Get away from the crowds in Iceland with these 10 alternative experiences


The Golden Circle, Blue Lagoon, Glacier Lagoon… sure, Iceland’s big hitters are absolutely worth the visit but can also become quite crowded.

Why not include something different in your itinerary, something that might surprise and delight? Here are some of Iceland’s great off-the-radar experiences – many of which are summer-only activities – that will help you understand the people, culture and history of your host nation a little better.

1. Become a farmer of the past

In a Reykjavík suburb, you can visit an ancient turf farm. Árbær, the farm after which the suburb Árbær is named, is mentioned in sources dating as far back as 1464 but archaeological analysis has shown that people have lived there since the 10th or 11th centuries. Árbær Open Air Museum comprises a cluster of old houses in addition to the turf farm, and in summer and at special occasions visitors can participate in old-fashioned farm work, such as haymaking.

Planning tip: If it fits your schedule better, other turf farms welcome visitors in the summer: Glaumbær, Laufás and Grenjaðarstaður in North Iceland, Bustarfell in East Iceland and Skógar museum in South Iceland.

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People walk on boardwalks alongside hot springs with steam rising from the water into the cold air
After cooking a snack in a hot spring, stroll along the Reykjadalur Valley © Matthew Micah Wright / Getty Images

2. Boil an egg in a hot spring in Hveragerði

Iceland is bubbling with geothermal energy, so better put it to good use! At the Geothermal Park in Hveragerði, about a 30-minute drive from Reykjavík, you can boil an egg in a hot spring, try delicious hot spring bread and cover your hands and feet in healing mud. Combine your visit with a walk along the warm river in Reykjadalur valley and soak in a natural hot spring. It’s a fairly easy route best done in the summer season. During rain and the spring thaw, the path can be too muddy, and when the valley is covered in snow, there’s the added risk that you might accidentally step into hot springs and get burnt.

Planning tip: Up for the adrenaline kick of a lifetime? Soar down to Hveragerði, superman style, on Iceland’s longest zipline.

3. Go for a run through Iceland’s epic natural scenery

If you like to run, why not test your running skills in the wild Icelandic nature? Trail races are picking up speed in Iceland. Many come for Laugavegur Ultra, a 55km-race (35 miles) in the highlands from Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk. But there are myriad possibilities, including the Mývatn Marathon, with the full-distance marathon and a 9.4km (5.8-mile) Lava Run. Check the online list of races and pick one that’s right for your level of challenge. Of course, you don’t have to participate in a race – just lace up your trainers, tap into the power of nature all around you as you jog through a forest, up a mountain or along the seaside.

Local tip: Want to go sightseeing while running in Reykjavík? Check out these two routes by Running in Iceland, which take you past some of the capital’s main landmarks.

4. Catch your own food at sea

A visit to Iceland is not complete without a boat trip. Try out your sea legs and test your luck at sea angling with one of the tour providers from Reykjavík harbor (including Elding and Special Tours). Afterwards, the catch is cooked on board – the freshest fish you’ve ever tasted! Further afield in the pristine Westfjords, Iceland Sea Angling and Iceland Pro Travel offer sea angling, while Fisherman has a seafood trail tour. In North Iceland, combine sea angling with a whale watching tour.

Planning tip: Sea angling tours are available in summer, only.

5. Be immersed in slow travel with a stay at the Wilderness Center

Usually, you’re not allowed to touch objects in a museum, let alone sleep there! The Wilderness Center is based at the innermost farm in Fljótsdalur valley, East Iceland, approximately an hour’s drive from Egilsstaðir. The farmhouse, built in 1940, has been meticulously renovated as a museum-cum-guesthouse. It’s located on the doorstep of the eastern highlands, the most expansive wilderness in Northern Europe. A beacon of slow travel, it’s a place to relax in all seasons, enjoy wholesome homemade food, join one of the many tours available and immerse yourself in the center’s unique exhibition about life on the edge of the world.

Detour: The 20-km (12-mile) waterfall trail goes from the Wilderness Center to Laugarfell in the highlands along a glacial river, through spectacular landscapes and past 15 waterfalls. Afterwards, have a soak at the hot springs at Laugarfell.

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A group of black-and-white birds with colorful beaks on a clifftop
See puffins nesting in burrows near Borgarfjörður Eystri each summer © Giacomo Augugliaro / Getty Images

6. Observe the birds in Borgarfjörður

Borgarfjörður Eystri is a wonderful little village in East Iceland, surrounded by colorful mountains, which once inspired one of Iceland’s most famous painters, Jóhannes Kjarval. Every summer, about 10,000 pairs of puffins nest there, favoring a little islet outside the village called Hafnarhólmi. There’s a birdwatching house on the islet, where you can sit and watch the puffins flying in and out of their burrows, as well as the puffins’ neighbors, the fulmars, kittiwakes and eider ducks.

Planning tip: The popularity of Borgarfjörður Eystri has increased in recent years, so it’s better to book accommodation a long time in advance. For a good night’s sleep with a twist, try Blábjörg, where you can head to the spa to bathe in beer and seaweed.

7. Watch the sun not set in Grímsey

Grímsey island is the only place in Iceland which stretches across the Arctic Circle and so it’s the most natural place for watching the midnight sun. If you’re not sure where the Arctic Circle is exactly, look out for the artwork Orbis at Globus by Kristinn E. Hrafnsson, a sphere which marks its location. A Summer Solstice Festival is held in Grímsey in late June, around the longest day of the year. It’s a family festival with walks, bout tours and other happenings, and visitors are invited to celebrate with the locals.

Planning tip: To get to Grímsey, you can either fly from Akureyri or take the ferry from Dalvík.

A skier glides along a snow-covered mountainous landscape just above a lake
Go skiing or take lessons in the Westfjords of Iceland © Cavan Images / Getty Images

8. Ski across Strandir

Strandir is the Westfjords’ easternmost region and it’s big on cross-country skiing. Strandagangan is a cross-country race held in March with 5km (3-mile), 10km (6-mile) and 20km (12-mile) competitions, followed by a cake buffet. If you’d rather not compete but would still like to ski, you can join courses for beginners or tours for advanced cross-country skiers at Laugarhóll. Nothing beats gliding through the snow, breathing in fresh, crisp air in stunning snow-covered landscapes.

Detour: Don’t miss the beachside hot tubs at Drangsnes, which are the perfect place to relax after skiing all day.

9. Slide down a mountain on a toboggan

Do you like playing in the snow but prefer a trusty toboggan to skis and snowboards? Lucky for you, Kaldbaksferðir in Grenivík have had toboggans specially made for adults. They will take you up Kaldbakur mountain on a snowcat and, after enjoying the spectacular view of Eyjafjörður fjord, you can slide back down the more than 1000-m (0.6-mile) slope. Skiers and snowboarders are welcome, too. And if you do get cold feet, you can take the snowcat back down.

Planning tip: The tour is usually available from January through May.

10. Party outside into the bright summer night

Throughout summer, festivals are held in all corners of the country, where people camp, party and listen to live music. Tap into the Icelandic festival spirit and celebrate with the locals, discover the joys and woes of camping just south of the Arctic Circle and find your new favorite Icelandic band. Bræðslan in Borgarfjörður Eystri is very popular and quickly sells out. The festival summer culminates at Verslunarmannahelgi, Merchants’ Weekend, in early August. This is when Þjóðhátíð in Vestmannaeyjar, the biggest and longest-running outdoor music festival, is held. Visit Iceland has a guide to festivals held through the year.

Local tip: Not a happy camper? Reykjavík has a festival, too.



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