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The best outdoor activities in Iceland

Natalie Gomez
1st September 2015

The front view of a jeep

1/10 Go super-jeeping

Super-Jeeping – the sport of fording rivers and driving on glaciers in a 4×4 is one of Iceland’s finest and most unique activities, but it requires specialist skills.

Activities Abroad includes a Superjeep safari in their seven-night Iceland Family Adventure package this August for around £7,000 for four people, or check out Jon Baldur’s Isafold tours in rugged vehicles. Just be prepared for thrills, if not actual spills.

 

Hot springs Iceland

2/10 Geysers in Geysir

This famous spouting of Iceland’s many bubbling hot springs in Strokkur at Geysir gave its name to watery volcanic eruptions all over the world. Strokkur shoots steam and hot water obligingly 20m into the air every 10 minutes. It’s most fun to take children in the morning when they can see the chef from the nearby hotel boiling eggs for breakfast and unearthing loaves of sticky rye bread baked overnight in the red hot earth.

 

Gullfoss Waterfall

3/10 Gullfoss

Gullfoss Waterfall is the most famous, and like Geysir, readily accessible on the Golden Circle route served by tour buses. Choose a clear day to marvel at the 32m double cascade, and hopefully catch one of the many rainbows which regularly materialise. Kids will also enjoy the retail therapy in the excellent gift shop at the top of the falls. It sells affordable Icelandic knits like gloves and scarves, and hand-crafted toys.

 

Viking World

4/10 Viking World

At Viking World, only five minutes from the airport at Keflavik, you can see how Norse invaders got to Iceland’s shores. A phenomental 23m replica Viking ship, which has proven its ability to sail to America and back, and an excellent exhibition of early Icelandic exploits offer a great introduction to this strangebut fascinating land which shares so many roots with Britain. 

 

Thingvellir National Park

5/10 Thingvellir National Park

Thingvellir National Park, less than an hour’s bus ride from the capital of Reykjavik, is stunning with its rift valley, river and lake. It is also a national shrine as the home of Iceland’s first Parliament. There’s plenty to do here in the beautiful outdoors – hike in the valley, fish, ride horses or just gawp at the amazing views of the brooding Skjaldbreidur volcano in the distance and excellent free show in the visitors’ centre.

 

Two horses in a field

6/10 Icelandic Horses

Icelandic horses, with their glamorous long manes and unique gait, are all descended from the single equine species imported to the island more than 1,000 years ago. Get up close and personal with some of the hundreds who graze in the fields, or visit half a dozen beauties in their stables at the Fridheimer family arena near Geysir. It’s on the tour bus route, and the family puts on a fine arena display, showing off the unique steps only this breed can execute as an addition to the usual walk, trot and canter.

 

A church in Iceland

7/10 Terrific Churches

Iceland’s fantastically-decorated old churches are spectacular. Hire a car and you can get to some of the best around the country, notably the one at Thingeyrar built of stone hauled across the ice. There’s also the wooden church at Reykholt, whose priest is a fantastic guide and story-teller, and the old turf-covered church at Vidimyri on the less-travelled north coast. But you won’t need a car to visit Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik, designed in the 1930’s to resemble Iceland’s famous basalt lava flows and the sixth tallest building in the country.

 

Blue lagoon, Grindavik

8/10 Blue Lagoon

With nearly 800 natural hot springs, it’s no wonder the favourite pastime of Icelanders is socialising in warm water. Even modest hotels have hot tubs, and there are many small bathing pools in remote countryside as well as municipal baths in town. Iceland’s most famous watering hole is the Blue Lagoon, between Reykjavik and the airport. It offers steam rooms, spa treatments, a shoulder-massaging waterfall and pale blue silica mud you can slather on to condition your skin. Plan a long enough visit to enjoy stunning views of the surrounding black lava fields from the relaxation room.

 

Saga Museum

9/10 The Saga Museum

Iceland’s history is a series of tall tales of who did what to whom, passed down over the centuries and told nowhere more vividly than the Saga Museum in Perlan, one of Reykjavik’s most exciitng buildings. The owners modelled lifelike historical figures on friends and family to create an entertaining audio-guided romp through 1000 years of bloody turmoil. Upstairs is a good value cafeteria with panoramic terrace, and gourmet dinners are served at the revolving rooftop restaurant.

 

Saga age farmhouse

10/10 Saga Age Farmhouse

Book: The Adventure Company offers family touring holidays, from £4,848 for a family of four including flights, B&B and activities. Regent offers self-drive tours, from £3,800.

Travel time: A flight from London takes around 3 hours.

How to get there: easyJet flies direct from London, from £35.50

Step back in time

The golden age of Iceland’s 10th century is brought to life at the replica Saga Age farmhouse at Eriksstadir. It was from here that Erik the Red, a national hero, set course for Greenland, which became an outpost of the Icelandic empire. A restored longhouse manned by guides in Viking Age costume is a popular summer-only attraction around 100 miles from the capital.

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