Disappointing photos show a less glamorous side of visiting Iceland

  • Traveling around Iceland isn't always as picture-perfect as it appears.

  • On a recent trip, I found sites like Rainbow Street and Seljalandsfoss packed with tourists.

  • The summertime midnight sun was beautiful, but it also made it difficult for me to sleep.

Even in the most beautiful places in the world, being a tourist has its highs and lows.

Iceland had been at the top of my travel bucket list for years due to its natural beauty and otherworldly landscapes, and I finally had the chance to visit for five days in June.

Many of the country's famous sites and attractions lived up to the hype, but I was also disappointed by some aspects of my trip.

Here are six expectation versus reality moments I had in Iceland.

The Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland's most famous attractions, so of course I had to go for a swim.

blue lagoon iceland
The Blue Lagoon.Shutterstock/S.R.Lee Photo Traveller

With over 700,000 visitors every year, according to US News and World Report, the lagoon's mineral-rich waters draw tourists from all over the world.

While there was a lot I loved about the experience, I didn't care for the long lines.

The Blue Lagoon in Iceland.
Crowds at the Blue Lagoon.Talia Lakritz/Insider

The Blue Lagoon was my first stop upon landing in Iceland since it's located about a 20-minute drive from Keflavík Airport.

My $93 ticket included a locker, a towel, a mineral face mask, and a drink from the bar inside the lagoon.

Once inside, I found long lines at the bar and face-mask stations. I wished they were less crowded, though the lines moved quickly.

Even with the crowds, sipping a smoothie and applying a face mask in the warm pool was the perfect pick-me-up after my long flight. I also found that I had more room to spread out — away from all the other visitors — in further corners of the milky blue pool.

I'd seen striking photos of Iceland's black-sand beaches, and I visited one near the southern coastal town of Vík.

A black sand beach in Iceland
A black-sand beach near Vík, Iceland.Natthawat/Getty Images

The black sand comes from volcanic rocks formed from cooled lava.

The black sand appeared more grey to me, and I found the site underwhelming.

A black-sand beach in Iceland.
A black-sand beach in Iceland.Talia Lakritz/Insider

If I had driven two-and-a-half hours from Reykjavík just to see a black-sand beach, I think I would have been disappointed. Thankfully, I had another activity planned in the area — attending a wedding in a secret ice cave.

When I envisioned driving around Iceland, I pictured scenic mountain roads lined with wildflowers.

A road in Skógar, Southern Iceland.
Skógar, Southern Iceland.Marco Bottigelli/Getty Images

While researching my trip to Iceland, I found that renting a car is widely regarded as the best way to see the country since there isn't much public transportation.

Unfortunately, some roads presented difficulties.

A car stuck in black sand in Iceland.
A car stuck in black sand in Iceland.Talia Lakritz/Insider

According to Frommer's, only about one third of all roads in Iceland are paved.

While visiting the black-sand beach, I encountered a group of tourists whose car was stuck in the sand. I tried to help them push the vehicle out of the hole, but it just kept sinking deeper.

There was a one-lane gravel road that led to the beach, but it appeared that this group drove too close to the shore and ended up in the soft sand by mistake. I made a mental note to proceed with caution on unpaved roads and to make sure I had my rental company's phone number for roadside assistance saved in my contacts.

I couldn't wait to experience Iceland's midnight sun for myself.

Reykjavík in the midnight sun
Iceland's summertime midnight sun.Arctic-Images/Getty Images

Because the Earth's Northern Hemisphere tilts towards the sun during the summer months, countries north of the Arctic Circle such as Sweden, Finland, and Iceland are continuously exposed to the light of the sun.

This means the sun doesn't fully set in Iceland between May and August, with June being peak midnight sun season, according to Guide to Iceland.

While it was beautiful, I also had a hard time falling asleep.

A hotel room in Iceland at night with the midnight sun shining through the blinds.
My view as I was trying to sleep during my first night in Iceland.Talia Lakritz/Insider

Iceland's constant daylight tricked my body into thinking it wasn't as late as it actually was. Without a sunset or a dark night sky, I found myself accidentally staying up later than I normally would simply because I didn't feel tired at my usual bedtime. On top of my jet lag, the lack of sleep left me feeling exhausted in the morning.

I was excited to see Reykjavík's famous Rainbow Street in person.

Reykjavik cathedral from the rainbow street.
Reykjavík's Rainbow Street.Callum Clarke/Getty Images

Located between Bergstaðastræti and Laugavegur streets, the Rainbow Street was painted in honor of Reykjavík Pride in 2015 and has remained colorful since, according to Visit Reykjavík.

It turned out to be impossible to get a photo there without tons of tourists in the background.

Talia Lakritz at Iceland's Rainbow Street.
Walking around downtown Reykjavík.Talia Lakritz/Insider

With dozens of shops lining the street and other travelers taking photos of the vibrant landmark, I couldn't avoid getting other people in my shot.

I thought Seljalandsfoss, a giant waterfall along Iceland's southern coast, would also make for a great photo-op.

Seljalandsfoss waterfall in Iceland.
Seljalandsfoss waterfall in Iceland.Phillip Chow/Getty Images

While driving two-and-a-half hours from Reykjavík to Vík, I followed Iceland's main highway, Route 1, for most of the trip. As I journeyed further along the south coast, I couldn't believe how so many gorgeous sites were located so close to the highway. Whenever I noticed a waterfall or scenic spot from the road, it was easy to pull over for a quick detour.

But I had to wait in line at the waterfall to take my photo at the perfect spot.

Tourists at the Seljalandsfoss waterfall in Iceland.
Tourists at Seljalandsfoss.Talia Lakritz/Insider

At the foot of Seljalandsfoss, there was a perfect little platform just off the footpath with a stunning view of the waterfall. But I wasn't the only one who wanted a photo there — when I arrived, there was a line of about 10 people.

I waited my turn for about 10 minutes, then asked the person behind me in line to take the photo.

It was definitely worth the wait, though.

Talia Lakritz stands next to a waterfall in Iceland.
At Seljalandsfoss.Talia Lakritz/Insider

It ended up being one of my favorite pictures from my trip.

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