We went to Iceland over Labor Day. It took me forever to share this, but I suppose better late than never. I had really never thought of going to Iceland. My brother-in-law Will (who is a burgeoning outdoors photographer) and his girlfriend had planned a trip and invited my wife and I to go along. (Here’s a map that Will made for Iceland.) I’ll be honest, I was only sort of half interested in Iceland as a place to visit. Everything I had ever seen about Iceland had come from either Michael Lewis or Instagram and nothing had really grabbed me. But I was open minded and just went with it.
Then one day I discovered that multiple car rental places rent Defenders (we used Geysir — which also includes an unlimited 4G wifi device for an extra $13 a day) and that sold me on the trip. How bad could this place be if I am driving around in a Land Rover the whole time? After one quick day in Iceland I quickly realized two things. First, Defenders are the coolest looking and least comfortable overlanders around. And second that Iceland is the most stunning place I have ever seen in my life. It’s like every incredible monument and National Park in North America was squeezed into a place the size of Kentucky. Iceland feels otherworldly and the scale of everything is gigantic. To add to all of this, you can get right up close to huge waterfalls and geysers.
The food in Iceland is Scandinavian and pretty good. We were pleasantly surprised, although we did have some trouble if we got back late after being out exploring all day. The people are all very kind and are easy to communicate with if you only speak English. There are a lot of places that are literally overrun with tourists and then there are places which aren’t in the guidebooks that are just as beautiful but completely free of munch tourists. I would highly suggest hiring a guide. We did this for half of our trip and it was absolutely worth it. Our guide Teitur (teitur.torkelsson at gmail dot com) was awesome. Super knowledgeable, really easy to talk to and generally a lot of fun. He took us to a lot of places we would have never found on our own. Again, can’t emphasize how worth it hiring a local guide can be.
One thing to think about when you go is the weather. The one nice part about going in the late summer was that the weather was chilly but not freezing cold. In Iceland you can really get some serious weather, so it’s important you pack the right gear. Bring rain gear, down jackets, base layers, good socks and hiking boots. I would also bring a normal outfit to wear around Reykjavik. I think one thing that bums out the locals is the fact that everyone gets off a plane like they are going to summit Everest. Reykjavik feels like a mini Copenhagen and it feels weird to be only wearing super logo-ed outdoors gear. Aether’s stuff would be the perfect balance for a place like Iceland. Technical but still sophisticated enough to wear around town. It’s worth pointing out that we do some work with Aether. But I love their stuff and would be mentioning this even if we didn’t work with them. Coincidentally, Aether has an Iceland shoot on their site now. But I took a sweater and a non-tech jacket because I wanted to tone down my Goretexness.
There are a lot of cool hotels to choose from. Probably the most famous is the Ion, which sits outside of Reykjavik in a active geothermal area near a power generating station. Originally developed as a sort of weekend club for the board of the Iceland power authority, the place was sold after the financial crisis in 2008 and became the Ion. The location is stunning and the building is amazing, but the prices are high and I found the service to be non-existent. I would definitely advise against staying there. If you really want to get the shot of the Star Wars like building I would suggest stopping by for a drink. We also stayed at the Kvosin in the city and loved it. I would suggest that as it was nice and not crazy expensive. Plus, they have a great breakfast program in the morning.
Before you go remember that Iceland is a photographer’s paradise. I took three cameras with me and I was glad I did, despite all of the gear. I had a Leica M-D, a Canon 5D MKIII and my Fuji X-E2. Bring a wide lens, bring a tripod and get out there. There are so many amazing opportunities to take great pictures there — even if you are a below average photog like me you will get some quality stuff . It’s the gift and the curse though. So many people there are just taking photos non-stop. Every restaurant had people taking a million pictures at the table the whole time. It drove me in-fucking-sane. But what do you expect for a place that’s Instafamous.