One of the coolest (literally and figuratively) things to do in Iceland is snorkeling in Silfra, a fissure located in the Thingvellir National Park (Þingvellir in Icelandic)! At first, it might not sound appealing to go snorkeling in Iceland, but it’s a unique experience you don’t want to miss during your trip to Iceland. Silfra snorkeling is cold but so worth it. And luckily you get to wear a dry suit and other gear to keep you warm.
Iceland is the only place on earth where you can swim in between tectonic plates. Silfra is a rift between the tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia. The Silfra fissure Iceland arose after an earthquake in the 18th century and it keeps moving apart for 2 centimeters (0.79 inches) every year. At the Silfra fissure, you swim in between continental plates!
And what makes snorkeling in Silfra extra special is the incredibly clear water. The water comes from the second largest glacier in Iceland, called Langjökull. It takes years for the water to reach the Silfra fissure (about 30!). On the way the water gets filtered through underground lava rocks. This makes it the clearest and purest water in the world. The visibility underwater is unbelievable and the colors are stunning. You really need to see it yourself!
IN THIS ARTICLE
Tectonic Plates Iceland
Snorkeling Silfra Iceland (+ Tips)
What You See Underwater
What to See in the Area
– Thingvellir National Park
– Golden Circle
Where to Stay Near Silfra
Keep on reading to learn more about the Silfra fissure, how to snorkel and dive here and about our own trip with Arctic Adventures.
Tectonic Plates Iceland
What are tectonic plates? A tectonic plate is a piece of the Earth’s outermost layer: the Earth’s crust. They are also simply called earth plates. According to the World Atlas there are nine major tectonic plates in the world. The North American and Eurasian are two of them. And how cool is it you can swim between those plates in Iceland?!
Snorkeling Silfra Iceland
Snorkeling in Silfra is possible for everybody over 12 years old that know how to swim. And you need to be in a good physical shape. Having snorkeling experience is not required. There are no underwater caves or anything you need to swim through (it’s not dangerous). You also don’t have to go on a boat, since the Silfra fissure is just a short walk from the parking place.
Like we said before, the water is incredibly clear at Silfra Iceland. People from all around the world come to Iceland to dive and snorkel here. It’s known for the longest underwater visibility in the world! In the water, which is about 2 degrees Celsius (35 Fahrenheit), you have visibility up to 120 meters. The water is too cold for many creatures, so you probably won’t see any animals during your Silfra snorkeling trip.
A Silfra snorkeling trip takes about 30 minutes in the water. And before going into the water you get a dry suit filled with air and other gear to wear, plus an introduction about everything you need to know. Once in the water only your face is directly exposed to the cold water. Your lips might hurt a bit for the first minute but you will quickly get used to it!
The slow glacier water current at the beginning of the rift will make you float through the rift. People even say it feels like flying, as the water is as clear as air. Rest and enjoy the beauty of the Silfra fissure! Later on, you need to swim against the gentle current, but this isn’t hard at all.
Read our 7 day Iceland itinerary for the must-see spots in Iceland and the best tips!
Silfra Snorkeling Tips
Excited to go snorkeling in Silfra? Make sure to read these tips to get the most out of your snorkeling trip.
Because of the current, the water temperature is the same throughout the year, so the water won’t freeze. Therefore, it’s possible to go snorkeling and diving in Silfra during the entire year!
Good to know: swimming without proper gear in the Silfra fissure is very dangerous (because of the water temperature) and NOT allowed.
Bring Thermal Clothing And Thick Socks
Yes, you get to wear a dry suit and other gear. But you still need to wear thermal clothing and thick socks underneath your drysuit. To make sure you stay warm during the journey. Cotton thermal clothes aren’t recommended, wool, fleece, and synthetic are.
If you are very unlucky (like Maartje) some water might enter your suit, in that case, it’s also great to wear thermal clothing and thick socks. Bring them from home!
Want to know what else to pack for your Iceland trip? Check our ultimate Iceland packing list.
Underwater Photos and Videos
We went on a Silfra snorkeling tour with Arctic Adventures, and they provided photos during the trip. Our guide took photos of us. But we understand if you also want to take photos and videos yourself. Bring a waterproof action camera, like a GoPro, with you and shoot the magic of Silfra! It’s good to know that your battery won’t last the whole snorkeling trip because of the cold water. If you have a waterproof case for your action camera, use it. This way it stays warmer and lasts longer. Our GoPro battery died just before the end of the snorkeling trip.
From our guide, we heard you can better not bring your (waterproof) phone into the water (not even with a waterproof case), as it will die really fast.
Do you want to take the best photos and videos yourself? Make sure to enter the water last. This way you can keep your own pace, don’t feel rushed, and can take as many photos and videos as possible. The groups are luckily never big, as only a maximum of 6 people is allowed per guide. And only one group per section is allowed at a time. So it’s never too busy in the rift and groups won’t disturb each other. But you might need to wait a little while to enter the water. Depending on how busy it is.
Eat Enough in Advance but Don’t Drink too Much
The entire tour takes about 3 hours, of which you are in the water for about 30 minutes. The introduction, putting on the suite, waiting for other groups if it’s busy and the time in the water takes some time. So it’s handy to eat well in advance. And once you’ve put on your suit, you can’t go to the restroom anymore. For that reason, it’s smart to not drink too much.
There are toilets at the location where you put on your suits. But once the suit is on, you can’t go out of it easily (it takes a while to get it on). After the tour cookies and hot chocolate are waiting!
Bring Dry Clothes
Yes, your drysuit helps you stay dry, but it’s possible some water goes in. That sadly happened to Maartje. When you get back from your Silfra snorkeling trip, you want to wear dry clothes again. Especially when it’s colder in winter.
Wear Contact Lenses If You Need Them
If you wear glasses and you really need them, wear contact lenses instead. It’s not possible to wear your glasses and diving goggles. And you want to be able to see the beautiful Silfra fissure, right?
Another unique spot to visit in Iceland is the Stuðlagil Canyon. The canyon is only visible since a few years.
What Will You See Underwater?
Because of the cold water, not many creatures are able to live in the fissure. Silfra is connected with Thingvellir Lake and in the lake live three species of fish: sticklebacks, arctic char, and brown trout. The arctic char can sometimes be found in the fissure, but they are rarely seen. Luckily there’s still lots of other life in Silfra, like plant life and algae! The colors of the plants and algae and the blue color of the fissure are simply stunning. It’s an underwater wonderland.
The Silfra fissure is divided into 4 main sections: Silfra Big Crack, Silfra Hall, Silfra Cathedral, and Silfra Lagoon. You enter the pool from a platform in the narrow Big Crack. This is the start of your Silfra snorkeling trip! The Big Crack contains the deepest and most shallow areas of the whole fissure. The shallowest area only has a dept of 0.5 meters (1.6 feet). And yes, you snorkel through that area too! You are able to touch both sides at once here. But it’s better not to touch anything to keep everything the way it is.
From there, you enter the Silfra Hall, this is the wider area of the fissure. Make sure to look down to see massive rocks on the ground beneath you. The section after the Silfra Hall is Silfra Cathedral. This is our favorite section of the fissure. Also look in front of you this time, as here it’s possible to look to the end of the fissure. Which gives visibility of over 100 meters (328 feet). This is the longest underwater visibly that’s recorded in the world.
The last stop before getting out of the water is the Silfra Lagoon. From the Silfra Cathedral you need to make a left turn to not end up in the lake. The lagoon is a shallow area full of plants and algae.
Silfra Iceland Snorkeling Tours
There are multiple snorkeling tours with different companies available. We went with Arctic Adventures and highly recommend them. There are tours available from €90 ($108). Depending on when you visit Iceland and how quiet or busy it is, it can be cheaper or more expensive. The tour is 100% worth the money!
You can either choose for a pick-up in Reykjavík or drive to the meeting point in the Thingvellir National Park yourself. Thingvellir National Park is located about a 40-minute drive from Reykjavík.
In case you drive to the national park yourself, the best spot to park your car is at Thingvellir Parking P5 (750 ISK parking fee). After parking your car, you can walk back about 400 meters (0.25 miles) to the spot where all snorkel and dive vans are located. Find the company you booked with and get prepared for your Silfra snorkeling trip. Here it’s also possible to go to the restroom before jumping into your dry suit.
Silfra Diving Iceland
It’s also possible to go diving in Silfra! It’s the only place in the world where you can dive in between tectonic plates. To go diving in Silfra you need to have an Open Water diving certification, plus you need to be certified to go diving in a dry suit. It’s possible to get a dry suit certification during a 2-day Silfra diving course. It isn’t allowed to go diving in a wet suit.
Like snorkeling, diving in Silfra is a unique experience. The visibility, colors, and location make this rift one of the most special dive and snorkel spots on the planet.
The Silfra fissure can be 60 meters (197 feet) deep at some points, but the maximum dept allowed is 18 meters (59 feet) while diving. As the tectonic plates keep moving it isn’t allowed to go diving in caves and overhead surroundings. The shifting constantly creates new areas like tunnels and caves.
What To See In The Area
Iceland is an amazing country to explore and in the area of the Silfra fissure, there are a lot of things to do. Think about geysers, waterfalls, lagoons, walking trails, and stunning landscapes. And of course, you have to explore Reykjavík. In our Reykjavík in one day guide, we give you the best tips to explore the city.
Thingvellir National Park
Silfra is located in Thingvellir National Park (Þingvellir in Icelandic), which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The national park is historically and geologically a very special place. You can call the national park the birthplace of Iceland, as the Icelandic parliament assembled here for the first time back in 930. And of course, it’s a special place because of the two tectonic plates located in the park. The whole park is located in a rift valley. Silfra isn’t the only fissure you can find here. It’s also possible to walk between the tectonic plates.
Spots to visit in the national park are Almannagjá gorge, Thingvallakirkja, the waterfall Öxarárfoss and make sure to spot the lake Thingvallavatn and the Langjökull glacier.
If you have the time, you can easily spend a full day snorkeling and hiking in the national park!
Gullfoss waterfall Geysir geothermal area
The Golden Circle
The Golden Circle is one of the most well-known routes in Iceland and is especially popular because it’s located close to Reykjavík. People that don’t have much time in Iceland, often only explore Reykjavík, the Golden Circle, and South Iceland. Thingvellir National Park is located on this famous route!
Other stops on the classic Golden Circle route are Geysir geothermal area, and the waterfall Gullfoss. Though there are more beautiful places where you can stop on the way. For example the Kerid crater, the Secret Lagoon, Faxifoss waterfall and Reykjadalur Thermal River.
Where To Stay Near Silfra?
Ion Adventure Hotel: This is a luxurious and eco-friendly hotel south of lake Thingvallavatn. Most rooms even have stunning views over the lava fields toward Thingvellir National Park. The hotel has a spa, natural hot pool and sauna. And the industrial and modern design of the hotel is beautiful.
Austurey Cottages: Super cute & cozy cottages with everything you need, including a little kitchen and good WI-FI! This is a great spot to stay at if you want to explore the full Golden Circle route. The cottages are located in a beautiful, quiet and remote area.
Reykjavík Domes: Looking for a unique place to stay in Reykjavík? Check out Reykjavík Domes (or book via Airbnb)! What could be more fun than sleeping under the stars (and maybe even the northern lights?) in Iceland. These glass-roofed domes in Reykjavík are just 10 kilometer (6 miles) from the center, so you get the best of both worlds. Make sure to book the luxury dome with a hot tub for the most romantic evening.
Hotel Grimsborgir: This Golden Circle retreat is a great place to stay if you want to relax after a full day of exploring. Especially if you book a room with your own hot tub! And what we love about this place is the free wake-up service they offer in case the Northern Lights! A beautiful spot in the mountains to stay at!
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