Although we’ve always loved to travel, Matt and I really only started to see a lot of the world when we began travelling together. I guess it’s easier to stop procrastinating and start exploring when you have someone else to do it with you and share in the adventure. One of the questions we get asked most often is which destination has been our favourite so far. There are a few, but one that sticks in our minds most is Iceland.
After living and working in London we spent a few months travelling, trying to see as much as we could with the money we had. Iceland had been on Matt’s travel bucket list for a very long time and, since we were over that side of the earth, we figured it was the perfect time to visit.
I remember feeling completely in awe as our plane came to land in Reykjavik, the capital and largest city in Iceland. As the ground came properly into focus I couldn’t help but feel like we were landing on the moon. It was so vast, a never-ending expanse of dense, dark rock with an eery, smokey look about it. It was beautiful and completely different to anywhere I had seen before. Strangest of all, the sun was still up… despite the fact our plane had landed at 3am.
Reykjavik is in southwest Iceland and has a population of around 120,000. It’s a bright, vibrant city dripping with culture and is one of the safest, cleanest and greenest cities in the world. The streets are lined with houses with brightly coloured roofs, giving the city an inviting feel and the locals are friendly, smiling and welcoming. Everyone seems to be doing whatever is they want to be doing and dressing however they like.
Outside of the city, the landscape is absolutely breathtaking. I have never seen anything like it. Rolling green hills, lush and bursting with bright wildflowers. Huge geysers and waterfalls moving with such pace and force that you feel like a tiny little ant!
Weather and the best times to visit
We visited in July, which falls into the Iceland summer season. The average temperature in the southern parts of Iceland, where we visited, is 10 – 13°C (50–55 °F) and a warm summer day can reach 20–25 °C (68–77 °F). For the most part, we wore jeans and closed in shoes with jumpers, jackets and sometimes scarves and beanies. Keep in mind though that we come from a place where our winter doesn’t get as cold as the Iceland summer. We are weak when it comes to cold weather! If you are planning on visiting in colder months, the average temperature in winter is around 0°C (32°F).
Low Season: October to April makes travel by road a little more difficult as a number of roads close due to bad weather. However, the cold does bring with it the possibility of spotting the Northern Lights and fun winter activities like skiing and visiting ice caves.
Shoulder: May and September are on the shoulder of the high season, which make them a better time to visit if you’re travelling on a budget. The weather is still a little cold, with occasional snow, but the days are longer.
High Season: June to August is the high season and when visitors flock to Iceland, particularly Reykjavik. Accommodation prices increase and it can be expensive and difficult to find somewhere to stay, as we found. But the endless daylight and summer festivals really do make it a beautiful time to visit.
Highlights from our Icelandic road trip
We spent a week in Iceland, basing ourselves in Reykjavik. Accommodation is quite expensive and we landed really early in the morning, so spent our first night at a hostel. We wanted to see as much of Iceland as possible and decided to hire a car and drive everywhere. There are a lot of things to see and having a car is a great way to do it, you’ll cover a lot more ground and make good use of your time.
What’s great about Iceland is the things you want to see are mostly natural wonders, which means there aren’t long queues to get inside something like a historic building. You simply drive to what you want to see, get out of the car and stand there in awe for about 10 minutes. If you do decide to hire a car, you will definitely need a GPS/Navman.
Our approach was to start off in Reykjavik on foot, walking through the streets and stopping in at quirky shops and cafes. We also visited Hallgrimskirkja church, Reykjavik’s main landmark which can be seen from just about everywhere in the city. Visitors can catch the elevator 75m up to the top and take in great views of the city.
One of my favourite food experiences in Iceland happened at Cafe Loki, which is right near Hallgrimskirkja. This cosy, comfortable spot is perfect to try local dishes like Icelandic meat soup and rye bread with plucking fish and trout, flat cake with sviðasultu, rófustöppu and bean salad. They have great tasting plates which allow you to try a few different things, including the infamous fermented shark meat. I tried it and, while I’m glad I did, it wasn’t enjoyable for me.
Once we hit the open road we were unstoppable, visiting the absolutely incredible natural sites like Geysir and Strokkur Geyser, which are a bit on the smelly side due to the sulphur, but amazing nonetheless. We also visited the colossal waterfall at Gullfoss and the canyon at Thingvellir as well the breathtaking blank-sand beach along the coastline near Vik. All you need to do is drive, just take off and start driving and you’ll find beautiful sites everywhere you go.
We made a trip to the Blue Lagoon, which you probably have seen photographs of at some point. Set among a black lava-field, the milky-blue geothermal pools are stunning and make for beautiful photographs and an amazing experience. While the lagoon does attract a lot of tourists, it’s one of those things you just gotta do… like visiting the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Colosseum in Rome.
My top tips for visiting Iceland
- A self-guided road trip is the way to go, my friends! You have total control over where you go and what you see and you’ll be able to pull over and photograph all those beautiful sites as you discover them. When I go back, I’ll be road-tripping again for sure.
- The nightlife in Reykjavik is famous for being quite wild! The locals go out really late so you may visit a hotspot and find it empty, don’t be discouraged, just come back a little bit later.
- Spend a day exploring Reykjavik on foot and try to befriend some locals, they’re amazing people who are so full of soul. We were lucky enough to speak to an older couple for a few hours and it’s a travel experience I’ll never forget.
- Stop and photograph everything beautiful you see, don’t miss a single opportunity to capture the natural wonder of Iceland.
- Make a great playlist for your road trip, there are songs I hear now that remind me of our road trip and I wish I had taken the time to put together a playlist to go with the trip.
- Do and see as much as you possibly can! Don’t sleep in or party too hard and miss out on seeing things, trust me, I wish I’d done more while I was there and cannot wait to go back to see and do even more.
Need some more Iceland tips? Watch this…
Phoebe is a travel writer and photographer with a love for storytelling and making people laugh. Matt is a videographer and photographer with a passion for the great outdoors and big adventures. Together we inspire big adventures through our guides, videos, vlogs and photographs. Find out more about us here.