Iceland is one of the most dramatically beautiful countries on the planet. Home to majestic glaciers, ice-topped volcanoes, and bubbling hot springs, this Nordic island is packed with natural wonders. Whales swim off the coast, colonies of puffins nest in cliffs, and Icelandic horses roam against a backdrop of jagged mountains. Given all of these opportunities for adventure, it’s unsurprising that increasing numbers of visitors are experiencing the land of fire and ice for themselves.
You could spend weeks exploring Iceland, from vibrant Reykjavík to the remote Westfjords. But if you’re travelling around the island by car, you can pack plenty into just seven days. Here are six of the most thrilling things to do while exploring Iceland:
1. Soak in Natural Hot Springs
Aside from fire and ice, water is also a major feature of Iceland. Geothermal activity has resulted in an abundance of hot springs and geysers. Some are of these springs are boiling hot, while others are the perfect temperature for a relaxing dip. The most famous thermal pool is the Blue Lagoon, located close to Reykjavik. Set in a black-lava field, the turquoise water of the Blue Lagoon is rich in mineral salts and silica mud.
The downside is that the Blue Lagoon is expensive to enter and is generally very busy. But if you’re looking for a more authentic experience, drive to one of Iceland’s natural hot springs. Reykjadalur (translation ‘Steam River’) is close to Reykjavik. You’ll need to hike a short distance to reach it. And don’t forget to bring a bathing suit and a towel.
2. Explore Glacier Ice Caves
Glacier caves are Iceland’s most spectacular caves – formed entirely within blocks of ice. From the beginning of November until the end of March, you can explore their glittering interiors with an experienced guide.
The crystal blue glacier caves of the Vatnajökull glacier are among the most impressive in Iceland. Or if you want to see a dazzling collection of ice sculptures, head to Lofthellir Cave. Lofthellir is a dramatic ice and lava rock cave, near Lake Myvatn.
3. Scuba Dive Between Two Tectonic Plates
Diving in Iceland’s Silfra Fissure is a unique Icelandic experience. The fissure is a deep, water-filled crack between the continents of North America and Europe. Diving and snorkelling in Silfra’s glacial waters is a thrilling underwater experience.
Between the tectonic plates, the water is so clear that visibility generally extends to over 300 feet in most sections of the fissure. There’s a variety of snorkelling and diving tours to choose from, all led by experienced guides. But if you’re planning to dive, you’ll need to have dry suit certification. Alternatively, a minimum of 10 dry suit dives within the last two years is is enough to dive.
4. Watch the Northern Lights
Although it’s impossible to predict whether you’ll see the Northern Lights during your week in Iceland, it’s still one of the best places in the world to see them. In Iceland, the Northern Lights are visible for eight months a year, from early September to late April. But your chances of seeing them will depend on the weather, solar activity, and luck.
If you’re staying in Reykjavík, the Grotto Lighthouse on the Seltjarnarnes Peninsula is one of the best spots to see the lights. It’s situated in the north-westernmost part of the city, so there’s very little light pollution. There’s even a geothermal tub to keep your feet warm. To maximise the possibility of seeing the Northern Lights, consider driving to the Westfjords or North Iceland. Both of these areas have longer hours of darkness and less artificial light than Reykjavík, making it easier to see the lights of the aurora. You can either hunt for them yourself, take a guided tour, or join a boat cruise.
5. Try an Outdoor Adventure
Adventurous activities are easy to come by in Iceland. Dog-sledding, for instance, is a thrilling way to experience Iceland’s wilderness. Led by a pack of Siberian and Greenlandic Huskies, you can ride across the snow-covered landscape.
Another wonderful way to experience Iceland’s landscape is from the back of a horse. Icelandic horses are a small breed, known for their intelligence, hardiness, and friendliness. A riding tour will give you the chance to get to know them on a deeper level. For a speedier adventure, try snowmobiling. Various tours travel across Iceland’s glaciers and some include exploration of ice caves. Qualified drivers can operate the snowmobiles themselves, while children and other adults can ride as passengers.
6. Take a Whale-Watching Trip
Husavik, the whale-watching capital of Iceland, is becoming increasingly popular with visitors. But boats leave from numerous points around the country. Humpback, minke, blue, sperm, and killer whales all swim in Icelandic waters. Tours are the best way to see them up close. If you visit Husavik, stop by the Whale Museum to learn more about Iceland’s controversial history with whales and its current conservation efforts.
Travelling by car is the best way to explore Iceland. Driving will give you the flexibility to change your plans if you need to, or visit some of the country’s more remote destinations. Dominated by nature, Iceland is a country with an overwhelming number of natural attractions. But even in one week, you’ll see enough to leave you mesmerised.