The land of eternal winter and the midnight sun.
Never in a million years did I think I’d be going to Iceland, there’s so many other well known places in the world I could of traveled to (and I plan to). Iceland is such a popular place thanks to Instagram and social media blowing it up making it one of the most desired places to be right now. It’s easily one of the most beautiful countries on the planet, mostly due to the fact that there’s little to no pollution, low population and in the middle of the ocean. Everything there is all natural and the Icelandic people like to keep it that way. Tourists, keep nature clean!
Summer is most definitely high season in Iceland, mainly due to do the “good” weather and the midnight sun. The sun barely sets, it hangs just below the horizon from 12am – 3am. Literally a photographers dream! With that being said, the weather can change instantly from a nice sunny day to a rainy nightmare.
What to expect from the midnight sun:
Prepare to not sleep or be on a normal schedule due to 24 hours of daylight. Bring a sleeping mask or get a hotel / Airbnb with blackout curtains, it’ll save your life. I slept like 2 hours a day and took small random naps throughout the day and crashed pretty hard when the trip was over. If you can go in the Spring or Fall time before/after the midnight sun I’d highly recommend it, everything will be cheaper, you can sleep at night, less tourists and you can shoot the milky-way on a new moon. If you’re a photographer though, the midnight sun is definitely cool for endless daylight and most of the time you get scattered clouds. I can’t comment on winter time other than it looks epic, however I do know there are a bunch of roads closed and the conditions can be pretty extreme.
If you’re planning on going I’m sure you’ve heard everything there is expensive. The AirBnB wasn’t too bad but EVERYTHING IS EXPENSIVE! The rental car, food and gas is astronomically high, especially during the summer time. Like all of Europe the gas is measured by liters, not gallons and the price of gas is pretty much the same everywhere. Don’t even bother opening your cheap gas app. With food, there’s “cheaper” alternatives to the pricey food like grocery stores and American fast food. But those aren’t even that cheap. If you can drive manual then you can save a lot of money on the rental car… because Europe.
If you’re looking for a cell phone plan you can pick up a sim card with an hour of talk time and 5gb data for $25-30USD at the mall. Don’t get one at the airport, that ended up being a nightmare and I ended up at the mall anyways.
Book everything way in advanced! You’ll get more options for everything and a guaranteed place to stay. Airbnb is awesome for anywhere in Europe, it’s the same if not cheaper than a hotel and you can get an entire house. Tourism is exploding in Iceland and there’s people going there without places to stay and they end up sleeping in their car, you don’t want to be that person. I’ve never seen so many random tents all over the place. Also don’t get the cheap flight, I know it’s tempting but when you’re on a plane for 12+ hours you’ll be wishing you spent the couple extra bucks to not be sitting in a seat as wide as an iPad with no leg room. The flyer miles will make it worth it in the long run, I promise!
The final travel tip I’ll give is don’t mess with mother nature! Iceland is an extreme place and the weather can be a happy sunny day one second and feel like a hurricane tornado combo the next. Don’t stand super close to ledges unless you’re a 600lb boulder because the wind is actually that strong. Everything near waterfalls are wet, don’t try to get too crazy with hopping over rocks or go out of the “tourist area”, the consequences can be real. I learned the hard way a few times over the years.
- Everyone in Iceland speaks English.
- They drive on the right side of the road, no international drivers license required.
- The tap water, shower water and all the water in the country is spring water and comes from the same source. It’s extremely clean and smells like sulfur and you can drink it without getting sick.
- 1 USD is roughly 100 IKR and they don’t accept Euros or USD, only credit cards and IKR.
- Don’t park in campground parking lot unless you’re actually camping, I got yelled at.
- If you go during the midnight sun, go out after 8PM, you won’t see any tourists and it’ll still be day time.
- You get two magic hours during the midnight sun, one at 11-12 and 3-4.
- All year round it doesn’t get over 55-60F degrees, even in summer time, pack accordingly.
- If you get the sim card for your phone there’s reception in 85% of the country, the off roads can be iffy.
- Buy converters for your electronics.
- Don’t go off-roading without a Jeep or 4×4 vehicle, your car won’t make it and there won’t be anyone around to help.
- There’s no tipping in Iceland, it’s included in the price.
- The internet is really fast.
- If you’re vegetarian or vegan this might not be the country for you, do your research ahead of time.
Everyone has a drone now so I’m just going to put this out there. For the most part you can fly pretty much anywhere. However, at most of the major waterfalls drones are “forbidden” and when the birds are in mating season you can’t fly around them because you’ll get a huge fine. Out of courtesy I always waited until there was little to no one around to fly mine. Most of the time it was way too windy to fly it. So fly with caution!
Also if you have a DJI Phantom or Inspire you absolutely must carry on your batteries (and controller maybe) on the plane because the batteries are lipids and will explode if you check them in. As a precaution I also discharge them down to like 30% when carrying on just to be safe. If you have a different drone definitely check on the battery type.
What to see!
Obviously you come to Iceland to experience and see nature. I’ve never seen so many waterfalls in my life before and they’re all so different! Even just driving on the freeway you see amazing scenery like no other, it’s insane!
It’s impossible to see everything in a week because there’s so much stuff to see. I’d highly recommend to not stay in just one place but to stay in multiple places and travel around the country because driving will get old really quick. I drove about 300-500 miles every 2 days, sometimes more and I was based right outside of Reykjavik and had to drive back every night. All the main things you see in social media are along the 1 freeway along the bottom of the country. If you venture to the north and northeast you’ll find a lot less tourists and random tents. There’s also a lot of camper type vehicles you can rent which makes you super mobile.
In a week I saw:
- Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
- Diamond Beach
- Svinafellsjokull Glacier
- Fjaðrárgljúfur Gorge (my favorite spot)
- Blue Lagoon
There was so much driving from Reykjavik to everywhere I couldn’t see a lot, but I saw almost everything I wanted to on this trip. You definitely need to go back a few times to experience everything.
Iceland is not like any other European country, it totally has it’s own thing going on. It’s a really magical place like no other. There’s a reason social media hypes it up, you won’t find stuff like this anywhere else in the world. One of my favorite things was seeing all the sheep and horses on the sides of the road, they’re so cool!
Things I wish I did: Whale watching, volcano tour, ice cave tour, helicopter tour (I bought a drone instead). Again, there’s only so much you can do in a week but definitely consider those.
The Blue Lagoon:
If I had to cut one expense it would probably be the Blue Lagoon. It was pretty cool but honestly not as cool as social media makes it look. It was relaxing and had a cool atmosphere with the fog and colored water, but guess what? The Blue Lagoon isn’t a natural hot spring, the formation of the area is but not the water. If you dip your hair in without conditioner it’ll dry the living hell out of it, it also makes your skin dry and kind of tacky. My beard basically turned into a rock. If you have the extra money and time to spend then it might be worth it but honestly I would of rather spent it on a tour of some kind.
The most important take away from this trip were the glaciers and the environment.
If you want to physically see climate change go to Svinafellsjokull Glacier, the Diamond Beach and Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. A pretty large portion of the glaciers have melted and/or broken off into the ocean. I put my hand in glacier lagoon water and couldn’t believe how not cold it was.
The glacier lagoon is a spill off of broken glaciers from the Vatnajökull Glacier which floats out across the way to “diamond beach” (ice beach). If you stay at the glacier lagoon for a while you’ll hear glaciers break into the water every 20 minutes or so, it’s very eerie. If you’re on the diamond beach you can literally hear all the ice melting. At the base of Svinafellsjokull it’s completely melted away and the only way it’s coming back is a second ice age. Go see the glaciers while they still exist, it’s an experience you’ll never forget.
Another thing that got me was seeing this little puffin. There’s reasons why you don’t liter or throw garbage into the ocean because animals pick it up. I was looking for Puffins near Dyholaey and one flew up with what looked like a fish in it’s mouth, it was literally the perfect shot until I looked at all the photos. It ended up being a plastic fishing lure with fishing line and most likely a hook on it.
Seeing these big topic issues was the last thing I expected on this trip. Keep the environment clean everyone!
Most photos from this post are available to print on my website.
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Thanks for reading, more international content is on the way!
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- Canon 5DS-R
- Phantom 4 Pro+
- Canon 16-35mm F/2.8L III
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