Aman Rawal shares his amazing experience of spending five days in Iceland. Look out for the photographs that will surely spark the wanderlust in you. You can view more of his work on his Instagram here and on his website here. Hope you enjoy this real travel story!
His story in his words:
Iceland was on my bucket list for a long time. Its stark landscapes, volcanoes and waterfalls
fascinate me. In April this year I had 5 days off from work. I more or less spontaneously decided
to visit Iceland even for this short period of time. Five days would only allow me to see a small part of the country so after planning I came up with the following itinerary:
• Day 1: Arrive in Reykjavík and explore the city
• Day 2: Morning in Reykjavík, afternoon explore the southwest peninsula Reykjanes
• Day 3: Drive the “Golden Circle” and continue to the south coast
• Day 4 + 5: Explore the south coast
After arriving in Reykjavík airport late afternoon, first task was to get my rental car (reserved in advance from Germany). I chose a small compact car since I would be driving on the main roads only. For a longer stay a SUV/4*4 is definitely recommended for driving on rough terrain in the highlands. In April many highland roads are closed due to snow anyway.
Then on my way to Reykjavík city centre where I rented a small apartment for two nights. Then walked towards the city centre along “Laugavepur” – the main shopping street. A place called “The Laundromat Cafe” caught my eye. I enjoyed some great Icelandic lamb and beer there.
Photography was high on my list on this trip so there was no time to be wasted. Blue hour was only an hour away. So I drove to the Perlan – an impressive building which has been used for hot water storage for decades. Today it has a restaurant, a few shops and houses exhibitions.
The building is situated on a hill from where you get great views of the city. See in the following photo how the Hallgrimskirkja church really stands out. I was really impressed by the light during blue hour with the sun still glowing near the horizon for a long time.
The weather suddenly changed and an ice cold strong wind began to blow. The sky was covered
with clouds so no chance of seeing any northern lights tonight.
I was up early and had a quick breakfast at a Reykjavik Roasters – a great little cafe. Then I headed towards the Hallgrimskirkja church. Its construction started in 1945 and was completed in 1986.
A 73mts high tower of the Church has a viewing platform at the top, offering great 360° views. I really liked the view towards the north west side with the colorful houses and the ocean in the background.
After getting back down I walked the street shown in the middle of the last photo and shopped at a few outdoor clothing stores. Then continued towards the harbor area. The Harpa concert hall and conference center is a really impressive building and worth checking out.
After a quick fish and chips lunch I was on my way towards the Reykjanes peninsula southwest of Reykjavík. First stop was the very famous Blue Lagoon. Hundreds of tourists come here every day. Icelandair offers a special stopover package for transit passengers so you can see multiple buses parked outside the lagoon. I personally wasn’t
interested in entering the lagoon but rather in photographing the area around it.
Just a few meters to the left of the main entrance there is a short path which leads to a stunning view. The pale blue water surrounded by the black volcanic landscape is truly stunning. The smoke from the power plants in the background adds something extra to play around with as a photographer.
Next stop was the southwest tip of the peninsula. The last stretch was really bumpy and uneven where I was a bit worried if the tires would hold up. On the way I passed many areas of geothermal activity as seen in the next photo.
The coastline with its steep cliffs, hit by wild waves of the ocean was a great site. I spent almost two hours admiring the site and taking photos.
Can you spot me in the next photo? Set my timer to 10 minutes and quickly hiked up the cliff and stood still for this one.
On my way back, I was hopeful to see some northern lights tonight but again the sky was soon covered with thick clouds. So I just had some dinner at an Indian take-away – yes, Indians are everywhere! 🙂 Then called it a day!
I was up early and excited to get into the great outdoors of Iceland. Today’s plan was to drive the famous Golden Circle but instead of coming back to Reykjavik, I was headed to the south coast where I had reserved a room for the next two nights.
First major stop on the Golden Circle route is Thingvellir National Park, a site of both historical and geological importance. It lies in a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. It is also 1 the site where the first Icelandic parliament was founded.
I really enjoyed exploring the park. The landscape is truly stunning and offers many interesting sites. If you are interested in diving you should check out the Silfra fissure with its crystal clear waters.
There’s also a nice waterfall called Oxararfoss within the national park. Its not that high but waterfalls are always an interesting photography subject so its definitely worth checking out.
The second stop is a place called Geysir. The word ‘geyser’ has its origin from this place. The main attractions here are hot springs, bubbling mood pools and of course geysers.
There is also a visitor center here where I had a lunch before continuing. It is only a short drive to the next major attraction on the Golden Circle – Gullfoss is a great waterfall which plunges in two stages. There are multiple viewing areas here offering different views of the falls. A very impressive site:
From Gulfoss I decided to drive straight to my hotel for the next two nights. Hotel Anna is situated about half way between the two famous waterfalls Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss. I made one unscheduled stop though for this little friend. No Iceland trip is complete without meeting their beautiful horses.
I checked into Hotel Anna – a very cozy and friendly place to stay at. And excellent food. Sunset was about two hours away so packed my photography gear and drove to Seljalandsfoss. I walked towards it and just stood there admiring this stunning waterfall for a few minutes.
The great thing about the waterfall is that you can walk behind it. The photo I was aiming for was the waterfall from behind with the sun setting in the background. After some climbing I found a good spot and stayed there for the next one hour clicking and admiring the view.
On my way back I noticed that this waterfall gets lit at night. So the next day I came back here in the evening after the sun had set and took this shot:
After it had gotten completely dark I was again hoping for some Aurora hunting but again no luck. The sky was covered in thick clouds once more and it suddenly became really stormy.
The strong wind had blown all night and it was pouring down- a mixture of rain, snow and hail. This was really bad for doing anything outdoors. So I took it slow and just did some scouting hoping for better weather on my final day here.
I drove east in direction of Vik and made a stop at a small place (a large container actually) called “Eyjafjallajökull Erupts” visitor centre. Did you know Eyjafjallajökull (yes, I can actually pronounce that name) is the volcano which erupted in 2010 causing a huge disruption to air travel across Europe and North America for over a week. Just below the volcano there is the Thorwaldseyri farm.
The visitor centre tells the very interesting story of the family owning the farm during the eruption. There are multiple displays and a short film is shown. Volcanoes have fascinated me from childhood so it was a real treat for me.
After a few minutes I turned left towards the Sólheimajökull glacier. I got out of the car and walked around a bit and got completely soaked. This was also one place I would definitely come back to again.
I then continued straight to Vik and did some more location scouting there. Finally around late evening it stopped raining. I drove back to the mighty Skogafoss. I had one shot in mind which I wanted to take. It’s my favorite shot I took on this trip, maybe even my most favorite photo I have ever taken. Waited a long time until all tourists left, it was getting too dark. I set up my shot and timer to 2 minutes and ran to the front of the waterfall – and yes, it came out perfectly and just how I had imagined it.
After dinner I went back to Seljalandsfoss to capture the image which I showed you already. No luck again with northern lights.
My final day in Iceland was really packed. Since yesterday was bad weather-wise I had to squeeze in all the things missed yesterday in this day. I was up early and drove back to Skogafoss. I was the first person there and had the waterfall all to myself.
On the right side of the photo you can see a trail leading to the top of the waterfall. About half way
up you come to a spot with this magnificent view of the waterfall. Can you spot the face in the
When you get to the top there is a viewing platform. Not that impressive of a view from there if I’m honest. However there is a trail along the Skoga river which is breathtaking. You pass many smaller waterfalls and have magnificent views of the highlands and Eyjafjallajökull.
Then I decided to hike back down after an hour of exploring and taking photos. I sat on a bench admiring Skogafoss once more and had my breakfast which the courteous staff of Hotel Anna had packed for me the previous night.
The next stop would be the Sólheimajökull glacier. The main activity here are guided glacier walks. But you can also just explore the glacier valley on your own which is really interesting and offers great views.
Then I continued east on the main road. After a few minutes I parked my car on a small parking lot on the right. There’s nothing there but if you walk south for about 4km you get to the DC-3 plane wreck site. On 24th November 1973 a US-Navy airplane was forced to land on Sólheimasandur’s black sand beach. It is truly a magnificent site. Feels like another planet. Nothing but black sand and the wreck in the middle of nowhere. My wife tells me that a Bollywood song sequence of a recent movie was shot here..
I continued east and just before Vik turned right towards Dyrhólaey. There are multiple interesting locations to explore here as you can see from the following photos.
This is the beach where the DC-3 plane wreck lies.
It had been a long day and and I was losing motivation to explore more sites. So I decided to drive back to Reykjavik where I would be spending my last night before flying back.
I approached Skogafoss and spotted a small(ish) waterfall very near to it. I was intrigued and suddenly my motivation to explore was back. I parked my car the Skogar museum and asked a lady at the information desk if it was possible to go the waterfall which I had seen from the car. She told me to drive my car behind this building and park near the fence, climb over it if the gate was closed and take a left into the next valley. This seemed to be a hidden gem so I was very excited and got on my way. I had this beauty of a waterfall all to myself!
Now it was straight back to Reykjavik. The sky was clear and I was very hopeful to finally see some northern lights tonight which would make this trip even more perfect than it already had been. After dinner I drove to the Grottuviti light house. It’s a fairly dark place in the north east of the city. An ice cold and strong wind had started to blow. I got to the place and waited in my car for almost an hour. And then the magic happened. It was only very minor activity (Kp 1-2 out of 9) but an incredible site nevertheless. What a perfect way to finish this holiday in Iceland!