A Guide To Boating and Rafting In Iceland
There are some awesome boating and river rafting adventures to be had in Iceland.
Thanks to the meltwater running off its mighty glaciers, Iceland has countless glacial rivers and lagoons that are waiting to be explored. The oceans surrounding the country are teeming with life, offering plenty of opportunities to go whale watching or fishing too.
Whether you’re hoping to go flying down the white water rapids of the East Glacial River or take a peaceful boat trip to see the Northern Lights shining over the ocean, this guide will help you choose the perfect boating or rafting experience during your stay.
River Rafting In Iceland
River rafting (or White Water Rafting) is a lot of fun!
Photo By Stig Nygaard from Copenhagen, Denmark - White water rafting
Modern rafts usually seat up to 7 people. You normally have 3 people on each side paddling and 1 person at the back to focus on steering. In the past rafts were made of rubber, and you had to keep a bucket onboard to bail out the water as it came crashing over the sides.
These days the rafts are made from synthetic materials and the water drains itself out from small valves in the bottom of the boat where water can escape, but can’t get back in.
Teamwork is an essential part of river rafting.
All the participants have to paddle and steer as one to navigate the more difficult stretches of water. This makes it a wonderful sport for building relationships, and a very sociable sport.
River Rafting at Hvíta River
Photo By Stig Nygaard from Copenhagen, Denmark - White water rafting
Hvíta river can be found near Reykjavik, right by the Golden Circle.
As well as a convenient location, this river offers a very scenic rafting experience without the need for previous experience. Hvíta is a Class 2 river, meaning there is a moderate amount of rough water, but you don’t have to be a skilled paddler to enjoy this adventure.
You can still expect amazing scenery as you travel through a gorgeous canyon, and there are opportunities to do a spot of tombstoning too.
River Rafting at East Glacial River
If you’d like to take the challenge up a notch, you can head to East Glacial River (or Jökulsá Austari).
This river is a Class 4.
Photo By Stig Nygaard from Copenhagen, Denmark - White water rafting
There are 6 possible classes, by the way. Class 1 refers to an east river requiring no special skills and very little paddling. Class 6 means that the water is so rough and dangerous that it is not possible to raft down. If someone does manage to raft down a Class 6 river it is automatically renamed a Class 5!
Being a Class 4 river, East Glacier River is quite a challenge. If you do fall into the water then the current is very hard to swim in, and you will get tired out very fast. Falling into the water at Hvíta river isn’t a big deal at all, and you can easily swim back to the raft.
There will be extra guides to take care of you at this river, but your arms can also get tired out in the raft because you have to do much more paddling rather than let the river take you along.
For this reason, you need to be both physically fit and over the age of 18 to go river rafting at East Glacier River. You don’t need to have loads of experience of rafting, but it’s better if you have done some kayaking or canoeing before, or at least if you are an active person who enjoys a physical challenge.
East Glacial River is a truly exhilarating Rafting Experience. However, it is much further from Reykjavik than Hvíta. The meeting point for this river with The Viking Rafting company is at Hafgrimsstadir in the North of Iceland. It is a 4-hour drive from Reykjavik and a 1.5-hour drive from the large settlement called Akureyri.
Despite the distance, this meeting point is easy to access from the Ring Road and could be a wonderful stop off on a self-drive tour of Route 1.
River Rafting at West Glacial River
If The East Glacial River sounds a bit too intimidating, you can always head to the West Glacial River Instead.
The West Glacial river has Class 2 and Class 3 stretches, so you can choose the perfect route depending on the abilities of your group.
The canyons here are truly magnificent. You will feel like a tiny ant as you paddle your way through mighty gorges and watch the steam rising from nearby wild hot springs.
The small village of Varmahlíð is a popular meeting point for rafting on the West Glacial River. Just like the East Glacial River meeting point, Varmahlíð is situated in the North of Iceland around 4 hours away from Reykjavik in the car.
This area is famous for its hot springs, so bring along your bathing suit to warm yourselves up in a hot spring after your trip down the glacial waters.
Best Time of Year for River Rafting in Iceland
River Rafting is generally available in Iceland between May and September.
In the winter, the water would be too cold and the long hours of darkness make an activity like this more challenging. Even in the summer months, you should expect the water to be cold and dress accordingly!
What to Wear for River Rafting in Iceland
You will be given a dry suit that will keep you mostly (but not completely) dry.
This should be worn over a warm thermal base layer and thick warm socks. Fleece, synthetic and wool sweaters are all good materials for your base layer to be made from, but cotton isn’t a good idea. A Helmet and Life Jacket will also be provided to you.
Even with plenty of warm layers and a dry suit, you will get cold and wet during this experience. It is all part of the adventure, but you should bring a spare set of dry clothes to change into as soon as you get back to base!
Boat Tours in Iceland
Many visitors enjoy taking a boat tour during their trip to Iceland.
Whether you are whale watching, hunting for the northern lights, or sailing amongst the icebergs of a Glacial Lagoon, taking to the waters is a wonderful way to experience Iceland’s rugged beauty.
Whale Watching and Wildlife Boat Tours
Whale watching and Wildlife Boat Tours are a really popular activity in Iceland.
Iceland is home to some incredible marine life, after all. You can expect to see Blue Whales, Humpback Whales, Minke Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises during a wildlife boat tour. Seals and puffins are also common appearances!
Husavik is well known as the best place in Iceland to see whales. This traditional fishing town can be found in the North of Iceland. It is a wonderful place to stop off during a Ring Road adventure.
You can also go whale watching right from Reykjavik Old Harbour. This is much more convenient for people on a shorter trip to Iceland. The harbor is easily walkable from downtown Reykjavik.
Although going on a whale watching tour can’t guarantee any sightings, the odds are seriously in your favor. The success rate for seeing Whales in the high season is between 95% and 98%!
The weather is unpredictable in Iceland, and the waves will not always be safe enough to go out on. Sometimes the tours have to be canceled due to bad weather, but you will normally get a full refund if this is the case. It’s a good idea to check about the bad weather policy with the company you choose when booking.
The best time to do a wildlife boat tour is in the Summer.
In the winter, the whales and the puffins leave Iceland. The whales take their young to warmer waters and the puffins set off to live at sea until it’s time to breed again the following year.
If you are visiting in the wintertime, you can still enjoy a wonderful Northern Lights Boat tour!
Northern Lights Boat Tours
If you are hoping to see the Northern Lights, a Northern Lights Boat Tour can be a great way to do it!
Taking a boat out into the darkness is a truly magical experience. As you get further away from the city lights, the Northern Lights become much more intense.
Listening to the ocean lapping against the side of the boat as the Aurora dances in the sky is an extremely peaceful experience.
The best time to see the Northern Lights is between September and April. The long hours of darkness make it possible to see the Aurora in the sky, but the right weather conditions and solar activity are also required.
It’s a good idea to book your tour as close to the beginning of your trip as possible. If you don’t get the chance to see the Northern Lights on the first try, most tour operators will let you have a second go free of charge!
As you’ll be outside in the wintertime, you must wrap up warm. You won’t be able to enjoy the experience if you’re too busy thinking about getting back to a warm hotel!
Glacial Lagoon Boat Tours
You can also take a boat tour on a Glacial Lagoon.
The most famous glacial lagoon in Iceland is Jokulsarlon, not far from Skaftafell. This amazing lagoon is the outcome of a rapidly melting glacier. It is filled with spectacular icebergs and it’s getting bigger every year.
Each iceberg is unique in size, shape, and color. You can take either an amphibian boat tour or a zodiac boat tour at Jokulsarlon to see the Icebergs up close.
The amphibian boats roll across the land on enormous wheels before splashing into the icy water of the lagoon. The zodiac boats are smaller and more easily maneuverable. You can get much closer to the icecap this way.
Don’t forget to pop over the road to see Diamond Beach when you are here, where the Icebergs crash back onto the glittering black volcanic sands.
But Jokulsarlon is not the only glacier lagoon where you can take a boat tour.
You can also enjoy sailing to the icebergs of the lesser-known Fjallsarlon Iceberg Lagoon, which is just 15 minutes down the road. Being overlooked by most tourists, you will have far fewer crowds to share the water with here.
The boat trips run less regularly here, so make sure you check out the timetable in advance.
Kayaking in Iceland
Kayaking is a wonderful way to explore the Icelandic oceans, rivers, and glacial lagoons.
Please bear in mind that most kayaking tours have age limits to keep children safe. It’s a good idea to check up about this when booking.
Kayaking also requires a reasonable level of fitness. You don’t need to have previous experience, but you do need to have the strength to paddle throughout the tour. There may also be a weight limit in place for your safety.
This is to make sure that the safety equipment will fit you and to prevent the kayak from sitting too low in the water. This should not affect most people but when in doubt, just ask!
Kayaking in a glacial lagoon is a once in a lifetime experience.
You will be equipped with a dry suit, and the kayaks have a nice wide stable base to help prevent any unintentional icy swims.
Once safely wrapped up in your drysuit, you will paddle right between the floating Icebergs. Without a noisy engine to distract you, kayaking is a much better way to feel connected to the stunning Icelandic landscapes.
It is also possible to combine a glacial kayaking tour with ice caving or glacier walking. It all depends on the company and tour that you choose to book.
Glacial Kayaking takes place between June and September. Occasionally it is possible to go just outside of these months, but the conditions would usually be too dangerous during the wintertime!
Not to worry, there are plenty of adventures to be had in the wintertime too! You can check out this article about ski and snow tours for some more inspiration.
Sea kayaking is a wonderful way to get up close and personal with Icelandic wildlife.
Sea Kayaking is especially good in the West of Iceland, at the gorgeous Snaefellsnes Peninsula. This spectacular peninsula is only a 2-hour drive from Reykjavik. It is commonly referred to as ‘Iceland in miniature’ due to it’s wonderful and diverse scenery.
The wild landscapes are home to countless whales, dolphins, seals, and seabirds like the colorful Atlantic puffin. You can even kayak out to an old shipwreck in Breiðafjörður Bay, which crashed at Landey Island during a huge storm in the 1980s.
The West of Iceland is also home to some spectacular hiking, so don’t forget to bring your walking boots along with you too!
If you choose to go sea kayaking between June and August, there is a chance you will see whales during your trip.
Boat Fishing in Iceland
Fishing enthusiasts will be right at home in Iceland, with the best fishing taking place between April and September.
The warmth provided by the gulf stream combined with the shelter offered by the breathtaking fjords creates the perfect conditions for baitfish and their predators.
Huge cod, halibut, coalfish, and plaice are all thriving in the Icelandic waters. Halibut regularly reach 100kg in weight, but landing them is easier said than done.
It is completely up to you whether you hire a self-drive boat or organize to go fishing with a guide. The fishing boats in Iceland are of high quality, and the waters are teeming with fish.
There are, of course, limits on how much fish you can take away with you. You are only able to catch fish for personal consumption, though it is possible to arrange to have fish that you catch brought home with you.
You can bring your own fishing gear to Iceland with you.
However, this will have to be disinfected at the airport to protect the Icelandic wildlife from foreign viruses, parasites, or bacteria. It can also be sterilized in advance by a veterinary surgeon who will need to provide you with a signed list of what has been sterilized. If you prefer, it is possible to hire fishing gear in the country.
Live bait can not be imported into the country under any circumstances.
Where to go Boat Fishing in Iceland
You can take a sea angling trip from Reykjavik harbor in the summer months. Despite being close to the capital, wildlife is thriving in the waters around Reykjavik and you are likely to catch cod, haddock, catfish, and pollock.
If you prefer to head to the North of Iceland, there are some wonderful sea angling trips available in Skjálfandi Bay. You have a great chance of seeing dolphins and whales near Husavík, making for a truly spectacular fishing experience!
Alternatively, you could consider taking part in a combined kayaking and fishing tour at Mount Kirkjufell. Paddling in the salty waters of the shadow of this gorgeous mountain, there are some giant cod ripe for the taking.
The fishing tours offered at Mt Kirkjufell are ‘catch and release’ trips, and the focus is more about enjoying the peaceful Icelandic wilderness than catching as many fish as possible.
See You Soon!
We hope you enjoyed this article about boating and rafting tours in Iceland.
We look forward to welcoming you to Iceland soon!