This was probably the craziest adventure I had this year, and that’s really saying something!

Everyone thought we were insane. Except, of course, the wonderful people who run Iceland Travel and Arctic Adventures, the companies who send crazy tourists like us out on snorkeling, diving, ice climbing, and caving adventures year-round, cold weather be damned!

As we drove through the snow and ice to the snorkeling site in Þingvellir National Park, our guide Sarah told us not to worry. The water sits at around 2°C, MUCH warmer than the -10°C we were experiencing above the water!

You’re feeling reassured right now, aren’t you? I can tell.

I was determined to go on this trip. Snorkeling at Silfra has been on top of my to-do list since I first heard about it from a fellow traveler two years ago!

Snorkeling in SIlfra, Iceland

Photo via Iceland Travel

Silfra is the name of a tear in the Earth’s crust, a rift between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. By swimming here, you’re literally passing between continents. How cool is that?!

So cool that I was willing to get undressed in -10° weather, surrounded by snow, and let some very helpful guides pull a drysuit, gloves, and a hood over my body. If you’ve read some other bloggers’ reviews of the experience, you know the drysuits are just a bit uncomfortable. But wearing them isn’t the problem: getting them on is!

Silfra Snorkeling Gear

Nick getting all geared up for our adventure.

First you strip down to your thermal underwear and wool socks and get inside a “teddy bear suit”. (I could not keep a straight face when the guide told us what it was called.) It’s basically a sleeping bag with legs. A huge down onesie that keeps you toasty warm from neck to ankle. When I told our guide Iain that I wanted to steal it because it was so warm, he admitted some people have tried!

There are no changing rooms here, so you can do this outside or in the warm van. I opted for the van!

But that’s the easy part. Now you need to pull a very awkward drysuit over your puffy teddy bear body. Legs go in first, then you tug, tug, and tug some more until it’s up over your head. Stuff your arms in the armholes and take a deep breath as you struggle to fit your head through the extremely tight neck hole. Once it’s on, it feels like a very weak person is constantly trying to choke you. But don’t worry, it’s supposed to feel like that.

The reason the neck and arm holes are so tight is because this is a drysuit, not a wetsuit. Meaning if it’s on properly, you don’t get wet! This plus the teddy bear suit means you stay toasty warm while swimming in almost-freezing waters.

Arctic Adventures has a very detailed pamphlet with all these instructions, but I also had two guides helping me every step of the way. They made sure everything was exactly as tight as it needed to be and that I was as comfortable as possible while wearing all this gear.

Silfra Snorkeling Drysuit

Drysuits on & we’re ready to go!

Once it’s on, you pull open the neck and sit down. This squeezes out excess air, meaning you’ll actually be able to move around in the water. It also has the side effect of making you feel like you’ve been vacuum-sealed. It’s truly one of the oddest sensations I’ve ever experienced. I have new sympathy for the process astronauts go through before taking a spacewalk!

Once you pull on your neoprene gloves and hood (meaning your hands and head get wet, but will still be warm) you’re handed a snorkel and fins and begin the short walk to the water!

Snorkeling in Silfra

The beautiful snow-covered walkway to the water.

Before you jump in, the guide helps you kick your boots into the flippers, and then you’re off! Making your way down ice-covered steps while wearing flippers is definitely a challenge, but once you’re in the water you quickly realize all this crazy preparation has totally been worth it. As soon as I stuck my mask under the water I gasped and shouted “It’s SO clear!” through my snorkel.

Snorkeling Silfra, Iceland

Photo via Iceland Travel

Of course I knew it would be. But nothing quite prepares you for the moment you look down and suddenly realize you’re flying. The water is so pure it’s almost invisible. I felt as if I was going to tumble on to the rocks below!

Silfra means silver, named after the clear water bubbling up from the underground springs at this spot. It’s one of the primary reasons people from all over the world come to snorkel and dive here. The visibility is close to 100 meters!

The water comes from a glacier 50 kilometers to the North, draining through lava fields for 60-80 years before finally resurfacing at Silfra. It’s some of the purest water on Earth. You’re basically swimming next to a water filter, so feel free to have a drink!

Snorkeling Silfra, Iceland

Photo via Iceland Travel

As you convince your brain that you’re not actually going to fall, you begin gliding through the fissure towards the lake. The current from the underground stream gently pushes you along. You float and take in the deep blues (or if you’re there in summer – bright greens!) of this incredible underwater landscape.

Our guide Iain floated ahead of us, ready to help anyone out if their mask or suit needed adjusting. He was also happy to answer silly questions from us. Apparently he has never worn a red Superman cape while doing a tour, but after I asked he swore he would be buying one ASAP! It would be a perfect photo –  as he floated ahead of us with his feet below him, he looked just like Superman flying over an algae city.

If you’ve ever wanted to fly, this is the place to come. You might not go very fast (this is more like lazy river flying) but the sensation is just incredible!

Snorkeling in SIlfra, Iceland

Photo of Silfra in summer (no snow!) via Arctic Adventures

After cruising over some more deep canyons, we came to the “Blue Lagoon”. No, not the touristy baths in Reykjavik. It’s a shallower part of the Silfra area where the water is even more blue than I imagined! Every shade from turquoise to cerulean to navy is present in these waters. 

The exit is here, but you can stay in as long as you like to explore the area. Just don’t go too far, or you could get caught in the current and be swept away into the lake!

My feet were unfortunately pretty cold before we entered the water, and the easy swim hadn’t made them any warmer, so after five minutes or so in the lagoon I went ahead and climbed the stairs back to land.

Well, I tried.

It took one guide to push my overly buoyant feet down while another held my hand to help me up the stairs. In warmer weather you could just use the hand rails, but with the air at -10°C they had frozen completely. Any glove that came in contact with a rail would immediately get stuck. Of course, I found that out the hard way.

After I’d peeled myself off the stairs, it was time for the five minute walk back to the van, where hot chocolate and cookies were waiting for us!

Snorkel Cookies, Silfra Iceland

Snorkel cookies!

This was also the hardest part. Since you’re now wet, the cold air really makes you wish you could teleport to a thermal bath. By the time I reached Sarah back at the van, my hair, gloves and suit were completely frozen! But as soon as the dry suit was off (with the help of two guides!) I felt instantly warmer. I poured hot water over my frozen hands and felt almost human again.

I reluctantly gave the teddy bear suit back to Sarah and went into the van to put on my own warm clothes. When I emerged I was handed hot chocolate and spent a few minutes chatting with our guides about Silfra, other Iceland tours, and of course their amazing Christmas sweaters.

Silfra Snorkeling Guides

The sweaters were almost as impressive as the mountains behind them!

Even with the freezing temperatures, this was a trip I’d recommend to anyone! The underwater world of Silfra is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Not only do you get the bragging rights of saying you’ve snorkeled between two continents, you get to see one of the most incredible sights on the planet! Plus, the guides are so wonderful and helpful, I never felt unsure of what I was doing.

We were in the water for about 20-30 minutes, but the guides said we could be in up to 40 if we wanted. If you’re a certified diver, you can also go scuba diving at the site, though even professionals have to go with a dive company. With 30 earthquakes a day in the park, they’ve instituted new regulations for everyone’s safety. From what I hear, the view is almost more incredible from below!

I loved Iceland so much, I’m already dreaming of a trip back in summer. Perhaps I’ll even return to Silfra to see the bright green algae make this place even more colorful! Anyone been in summer? Share your experience in the comments! 

Full disclosure: Iceland Travel offered us a discount on all our Iceland tours, including our Silfra snorkeling adventure. But, as always, all views and opinions are my own.

  • Melissa

    This is amazing. Bucket list! Thanks for the detailed descriptions.

    • Kit Whelan

      It was SUPER amazing! :) You’re welcome, Melissa!

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  • minxlj

    I’m doing this in 2 weeks – can’t wait! I’ve done northern Iceland last November, now heading back in June to do Thingvellir and the south. I’m not a great fan of swimming but I’ve snorkelled before in Florida, so I’m really excited for doing this.

  • Nadirah

    Awesome, thanks for sharing this! I’m going to Iceland in November and have heard of snorkeling activities available there, but wasn’t sure it’d be available during winter. I’m so excited to go on this tour!

  • George

    Have you tasted snorkeling in the tropics? It is a different experience! I did it with Vacation Rentals Costa Rica because my uncle bought a house in the Pacific Coast and they arranged the trip! I couldn’t believe your blog post!