In the last couple of years, visiting Iceland has become more and more popular, now Iceland gets over a million tourists a year. Not sure if you guys have checked out my Iceland Winter post, I was there March 2016, just couple months before re-visiting in the Summer in July of 2016. Some of you might be wondering if it would be boring to visit the same country twice in a year, the answer is a definite no. I felt like I was in two different world, Iceland Summer is filled with greens, colorful flowers, animals everywhere, while Winter was like a true white wonderland. There are also many different types of activities you can do in both seasons, so don't forget to check out the Winter post for more ideas! Check out my video below for a quick summary of my trip this Summer, most footages are captured with a drone, and music is by Charles William - That Time of the Year. Hope you guys like it :)
On this trip, I have decided to do a self-drive tour around the island, I was in Iceland for a total of 17 days. Also took a mini detour to visit one of the cities in Greenland for 3 nights (check out my post on Ilulissat Greenland for more). Below are some tips for those of you who you are debating to visit Iceland in the Summer.
How many days in Iceland?
If you are really into camping, hiking, photography, and exploration - I would say 2-3 weeks +
If you love nature, scenery, taking photos and enjoying food - I would say around 2 weeks
If you only want to hit all the must see locations for photos or sightseeing - I would say around 10 days
If you only want to visit the major postcard locations of Iceland - I would say 5-8 days.
If you only have a couple days for layover and such, there's still plenty to see around within 300 km of the Airport!
Driving in Iceland
For those of you who are comfortable with driving, I would highly suggest to rent a car, and do a self drive trip. The roads in Iceland are really easy to drive, especially in the Summer, you don't have to worry about snow and lack of sunlight. There are some road regulations that you should read about before visiting, for example, certain roads require you to have at least a 4x4 to drive on, and headlights must be switched on 24/7, etc... Most of the time, your car rental company will give you most of the important information when you pick up the vehicle, so I wouldn't get too stress about it. And when you visit between June - Early August, its almost 24 hours of sunlight, and you can enjoy beautiful midnight sun!
Which route to take and what to see depending on # days?
To be honest, before I did this self-driving tour, I thought Iceland will be all around similar, with lots of waterfall, glaciers, volcano rocks, mountains, etc... However, as I am driving from West to East, passing South Coast and venturing into Northern part of Iceland, I notice the change in landscape and surroundings. It was to my surprise that there are something unique to each part of Iceland, so again, it comes down to how many days are you planning to stay in this beautiful island.
// Between 2 - 3 weeks
I am sure for those of you who are adventurous, and have more time to spare, you will be looking into driving around the island. But in terms of where to begin your journey, whether to venture up to the North or driving down to the South and do a loop, that is really a personal choice. There are no set rules to what you have to visit first or what is easier for road trip, however, you will tend to find more people in the west and southern part of Iceland majority of the time. West Fjords + East Fjords, as I was planning my trip and researching about Iceland, I was also debating whether to take a couple more days to visit the upper northern fjords. I made my decision based on the scenery and sightseeing locations that I find on the internet. Since I only have a 17 days for Iceland, I have decided to skipped those areas on this trip.
// Between 1 - 2 weeks
For those of you planning a 2 weeks trip, you can still do a round trip around the Island. It will be a bit rushed if you want to see all the major sightseeing spots in each area, so I will suggest for you to pick out the top 2-3 must see in each cities you plan to visit. That way you will still be able to enjoy scenery along the way and really get a good feeling about Iceland! However, if you prefer to travel in a more relaxing pace and only visit the major sightseeing locations, I would suggest to only visit the West and Southern part of Iceland. This route covers most of the postcards locations. I'll include a list of my favorite spots in Iceland - see below for more details.
// Few days or Layover
With only a couple of days in Iceland, you can still hit a great amount of amazing locations. If you are going to be in Iceland for less than 3 days, I would suggest for you to join local touring companies and see what tours interest you most. I am not recommending car rentals for short stay, because car rental and gas in Iceland are rather expensive. And with such a short amount of time, spending time driving, looking for directions, etc... and using up your energy that way is not what I would consider a vacation. Touring companies in Iceland have many tours departing from Reykjavik and Keflavik daily, and you will be able to visit pretty much all the major sightseeing spots on a day trip, that way you can live in the same hotel. I would suggest for you to stay in Reykjavik if you are staying for over 2 nights. You can easily take a taxi to the city center to shop and to eat.
My favorite Spots (* indicating it is possible for visitors to do a day tour from Reykjavik during short stay - at least from what I know)
// Western / Near the capital
+ Blue Lagoon*
+ Kerid Crater*
+ Thingvellir National Park*
+ Kirkjufell Mountain + Waterfall
+ Bárður Snæfellsás
+ Gatklettur / Hellnar Stone Arch
+ Seljalandsfoss, Waterfall*
+ Skogafoss Waterfall*
+ Hraunfossar & Barnafoss Waterfall*
+ Reynisfjara Beach (with Basalt formation)*
+ Dverghamrar (Basalt)*
+ Skaftafell National Park*
+ Svartifoss Waterfall
+ Jökulsárlón Lagoon*
+ Black Sand Beach (Diamond Beach)*
// Eastern / Northeastern
+ Gufufoss Waterfall
+ Lake Myvatn
+ Namafjall Lava Mud
+ Selfoss Waterfall
+ Detifoss Waterfall
+ Grotagja Lava Cave
+ Stora Viti Crater
+ Godafoss Waterfall
+ Hvitserkur Arch
Tips for visiting Iceland in the Summer
- Best way to avoid traffic for self-touring is to drive out early in the morning, and leave sightseeing spots as soon as you see tour buses arriving.
- Book everything ahead of time, hotels, tours, excursions, car rentals, etc... try to book at least 1 month prior to visiting, or as soon as get the chance. Summer in Iceland can get really crowded, and prices for hotels and rentals also gets more expensive.
- Spend sometime researching, don't wait until the last minute. There are actually A LOT to see in Iceland, you should plan your itinerary out if you are planning on a self-drive, don't just rely on those self-driving tours online. You might regret it when you realize you have missed out a few good spots along the way because you did not know about it.
- When you're driving to different sightseeing spots, also pay attention to the sceneries on the way, sometimes you will find interesting spots that might surprise you.
What to Bring/Wear in Iceland during Summer
- Bring sunscreen, it can get quite warm and sunny in the Summer time with almost 24 hours of daylight.
- Bring swimming suits, there are plenty of hot spring opportunities all around the island, and also the famous Blue Lagoon.
- Bring layer clothing, although it is Summer, Iceland can get pretty chilly and windy. Weather in Iceland is often unpredictable, and fluctuates a lot. Average temperate is around 12 degrees, and it can get windy, which feels a lot colder. Below are the lists of clothing I would recommend bringin:
- more thin long sleeves
- some light but warm sweaters, ex: cashmere, thermal, or wool
- a few t-shirts
- wind breaker
- light feather down jacket
- great walking/hiking shoes
- Bring a waterproof bag for your camera, lenses, and phone. Iceland rains all season and unpredictably, it is best to be prepare and protect your equipments.
- Bring snacks if you are going to do a road trip, often times it is difficult to find a restaurant when you're on the road.
- Sturdy tripod (it can get quite wind)
- Bring lots of microfiber cloth to clean your lens, when shooting waterfall, it can get quite wet. Often times, the wind blows the water towards you even when you're few feet away.
- Filters - ND Filter, Polarized Filter
- Air dust blower for cleaning (Iceland can also be really dusty and there's a possibility to encounter sand storm)
- I'm sure you guys already know this, bring multiple lenses when shooting different subjects. Not only is Iceland famous for beautiful landscapes, there are also a lot of situations where a zoom lens is needed for wild birds, like the puffins, whales, etc... So I would bring at least a wide angle and a multi-purpose or a good zoom lens.
- Bring a pair of thin gloves, for those of you who gets cold easily. My hands are often icy cold and feels frozen when I shoot near the glaciers and during midnight sun.