Overall, our trip went according to plan, and we had the benefit of spectacularly good weather. Visiting in October worked out well for us – the fall colors were out in force, and we didn’t encounter snow or ice on the roads. Longer, darker nights made for a higher chance to see the aurora. The only downside was that some places, like museums and restaurants, were closed for the winter.
Going to Iceland gave us much-needed physical and mental distance from the U.S., where political division and disheartening news was becoming more confounding with each passing day. Traveling – even to a relatively remote island – let us know that the world was still turning and that there were people outside our country – including traveling U.S. citizens – who shared our bewilderment. Being in a beautiful place far away allowed us to clear our heads, and, in a way, it helped us overcome some of our anxieties upon returning.
Because we had already visited the south in 2015, this trip focused on the north part of the island. It was really beautiful, but if it’s your first trip, I would recommend the south, as it can’t be beat for sheer spectacle over relatively short distances, while the north is more subdued. In any case, while tours can be nice, a rental car is essential for exploring.
Doing so much planning was helpful, and I don’t regret it, but I will admit that it dampened spontaneity a little bit. On the other hand, I found out later we were steps away from some cool sights that we didn’t know about, and so never saw, so it turns out that copious research doesn’t get you all the way, either. Doing enough research without overplanning or overscheduling is probably the way to go.
In regards to photography, I didn’t pull over as often as I could have, in an attempt to be a safe driver and polite tourist; though in some places, like route 744 through the Skagi peninsula, there weren’t many opportunities to stop anyhow. If you are a photographer, try to coordinate with your travel partner so you aren’t driving all the time. That way, you can turn your attention to shooting out the window or calling out places to pull over.
I was also surprised that I came away with zero photos of lighthouses, beaches, and really only a few waterfalls. These things are as plentiful in the north as in the south, they’re just more spread out and remote. Lastly, I carried my 2-lb travel tripod everywhere, but rarely used it. Usually the wind was strong enough that it would have shook the tripod too much to make it worth setting it up. However, it was, of course, vital for long exposure shots of waterfalls and the aurora.
Leading up to our trip, I’d read a lot of news and opinions about the increased levels of tourism in Iceland (good and bad). I was relieved that we really didn’t see many misbehaving tourists. We did see a group of tourists taking pictures in the grass beside the path at Hraunfossar, but that was more a silly, staged Instagram photo than anything destructive.
I can say that despite all of my best-laid plans and hours of research, the moments I appreciated the most occurred when I was forced to slow down. Committing time to whale watching or a moderate hike; soaking in a hot spring or hot tub; watching the aurora, and visiting the horse farm were particular stand-outs.
We’ll always be grateful that we had the opportunity to return to Iceland. Many people have asked if we’ll visit Iceland a third time. The answer is probably not for many years, but if we do have the opportunity, there’s still plenty we haven’t seen. I’d love to explore the Westfjords and the Snæfellsnes peninsula during the midnight sun. But for the most part, I’m very satisfied with the two trips we’ve been fortunate to take, and I’m ready to see some new places!