Modern Architecture, The Northern Lights, Waterfalls and Nordic Inspiration in Iceland

I get inspired most when I travel. Exactly two years ago, I traveled to the small, but mighty island of Iceland. The rugged landscape, the modern, minimal architecture and the Northern Lights all blew me away.

Before I left, I called the photographer Kris Graves (author of a book Found Missing) for trip suggestions. He told me that the landscape in Iceland changes every twenty minutes—I thought he was seriously exaggerating. I can tell you from experience that he wasn't. Below are a few highlights from the trip. Don't forget to download my itinerary at the bottom!

 Iceland Sunrise
 Iceland - Hallgrímskirkja Church
 Iceland - Northern Lights

Day 1 - We flew into Keflavik International Airport about 20 minutes outside of downtown Reykjavik and picked up our rental with 4-wheel drive.

When I travel, my top priorities are usually architecture, landscape and food. I'm not really into seafood, so gallivanting in Iceland wasn't about food for me (although they have a ton of different ethnic restaurants in Reykjavik which are delicious). For me, this trip was about the architecture and the landscape. That being said, we headed to Hallgrímskirkja a gorgeous modern church inspired by basalt columns (more on that later) and the Harpa, a modern concert hall which looks stunning, especially at night with reflections on the water and if you're lucky, the Northern Lights in the background.

 Iceland - Seljalandsfoss
 Iceland - Dyrholaey

Day 2 - We started out drive to Vik in Southern Iceland. We made a few amazing stops along the way. How did we do so much sightseeing? There's no traffic in Iceland!

  • Selfoss - a quiet town about 45 minutes outside of Reykjavik, has a beautiful restaurant called Tryggvaskala (the best Icelandic dinner I had on the trip)
  • Seljalandsfoss Waterfall
  • Glijufrabui Waterfall - a somewhat hidden waterall down the road from Seljalandsfoss
  • Vestmannaeyjar - accessible in the warmer months by ferry and a small airport
  • Skogafoss
  • Dyrholaey - peninsula off the southern coast, close to Vik
 Iceland - Reynisfjara
 Iceland - Reynisfjara
 Iceland -  Jökulsárlón

Day 3 - On the third day of our trip we headed to Reynisfjara, one of the many black sand beaches and Jökulsárlón, the glacier lagoon.

The sand is black because of the volcanos and it's very fine—feels like silk. You can see Dyrholaey in the distance from this beach and the basalt columns (formed by cooling lava flow). The basalt columns look rough and jagged, but when you touch them you find they're completely smooth. We tried to go to Fjaðrárgljúfur, but there was a sign blocking the entry road that warned of flooding so we headed to our next stop—Skaftafell. The last stop and one of my favorite parts of the trip was Jökulsárlón, the glacier lagoon. Seeing the glaciers washed up on the black sand beach made me feel like I was on a different planet.

 Iceland - Hallvik
 Iceland - Reykjavik

Day 4 - After so much driving, we declared day four an "easy day." We had only a few stops in the morning/afternoon then headed back to explore the city.

  • Kerið - crater an hour outside of Reykjavik
  • Hallvik - the most peaceful place I have ever stumbled upon. I learned a lot about vegetative roofs in graduate school, but in Iceland they've become experts.

Once back in Reykjavik we explored city architecture—the homes are charming and homeowners aren't afraid of color. Most of the colors are intense and saturated, much like those found in the landscape.

 Iceland - Kirkjufellfoss
 Iceland - Kirkjukellsfoss
 Iceland - Kirkjukellsfoss

Day 5 - We decided to explore just a bit of northwestern Iceland.

We traveled to Iceland in the very beginning of spring so we didn't want to risk going too far north and getting stuck in the snow. We drove towards Snæfellsjökull to see Kirkjufellfoss. In retrospect, I honestly wish we had spent more time in this area. Kirkjufellfoss was the least crowded waterfall we visited and the mountains you see on the drive are beautiful.

 Iceland - Silfra
 Iceland - Gullfoss

Day 6 - Did you know that Iceland is the only place in the world where you can snorkel or scuba dive in between two tectonic plates?

The water there is about 30 degrees fahrenheit, which is COLD. However, we were pleasantly surprised - drysuits work wonders. The water is glacial and takes 50-100 years to trickle down from the mountains and is so clean you can drink it. Although the lagoon is 60 feet deep you can see straight to the bottom—it feels like your flying. Our last stop of the day was the mighty Gullfoss.

Download the full itinerary here.


In the mood for more interior design Nordic inspiration?

1. DesignMilk - Nordic Charm Blends with Modern Design at the Ion Hotel in Reykjavik

2. Dezeen - Timber and concrete summer house faces scenic Icelandic landscape

3. Our minimal, Nordic styled ID Lite Example 3

4. I recently entered the Fireclay Storyteller Contest, I used Iceland as the inspiration—check out the Pinterest board