How to Plan an Instagram Worthy Trip to Iceland
What's the first thing I do when I book a trip? Dig into other blogger's Instagram feeds!
I want to know where they went, what they did, and where to shoot. I even follow local bloggers because they'll show you beautiful locations right next to hidden gems. 'Top 10 Things to do' lists are all fine and dandy, but they won't show you what it's really like and won't tell you what's off the beaten path. Bloggers know what's up. ;)
But after shooting and driving all over Iceland, I learned a million things my Insta-digging never taught me!
I know at the end of the day, we're all in it for the gram (#doitforthegram) or at the least travel to see how beautiful the world is, so here is a list of all the places to go and the tips you need to know to plan an Insta-Worthly trip to Iceland.
First thing to understand is that you will be driving for hours every day. Most of the iconic locations are in the south part of the island, so it's easy to see everything in a few days, but you'll have to drive a few hours to get there. My last Iceland post was shot in one afternoon and the landscape looked completely different in every shot.
We hired a guide for our trip through Extreme Iceland. They offer large group tours and private jeeps, and also arranged our helicopter, snowmobile and glacier hike. Tour groups sound cheesy, but it was a godsend to have our own guide. He showed us the local spots and best angles and cut out the headache of map questing our every move.
That doesn't mean you have to explore Iceland with a guide though! I know a ton of people who rented cars and hopped between AirBnbs. Most of the country is like a national park and it's completely free to look at glaciers and waterfalls.
TIP TO CUT DOWN ON THE COMMUTE:
Spend your first night in Reykjavik, the main city where you land, then head to a hotel or AirBnb further into the countryside for the rest of the trip. We stayed at the Icelandair Marina Hotel in Reykjavik, then went to the Ion Adventure Hotel. It's only 45 min outside the city, but it was the best decision we could have made. Plus, you can explore all of Reykjavik on foot in a few hours, so don't worry about having to spend days there.
Here is a map to help you visually navigate the sites:
The Blue Lagoon is a basically a giant spa. You check in, are given a robe, slippers and locker, and then spend the day soaking in a hot tub the size of a football field with a few hundred strangers. There's a swim up bar, silica mask station and an amazing restaurant (which I highly recommend).
BUT it's near impossible to get a photo to turn out while in the lagoon! Everyone is swimming around with a glass of wine in one hand and a phone in the other, but the lagoon steams.... like A LOT. We took 80+ photos and the one pictured above is the only one that wasn't overly steam filled.
BLUE LAGOON PHOTO TIP:
I have seen beautiful shots taken across the lagoon from the spa entrance and not in the water itself. Kyle and Adam nabbed some pretty incredible shots, but I'm pretty sure they were taken from the side of the pool and required a lot of photoshop. Snap your photos poolside, then stow your phone/camera in your locker and enjoy the spa!
Also, BOOK YOUR TICKETS IN ADVANCE. They limit the number of people they allow in the spa each day and while we were there, people were turned away. Be proactive. It's also a great activity right before or after your flight. It's 30 min from the airport and only takes a few hours. Not worth dedicating a whole day. We took a redeye from NYC, got off the plane and watched the sun rise while soaking in the lagoon. It was heaven.
Want to feel like you're on top of the world? Take a helicopter to the top of a glacier.
Nordurflug offers a few different tours, but this one lands on top of Langjökull Glacier, the second largest icecap in Iceland. You fly over lakes, waterfalls and volcanoes on the way. And it's pretty surreal once you're up there.
If you book the ION Adventure Hotel (like I suggested), the helicopter will pick you up from Reykjavik and drop you off right next to the hotel. Who needs a taxi in Iceland when you have a helicopter? #treatyoself
ION ADVENTURE HOTEL
I looked at a hundred hotels online and this is by far the most beautiful and luxurious in Iceland.
I actually found it thanks to Adam Gallagher's feed (IAMGALLA). Most of the other hotels are classic rustic Icelandic cabins. The ION Adventure hotel is sleek and modern, without losing the cozy nordic feel. The building was renovated from a worker's residence for the adjacent geothermal power plant. But don't let the idea of the plant deter you, it's absolutely stunning.
Spend some time in the Northern Lights bar! It's the giant glass cube at the end of the hotel and is renowned for it's view of the lights. Hang out there in the afternoon though and you'll have the entire place to yourself for a calm and peaceful escape, with killer views of the surrounding valley.
Don't miss the best part: the rolling moss covered hills BEHIND the hotel!! There are miles of hiking trails that wrap around the plant. The black lava rock and rich moss are other-worldly. It's exactly what I wanted to see in Iceland and I couldn't get enough. You can even see the crack where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet.
Iceland has some crazy beautiful waterfalls. I had a hard time shooting them though. Without the appropriate lens, scenic shots and waterfalls tend to look flat (at least in comparison to how impressive they are in real life). It's hard to nab that sense of scale, but from the right angle, they can look incredible! Below are a few tips for each of the main waterfalls.
Gullfoss- the largest of em. I snapped the pics above in the yellow jacket on a ledge just under the main look out spot. Totally not where you are supposed to be, but it was epic!
Skógafoss- the one pictured above on the left. There is a staircase leading up to a lookout spot at the top of the waterfall. It's a million steps and not really worth it. I would recommend walking out on the outcrop half way up. It looks super dangerous, but gives you a really interesting view of the water half way up. On sunny days, theres also a constant rainbow at the bottom!
Seljalandsfoss- the one pictured above on the right. You can walk behind the water! Make sure you have a waterproof phone or camera and take the trail into the cut out. It gets crowded, so I'd suggest going early.
Gljúfranbúi- a short walk from Seljalandsfoss, this one is really cool if you're not afraid to get wet. There's a little canyon that wraps around the base. You can grab a cool shot like this if you're brave.
BLACK SAND BEACH
It's exactly what it sounds like: a beach with coarse black sand made from eroding lava rock. It makes for beautiful photos and the basalt cliff faces next to the ocean are iconic. I have seen the look white in the sunlight, but they're generally a dusty grey color. The front side is made up of angular columns you can stand on, but there's also a cool black cave and jagged rock formations just around the corner. Be prepared to wait your turn though! The beach gets crowded.
We hit a lot of major sights in a single day: the black sand beach, a few of the waterfalls mentioned above, Svínafellsjökull glacier (which you can hike up with the proper equipment), and a number of cliff lookout points. They're all in the south part of the island.
Glacier Lagoon is a little further East, so we weren't able to hit it on our schedule, but if you're spending a few days in the area it looks pretty cool.
First of all, I commend you for reading this far! It's a lot of info and I have a TON of photos, as I'm sure you will when you go there. The important things to note: plan your drive ahead of time and book your blue lagoon ticket before your trip. At the end of the day, wherever you point your camera, you will snap some incredible photos. It's an unbelievable country. Add it to your bucket list and go as soon as you can!!
Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below! I could have made this post a lot longer! ;P