wanderlust . . . iceland, it’s a lot cooler than you think

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Words by Sarah Martin


I spent three weeks in Iceland with my photography students for a summer study abroad program. I have always been blown away by images of the country and friends’ tales of exciting adventures, so we booked our flights in February and departed in early May for our great trip north. After thinking through some of my favorite memories, I put together what I consider to be a fabulous weeklong getaway. I’m excited to share my students’ photographs from the trip; there were a total of nine undergraduate students from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.


Day One: The National Museum of Iceland is a great way to learn about the country and its unique history. There is also a photography museum and cafe on the first floor. Spend the day walking the streets of downtown. You will definitely want to try a bowl of lobster bisque at the Old Harbour Village. Plan to see a performance at the Harpa or visit the Cinema in the Loft for a night of entertainment.


This is what is called “The Blue Hour” in Iceland; it typically gets dark around 11 at night in May. This is overlooking the Old Harbour and the Harpa Center. - Photograph by Lauren Holt

This series of photographs was taken on the streets of Reykjavik, Iceland as a study of the "Lopapeysa" or traditional Icelandic sweater. I collected these images as a photographic typology of the Icelandic sweater itself. - Photographs by Kristen Henry


Day Two: Head out to the countryside for the famous Golden Circle tour and take in the spectacular Gullfoss waterfall, the Geysir hot springs area, and Þingvellir National Park. There are many organized tours that cover this route, or you can rent a car yourself. It’s very easy to drive in Iceland and most rental car companies will come pick you up at your hotel. We saved hundreds of dollars driving ourselves, and the perks of not touring with dozens of other tourists on a big bus is priceless!


This image was taken from The Hallgrímskirkja, which is a Lutheran parish church in Reykjavík, Iceland. At 74.5 meters it is the largest church in Iceland and the sixth tallest architectural structure in the country. - Photograph by Toni Tronu

For centuries in Iceland, fishing has been a vital source of economic growth and stability, as well as a food source for it's people. Taking on a character of its own, this mass of netting was found in the main fishing harbor in Reykjavik. - Photograph by Kadie Barnes

The image is of the viking symbol for Iceland. I created this by arranging weathered beach glass from discarded bottles and glassware in Reykjavik from the past 100 years. The image was created at Videy Island located across the harbor from Reykjavik. - Photograph by Evan Brearey


Day Three: Relax at the Blue Lagoon or simply go there to view the geothermal spa and eat dinner at the world famous buffet.


Blue Lagoon - Photograph by Scott Howell


Days Four and Five: Pack up a car and drive northwest to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. You will be amazed at the diversity of the landscape; plan to spend the night at a hostel or B&B. The Hvalfjörður tunnel cuts travel time dramatically. Emerging from the tunnel, bypass the town of Akranes and drive north to Borgarnes. Just north of it, turn west (left) on Route 54 out on the peninsula and head to the tiny village of Arnarstapi. If you leave Reykjavik early enough, this is a good place to have lunch and take a stroll along the shore. Afterward, enter Iceland’s newest national park, Snæfellsjökull, and marvel at the mystical moods of this mountain as you circle north to Ólafsvík en route to Stykkishólmur. It takes a little over two hours to drive back to Reykjavík from here.


This was taken at a church on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Within one hour, we observed severe fog, sleet, and sun. - Photograph by Sarah Martin

Most sheep farmers let their animals roam the countryside without any fences; it is very common to see hundreds of baby lambs in the late spring. - Photograph by Lauren Bolling


Day Six: Horses, horses, horses. We took an afternoon ride at a family run farm called Islenksi Hesturinn, which is about 15 minutes north of downtown Reykjavik. The Icelandic horse is smaller than most horses, and this farm takes great pride in teaching visitors about the history of the horse and how to ride confidently, even if you are a beginner. The Icelandic horse is a five-gaited breed, known for its sure-footedness and ability to cross rough terrain. We also learned that you NEVER call these creatures ponies!


This image was shot while driving through the open and beautiful countryside of Iceland. It shows the unique and traditional Icelandic horses in front of one of the country's many gorgeous snow-capped mountains. - Photograph by Lindley Battle


Day Seven: Head to Laugardalur Park. It is actually made up of several parks in one large area. Besides one of the best swimming pools in the city, the recreational expanse has picnic and barbecuing facilities. To get to the park, you can take the city bus east for only about 3 dollars per person. The free Grasagarður has an extensive outdoor collection of native and exotic plants. Coffee, wine, cakes and other snacks are sold in summer at the cozy Café Flóra, which is open only in the summer and on weekends in December. The Húsdýragarðurinn has reindeer, goats, cows, horses, seals, fish, and my favorite surprise—two small arctic foxes.

Taken on the sidestreets of downtown Reykjavik, these horned rock sculptures provide a moment of confusion and amusement in their location outside a children's school. - Photograph by Elliot Wagoner

Upon arriving in Reykjavik, the first thing that caught my eye was the unique fashion that can be found throughout the city. For this project, I wanted to not only document fashion, but also ask people what inspired their unique style. Although the weather in Reykjavik can be unpredictable, it doesn't stop people from looking their best. - Photographs by Ryland Bishop


Some favorite places to eat & drink in Reykjavik:

- Geysir Cafe

- The Laundromat Cafe (As the name suggests, you can do laundry in the basement.)

- The Big Lebowski Bar

- The Volcano House

- The Pearl


Fun Facts:

- Iceland is the safest country in the world.

- Iceland is very kid-friendly.

- Most people in Iceland speak English.

- The best time to visit Iceland is right before summer season or right after. Prices are significantly higher from June to early August.

- In the spring and summer months there are only 4-5 hours of darkness each day.