Many people have asked us why we chose Iceland, and in all honesty we were planning to go to Oregon but it turns out it was cheaper to fly to Iceland. The Land of Fire and Ice has certainly been on our radar for a while and when the opportunity arose we jumped on a plane. (Literally, I mean we only booked the trip 5 days before we left)
Being a photographer visiting Iceland comes with it’s own set of hazards, our camera battery always died too soon, our driving skills became questionable with all of our abrupt pulling off the road to take yet another picture not to mention dodging the many sheep that wander the isolated countryside, and on top of all of this there is simply no way to really capture the massive unrelenting beauty of Iceland. Many times we heard tourists saying their visit was like a trip to another planet describing the landscape as something akin to Mars. (This would be referencing the abundant lava fields) Personally we came to feel that Iceland was more like visiting many countries, climates, and vistas. We found ourselves constantly saying things like, “this feels like we could be in Ireland, this looks like Morocco, it’s almost like I’m in a rainforest”. And yes there were moments when we felt like we might have been on the moon.
When we first returned home, it was almost difficult to talk about Iceland because there simply were no words to describe the land of Fire and Ice, the only thing I could really say was, “Go! Just go. Make it happen somehow and go. You can only experience it."
We landed in Keflavik airport and took the hour long bus ride through lava fields covered in lime green moss to the surprisingly artistic northern most capital in the world, Reykjavik. (Rake-ya-vik) Although a small city compared to most capitals, Reykjavik lacked nothing you would expect of a metropolis in the culture, food, and music scene. In the first few days we must have walked a dozen miles simply wandering the streets and enjoying the murals of the local street artist hidden like little gems around every corner.
Seriously.... If you do nothing else while in Reykjavik... just walk around the city. The art and artists of the incredibly cultural place are bar none. Also, as it is the world's smallest capitol, it is very walkable, although way easy to get turned around in because of the way the streets follow the coastline.
The Golden Circle
So just south of Reykjavik is a very well traveled loop often recommended to tourists titles, "The Golden Circle". It's sort of a good taste of what Iceland has to offer and a simple trip if you aren't quite up for going too far. It didn’t take long for us to be itching to get out of the city to see this magical landscape we kept hearing about and we certainly weren’t disappointed. We ended up taking a spur the minute day trip out of the city.
Thingvellir National Park
is not only stunning it abounds in historical significance for the Icelandic People. It's basically this huge plot of open land with jaw dropping scenery were the icelandic people used to hold all of their important government councils. It also happens to be where two continental plates come together.
The Ring Road
If you are down for a bit more of a journey and LOVE the great outdoors and endless adventure, you will be completely at home circling all of iceland on the Ring Road. We ended up renting a 4x4 SUV (fyi if you can only dive automatic double check before you rent online, because more than half of their rental cars are manual) with a pop up tent on the roof. With Road signs bearing the names of places like Thingvellir, Hafnarfjordur, Thorsmark, and Skogafoss, just navigating and attempting to pronounce where we wanted to go was an adventure. It almost became a competition to see who could come up with the closest pronunciation. All in all we spent 9 days in our little home, cooking mac and cheese out of the back of our car on a burner stove, camping at some of the most beautiful campgrounds you will every lay eyes on, and more or less living the chic hobo life. We ended up not even really planning much of an itinerary , because even in the height of summer there was always availability at the campgrounds and we hardly ever more than a 20 minute drive from one. (Although keep in mind that some of these may be a bit primitive, although most provide nice bath houses) There are more campgrounds in Iceland than sheep... and that is saying quite a bit.
Now I would only recommend Haifoss for those with a 4x4 (although there were some who made it all the way in little compact cars) but these twin waterfalls are worth the bumpy drive 4 miles up.
(a mouthful, yes) a completely free isolated, spring-fed pool, only a 10 minute walk into a private valley. It is as magical as it sounds. The Blue Lagoon in Iceland is considered a tourist trap by many of the locals, because there are so many natural steam baths around iceland or hot pots as they call them and we opted for the Myvatn Nature Baths in the North along with several others along our route. One of the hot pots we visited was in the absolute middle of nowhere where you park your car in a gravel parking lot and walk a path along a river bed into the valley for 15 minutes to this beautiful spot between the mountains called Seljavellir. In this isolated spot sits a full sized pool built in the 1920’s filled by the hot springs coming out of the hillside and complete with changing rooms. Apparently this place has become a mecca for tourists and we met travelers from every corner of the globe while we soaked in the steam and the surrounding scenery. No resort nearby, no homes, or busy highways, just a swimming pool in the middle of nowhere.
Say hello to one of the most photographed waterfalls in Iceland, Skogafoss. Chances are you've seen this one on a travel magazine. What you don't usually see, is just out of the corner of this shot is the campground where you can spend the night in view of this colossal wonder.
is one of those super popular but it doesn't even matter because it's so amazing touristy places. So be warned, there are often tour buses of tourists coming through here, but it is still a must see. And there are plenty of beautifully isolated, just you and nature, places farther away from the capitol.
Once you get past Vik you start seeing glacier after glacier, quite the unusual site for a girl from the South of the US.
was the first place we got really close to a glacier. And to this day I don't know why I didn't realize it would be like walking into a giant refrigerator when you got close to one of these things. Typical Iceland newbie. Sigh.
By arriving at Jokulsarlon at about 1 in the morning we avoided the crowds. And I will never forget walking over the hillside to see this view of the ice floats.
The thing about travel is that some of the best and most memorable moments come in the most unexpected forms. One such moment was a night when we were all trying to sleep, but a cold wind had kicked up along the river and we were all finding it a little difficult to get some shut eye. So we all opted to abandon our campsite and head off into the night. Now I say night, but July in Iceland pretty much consists of near constant daylight. They say the sun sets at 12am and comes back up at 3am, but it generally just becomes a lingering 4 hour sunset like something out of dream. We took off around midnight and followed the edge of Lake Lagarfljot where they have local lore of a beast that is something like the loch ness monster. Safely avoiding this myth we found a road that switch backed it’s way all the way up into the highlands where only the sheep dare to try and live. The highlands in Iceland cover the entire center of Island and no can live there in the winter because it is so barren and isolated, but once we crested the top edge and the road stretched out flat in front of us into the highlands it was nothing short of magical. Small pools and ponds every few yards reflected the pink sky and mist rose off every surface as far as the eye could see. We must have wandered up there for hours. Something so unexpectedly perfect we could have never planned, these things just happen.
Quaint fishing hamlets with unpronounceable names, tucked into the side of towering cliffs is the quintessential of the East Fjords.
At some point we gave up trying to live like normal humans and instead became creatures of the night. Our typical schedule consisted of us sleeping until noon or later and staying up till 3 or 4 in the morning. In july this means we basically got to watch a 4 hour sunset and we avoided all the crowds. Bonus points on both.
was my favorite of the giant waterfalls of Iceland.
in the north of Iceland, is one of the best places in the world to go whale watching. And I would HIGHLY recommend this excursion, it is awe inspiring to be so close to such gentle giants.
What to wear
Now this is just a recommendation for what to wear in the summer, but even in the summer you will want to dress warmly. And stuff in as much waterproof/windproof gear as you can. We were told that we lucked out on weather and had many sunny days, but even when it is warmer it is almost always windy. Stocking cap, warm socks, buff, gloves... all great items that you will appreciate if you plan on spending time outside. As you can see, some days it was downright brisk.
Bonus: Iceland in Black and White
If you aren't sick of Iceland pictures yet, here are my favorite Black and white shots of the trip.