and then hung to dry for four to five months, as you can imagine, it’s very much an acquired taste.
Other quirky Icelandic offerings include Svið, which is a whole Sheep’s head, Slátur, which is sheep’s innards, blood and fat and Kútmagar, which is a fish stomach stuffed with fish liver. You get the impression that they are rather fond of innards in Iceland. Should you wish to try some dishes that aren’t quite so challenging to the palate, many restaurants will serve Icelandic dishes such as salted fish, cod tongues, dried fish, Kjötsúpa Meat soup and fishballs. There are also the more slightly controversial options of whale meat from minke whales, puffin and blubber dishes, should that be your particular gastronomic bag.
Party all night on a Reykjavik pub crawl
Reykjavik’s legendary ‘runtur’, or pub crawl as it’s known to you and me, is a night on the lash around various watering holes in Reykjavik. Party like a local and stay out knocking back Icelandic beers until the sun comes up. Many bars stay open till after 4 a.m on Friday and Saturday night. There are many organised tours you can participate in and be guided through you Icelandic larger journey with a ‘local nightlife professional’. Professional piss up artist is surely up there on the list of most outrageously amazing jobs ever? Make sure to sample a shot or two of Iceland’s signature liquor, Svarti dauði or ‘black death’ as it’s reassuringly known as. This is a kind of distilled brand of peach snaps made with caraway seeds and of course, fermented potato mash. They love a bit of fermenting these Icelandics, give them some foodstuffs and you can guarantee they will want to ferment, pickle, dry or preserve it in some manner.
Spot amazing wildlife on a whale watching trip
The Icelandic waters are rich with an abundance of wildlife and whale watching trips offer animal enthusiasts the chance to spot over 23 species of whale on the seas, including humpback whales, minke whales and blue whales, as well as puffins and various seabirds. Be sure to bring your camera and get ready to snap whales slapping their flutes and curiously breaching the sea’s surface as you try an attempt a ‘selfie with humpback’, just try not to fall in, let’s just say that water ain’t warm. These trips have exploded in popularity in recent years, helping to cement Iceland as one of the top whale watching spots in the world. This comes in spite of Iceland flouting an international ban on commercial whaling in 2006 and reintroducing the controversial practice. This means that sadly whaling ships and whale watching boats are often operating in the same areas. Let’s hope that increasing numbers of tourists attending whale watching trips provide the Icelandic government incentive to end whaling.
Hunt for thundering waterfalls
Iceland is home to a variety of majestic and thundering waterfalls that go by possibly some of the most incomprehensible names known to man, try pronouncing ‘Hraunfossar Hrafnabjargafoss’ after a few shots of ‘black death’. The most famous of the waterfalls is ‘Gullfoss’, which means ‘The Golden waterfall’. It is part of the infamous ‘Golden circle’ tours that bus snap-happy tourists around a series of iconic Iceland sites. This waterfall is particularly dramatic due to two different and distinct drops which are at right angles to each other, this certainly makes for a compelling photograph, no matter what season you visit in.
Skógafoss is another popular and photogenic waterfall and is located near the area of Skógar. This gigantic waterfall is an impressive 60m high and 20m wide and very often produces a gorgeous double rainbow, reflecting rather prettily in the spray.
Explore unique geology
Another component of the popular ‘Golden circle tour’ involves visiting the Geysir Geothermal Area and the Þingvellir National Park. In the Geysir geothermal area is a range of geological delights including bubbling mud, geysers shooting scalding water into the air, surreal looking algae and the fierce hiss of steam. One of the most reliable geysers is called Strokkur and it delights visitors and photographers alike by shooting scorching water almost 70ft into the air, approximately every ten minutes or so.
The Þingvellir National Park also has some pretty unique geological features as well as some spectacular scenery. It houses Iceland’s largest lake and also the Almannagjá canyon, which is a rift between the two tectonic plates that Iceland sits on. You can actually walk through the plates and stretch your arms out the touch the two ever-shifting plates.
Scuba dive where the continental plates meet
Did you know that in Iceland you can dive between the divergent tectonic boundary between the North American and Eurasian plates? This surreal spot of diving is possible in the Þingvallavatn Lake located in the Þingvellir National Park in Iceland. This is known as one of the top dive sites in the world, not only because you can dive or snorkel where the continental plates meet but also because of the incredible clarity of the water. The visibility here is underwater visibility in the Silfra fissure is well over 100 meters, which is unparalleled crystal clear water for diving.
There is also some pretty funky algae down there known as ‘troll hair’, which means you will get an abundance of amazing underwater shots if you happen to have a GoPro. Be warned, the water is beyond freezing due to nearby glacial water, so make sure to book a trip with a company that provides a dry suit or super warm diving kits, or you will freeze your nether regions clean off.
Fly through the countryside on a sled dog ride
Nothing says ‘artic adventure’ like whizzing through the snow whilst yelling ‘mush’ at a pack of husky dogs. Snuggle up on a sled and race through the dramatic Icelandic landscape as you are pulled along by ridiculously strong and intuitive dogs. ‘I have no idea how to drive a husky sled’ you might reasonably think, well fear not plucky passengers, you will be in the very capable hands of an experienced Dog sled driver. They will be your fearless and bold Husky captain, as your team of dogs takes you on an amazing adventure.
Make sure to bring a camera you so that can get some adorable shots cuddling up to ridiculously adorable dogs, be the envy of all your friends back home, both real and Facebook with a ‘selfie with husky’.
What do you think of this list? Is there anywhere that should be included, let me know what amazing adventures you have had in Iceland!