Uncharted Backpacker

Top 10 Activities to do in Iceland

In a martian-like landscape where the weather changes instantaneously and the pure vastness of the place makes it seem as if you will never see enough, you may be thinking “Where do I start?”. Well lucky for you we have created a list of activities and the companies we used so that you can see as much of this magical place in the most fun and adventurous ways possible. 

Glacier Snowmobiling

For all you adrenaline junkies out there we know you will enjoy the snowmobiling tour through Arcanum Glacier Tours. Many of their employees are search and rescue volunteers so they are safety oriented and highly trained.

The first step in the tour is suiting up in a windproof onesie that will keep you warm and cozy during your time on the glacier. As we stepped outside a giant 8-wheeler Glacier truck is waiting to take us up to the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, which covers the Katla volcano, one of Iceland’s largest volcanoes.

Once we arrived on the glacier, they give us a quick debriefing on how to use the snowmobiles, which is essentially them saying “don’t turn too sharp, you will probably tip over”. I have never driven one and was able to grasp the concept within 2-3 minutes, they are dummy proof. After a few awkward jerky starts we were off and began exploring the vast Ice field while our guide periodically stops to give us some background on the glacier and how it correlates with Iceland’s history!

Glacier Snowmobiling Video

Viking Sushi

If you’re looking for something less physical but equally as exciting try the Viking Sushi Tour with Sea tours. This excursion takes you out onto open waters where the crew will drop a net down to the ocean floor and when they reel it back in…its lunchtime!

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Freshest seafood in all of Iceland

That’s right, they hand you a butter knife and all the scallops and sea urchins are ready for your dining pleasure (okay the staff prepare the seafood for you as well, but it’s more fun to do it yourself!). The net will bring up other critters for you to play with too such as, crabs, starfish, and snails. This is an excellent opportunity for families as the parents get to enjoy a tasty treat while the kids get to learn about Iceland’s underwater creatures

Uncharted Backpacker’s Viking Sushi Adventure

Zodiak Glacier Tours

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Volcanic rock and frozen ice create a marble effect on this beautiful Iceberg

For those couples in search of a light excursion, we suggest heading down to the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon for a zodiac tour with Glacier Lagoon! It’s the best way to get up close and personal with the glacier and if you’re lucky you may even see some wildlife. Due to the glaciers retreating the landscape is constantly changing, so as you get onto your inflatable boat and pass by the massive icebergs listen closely to the sound of change, “crack”, “trickle”, “splash”, that’s the sound of a changing world for Iceland.  It’s truly a humbling experience on how climate change has impacted the world around us.  

Whale Watching in North Iceland

Our boat fell silent as the engine was cut off and we all waited in anticipation of what we hoped to see. Suddenly off in the distance we saw a small puff of mist come out of the water. We started up the engine and inched closer, then out of seemingly nowhere a giant fin popped out of the water. The click of camera’s was all you could hear for about 10 seconds and then it was gone. Within minutes the whale was back, and he brought friends this time, fins and tails began to flutter across the water and soon enough they began erupting from the surface.

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whale tail surfacing

It’s not easy to describe the shock value of seeing the size of these creatures, even when you’re standing on a boat that fits 100 + people, they still look gargantuan and yet somehow elegant as they rise out of the water. All in all, we were fortunate to have great weather and lots of whale sightings that day, we saw about 15 whales in Akureyri with our tour operator Elding.

Horseback Riding in Iceland

We were thrilled to discover the guesthouse we were staying at offered horseback riding tours. The Heydalur Guesthouse is located in a stunning valley in the West Fjords. They have a stable full of beautiful Icelandic horses, a well-trained guide, and a trail that offers up some great views of the valley.

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Stephen on his trusty Steed

We were pleasantly surprised to see that the horses are not like the horses we ride in the west, they are much smaller, have heavier coats, and behave in a calmer manner, this is not to say that they are slow, their canter can take you grabbing the reins for dear life if you’re not paying attention. 

We had an individual in our group who had never been on a horse, Stephen who is very good with horse riding and I would consider myself to be an intermediate rider. Our guide was able to keep all three of us safe by pairing us with specific horses, Stephen’s was a stubborn speedy bastard, mine was an elegant powerhouse of gracefulness, and the newbie had a very calm horse who I can only describe as half-asleep. We stopped at a lake and the horses walked right in to get a drink and as we headed back to the stable, we stopped to hand feed the horses.

Seafood Trail

As we started the Seafood Trail tour with our quirky and knowledgeable guide, we knew we were going to fall in love with the sleepy fishing village in Sudureyri. Located at the edge of the Arctic Circle nestled in the westfjords, Sudureyri is the best place to offer up some gourmet seafood and wander through the town to learn about Iceland’s deep roots in the fishing industry.

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Sudureyri Harbour

After a short stroll of the streets and a freshly made fishcake to snack on, we entered the fish manufacturing plant and learned about what all goes into the exporting of Icelandic fish. After the plant, we were shown a fish drying shed where they make “Hardfiskur” or you guessed it, dried fish. With a hammer, we broke apart the dried fish and nibbled away at the jerky as we finished the walk back to the main street. At the very end of the tour, they showed us how to make “Plokkfiskur” (a mashed potato-based fish stew) which is now something we cook regularly at home on a cold winter day.

If your not a seafood fan this is still worth a visit, the guides are very well versed in the history of the area and answered some of the most random questions we could come up with. We really enjoyed visiting the factory, boat dock, and viewing some of the historic areas of the small town.

Abandoned Herring Factory

One of my favorite stops in Iceland was the Abandoned Herring Factory, simply because it’s so unique and empty. On first arrival, we assumed the exhibit was closed as there was no entrance and no staff anywhere in site, but after driving for an hour up a pothole-riddled road we were determined to sneak a peek. After walking around to the back of the building we found an open door and walked into a room of hanging teeth, after shaking off that “evil tooth-fairy” vibe we headed deeper inside the factory and found several more small and large art displays and still not a person in sight!

It was great to experience the exhibit solo as we found the soundtracks, they added into the building added a lot to the experience.  After soaking up the art indoors we headed back outside and noticed one of the fish oil drums was open, so we crawled in. The Inside was another really great art piece. This creepy little factory looks like nothing more than a dilapidated building, but it hides a treasure trove of art and history for you to explore.

Viking Film Set – Hofn, Iceland

This Viking film set was built in 2010 for a movie that never ended up being made. Blending seamlessly into the landscape around it, you will easily mistake it for the real thing!  For a small fee, you can roam the grounds freely, exploring and learning how the film crew had designed the set so meticulously. 

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Replica of a viking chief’s house

You will see many Viking symbols carved into the doors as well as impressive resemblances to traditionally built Viking homes. The best part is as the years go by the set looks more and more authentic you can see that the moss has begun to creep up the sides of houses, the wood has discolored, and the grass is not maintained allowing wild growth to form.

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The viking Village entrance

Bjarnarhofn Shark Museum

The Bjarnarhofn Shark Museum is THE place to try the traditional Hakarl, or more commonly referred to as Fermented shark meat in the west. As you enter the museum you will be bombarded with hundreds of artifacts, replicas, and even teeth and skin from the Greenlandic Shark.

The staff will show you a short presentation to answer all of your questions and then you get to try the famed Hakarl, which, as our favorite traveler Anthony Bourdain once lovingly referred to it as “The worst thing I have ever eaten”, but not to worry they also give you a drink called “Black Death” to help soothe you after the fermented meat hits your stomach.

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Greenlandic Shark meat fermenting in a drying shack behind the Museum

Once you’ve enjoyed your snack you are free to head out to the grounds where they have a working drying shed that has shark meat dangling inside, slowly putrefying for the next tourist’s enjoyment.

Uncharted Backpacker eating Fermented Shark Meat

Hiking in Iceland

If you’re in Iceland you must go hiking, it’s such a unique experience.  Very rarely can you walk through lava fields, sink into moss-covered ground, and witness waves crash along the coastline all in one trek!

After a bit of trial and error we recommend dressing for spontaneous changes in the weather, double check that your shoes have good grip, and when a sign warns you not to do something, don’t do it, your life is more important than an epic selfie.

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Now onto some options for you, one of our top picks is the Laugavegur Trail which is easily the most popular hike in Iceland taking on average about 3-4 days to complete. This trek awards you with some amazing views of geothermal areas and colorful mountains and can easily be turned into smaller hikes should time be limited. Another favorite is the short hike up to the Hverfjall Crater Rim Trail. Although the hike up to the crater is not overly exciting the view from the rim will take your breath away.  The Latrabjarg Cliff hike has some great opportunities for bird watching, including puffins! We found the trail to be less busy than other hikes and not overly strenuous, considering you are going up a cliff.

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Iceland is filled with determined artists and entrepreneurs who love to build new and unique experiences for locals and tourists alike. When you combine these experiences with a beautiful landscape you create the perfect recipe for some outstanding activities for everyone to enjoy. Whether you’re looking for a guided tour or a bold journey into the unknown, Iceland will have what you’re looking for. These activities are a great way to break up your day and will give you opportunities to explore the ever-changing terrain of Iceland in an adventurous way. 

Iceland Unlimited

Coordinating all of these activities could not have been made possible without the guidance of our amazing tour operator Iceland Unlimited. We were amazed at how packed full of activities our days were because of their planning and hard work. Without Iceland Unlimited we would have spent a good chunk of the trip trying to navigate through hurdles, but thanks to them we were able to fully immerse ourselves in our journey through the country.

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Stephen Gollan

Stephen Gollan

Uncharted Backpacker is a glimpse at the past eleven years of globetrotting I have done. Now at over ninety countries I share my travel knowledge for you so you too can travel the world and see what wonders it has to offer.

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