The Best Horse Riding Destinations in Iceland
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Utterly astonishing landscapes interwoven with Norse mythology and Viking sagas. Some of the world’s most isolated and barren regions, barely touched by man, will leave you spell-bound.
Explore the Land of Fire and Ice, of the Midnight Sun and Northern Lights, in true Viking fashion. After all, there’s no better way to witness Iceland’s unspoiled natural beauty, glaciers, fjords, lagoons, volcanoes, and seemingly endless lava fields than on horseback, stopping at the many hot springs along the way.
Horse riding holidays in Iceland have become increasingly popular. But one thing has remained unchanged over the centuries – horses still come first. On multi-day tours, riders travel with a loose herd, swapping horses regularly to give them a well-deserved rest. Furthermore, whenever the group stops, the first thing to do is to remove the tack and let the horses graze freely.
Gallop along black-sand beaches and through barren landscapes, discovering a charming and unique countryside, all the while retracing the footsteps of the Vikings. Read on to find out what are the best places to go horse riding in Iceland!
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But first, a brief introduction to the Icelandic horse
Brought by early Viking settlers in the 9th and 10th centuries, the Icelandic horse is unique to Iceland and is one of the world’s oldest and purest breeds. Today, there are approximately 80,000 of them in the country, which means one horse for almost every four people.
Despite its small stature, it’s renowned for their versatility and strength. It is reliable, intelligent, sure-footed, patient, adaptable, and sometimes very spirited. It has a friendly personality and a genuine affinity for people.
However, its most renowned characteristics are the two unique gaits. In addition to walking, trotting, and cantering/galloping, the Icelandic horse also masters the tölt and skeið.
Tölt is a four-beat gait, something in between the trot and canter. It is very comfortable to ride, no matter the speed. Because this gait is so smooth, newbie riders can ride through Iceland’s rough terrain without having to worry about bouncing in the saddle.
Skeið (flying pace) is very fast and is usually used for races, where the Icelandic horse can reach speeds of up to 50km/h (30mi/h).
These adorable and stocky horses can be seen grazing all throughout Iceland’s countryside. In summer, young horses are released into the wild to adapt to the rugged terrain. In September and October, these free-roaming horses are rounded up and brought back home before winter sets in.
Just remember that these are not ponies, and Icelanders can get offended if you call them such. These are horses!
The best time to go horse riding in Iceland
Iceland is gorgeous all year round. But overall, summer (April through September) is the best time to go horse riding in Iceland, as many roads are closed during winter.
Due to their rugged terrain and harsh weather, the Central Highlands is best visited between June and September.
If you’d like to ride under the Midnight Sun, then you should go around the summer solstice (21st of June).
If you wish to ride a horse under the Northern Lights, then you should go between October and April. Shorter tours, especially those close to Reykjavik and around Skagafjörður in Northern Iceland, can be done during winter as well. Keep in mind that peak visibility for the Northern Lights is between December and February.
Without further ado, here are the best horse riding destinations in Iceland:
Image credit: Skálakot Manor Luxury Hotel
Recommended for: All experience levels
Bounded by Reykjavik in the west, Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon in the east, and the Central Highlands, southern Iceland is home to some of the most intriguing sights in the country and two national parks (out of the three in total): Þingvellir National Park and Vatnajökull National Park.
At the edge of Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest glacier, ride past Jökulsárlón, a lagoon filled with huge blocks of ice ripped from the glacier, floating in surreal blue water.
Travel on horseback through the seemingly endless lava fields, reaching the many glaciers and waterfalls, including famous Gullfoss and Skógafoss, and gallop along black sand beaches.
Image credit: Icelandic Horse World
Reykjavik is the most popular base camp for horse riding in southern Iceland, with numerous stables at the outskirts of the capital.
Many day tours start in Reykjavik and take you to the nearby natural parks and natural attractions. The most popular rides will take you through the nearby lava fields, and are suitable for all experience levels. Some even combine horse riding with visits to the famous Blue Lagoon.
There are also numerous multi-day tours starting in Reykjavik, the most famous of which being the Golden Circle.
Image credit: Bryan Pocius
Iceland’s most popular day tour, the Golden Circle begins at the outskirts of Reykjavik and takes tourists to some of Iceland’s most famous attractions: Geysir Geothermal Area, Gullfoss Waterfall, and Þingvellir. While the 300-kilometer (190-mile) loop is often covered by car, it can also be explored on horseback.
Ride past geysers, cascading waterfalls, glaciers, ranches, and open fields, soaking in hot springs at the end of each day.
Visit the Geysir Geothermal Area, where the remaining active geyser Strokkur erupts every five to ten minutes. Marvel at the spectacular Gullfoss (Golden Waterfall) and trot through Þingvellir National Park, where the world’s first parliament was founded in 930AD. This is also the site of a rift valley on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the only one visible above sea level in the world.
Ride through the countryside of southern Iceland, cross the highland moor of Hrunaheði, and reach the Secret Lagoon next to the village of Flúðir, the oldest swimming pool in Iceland, filled by a geothermal spring.
The Golden Circle tour is accessible to newbie riders and is a great option for those who do not have the required experience to ride through the more demanding Highlands of Iceland. The loop usually takes six to seven days to complete on horseback, but shorter rides are also available.
In the heart of the Southern Highlands, in the Fjallabak Nature Reserve, Landmannalaugar is a premier hiking and horse riding destination. Literally meaning “The Pools of the People”, the geothermal area is home to several thermal pools that are free of charge. But Landmannalaugar is more renowned for its kaleidoscopic rhyolite mountains boasting all the colors of the rainbow.
Thórsmörk is the preferred starting point for outdoor activities in southern Iceland. Named after the Norse god of thunder, fans of Viking sagas and Norse mythology are in for a treat when visiting the area.
The best way to explore the region is on a multi-day horse riding tour. Most trips start west of Landmannalaugar near the Hekla Volcano, one of the most active on the planet, and travel through the Fjallabak Nature Reserve, across fields of moss-covered lava, past the Torfajökull and Eyjafjallajökull volcanoes, mountain lakes, and bubbling hot pools. Horse riding in Landmannalaugar is recommended for experienced riders.
Image credit: Hesta Sport
Recommended for: All experience levels
Horse riding tours in Northwestern Iceland will take you in the heart of the Northern Highlands, deep into the mountains, through wide grazing lands, and along the rugged coastline.
The trails are combined with stops at famous attractions. You can visit Mývatn Lake, the fourth largest in Iceland. Although not as big as others, Goðafoss Waterfall is one of the most impressive in the country thanks to its unique shape. Dettifoss is Europe’s most powerful waterfall. Ásbyrgi Canyon, with its unique horseshoe shape, is said to be the hoofprint of Odin’s eight-legged horse Sleipnir.
Go in September or October for the chance to witness or participate in the autumn round-up, a traditional Icelandic event in which farmers ride into the mountains to collect their free-grazing sheep and horses before winter sets in. You can also opt to go during the winter months, between October and April, for a chance to ride under the Northern Lights.
Two of the most popular horse riding destinations in Northern Iceland are Skagafjörður and Eyjafjörður.
Image credit: Luc Coekaerts
One of the most popular horse riding destinations in Iceland, Skagafjörður is often referred to as the “cradle of Icelandic horsemanship”.
>> Go on a horse riding tour in Skagafjörður!
The small and picturesque fishing town of Siglufjörður is a preferred base camp for day tours, most of which are suitable for all skill levels. However, the most spectacular trails take several days to complete and are more demanding, thus recommended for more experienced riders.
Travel on horseback from Varmahlið through the wilderness of the Northern Highlands alongside a herd of free-running horses. Follow ancient trails through Gilhagadalur Canyon and Svartádalur Valley, against the stunning backdrop of the Hofsjökull and Langjökull glaciers. Spend the night in remote yet comfortable mountain huts.
Image credit: Ron Kroetz
The longest fjord in North Iceland, Eyjafjörður is surrounded by mountains and is steeped in Norse mythology, offering numerous Viking saga trails. It’s also one of the best places to observe the Midnight Sun phenomenon in Iceland. The horse riding tours around Eyjafjörður are suitable for all levels.
The Central Highlands
Recommended for: Experienced riders
One of Europe’s largest unpopulated areas, the Highlands of Iceland is the most remote and inaccessible region in the country, covering most of its interior.
Iceland’s most bewildering landscapes can be found here. However, the rough terrain and harsh climate make the Central Highlands very hard to access. Most roads are only open during summer, and some parts can only be reached by horse.
The rugged terrain demands more experience in horse riding and long hours in the saddle. You’ll be traveling with a herd of loose horses, swapping mount at least twice a day, bathing in hot springs along the way and spending the night in mountain huts. Most horse riding tours take several days to complete, the most famous of which being the Kjölur Trail.
Image credit: Vera & Jean-Christophe
Running from south to northern Iceland, the Kjölur Trail is an ancient route established in the 10th century for Icelanders to make their way to the summer parliament at Þingvellir. Follow in their footsteps and travel through the heart of the country, crossing Iceland’s uninhabited highlands.
The historic trail passes between Hofsjökull and Langjökull, two of the biggest glaciers in Iceland. You’ll stop at Hveravellir, a popular geothermal area in the highlands, and visit some of the attractions of the Golden Circle, such as Gullfoss Waterfall and Þingvellir.
The trip usually lasts seven days and takes you much closer to the glaciers and green fields than if you were driving the route. The Kjölur Trail is recommended for advanced riders.
Recommended for: Experienced riders
Explore the charming countryside of West Iceland on horseback. Ride through lava fields and green valleys, gallop on wide-open beaches and stop to visit the lava tube caves along the way.
You’ll find numerous trails on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, often described as “Iceland in a nutshell” because of its incredibly varied landscapes. On the tip of the peninsula, the Snaefellsjokull National Park is one of the three national parks in Iceland, dominated by the Snæfellsjökull glacier-capped volcano.
Image credit: Husey Hotel
Recommended for: All experience levels
The Eastfjords is a stretch of rugged coastline in East Iceland, from Berufjörður in the south to Borgarfjörður Eystri in the north.
Often overlooked by mass tourism, you won’t find the crowds that flood the southern and southwestern parts of the country during summer. What you’ll find instead are some of the most spectacular sceneries and the sunniest weather in Iceland.
Embark on a horse riding tour in East Iceland and ride along deserted fjords steeped in folklore. Have a close encounter with the adorable puffins in Borgarfjörður Eystri, which is also said to be home to elves. Gallop on black sand beaches and canter through Hallormsstaðaskógur, Iceland’s largest forest, and ride with a free-running herd in the mountains of the Eastfjords. Cross lush green valleys, passing by herds of wild reindeer.
The best time to visit the Eastfjords is in summer, between May and October, as many roads close during winter.
*Cover image credit: Hesta Sport
Explore the country’s otherworldly landscapes beyond the crowded and commercial attractions on a trail riding holiday in Iceland.