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Top 10: ultimate Iceland adventures

Many of the country’s blockbuster travel experiences are shaped by the seasons. We round up the best tours, from summer hiking in a volcanic national park to enjoying aurora-painted night skies in the icy depths of winter.

Northern Lights over the Skaftafellsjökull Glacier in east Iceland.

Photograph by Ryan Newburn
Published 9 Aug 2021, 08:05 BST

1. Explore volcanoes in the Westman islands 

For budding geologists, the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago is a dream destination — the frequency of volcanic eruptions means they can study events like the 1963 appearance of Surtsey, a new island that rose from the chilly waters of the Atlantic. For the people living on these southern islands, the volcanoes are more of a daily concern. To get an understanding of what it’s like to live in the shadow of a potentially deadly peak, hike Eldfell, a volcanic cone, in summer with a local. Tours from £35. visitwestmanislands.com

2. See the Northern Lights in east Iceland

Despite lying just outside the Arctic Circle, Iceland is a dream location for spotting the Northern Lights. A clear sky and high solar activity are required for the aurora to be at its best. February, March, September and October are regarded as the best months, with East Iceland arguably the best region for sightings, due to minimal light pollution. Tours from £94. guidetoiceland.is

3. Try a Midnight Sun quad bike Tour

Quad bike tours are available almost all year in Iceland, but if you’re arriving in the height of summer it’s possible to combine this distinctly local experience with another popular Icelandic pastime. Safari’s Midnight Sun ATV Tour starts in Reykjavík and takes in Hafravatn lake and the excellently named Wolf Mountain. Driving the ATVs may seem daunting at first, but expert guides will make sure you have all the training you need before heading out. Tours from £119. safari.is

4. Run a husky team

While it’s technically possible to run huskies all year round, the dogs get the most benefit in the depths of winter. Head up to Akureyri, in the north, to meet the mutts at Go Husky, then spend a few hours mushing through the snowy woods. The only time you’ll see the dogs looking anything less than enthusiastic is when they’re in their kennels, desperate to get out into the wilderness. Tours from £130. gohusky.is

5. Hike in Snaefellsjökull National Park

The caldera of Snaefellsjökull, the remarkable volcano on the Snaefellsnes peninsula, has long been covered by an ice cap, making for some extraordinary hiking. So otherworldly is this environment that NASA sent 32 of its astronauts, including Neil Armstrong, here to train in preparation for landing on the moon. A century earlier, the same peak captured French novelist Jules Verne’s imagination, too — it’s the gateway to the centre of the Earth in his 1864 science fiction classic Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Tours from £115. gowest.is

Thingvellir National Park, an hour east from Reykjavík on the Golden Circle.

Photograph by Ryan Newburn

6. Try heliskiing

For a proper taste of adventure, jump in a helicopter. Needless to say this isn’t for amateurs, but those confident on skis or a snowboard will have an unforgettable experience in the country’s remote slopes. The best heliskiing is to be found in the north of the country, with the season typically running from February to June. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this James Bond-like experience doesn’t come cheap. Four days from £6,360. arcticheliskiing.com

7. Dive between tectonic plates

There aren’t many dive sites around the world where there’s close to no chance of seeing any animal life and yet the prospect still seems irresistible. Then again, there aren’t any other dive sites like Silfra. Located inside the Thingvellir National Park, just an hour east from Reykjavík on the Golden Circle, this rift offers extraordinary visibility at depths of up to 300ft and the unique opportunity to dive between the North American and Eurasian Plates. Dives from £166. dive.is

8. Explore ice caves

Mighty Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest glacier, was one of several filming locations in Iceland to benefit from a Game of Thrones-related tourism boost. The show may have since finished, but the glacier and its eponymous national park have remained popular. Guided hiking on the ice is one option, but if you’ve got a bigger appetite for adventure, then head into the sapphire-blue ice caves. Still not enough? Then enquire about ice climbing. Tours from £175. adventures.i

9. Kayak in the Westfjords

On a calm summer’s day, kayaking in the Westfjords offers a chance to leave all the drama on shore. The sheer canyon walls surrounding Ísafjördur make a spectacular backdrop as eider ducks and northern fulmars glide across the glassy water. That’s not to say these pleasant excursions always play out without incident — families of grey seals are often spotted among the kelp and, once in a while, pods of orca come into the bays looking for them. Half-day tour from £87. boreaadventures.com

10. Trek between huts

In the Fjallabak Nature Reserve in the Icelandic Highlands, it’s possible to hike in the wilderness from hut to hut. These rudimentary dwellings are akin to the bothies in the UK and have similarly offered shelter to those in the wilderness for decades. The occasionally spiteful weather means they often come in handy, but in calmer conditions, these week-long hikes offer the chance to enjoy some of the country’s most scenic and raw landscapes, far from the crowds. Tours from £2,845 per week. wildlandtrekking.com

Published in the September issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK).

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