This section is not just for athletes and adrenaline addicts, but for any traveler seeking recreation and adventure in Iceland's great outdoors.
Some Reykjavík companies, all of which blur the line between tour operator and travel agency, offer a wide range of tours across Iceland. The Activity Group and Mountaineers of Iceland are oriented toward private tours and tend to be pricier. Arctic Adventures specializes in more robust sporting activities and has very reasonable prices. Nordic Adventure Travel, Svarthamrar 17 (tel. 898-0355; www.nat.is), and Touris serve mostly as travel agencies but are also licensed to lead tours. The two regional companies with the most creative roster of outdoor adventures are Nonni Travel, Brekkugata 5, Akureyri (tel. 461-1841; www.nonnitravel.is), in north Iceland, and West Tours in the Westfjords.
Iceland's two preeminent hiking organizations, Ferðafélag Íslands, Mörkin 6, Reykjavík (tel. 568-2533; www.fi.is), and Útivist, Laugavegur 178, Reykjavík (tel. 562-1000; www.utivist.is), lead small groups in down-to-earth expeditions that usually include Icelanders and revolve around hiking; others delve into anything from skiing to yoga under the midnight sun.
Unless otherwise indicated, tour prices quoted here include transportation (within Iceland only), meals (except for day tours), accommodation, and a guide.
Dog sledding on glaciers is not an authentic Icelandic tradition; but it's a quiet and graceful alternative to roaring around on snowmobiles, ATVs, or Super Jeeps, and the sled dogs—all Greenlandic huskies—are awfully cute. Tours are possible all year, but conditions may be too unfavorable in fall and early winter. Forget about epic dog-sledding treks; all that's usually offered are short jaunts of 45 minutes to 2 hours on Langjökull or Mýrdalsjökull. Snowsuits and gloves are included in tour prices, but make sure to bring sunglasses for snow glare. Tour operators include Eskimos, the Activity Group, and Dog Steam Tours.
Despite its high winds and changeable weather, Iceland is a golf-loving nation with numerous courses. Most courses are open from May through September, and a few try to stay open all year. Settings are spectacular, of course, and teeing off under the midnight sun is especially memorable.
Other golf courses singled out include Hamarsvöllur in Borgarnes, Vestmannaeyjavöllur in the Westman Islands, and Akureyri's Jaðarsvöllur, the site of Iceland's best-known tournament, the Arctic Open.
The best online resource, with basic descriptions and contact information for every Icelandic course, is www.nat.is; click the "Golf Guide" link.
Britannia Golf, a golf tour company based in Virginia, puts together customized Iceland golfing itineraries.
Iceland's fjords, inlets, and sheltered coastlines are ideal for sea kayaking, which can bring you up-close to seal colonies, bird cliffs, and sea caves that are inaccessible from land. All tours recommended below are guided, and none require prior experience.
From Reykjavík, the best tour operator is Seakayak Iceland, which leads excursions to nearby islands. The company is headquartered in Stykkishólmur, on Snæfellsnes peninsula, and day tours from there among Breiðafjörður's countless islets are highly recommended. Seakayak Iceland also leads multi-day adventures—some scheduled and others by arrangement—through Breiðafjörður, with camping on uninhabited islands. West Tours, the leading Westfjords tour operator, offers tours around Ísafjörður and Ísafjarðardjúp; the tour in Mjóifjörður is particularly idyllic, with friendly seals en route.
Iceland's phenomenal scenery and magical light have long enticed professional nature photographers—and even amateur snapshooters are almost guaranteed impressive results. From experience we offer two small bits of advice. First, don't neglect the close-ups. Iceland's broad vistas always command attention, but the landscape's finer textures and patterns create fascinating worlds unto themselves. Second, have prints made by a quality developer. Iceland's subtleties of light and detail -- always so enthralling in person -- often don't come across in inferior prints. Worthwhile trips are led by Borea Adventures, Stykkishólmur-based nature photographer Daniel Bergmann, and Strabo Tours.
Iceland is not a major rock-climbing destination, because its rock faces tend to be crumbly and insecure. You'll still find plenty of established routes detailed at www.outdoors.is/rock-climbing-areas. For an indoor climbing center, try Klifurhúsið in Reykjavík.
Arctic Adventures leads a 4-hour climbing tour to a vertical rock face in Hvalfjörður, an hour north of Reykjavík. Tours cost 5,900kr ($94/£47) and run from April to November -- when the weather cooperates -- with a four-person minimum -- if you're less than four, see if you can combine groups with others who are signed up. No experience is necessary, and the minimum age is twelve. More challenging trips can be arranged on request.
Scuba Diving & Snorkeling
Iceland's top two diving sites feature some fish sightings, but the main attractions are geological formations quite unlike the scenery typically found in warmer waters. The most popular site is Silfra, a deep, dramatic fissure at the bottom of Lake Tþingvallavatn, next to Tþingvellir National Park. Tþingvallavatn's waters are so clear that divers experience a heady flying sensation as they plunge through the waters. The other main site, in the ocean near Akureyri, is Strýtan, a 55m-high (180 ft.) limestone pillar formed by a geothermal spring 70m (246 ft.) beneath the surface. Another diving highlight is El Grillo, an English oil tanker sunk by a German air raid on Seyðisfjörður during World War II.
A PADI Dive Center is located in Reykjavík.
For non-divers, PADI offers a 5-hour snorkeling tour of Silfra from Reykjavík, for 14,900kr ($238/£119).
Whale-watching tours have taken off in recent years. The season runs from late April to early October. The most common sightings are minke whales—which are not particularly huge or entertaining—but lucky tour-goers also spot humpback whales, blue whales, orcas, sei whales, fin whales, white-beaked dolphins, and harbor porpoises.
The major whale-watching launch points: Reykjavík; Keflavík, on Reykjanes peninsula; Ólafsvík, on Snæfellsnes peninsula; Hauganes and Dalvík near Akureyri; Húsavík; and the Westman Islands. Of those, Húsavík is the most popular launch point, with a slight edge in dramatic sightings.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.