What to do in Iceland? 15 activity ideas

Vanessa, Mountain/environmental expert and travel journalist
Vanessa, Mountain/environmental expert and travel journalist

Are there any experiences that one should not miss at all? The island has incredible potential and will fulfil the wildest dreams of nature lovers and those who love wide open spaces. The "Land of Ice and Fire" is suitable for kayaking, horseback riding or snowmobiling… But beyond these thrilling sensations, surrounded by the elements of this unique country, it is also possible to taste delicious local cuisine, visit unique museums, spend unforgettable musical evenings, or simply relax in one of the many natural hot springs. As you will have realized, Iceland has so much to offer that you will already be thinking of coming back...

  • Diving in an underwater canyon

    Diving in an underwater canyon

    Iceland is an island in continuous movement, situated on the convergence of two oceanic plates, the Eurasian and North-American plates. They are diverging by about two centimetres per year and the dividing point is the Silfra fault, located in the heart of Thingvellir National Park. It is one of the most extraordinary cold water diving sites in the world, with crystal clear water allowing visibility up to 100 meters deep! The exceptional purity of the icy water captures natural light like crystal. You can choose between snorkelling or diving, if you have the minimum skills required. Once below the surface, there is a series of pools leading to the “Silfra Cathedral”, the deepest section of the canyon, where you can even touch the two plates at the same time!

  • Kayaking in Hornstrandir peninsula
    Kayaking in Seydisfjordur

    Kayaking in Hornstrandir peninsula

    There is nothing like gliding along the waters and exploring one of the wildest parts of Iceland. Whether it’s during a day-trip or for several days, multiple options are available if you’re into kayaking in the peninsula. In the far north of the Westfjords, the beauty of this natural reserve is astonishing. This ancient basalt plateau heavily carved by glaciers shelters many fjords and bays as well as impressive cliffs. Kayaking on the water will also allow you to observe whales, dolphins and porpoise. And once on land, you will perhaps be lucky enough to see the rare Arctic fox, which is mostly found here in this uninhabited area. The nights you will spend in tents or shelters in the silence of this magnificent natural setting will be great experiences to recall.

  • Skiing in front of the Ocean
    Skiing in Troll Peninsula

    Skiing in front of the Ocean

    When one thinks about skiing destinations, Iceland is not the first one to come to mind, as a result, Iceland is considered as an unusual place for skiing. Icelanders are fond of this sport and it’s widely practised. Several small ski resorts are scattered across the country: Blafjöll is the largest ski area and is located less than half an hour from Reykjavik. In the north, the small ski resort in the village of Siglufjördur offers magnificent panoramas with the ocean in the background. Most of the stations are lit at night and it’s not unusual to observe northern lights while sliding down the slopes during the Arctic winter.

  • Dancing to Icelandic electronic music
    Music festival

    Dancing to Icelandic electronic music

    Each year in October is held one of the coolest music festival: Iceland Airwaves Festival. During 4 days of intense partying, Icelandic bands, DJs and artists from all over the world are performing in several intimate settings in the city. The first edition was held 20 years ago in a warehouse of Reykjavik airport. The event remains one of the best ways for national artists like Sigur Ros, Olafur Arnalds to perform in front of a cosmopolitan audience in the most laid-back atmosphere. At a time of the year when Iceland only enjoy few hours of sunlight, this musical experience into the heart of one of the most creative capital city of Europe is a whole experience in itself!

  • Hiking on horseback
    Horse ride

    Hiking on horseback

    Horses are very important in Iceland. The first ones arrived with the first Norwegians settlers, and the breed has remained pure ever since. Icelandic horses are tiny and friendly animals. Horse riding is quite popular among Icelanders. Different types of excursions are proposed in all parts of the island: on a black sand beach, in the middle of a solidified lava field, or around natural geothermal springs… But perhaps the most original excursion is to participate in the retreat or “rettir”: every autumn, Icelandic farmers gather their sheeps and horses that have been scattered in the grasslands during the summer. It’s the perfect occasion to share unique moments in the wide open spaces and to experience the ancestral traditions of these men and women.

  • Snowmobiling on a glacier
    Snowmobiling in Svalbard

    Snowmobiling on a glacier

    Climbing the slopes of a glacier on a snowmobile will make you feel like you’re in a James Bond scenario, and this experience might become true if you go to Myrdalsjökull, south of the country. Once you have put the appropriate clothing on, let's go for the most invigorating two-hour trip! This huge ice cap is the fourth largest in the country and reaches an altitude of nearly 1500 metres. An excursion takes you to the top of the glacier at the impressive caldera of the Katla volcano, one of the most active on the island. The contrast between the ice and the crater is stunning, and the sight of Iceland's southern coast is truly breathtaking. The trip does not require any previous experience in this field.

  • Take part in the famous Runtur
    Austurstraeti street in Reykjavik

    Take part in the famous Runtur

    The small Icelandic capital has an energy level that is inversely proportional to its modest size. One of its main attractions is undoubtedly the runtur, from the English round tour, i.e. a bar crawl every Friday and Saturday evening. Icelanders and foreigners alike invade the city' s establishments in a very festive atmosphere. The majority of the activities is taking place at Laugavegur and Austurstraeti streets from around midnight until dawn. On Laugavegur, Café Oliver and Dillon respectively offer an excellent selection of electronic and rock music. But it's also in the streets that the social interaction takes place as many music bands and buskers play spontaneously in the streets. There are tours organized by Reykjavik Pub Crawl, which offer a tour of the main pubs and bars of the city in small groups!

  • Swimming in hot springs
    The Blue Lagoon

    Swimming in hot springs

    Iceland is the ideal place when it comes to natural sources and hot springs as the island is situated on a hot spot of the oceanic ridge. Spread out across the country, the most famous of them is without any doubt the Blue Lagoon. Therefore, if you’ve just got there and if you’re going home, you should make a stop there and relax for a few hours in the 38°C/100°F waters of this vast geothermal facility close to the airport. With turquoise waters rich in silicas and minerals heated by the ultra-modern Svartsengi factory, you can restore your body in a surrealistic setting of fumaroles and solidified black lava fields...

  • Eating the best lobster soup in the world
    Lobster soup

    Eating the best lobster soup in the world

    Reykjavik has a wide variety of dining options and there are plenty of places that will delight food lovers. Among them, there is one which is absolutely worth it: the "Saegreifinn" or "Sea Baron" is a just small house in the port of Reykjavik at first sight, but it has become over the years a real institution, for tourists and Icelanders alike. All the products are bought and cooked by the owner. There is no menu: the dishes are simple but very nourishing. The delicious and creamy lobster soup is the famous flagship dish that spread beyond Iceland's borders, but you can also enjoy lovely fish skewers at a fair cost. This is one of the most authentic places on your journey.

  • Whale watching
    Whales near Husavik

    Whale watching

    Situated in the north of Iceland, the charming fishing village of Husavik is an ideal starting point for whale watching. It’s also the first permanent settlement in the country, which was first inhabited in 850 by Gardar Svavarsson. In the summer, dozens of species of whales come to feed in the Skjalfandi Bay, which benefits from ideal currents and tides conditions. After an hour on the boat, we finally reach the krill-rich area and feel the excitement of seeing these majestic creatures of the oceans. Seeing a humpback whale, even of a few seconds, is a very special experience. White-beaked dolphins, porpoises and other whale species are also frequently seen. The sea bed is a real sanctuary...

  • Northern Lights watching
    Aurora borealis

    Northern Lights watching

    Inuit populations believed that the Northern Lights were a reflection of the souls of the deads. This truly magical natural phenomenon that creates draperies in the night sky is actually the result of solar wind particles colliding with hydrogen and oxygen atoms in the upper layers of the atmosphere. If you wish to observe this magnificent spectacle, you will have to come when days are getting shorter, the best period is from the end of September to March. There is no shortage of incredible natural sceneries to enjoy this magical experience: the Highlands region like Landmannalaugar is an ideal destination, located in the heart of nature with no lighting or pollution. More accessible, the magnificent ice-covered lagoon of Jökulsarlon on the south coast is one of the most famous sites for admiring them.

  • Observing Puffin colonies

    Observing Puffin colonies

    There are many sites to observe puffins in Iceland, but none of them allows easier and more extensive observation than Latrabjarg: two million of these tiny creatures are nestled in the rock walls of the cliffs. Situated in the extreme West of the West Fjords, this natural site of stunning beauty is, in fact, a cap with cliffs stretching up to 10 miles and with an average height of 400 metres. Photograph lovers, you will be in heaven! Not to mention the spectacular view on the cliffs and on the Snaefellsjokull by clear weather, a great number of bird species are observable such as Fulmars, gulls, Alca torda penguins and murre. All the cliffs can be walked along a path and seals can be seen basking on the rocks below.

  • Exploring a volcanic cave
    Vidgelmir lava cave

    Exploring a volcanic cave

    Visiting ice and lava caves will make you understand why Iceland is called "the land of Ice and Fire"! If you prefer ice, one of the most popular sites is the Vatnajökull glacier. The largest ice cap in the country. These extraordinary blue-tinted formations are the result of the melting of the glaciers in summer as the water from the glacier passes through water that is about 1000 years old to form the cave you are visiting, which is continually changing over time. Vidgelmir lava cave is located near Husafell in the western part of the country. It is the world's largest of its kind and it offers a beautiful spectacle of crimson and orange colours as well as a wide variety of rock formations.

  • Walking on a black sand beach
    Black sand beach in Vik, fishing village

    Walking on a black sand beach

    Vik I myrdal is a small city on the southern coast of Iceland which is is mostly renowned for its stunning black sand beaches. Combined with the purity of Arctic's light, the different colours going from simple grey to deep black are fascinating for the eye when walking down for miles and miles on dark sand with the ocean on the side. Facing the cliffs of mount Reynisfjall, this beach is regularly referred to as one of the most beautiful on earth and is a place of choice for any photographer. You can also take some time to contemplate the Reynisdrangar, columns of lava sculpted by the waves, which according to Icelandic folklore are trolls who have unsuccessfully tried to raise a boat to the coast and then froze to a rocky pinnacle when the sun came up...

  • Visit the Reykjavik Phallological Museum
    Reykjavik Phallological Museum

    Visit the Reykjavik Phallological Museum

    Icelanders are fond of museums and there are all kinds of them throughout the country. But one of them is the winner of the most unusual museum of all: the Reykjavik Phallological Museum. Unique in the world, it is exclusively dedicated to phallology, the study of mammalian phallus! It contains about 200 specimens from 46 species living in Iceland, ranging from hamsters to blue whales Penises of all shapes and sizes are found alongside works of art depicting the male body part. The museum has even hosted a human specimen for a few years, thanks to a donation ( a post-mortem one!) from Pall Arason. "Our mission is a biological and non-erotic one," says Sigurdsson, the founder of the museum. Between wild expanses, fjords and the frozen sea inhabited by iconic animals, Iceland is bursting with all kinds of natural wonders.