The unique landscape of Iceland lends itself well to outdoor exploration, and given the country’s lack of big cities, the natural side of Iceland seems to be what draws most visitors. If you have lots of time, you can drive around the entire island, following the Ring Road, to see all the highlights, or pick one corner of the country and explore in-depth.
If you’re short for time though, you can still experience many of Iceland’s natural wonders by taking part in some outdoor adventures close to Reykjavik.
Countless tour companies operate across the country and will arrange all the details of your excursions (including transportation from Reykjavik in many cases) and provide all the necessary gear.
Horseback riding is extremely popular in Iceland, and after one encounter with an Icelandic horse, it’s easy to tell why. Riding an Icelandic horse is an unforgettable experience. The horses are small and stocky, but very strong – they can carry about three times their weight) and are know for being very friendly and curious. What makes them even more special is that, unlike most horses (which walk, trot, canter, and gallop), the Icelandic horse also possesses a fifth gait, the super smooth and fast tolt. Farms like Ishestar and Laxnes, both near Reykjavik, offer short rides and longer excursions that pass by sights like Gullfoss and Geysir.
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Diving and Snorkeling
Iceland is not a place you might think of to go diving or snorkeling, and the water in the lake at Thingvellir National Park is very,very cold. But snorkelers can cozy dry suits and bob on the surface of the incredibly clear water to gaze down at a rift in the earth. The National Park sits on the site where two tectonic plates meet, and are slowly moving apart, forming this rift. With Dive Iceland, experienced divers can actually descend into the crack; snorkelers will view it from above.
There are over 2000 known caves in the country, and more are being discovered every day. Arctic Adventures offers underground cave explorations near Reykjavik and will take guests over moss-covered lava fields into the darkness of a cave that once had flowing lava running through it. Some of the cave tours are more strenuous than others, but expect at least a little bit of stooping and crawling in the semi-darkness.
Eskimos Tour Company offers dog sledding excursions year-round. In the summer, the dogs run over a glacier, while in the winter the sled is outfitted with wheels and the dogs run along the black sand beaches near Vik. While the feeling of the dog’s power as they pull you along is exhilarating, perhaps the best part of the excursion is the interaction with the friendly pups afterwards.
Whale watching (and puffin sighting) tours are offered from Reykjavik year round from companies like Elding, even though whale watching season is technically from April to October. Though you may see whales near the capital, the best spot for sightings is in the northern city of Husavik, where companies like North Sailing offer tours and sailing excursions from April to October.
Photo by r.geilen