Monday, 30 December 2013

Travel Experiences: Iceland's gems (Pt 1)

Finally I come round to writing this post...considering the fact that I have lived in Iceland for over three years and visited over six times whilst living somewhere else, it's about time!

It's a stunning country with some of the most beautiful sights of nature I have ever seen, and I would highly recommend a visit. Even if you just go to the city of Reykjavik, you will thoroughly enjoy the cute little colourful houses, cosy cafes with fantastic drinks, fun nights out and delicious food.

Whether you have four days, a week, or longer, I thought I would share the best places to see and eat (Part 2) from a local's perspective. I'm even going to let you in on a little secret...if you manage to find it when you're there that is! ;)

LENGTH OF MY 'STAY': 3 years +
BEST EXPERIENCE: Swimming in the 'secret' pool built into the mountain...Seljavallalaug
BEST FOOD: Lobster soup
INTERESTING FACT: Icelanders truly believe in little mythical elf creatures...They build little houses and churches for them and even halt building projects in case they disturb their habitat!

The Golden Circle (Geysirs, the Gullfoss waterfall, The Thingvellir National Park, the Kerid volcano crater, and other sights)
A fairly simple path to cover, the golden circle is around 300km of pure nature and is a must-see when in Iceland. You can do this in one day and with one of the many tour companies, or with your own rental car (recommended). You will be able to see the famous Geysir that erupts every 5-10 minutes, the huge Gullfoss waterfall (and a few smaller ones in between), Thingvellir National Park (where the earth split), and you will be able to walk inside of an inactive volcano crater. Pretty cool, right? If you have your own rental car, you would be able to stop whenever you like which is a bonus.

I know...planking is so 2012

The Blue Lagoon
A wonderful spa experience, the famous Blue Lagoon hot spring is a sight to behold. You can end your Golden Circle trip here and enjoy the blue waters for as long as you want, or have a massage as well. Fairly close to Reykjavik, you can also take a trip to the lagoon another day.

Zara blazer
Topshop shoes
Zara Top
RayBan sunglasses

Hallgrimskirkja church
This is a beautiful church in the centre of the city. You can admire its structure that resembles the basalt lava flows of Iceland's landscape...or go up into the tower for a fab picture of the colourful roofs below.

A structure built on top of old water tanks, this is another great spot for views over the city. It also has a high end restaurant where you can have dinner whilst admiring the city lights. The coolest thing here is that the entire dome actually moves very slowly, so in an hour you'd be looking at the other side of the building.

City centre
This is generally all around the main street called Laugavegur. If you start at the top you can enjoy a slow walk down the street, maybe stop for coffee and a spot of shopping in one of the independent design stores. Once you walk down, you can either turn left by the main road and walk to the nearby lake to feed the swans, or turn right to check out the harbour and take some colourful pics.

Lava horse riding
This is a great relaxing activity suitable for anyone, even children. I really love horseriding through Iceland's nature, especially the lava trails and for 66 euros with IsHestar it's worth a go!

Whitewater rafting
Very self explanatory but just one of the many action packed activities you can do in Iceland. There are a few places where you can book these, and the main tourist board at the end of Laugavegur the main street. It's not cheap but then again neither is anything in Iceland (yes be prepared for this)!

Heated outdoor swimming pools
Icelandic peeps LOVE these pools...they are quite big, they're everywhere and they are great when it's freezing cold outside! Yes, they are outdoors but the feeling of the hot tub is amazing! Only thing is that there is a strict rule that you must shower completely naked before going into the pools...and some foreign tourists might not feel very comfortable with this. Entry is fairly cheap and if you ask a local where the nearest swimming pool is they will point you in the right direction.

This post was getting a bit long so I've split it into three - check out some recommendations for restaurants and cafes here.

The local buses are really good, reliable and easy to navigate (one way fare is around 2.15 euros). Your other option which is what I would recommend if you can afford it, is a rental car. It gives you the freedom you need to get around, and it's the best way to get round the major sights. You won't have any groups annoying you, you can stop whenever and wherever you like, and you will be able to go to my secret spot where nobody else goes :)

You can also buy a Welcome Card if you want to get the best for your money with the bus, and combine entries to attractions or discounts for hotels. 

Laugavagur is the main shopping street where you can buy all sorts of great (and a little overpriced) Icelandic designer items and objects. The adjacent Skolavordustigur street is also great, and leads to Hallgrimskirkja church. There are a few shopping centres but as a tourist I really don't see the point in visiting them so don't bother...

Traditional Icelandic wool jumpers
These are the cosiest jumpers out warm that you wouldn't need a jacket over it even in Iceland. They are a little pricey at £100 but well worth it...this handmade and traditional design will be the best souvenir you can take away with you. They are sold pretty much everywhere so easy to find.

Wearing a traditional Icelandic jumper at Jokulsarlon (James Bond films have been shot here!!)

Jokulsarlon is a little further East and a long drive so might be one for a separate day trip

Ok so here's the big secret...there is this beautiful old swimming pool that is built in the middle of nowhere, next to the mountains (Called Seljavallalaug, built in 1923). It's absolute paradise, and I try to go there every time I'm in Iceland. Not many people know about it, and it's really hard to find as you literally have to park next to someone's house! I will leave you with some directions in my next post and wish you good luck!

Map image from Google

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