The Highlands of Iceland are beautiful. The nature shows wide variety of colors.
Situated 400-500 meters above, numerous glaciers, such as Vatnajökull, Langjökull and Hofsjökull are also a part of the Icelandic Highlands.
Icelandic Highlands are mostly uninhabitable volcanic desert, because the water precipitating as rain or snow infiltrates so quickly into the ground that is it unsuitable for plant growth.
The most interesting part of Highlands, with volcanic activity, can be found in Landmannalaugar.
But before you start your journey to the Highlands such as Landmannalaugar, you need to inform yourself about the conditions on highland roads. They are mostly open in summer time and are closed in winter. Even in summer they require 4x4 vehicle. There is a road that does not require river crossing. Just right before Hella you need to take the Road F26 that later will have the turn to road F208. This road will take you all the way to the Landmannalaugar base camp (open in summer).
You can camp at the base camp or stay in the Hrauneyjar Guesthouse (back at road F26).
Once again, be careful when traveling in Highlands, the weather could be very changeable.
Lava Fields at Landmannalaugar
Aurora Borealis, also known as Northern Lights, is a beautiful nature play. You can find them not only in Iceland, but also in other places that are located in the Northern Hemisphere, such as Alaska, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia and Greenland.
In Iceland, the Northern Lights are best visible from early September to late April. Aurora Borealis happen all year around, but due to midnight sun (it does not get dark) in Iceland, you can’t see them as the sky is too bright. Their appearance is not reliant upon cold weather, as many people believe.
So what are Northern Lights? They appear when charged particles from the sun strike atoms in Earth’s atmosphere, they cause electrons in the atoms to move to a higher-energy state. When the electrons drop back to a lower energy state, they release a photon: light. And this process creates this beautiful nature play that we call Aurora Borealis. The color is mostly green but other colors can occur, depending on in what altitude of the atmosphere this process takes place.
So it comes only to a few things to be able to watch the Aurora Borealis. Strong sun activity, dark and cloudless sky.
The important number that you need to know for aurora watching is the KP index. It is a scale of numbers between 0 – 9 known as the planetary index. Using this scale, it is easy to determine what KP number of Aurora Borealis you need to have a chance of seeing auroras where you are located.
Iceland requires KP 2 – 3, but the more north you are located, the lower number is required. If we take an example and round up the numbers, Iceland’s most north located city is Akureyri and requires KP 2, Reykjavik for example, will need a higher number of 3.
Icelandic Met Office does also Aurora forecasts and it can be found here.
Aurora Borealis at Sólfar
Black mirror - Þingvellir National Park
Aurora Borealis at Sólfar
Aurora Borealis in Downtown Reykjavík
Aurora Borealis with Guido van Helten “no exit” project in Reykjavik, Iceland
The South Coast Tour is one most visited ones here in Iceland. It offers a high amount of attractions per driven kilometer.
This is one of my favorite tours as I can easily drive this tour in a day or extend it even further to include the famous Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. It really depends on how much time you have.
The South Coast Tour brings the Icelandic Nature really close to you. It has everything that a photographer would wish for.
Here is the list of locations that are located on the Road 1 from Reykjavik:
Seljavallalaug (old hot spring pool in the mountains)
Sólheimasandur plane crash (The Douglas C-47 Skytrain wreck. The road is closed but you can hike there, 3.7km about 50 minutes each direction)
Reynisfjara (Black Sand Beach)
Vík í Mýrdal
As you can see, the amount of the attractions is really high. All those attractions can be done in a single day if you start your tour from Reykjavik and return back to Reykjavik.
But if you want to extend this tour by one more day and continue driving towards Höfn, you will be able to visit following attractions:
Skaftafell National Park at the famous Vatnajökull Glacier. You can hike to the famous Svartifoss (waterfall), walk to the glacier tongues, hike on a glacier or visit an ice cave.
Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, the famous glacier lagoon in Iceland. Floating ice is carried out into the sea and the sea pushes it back on the black beach. Pro tip, this is also an amazing place to catch Northern Lights.
Höfn and Vestrahorn.
The day two of the South Coast Tour involves a lot of driving and does not offer as many attractions as the day one, however those attractions are really beautiful and are worth the sitting in a car or bus.
Reykjavík is the capital and largest city of Iceland. At the moment it’s most favorite destination for tourists all around the world as the city serves as a gateway to the beautiful Icelandic nature.
But the city on its own offers quite a lot for the visitors. It has National and Saga museums for tracing Iceland’s Viking history, Perlan that offers a beautiful city view surrounded by the mountains and the most famous mountain is called Esjan.
It’s a small city, but very famous for its night life and is very dynamic for a city of its size. It hosts many events, such as the Color Run, Culture Night (fireworks) and has very colorful houses with a huge amount of beautiful art work on them, for example from Guido Van Helten.
Reykjavik has all sorts of museums, the unique one is The Icelandic Phallological Museum, one of its kind in Europe.
Main points of interests are:
National Museum of Iceland
It is also worth walking down the Laugavegur, main street in Reykjavik.
Sólfar - Sun Voyager
Reykjavik from above with Hallgrímskirkja and Esjan
Color Run 2015
Skólavörðustígur and Hallgrímskirkja
Guido van Helten “no exit” project in Reykjavik
The Golden Circle tour is a popular route in southern Iceland. It’s about 300km long starting from Reykjavik.
On this tour you can see quite a lot of beautiful Iceland Nature and it just takes a little bit less than a day tour.
First stop should be at the famous Thingvellir (Þingvellir) National Park. It’s just about 40km away from Reykjavik. This is a site of historical, cultural and geological importance. It lies in a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Also according to the history, Iceland’s parliament was founded at Thingvellir. It only became a national park in 1928 as a result of legislation passed to protect the remains of the parliament site.
You can also find a hidden waterfall just 15 minutes’ walk away from the upper parking place. The waterfall is called Öxarárfoss.
Your next destination after the National Park, should be Geysir. Sometimes known as The Great Geysir. It’s a geyser in southwestern Iceland.
Geysir can hurl boiling water up to 70 meters in the air. However, eruptions may be infrequent and have in the past stopped altogether. The nearby geyser Strokkur erupts much more frequently than Geysir. About every 5-7 minutes and is just spectacular. Strokkur reaches up to 30 meters.
It is also quite spectacular to sit on a bench near Strokkur and just listen to him in nearly complete darkness.
Just a few kilometers away, you have the final stage of the Golden Circle Tour, the well-known Gullfoss waterfall. Located in the canyon of the Hvítá River.
If you approach the waterfall from the right side, it appears that the river simply vanishes into the earth. There are many viewing platforms, located on higher level and lower level. But be careful with the walk on the lower level platform in winter. Due to water spray the path is covered with ice and is mostly closed in winter due to dangerous conditions.
You can make a stop at the Secret Lagoon on your way back to Reykjavik. Gamla Laugin – The Secret Lagoon is a natural hot springs and is located in the small village called Fludir and are in the Golden Circle area.
This is a very old natural hot spring, but the operators try to keep it natural and unique for their guests so they can get the true Icelandic feeling. They have showers and changing cabins.
Especially in winter this is an amazing experience to sit in hot water while it is snowing. Just search for them on the internet and you will find all the information that you need to know.
Þingvellir National Park
Þingvellir National Park
Strokkur geyser at Geysir
Greenhouses of Friðheimar
Snæfellsnes peninsula is Iceland in Miniature, because many national sight can be found in this area.
It’s a one day tour but can be extended by two days.
From far away you will see the Snæfellsjökul volcano. The mountain is also known as the setting of the novel Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne. The area around Snæfellsjökull is also one of the four National Parks in Iceland.
If you travel from Borgarnes, the first stop that you should make is at the Ytri Tunga Beach, where you can find a lot of wild life including the lazy seals lying in the beach. If you stand on the beach and the parking spot is behind you, the seals should be located to your left, lying on the ridge that goes towards the ocean, away from the beach. You can get very close to them but be careful, the stones are slippery.
After that you can continue your journey to the Búðakirkja – Black Church this is a small little church located near the coast line.
In Arnarstapi you can find a very unusual statue Bárðr. This is from a late Icelandic saga with legendary elements. It takes place around the Snæfellsjökull volcano.
Another interesting small village is Hellnar. It’s a small sleepy village that is one of the ancient fishing villages in Iceland.
Next stop should be already in the National Park and that is the Londrangar – Cliffs. In summer this is the place were a lot of birds are nesting, you can also find the Puffins here. The rock formation in the water is really impressive. Unfortunately, the sunset near those cliffs you can only catch in winter. In summer the sun passes over Londrangar only to set far on the right side.
One thing that you need to do, is to visit the Vatnshellir Cave. The area all around the glacier contains hundreds of lava tubes, which makes the area really special for those interested in caves. The tour into the cave just takes 45 minutes and is available all year around. People say, that this cave has inspired Jules Verne to write A Journey to the Center of the Earth.
Next stop should be the Djúpalónssandur. It’s a sandy beach and bay near the Snæfellsjökull and it was once home to many fishing boats that were operating in the waters near Snæfellsness.
Öndverðarnes is a lighthouse located on the edge of Snæfellsness peninsula. It gives a view to many cliffs and on a nice day with no clouds, you can also spot Greenland.
Last stop should be the famous Kirkjufell. This 463m high mountain is very well known from many photographs. The scenery is indeed very beautiful. Together with the near located waterfall Kirkjufellsfoss you can create a very amazing photograph. If you ask me, you should spend a whole day at Kirkjufell and try to get an amazing picture. Also by night with the northern lights or stars, this mountain stands out in the landscape very well.
Búðir - Black Church
Bárður Snæfellsás - Arnarstapi
Seals - Ytri Tunga
The Lóndrangar cliffs
Foss in Icelandic stands for waterfall. And there are many waterfalls in Iceland. Each of them is beautiful in their own way. Some are small, some are huge and some are very tall.
I will list a few waterfalls that I have visited but also that are very interesting.
Seljalandsfoss is one of the best known waterfalls in Iceland. You can walk behind it and capturing sunset in summer through the water will result in something amazing.
Skógafossis huge and tall. You can walk up to the top of the waterfall. There is also a legend, that the first Viking settler in the area, has buried his treasure in a cave behind the waterfall.
Svartifossis a waterfall in Skaftafell in Vatnajökull National Park. It is surrounded by dark lava columns. It is a 45 minute hike to the waterfall from the Skaftafell Visitor Center.
Glymur, 198m tall was one of the highest waterfalls in Iceland. Now it’s just second-highest but still very impressive. The waterfall is located not so far away from Reykjavik and the trip to the top of the waterfall just takes you about 2h is an easy paste.
Þjófafossis located on the east side of Merkurhraun lava fields, near Hekla volcano.
Háifossis located in the south of Iceland, near Hekla volcano. It is 122m tall.
Kirkjufellsfoss is located near Kirkjufell in Snæfellsnes. The waterfall and Kirkjufell offer together a very unique view and is a great opportunity for a great photograph.
Gullfoss is located on the Golden Circle tour. In is located in a canyon, approaching it from one of the view decks, gives the impression that water just disappears into the earth.
Goðafossis one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Iceland. It is very wide and the rock formation around the waterfall make it one of the greatest natural wonders in Iceland.
Aldeyjarfossoffers a very interesting contrast between the black basalt columns and the white waters of the fall.
Þjófafoss near Hekla
Aldeyjarfoss in winter
Háifoss near Hekla
Looking for Þrasi’s chest of gold
Skógafoss at night. Nominated for Canon Professional Network – Editor’s Choice 2017
Kirkjufellsfoss near Kirkjufell
Black & White
There is not always good weather here in Iceland. Clouds, violent wind speeds, rain, hail and snow. If you don’t like the weather in Iceland, just wait a couple of minutes and the weather will, of course, get worse. But it does not stop people from going out on the tour and still taking some amazing pictures.
If you find yourself on a location and the weather is just not exactly assisting you to take a great picture, still you should try to take that picture and later convert it to black and white photo.
I am not shooting black and white, only later in the post production I decide to convert the photograph over into black and white if the weather was really miserable.
I consider myself not a “good weather” photographer.
US Navy Dakota DC 3 "Sky Train" plane wreck at Sólheimasandur
Búðir - Black Church
Bárður Snæfellsás - Arnarstapi
Black Beach Reynisfjara shore at Dyrhólaey
Fishery trawler Gullborg RE38
In Iceland you can encounter all kind of animals, from birds (Puffins, Artic Terms etc.) up to artic foxes, seals and deer’s. But Icelanders are very proud of their horses. The horses are still used for traditional sheepherding work here in Iceland as well as for leisure, showing and racing.