20 Photographs That Will Make You Want To Fly Over Iceland

fly over iceland - green mountain called maelifell in the highlands

It is such an amazing privilege to fly over Iceland. It was something that I wanted to do on my first visit to Iceland in 2018, but I couldn’t make it work with my schedule. Therefore, when I went back to Iceland in 2021, I was super keen to try to make it happen.

Iceland’s landscape is a treasure trove of fascinating and beautiful geological features – volcanoes, glaciers and waterfalls. And many of which are wonderful to see on foot. But some are even more spectacular from the air.

Of course, one way to see Iceland from the air is to use a drone for taking photos – something many people do in Iceland (don’t be surprised if there is a drone buzzing around at many scenic locations in Iceland!). However, as you may know from my posts on flying over Namibia and the Nazca Lines in Peru, I like to see stunning landscapes with my own eyes, if I can.

I looked at a few options for flight-seeing in Iceland, but in the end, I arranged a flight with a local pilot who specialises in flights for photography. We planned a flying route to take in a variety of the spectacular features of Iceland’s landscape.

The flight was amazing, and whilst I did get a little sick on this flight, I still managed to get some amazing photographs. In this article, I will share 20 photos that I think will make you want to see Iceland from the air.

Braided rivers will make you want to fly over Iceland

The first geological feature that made me want to fly over Iceland was braided rivers. There are lots of these in Iceland, especially in South Iceland and in the highlands. If you’ve driven the Ring Road in South Iceland, you will have crossed some over braided rivers via bridges in route 1. From the road, they look like a wide, shallow collection of streams and channels.

However, it is hard to appreciate how huge and stunning they are from the ground – you just can’t see the amazing patterns they form from low down.

How they form: braided rivers consist of a network of river channels separated by small, often temporary, islands called braid bars. They form when rivers have a high sediment load, and in Iceland, many of them carry meltwater from glaciers. They typically flow over a wide area containing the silt and/or gravel they have deposited over time.  The name comes from the way the water forms a network of meandering channels over a wide area that appear to twist together.  As the water carries suspended particles from the glaciers, the water appears different colours where it is deeper vs where it is shallow.

soft swirling patterns in a braided river in iceland, seen from the air
I just love how their shallow channels and cloudy waters form such soft abstract patterns, like a huge watercolour painting
mix of coloured sediment in the braided rivers of iceland
The mix of coloured sediment in the rivers can be captivating and beguiling
braided river in the canyon at Þórsmörk in iceland
This braided river flows in the canyon at Þórsmörk, a popular destination for hiking
intricate braided river network in the icelandic highlands near Landmannalaugar
This epic and intricate braided river network lies deep in the highlands near Landmannalaugar

Volcanoes will make you want to fly over Iceland

Iceland was formed by volcanic activity.  It has been created by a divergent plate boundary, where the North American and Eurasian plates are pulling apart and new land has been emerging in the gap for approximately 70 million years.

I read there are around 30 active volcanoes in Iceland and the most recent eruption is Fagradalsfjall in the Reykjanes peninsula. 

This eruption is the reason I chose to return to Iceland when I did: the eruption started in March 2021 and continued for 6 months. I visited in early August 2021, so I was glad that I managed to see it while I was flying over Iceland.

For more detail on the eruption, read my post about how to see the eruption.

Fagradalsfjall eruption seen from the air when flying over iceland
Approaching the eruption… I think this is the point my heart rate picked up!
close up view of the crater at Fagradalsfjall eruption in iceland
I still can’t quite believe I saw this bubbling cauldron of lava with my own eyes…!
Fagradalsfjall crater with a helicopter next to it seen from the air in iceland
The crater is so huge – helicopter included for scale!

Glaciers will make you want to fly over Iceland

When I started planning what I wanted to see when I flew over Iceland, a glacier was pretty high on my list.

Icecaps and glaciers cover approximately 11% of the landmass in Iceland. Together with the volcanoes, glaciers are the reason Iceland is known as ‘the Land of Fire and Ice’. Vatnajökull, is the largest ice cap in Iceland, and the second-largest by surface area in Europe after the Severny Island ice cap (in northern Russia).  There are 4 other glaciers with an area of 100km2 or more and many others that are smaller.

In my flight, I flew over the Mýrdalsjökull ice cap, which is in southern Iceland. It is north of the town of Vik and covers the active volcano, Katla. This ice cap has several outlet glaciers, including Sólheimajökull, which I wrote about seeing on the ground in my guide to South Iceland.

There’s also this narrow tongue of ice, whose name I haven’t been able to find out. Iceland’s glaciers are often quite sooty at the snouts, where the ash which has landed on them over thousands of years of volcanic eruptions gets deposited.

A glacial tongue of ice cascading down mountainside from the Mýrdalsjökull glacier in iceland
A cascade of ice from Mýrdalsjökull glacier
expanse of glacial ice criss-crossed with crevasses in iceland
Let me tell you, flying over this epic ice flowing down the sides of a volcano, I felt very small. And cold.
close up of graggy crevasses in a glacier in iceland
The ancient and contorted crevasses in the ice flow were so captivating to me!
black stripes in Mýrdalsjökull glacier in iceland
Layers of ash revealed

On the northern side of Mýrdalsjökull, the ice flows were less like tongues and more like a flat layer, spreading out, with interesting stripes formed as the ice melts through different layers of ash deposits.

Mountains will make you want to fly over Iceland

Of course, Iceland is full of craggy and impressive mountains – especially in the central highlands.

multi-coloured rhyolite mountains near Landmannalaugar in the highlands of iceland
Around Landmannalaugar, the rhyolite mountains are a fascinating mixture of light colours
snow clings to the gullies of rhyolite mountains near landmannalaugar
On the day I flew, even though it was summer, snow hung on to the colourful mountains.

If you’ve followed me a while, you might remember me saying the first time I visited Iceland I missed out on visiting a small green mountain called Maelifell. Maelifell is a volcano that was submerged beneath the Mýrdalsjökull ice cap until approximately 10,000 years ago.

This mountain is in a hard-to-reach place north of Mýrdalsjökull, only accessible by 4×4 during summer, or by hiking a challenging multi-day route through the highlands. On my first visit, I had arranged a super-jeep tour to visit the mountain overland. But on the day we had arranged it, there was too much snow in the highlands and even a super-jeep wouldn’t have made it there, so we couldn’t go. Sad face.

Therefore, on my second trip in 2021, I was determined to see this mountain, so I added it to the itinerary for my flight over Iceland – and she didn’t disappoint!

green conical mountain called maelifell surrounded by black plains, rivers glinting in the sun and a glacier in the distance in iceland
This photo was taken with my iPhone as we approached her in the plane.  What a stunner!
craggy green mountain called maelifell surrounded by black plains and other mountains in iceland
Another shot, this time with my Canon, which caught more craggy detail on the side of this perfect mountain.
bright green conical mountain called maelifell in iceland surrounded by black plains
And here she is in almost full sunlight, showing off her vibrant green beauty!

Craters will make you want to fly over Iceland

Being volcanic, Iceland is covered in craters, some of which I wrote about in South Iceland, North Iceland and also in the Snaefellsnes peninsula.

However, the really spectacular ones are in the highlands.

You’ve probably seen pictures of these iconic red craters on Instagram.  They are so dark and dramatic, I was keen to see them with my own eyes when I flew over Iceland.

By the time we flew to this spot, deep in the highlands, I was struggling with air sickness. The motion of the plane and looking at the ground through my lens as the plane circles around messed with my equilibrium and I was feeling pretty nauseous. I was focusing on staying upright, breathing and keeping my eye on the horizon when we passed these beauties. I could only manage a couple of quick snaps with my iPhone.

three black volcanic craters tinged with red with a road crossing in front of them and a small car on it in iceland
The ‘Instagram craters’. Note the car on the road, for scale.
two black volcanic craters in the highlands of iceland tinged with red earth
The craters from a less common angle

Lakes will make you want to fly over Iceland

With so much water falling on Iceland and melting from its icecaps in summer, there are lots of rivers – and also lakes. 

So the final pictures that I think will make you want to fly over Iceland are of a stunning lake system in the highlands of Iceland. I’d hoped and planned to see the braided rivers, volcanoes, mountains, glaciers and craters – but this lake system was a wonderful unexpected surprise.

As this scene opened up in front of our tiny plane and I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing. Between the colour of the lakes, the network of streams flowing into it and the stunning mountains that surround it, this scene took my breath away.

wing of a plane reflects a bright turquoise lake surrounded green and brown earth in the highlands of iceland
Stunning colours in the highlands
streams and rivers run into a bright turquoise lake surrounded green earth and mountains in the highlands of iceland
Epic river and lake system

So I hope I was right…

…and that these pictures will make you want to fly over Iceland!

I took all of these photographs myself – and if you like them, check out my Instagram for more of Iceland and other countries I’ve visited.

If you would like to know more about my flight over Iceland, drop me a DM.

Finally, if you would like to see more aerial photographs, check out this article on my scenic flight over Namibia – another unforgettable experience!

If you like this article, I'd be delighted if you shared it!

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