I've had many people ask me advice on Iceland and my experiences there - so here it is, in one cohesive (hopefully) post.
I'll start out by saying that there's a BIG hype around Iceland, especially in photography field. People go all kinds of crazy for the island country with eclectic moods and definitely for a reason. I always wanted to go there (along with Faroe islands and Greenland) but when the major boom of Iceland travel started, I just lost the urge. I also knew that it was a very expensive place to visit and I had no extra money laying around. However, in my last year of university I came up with my final year project and part of it was a trip to Iceland. I realised that it would have to be a well though out and planned budget trip, in a country (as previously mentioned) was anything but predictable and budget-friendly. I was dreading to go there because I felt that I already had such high expectations and preconceptions, but in the end I realised that it was so no the case.
I'll also mention that we took our trip during the second week of January - so winter time, where there is only 4h of daylight. But during that week we got all seasons - winter, spring, summer and fall. It's what the locals always say - if you don't like the weather, wait 5 minutes and it'll change. We got very lucky to see Iceland during a sunny dry day as well as in snow. We even saw the infamous Icelandic horses on the side of the road.
Fast forward all the planning and booking and researching, I'm on my way there from London, straight to Reykjavik. I landed there in the evening time and we went straight to AVIS for our rental we pre booked. Getting our little cruiser and hell of a lot insurances - for gust of wind, sand storm, volcano eruption, hail, snow, getting stuck, hit by rock etc.
I highly recommend getting full coverage insurance, because we definitely needed to use that. Also read through your contract because some say they are full coverage, but actually don't cover all what is needed. In the darkness we went to find our vehicle (if you can take photos from all angles of your car before you get into it, so if there's any doubt if you caused some issue or it was like that in the beginning, then you have proof). We were warned that it's super windy, so when opening the doors to use caution, so it wouldn't hit you, car next to it or even unhinge. On our way to our AirBnB the wind was so severe that the car always steered off the road - you definitely need a driver who is sure of themselves when driving in Iceland. A lot of the times we were driving in the dark and the next day we would see on the same road a car in a ditch from previous night. The winds are strong and visibility can be quite severe, so be prepared for that.
Arriving to our home for the stay we were met with very reserved but kind host. I find people of Iceland very similar to Estonians, we aren't that social (unless there's drinks involved) but it doesn't mean we are rude. On my way back to London, I bought a book in the airport called "The little book of the Icelanders" by Alda Sigmundsdóttir and it talks about the country and people in short funny essays - one explaining why Icelanders are the way they are. It says: 'Icelanders rarely, if ever, say "excuse me."'
That being said, I loved all the Islanders who I talked with and everything that I read from them. Even the signs, aimed at tourists, were full of satire and sarcasm but in the most innocent (but straight forward) way.
I find it incredibly endearing that there are people and cultures in the world who don't fall under the "fake smile/politeness" category, everything is sincere and honest. Our lovely host gave us the keys to the side house where we were staying and showed us the basket of brochures where we could fill our tourist fantasies. Because I was there for a purpose, I had already made all our plans and set out destinations.
We packed ourselves up in our winter gear and headed for the shop. Upon my research I found recommendations which shops to buy at and with my veggie lifestyle which were the best. We drove 5 minutes and we found ourselves in the store that had a little pink pig on it - Bonus.
Super good when you are on budget or in general want a good variety of stuff. This, or Kronan, is where I found my favourite yoghurt ever - mango-coconut Soyade. They also had very good vegan selection (at least the one where we shopped at). I'd say that we went to the shop 3-4 times during our stay and spent 4000-5500 ISK (30-40 euros) for three people and that includes all the stacks and interesting foods we didn't really need but wanted anyway. We cooked our own food at our AirBnB and took some on the road along with our snacks for lunches. During our stay we only ate out twice, because we were constantly on the road in middle of nowhere. Once in our last day in Reykjavik to try the dried cod and fermented shark, but not me, I was very happy with my vegan burger. And the second time where we were soaked, tired and cold so we went into a cafe and had I think another vegan burger and local beer (that actually is brewed in London?!?!).
The prices were high 2000 ISK (15 euros) for a burger and fries, but then again I feel like it's becoming a common price in most European countries.
Although our trip was planned, we still gave ourselves the freedom of deciding in the morning which part to go. We always checked the weather and road condition before setting out for the day. We left our house around 9 to arrive there when the sun was up. That's how all our journeys were - drive in the morning when it was dark, explore the locations in light and drive back in the dark. I'd say it was max 3h drive, exploring and shooting for 3h and max 3h drive back. It was almost always 9h days on the road but the times varied between how far locations were. On our first proper day we went to Vik beach.
We arrived JUST before the tour busses arrived, so we got to see it quite empty, however after 15 minutes the beach was packed and there were loads of people crawling around and taking photos.
There's a place where the corner of the rock meets the sea but during tide you can go behind it further on the coast line. However, you have to be careful not to stand there or watch the waves because Vik beach has take quite few lives.
Once you are pulled by the crashing waves, it's almost impossible to get out, even if there's a rescue team. There was a group of 4 dudes who were taking a photo in the awkward corner and the wave came and soaked them. Luckily they only got soaked and not drawn in but it was definitely a shock to the people.
Nature is no fool - be cautious at all times and beware of your surroundings, everywhere, but especially in Iceland. Vik beach was a solid cool place, but not too overwhelming to the sensory system.
The town itself is super nice with only 300 people living there. We then headed further east on the south road and found ourselves near Fjaðrárgljúfur.
Wow, wow, wow, one of the most amazing places I have seen. The bright green moss that covered the small hills looked incredible. It was so surreal, almost felt like I was on another planet. We sent our drone (provided by Photopoint) to the air, because the road was blocked off to our final destination but seeing it from the drone was just as amazing. I think we spent a good chunk of time there before we decided to head back and see the Skógafoss (waterfall). I've never found waterfalls interesting, I think it's because I've seen quite many and they aren't a rare thing for me, but Skógafoss was impressive with it's sheer size and water flow. I think it was one of the three places, where we had to pay for the parking.
The next day we were heading towards the Great Geysir, but before we arrived we explored Kerið. Those were the other two places where we had to pay for parking and the latter you also had to pay entrance fee. Both were great places to see what's inside of the ground that Iceland is on and the stark colors of Kerið are unlike you have ever seen before.
The iron levels on the ground make the little gravel so pink and colourful that it feel similar to Fjaðrárgljúfur with them seeming like a different planet. The geyser was a full on tourist place where it was all managed and regulated. The most amazing thing was everybody waiting and holding their breath to see the eruption happen.
We continued our journey and came across the most amazing off-road. Gaukshöfði was mind-blowing!!!
The little side tour is so worth it for the views and there is no people there (at least when we went). It is easily my favourite place in Iceland. Being there during the golden hour was another treat that we cherished but also were aware of because of the lack of light in approaching hour. Although we savoured every minute there, we set our sights for the final place of the day that was still a bit of a drive away - Hjálparfoss.
That one was a bit off-roading place to get to, the path was super muddy and curvy and overflowed with water in places and had big rocks on the road - so if you don't have four wheel drive and a higher car, I recommend leaving the car before the rocky part and walking the rest of the way. Since ours was good to go we arrived in the parking place with no other people in sight besides couple of working men digging with their tractors on the other side. Such an odd sight! As previously mentioned, me not being the biggest waterfall lover, this one was underwhelming. However, if you manage to get the drone up there and see from birds eye view then you are in for a treat. With that completing our day we headed back to our AirBnB near Reykjavik.
Our final full day we drove north of Reykjavik. Most of our exploring and locations were in Snæfellsnes peninsula, so this is where we were headed. The weather was so far the worst. It was cold, raining, foggy, windy and dark. Pushing through it we really wanted to see probably the most Instagrammed Iceland peak ever Kirkjufell.
But before we arrived there we drove to Gatklettur. This is where we got soaking wet from the Atlantic Ocean shower and too cold in our clothes to drive.
So we went out in one cafe/restaurant to have a meal and beer, meanwhile our clothes dried. Neither of those places were anything mind-blowing, but just as with Vik the village where Kirkjufell was looked so sweet and nice. The little fishing village Grundarfjörður was mesmerizing and I would definitely want to explore more there. Driving around the peninsula we went from proper road to non-marked road, from sun to snow in all matter of couple of hours - very tense but that is Iceland for you. When driving back to Reykjavik there's many interesting places by the road, but since the weather was so bad and it was our longest drive we didn't stop anywhere along the road (minus the toilet break near the amazing bridge arriving to Borgarbyggð).
Since our flight was in the evening we decided to go explore Reykjavik as well. We wandered around the city, saw the infamous church of Hallgrímskirkja, went for food (as previously mentioned,.. shark and all), shopped in the independent jewellery (and non-jewellery) shops, visited the photo museum and sent a postcards. I feel like a day or two in Reykjavik is perfect, I thoroughly enjoyed myself there and would definitely see myself living there a year.
Heading back to our AirBnB which was located a bit outside of the city for head-start and cost (all together 300 euros) reasons, we took our bags and loaded the car. On our way back to airport we decided that we still have bit more time for a slight detour and headed for Hafnarberg.
At that point it was snowing and it was wet snow. That combined with wind besides the ocean created a very stormy water with waves crashing against the cliffs. It all looked amazing for a short amount of time before your survival instinct kicked in and we hurried back inside the car. Fingers immobile from the cold, not being able to change lenses or get the drone up in the air and just admiring the roughness of the ocean was too much and we started our journey back to the airport.
When we returned our car to the rental place we told that there was a tiny hole created by a small gravel piece that a car passing us kindly forwarded towards our windshield. Luckily, because we had the full coverage insurance, we didn't have to pay this obscene amount of money (something along the lines of 5000 euros) for barely a dent. Lesson for all of you - get that insurance even if it seems pointless and you know you are a great driver. Most of the accidents and incidents are out of your control, so be cautious and prepared. I think our car rental + insurance + petrol all together cost ~200-300 euros.
In conclusion, Iceland has been one of my favourite trips ever, although I feared that I would be let down because of all the hype it was already surrounded. The only downside was having only one AirBnb and not being able to go anywhere else in 3h radius of Reykjavik. I highly recommend getting multiple AirBnb's around the country, so you can explore more than half of the circle. It's a country I definitely see myself visiting again or even living there for a period of time. Iceland has so much to offer and will make you feel something you haven't felt physically and mentally ever before.