The mysterious island nation of Iceland is covered in icy glaciers and fiery volcanoes. It’s full of stunning photography opportunities for both landscape photographers and adventure travelers.
I spent 3 surreal weeks traveling around Iceland for an autumn landscape photography mission, exploring the country for the first time with my camera. The results were beyond my wildest expectations.
Iceland impressed me so much that I didn’t want to leave!
How many photography locations on the planet can you experience crawling into blue glacial ice caves, flying over an erupting volcano, AND stay up all night transfixed by the Earth’s magical northern lights?
My experience in Iceland was overwhelming and almost spiritual — reminding me why I started traveling in the first place.
For such a small nation, Iceland is absolutely packed with beauty and diversity. Vast, dramatic landscapes stretch out for miles, sprinkled with a handful of old farmhouses and fishing villages.
It’s seriously a travel photographer’s paradise.
My favorite part of the trip was driving Iceland’s Ring Road.
Below you’ll find my top recommended photography locations for traveling in Iceland, and I hope these images inspire you to visit this wonderful country on your own!
City Of Reykjavík
Most of Iceland’s population is concentrated around the capital city of Reykjavík. I was surprised at how big and modern the city is, fascinated by the vibrant art & music scenes too. Alcohol is expensive in Iceland, but nightlife in Reykjavík still gets pretty wild.
After tourism, fishing is Iceland’s biggest industry, and the city has a large seaport. This photo was taken from the top of Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavík’s famous Icelandic church.
The Blue Lagoon
This man-made geothermal pool in South West Iceland is the country’s most popular tourist attraction. I spent an afternoon soaking in the Blue Lagoon’s milky blue water full of silica, algae, & minerals. The warm water & white mud is supposed to be good for your skin. It’s also a great place for photography!
Green Volcanic Moss
In many areas of Iceland you’ll find large ancient lava fields of black rock covered with a thick green carpet of moss. This special volcanic moss takes hundreds of years to grow, and experts can determine how old a lava flow is by how thick the moss is.
Icelandic legends say that trolls & elves live under the moss. Sounds reasonable to me! Walking through this crazy landscape feels like walking through a Dr. Seuss book.
Despite its name, Iceland has plenty of heat to spare. Here, glowing blues and greens turn to Mars-like coppery reds at Seltún, one of the most dramatic-looking of the country’s many geothermal areas.
Around 87% of Iceland’s domestic heating and hot water comes from geothermal energy, helping make it the world’s largest renewable energy provider per capita. This bizarre landscape, looking like a cross between a pizza and a Turkish bath, is a spectacular 40-minute drive from Reykjavik.
Crystal Ice Caves
Wow. That’s all I can say about Iceland’s stunning blue ice caves. If you’re traveling to Iceland for photography, you can’t miss these. Melt water flows under Vatnajökull glacier creating these insane natural caves, with sunlight filtering through the ice from above giving them a blue tint.
The crystal caves collapse or move every season, and can be difficult to reach, so you need an experienced guide. They are only safe to visit in the winter.
Holuhraun Volcanic Eruption
On August 29th, 2014 a volcanic eruption broke through the surface at Holuhraun lava field in the Northern Highlands of Iceland. It’s been spewing rivers of hot lava ever since with no signs of stopping.
Driving to the eruption site is currently not allowed for safety reasons (possible flash floods & toxic gas), however you can fly over it. Helicopter flights are expensive, but if you fly in a small plane like I did, it’s pretty reasonable.
Driving The Golden Circle
Did you know that the general term geyser is named after a particular geothermal fountain in Iceland? Strokkur Geyser erupts every 5-10 minutes near the Hvítá River, one of many stops on our day-long road trip around the Golden Circle.
We rented a cheap car and drove the Golden Circle under blue skies, rain, and a snowstorm! Iceland’s weather changes quickly.
Waterfalls In Iceland
Mix ice mountains with summer days as warm as 20–25 °C (68–77 °F) – and Iceland starts to roar. Its waterfalls are word-famous, and best photographed under the light of the midnight sun. Here, Skógafoss Waterfall (one of the biggest in the country) shows off its standing rainbow, which becomes visible anytime the sun is shining.
Legend has it that there’s Viking treasure behind that curtain of water – and more recently, the God of Thunder himself made an appearance here for scenes in Thor: The Dark World.
Exploring Lava Tubes
Iceland is covered in volcanoes, both old and new. Many of them have underground lava tubes, formed when molten lava flows down channels and cools at the edges, eventually creating a tube of solid volcanic rock.
When a section of the tube eventually caves in, it creates an entrance to this underworld. Hiking through dark lava tubes is a lot like caving, with slightly different formations and colors.
Do You Believe In Elves?
If you come to Iceland, be prepared to take the topic of huldufolk (hidden folk) as seriously as the locals do. As The Atlantic reported a few years back, its often very serious indeed.
In 1998, over half of Iceland’s residents said they believed in the existence of wee folk – and the sanctity of their alleged homes sometimes influences decisions when planning permission for construction work. In Iceland, elves are just another part of daily life. Act accordingly!
The small but sturdy horses in Iceland may look like ponies, but don’t call them that in front of a local! Iceland’s horses have a long and proud history dating back to the 9th century.
Breeding & natural selection have made them super tough, able to withstand long & brutal winters completely outside with the help of thick fur. You’ll find the horses on many farms throughout Iceland — they are very friendly too!
Emergency Mountain Huts
You’ll find these dotted around the country, providing a startling splash of primary color on pristine hillsides. They also come stocked with blankets, dried food, and medical supplies.
Most were built by Icelandic volunteer search and rescue organizations early last century, and their usefulness has diminished – but tell that to someone stumbling upon one after trekking through a blizzard for hours. If you decide to look inside, be sure to close all the doors and windows again – it could be months before anyone else stops by, and they can save lives.
Nearly a sixth of Iceland is covered in vast, breathtaking glaciers. Unsurprisingly, you’ll find most of them in the country’s south and central highland regions. They’re such an important feature of the landscape that even the side-waters of these frozen rivers have their own names.
For example, Svínafellsjökull is a tongue of shattered ice extending from the mouth of the Vatnajökull ice-cap. And yes, it really is that color, especially vibrant with cloudy skies!
Remote East Iceland
When Icelanders describe a place as “remote”, you should pay attention. The eastern coastline of Iceland is an area of savage-looking mountains under vast, cold skies, and signs of habitation are confined to the occasional beautiful but tough-looking fishing village.
It’s also a hiker’s paradise – and if you want to get away from the approximately 1.7 million visitors hitting Iceland’s shores every year, the eastern coast is the place to do it.
Jökulsárlón Iceberg Lagoon
At the bottom of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier sits a large glacier lake called Jokulsarlon lagoon, created by melting ice from above. It’s full of blue-tinted icebergs that have broken off the base of the glacier.
Some of the ice collects on black sand shores the lake, other pieces float out to sea through a channel nearby. Located on Iceland’s south coast, Jökulsárlón is a wonderful spot for photography.
In Iceland, everyone is creative. Don’t raise an eyebrow if someone describes themselves as a writer, composer, sculptor, painter, designer and actor – because it’s probably true. You can see the effects of this deep-frozen Renaissance all over the landscape, particularly in depictions of the Icelandic sagas, semi-mythical stories dating back to the 13th & 14th century.
The North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are breaking Iceland apart at Silfra, creating a fissure flooded with crystal clear 35°F degree glacial water. Ice from nearby Lángjökull Glacier melts and travels into an ancient lava field, filtering underground through porous volcanic rock over 50 years before it emerges where you can go snorkeling or scuba diving in it for a very unique (but cold) experience.
Blending traditional and modern designs with durable functionalism, Icelandic architecture is breathtaking. The otherworldly-looking Lutheran church of Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavík gets a lot of attention – but equally impressive are the styles you’ll find outside the city.
From pristine, clean-lined churches (above) to the traditional turf-roof, from wooden frames to dry-stone walls to more modern materials and everything in between. It’s a major focus for Icelandic creativity – and you never know what you’ll find around the next bend.
Photographing the northern lights was the highlight of my photography adventure in Iceland. I lucked out with 3 solid nights of clear skies and strong aurora activity while driving around the Ring Road. Including one particularly spectacular evening on Sólheimasandur Beach next to an old US Navy plane that crashed years ago.