Short trip to Helsinki and Tallinn

I visited Helsinki, Finland and Tallinn, Estonia, after it became apparent that Denmark will not be providing the goods when it comes to snow. I’m living in Scandinavia in winter, so I’ve really been hoping for a winter wonderland and my experience in Helsinki and Tallinn gave me just that.

Helsinki

I travelled to Helsinki with my friend Steph but we only had one night there before travelling to Tallinn. We’d heard that Tallinn was a nicer city to visit so we decided to spend more time there, but we gave ourselves another day after Tallinn to explore Helsinki a little bit. A lot of people go to the north of Finland to experience the wild winter, sleeping under the northern lights and sledding with huskies but due to budget and time restrictions we just stayed in the capital and explored some of what the city had to offer. Aside from our sauna visit, we just wandered around the city for a few hours (it was too cold to stay outside too long), and saw the Helsinki Cathedral, Uspenski Cathedral, the old school trams and a few of the city parks.

Helsinki 1

Sauna and Ice Swimming

One of the things that Finnish people love to do is a sauna followed by an ice swim. Traditionally they just cut a hole in a frozen lake, making it a true ice swim. We decided to visit one of the most popular sauna spots, Löyly. Given that there are almost as many saunas as people in Finland (roughly 3 million saunas and 5 million people), there were so many to choose from, but we opted for the most touristic one. I actually don’t know why I paid 19 Euros to be uncomfortably hot in a room full of barely dressed, sweating strangers, but as the saying goes…when in Rome, do as the Romans do. And why not do it in one of the best spots?

Löyly sauna

Löyly sauna

There were two large, co-ed saunas and then a shared lounge room with a big fireplace. Because it is located on the waters edge, there’s a ladder down into the Baltic Sea which made for a pleasant, icy dip. Apparently my bikini bottoms are my big girl pants, because I put them on and headed out onto the snow coated deck to plunge myself into the near freezing water a couple of times after cooking in the sauna. The water was so cold that the handles of the ladder were coated in ice and it took my breath away, so needless to say, I was only in for a few seconds. You can see the video proof on my Instagram here. I actually preferred the cold water to sitting in the sauna though, I don’t know how the Finns do it. I was uncomfortable after a few minutes and had to leave.

Despite my lack of appreciation for the heat, I would still recommend trying the sauna; it’s a big part of the Finnish culture, and in the wider Nordic region for that matter, and apparently has a lot of health benefits, even the ice swim!

Tallinn

Funky wall art at the lookout point above Tallinn’s Old Town

Funky wall art at the lookout point above Tallinn’s Old Town

I’m not going to lie, I had never heard of Tallinn until Steph said we should go there on the ferry from Helsinki. I’m so glad she did!! The ferry across to Estonia from Finland was actually a large cruise ship, it only took a couple of hours and wasn’t too expensive, I think from memory it was around 40E return. We arrived to another snowy scene and headed to our AirBnB, which was located right in the heart of the Old Town. We really couldn’t have picked a better spot! It was across the road from St Nicholas’ Church and Museum, and at the foot of Toompea Hill, which is home to a castle, a couple more churches and the current parliament house.

Hanging out in our gorgeous Airbnb in Tallinn, which still has some of the original bricks from some centuries ago!

Hanging out in our gorgeous Airbnb in Tallinn, which still has some of the original bricks from some centuries ago!

We were there for 3 days, which was plenty of time for sightseeing as it’s a pretty small city, especially in the Old Town. We did a 2 hour walking tour which was great to understand the history of the town, I highly recommend doing one of these in any city you visit. The rest of the time was spent exploring the city; we didn’t do anything very touristic. Because I’m such a connoisseur of local cuisine, we only had supermarket food except for one night when we decided to treat ourselves and go out for dinner…at Wok to Walk. It’s a noodle joint, and that was sarcasm.

Highlights of Tallinn

A beautiful Orthodox Church on Toompea Hill

A beautiful Orthodox Church on Toompea Hill

I loved walking up Toompea Hill to see the snow-clad town below and another highlight was the quirky markets, Balti Jaama Turg. It was home to some delicious looking food stands, clothing stores and a bunch of Soviet memorabilia amongst a plethora of antiques and knick-knacks.

Balti Jaama Turg - markets in Tallinn

Balti Jaama Turg - markets in Tallinn

Weird military memorabilia at Balti Jaama Turg (oops, wasn’t meant to take photos!)

Weird military memorabilia at Balti Jaama Turg (oops, wasn’t meant to take photos!)

I lied earlier, we did actually try some local food. Well…some treats to be exact; one night we went to a dessert store and tried one of the local treats; Vahukoore kukkel nustikanoosige (that may be spelled completely wrong, check the sign in the picture below). It was basically a jam donut with a heap of whipped cream, quite delicious! And then I was a true [big] kid in a candy shop when we visited the Kalev store. I found it quite strange that the bespoke chocolate store sold its products for cheaper prices than the supermarkets etc, because usually it’s the other way round (looking at you, M&M stores!). So, needless to say, we sampled a fair few goodies and stocked up on some to bring back with us.

Tallinn dessert 2
Tallinn treats 1

So, overall, Stephanie and I both loved Helsinki and Tallinn. Although we didn’t go deep into Finland to get more “Finnish” experiences like seeing the Northern Lights or riding a husky/reindeer sled, I really enjoyed my trip away. You can bet that I looked like a right muppet, playing in the snow any chance I got and stopping to try and catch snowflakes on my tongue, but sometimes you just have to get lost in the moment.

Have you ever visited Helsinki or Tallinn? What would you recommend for someone who wants to visit either?

Greek Islands with Topdeck

Spending 8 days on a boat around Greece's Cyclade islands felt like paradise. And not just because the islands themselves are paradise, but because I was doing a tour and not worrying about organising myself. No buses, no planes, no hostels, no carrying my ever-increasingly-heavy backpack, no worrying about where to eat for most meals or being late for anything. Thanks to Flight Centre New Zealand and Topdeck Travel for this awesome trip, they made those 8 days fantastic! You can book the same trip I did, the Aegan Sunseeker, or one equally as awesome with Flight Centre. Check out some of their Topdeck trips here.

Hanging out in the beautiful streets of Paros

Hanging out in the beautiful streets of Paros

I did a Topdeck trip a few years ago, it was an 11-day journey around some of the highlights of Europe by bus, staying in hostels. There were definitely a lot of differences between that trip and my Greek Islands one, but some things that were very familiar. The demographics of the trip were almost identical; there was a large female skew in both and most people were around my age and keen to party, but not to the point where they weren't able to function the next day because we were all interested in seeing what the islands had to offer. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I wasn’t the only female single traveller, but one of many, and all the people I met on the trip made it a great time. I even managed to hang out with a few after the trip, but sadly our paths diverged not long after. I think Topdeck trips offer a good balance of sightseeing, socialising and free time, which is perfect for me. 

Hanging out with new friends onboard

Hanging out with new friends onboard

Our trip took us to six of the Greek Islands; starting in Mykonos then we headed to Paros, Naxos, Ano Koufosini, Ios and then Santorini for our final destination. We typically would start the day with a swim stop somewhere nearby, then head to the next destination and do a short walking tour on arrival. Our guide, Thimos, was a lovely Greek man who was so passionate about his country and gave us some really fascinating insights, weaving myths and legends into the history of the places we visited. He even threw in some of his own insights as a local, because there are some things you can’t learn from a text book or see in a museum. After that would be lunch on board and then free time to explore the island, do some shopping, or just sunbathe, until we headed out to dinner at a local restaurant and from there some nights we would head out to a bar or a club. It was handy on Mykonos because we were anchored right on Paradise Beach so it was a minute's walk from all the beach clubs. 

View of Naxos from the hill on which Potara sits

View of Naxos from the hill on which Potara sits

The Greek Islands are a fantastic holiday destination and I was so happy to be on a trip that visited a few, as each have their own character and different things to offer and on my last trip I only saw Santorini. Mykonos is one of the most expensive but has a beautiful town with many iconic spots and plenty of shops and beach clubs. Paros was like a mini Mykonos with a fraction of the tourists and a beautiful church called the Church of 100 Gates which was filled with gold. Its twin island, Naxos, was beautiful too with an old castle and monument to the Greek god Apollo. Ano Koufonisi was Thimos’ favourite and it was easy to see why. It was very quiet with mostly just locals, but he took us on a walk to the Eye of the Devil which was a neat swimming hole along a unique coastline with lots of little coves and cliffs (perfect for capturing with the drone). We sadly didn’t get to see much of Ios but it had great nightlife, which is what most people visit it for anyway. The final island, Santorini, is fantastic if you can handle the crowds. It's super romantic with the stunning white buildings and churches with blue rooftops on the caldera side and a perfect sunset almost every night.

Finding a hidden spot to take in the view of Naxos

Finding a hidden spot to take in the view of Naxos

We had two meals a day provided and both of these were served on the boat. The breakfast was good with tea and coffee, eggs, bacon, fruit and veges, cereal and bread. Lunch changed everyday and each one was fantastic. We had a range of dishes, including Greek ones like souvlaki and moussaka, and there was always a mix of sides and options for the vegetarians. Plus, there was plenty of tzaziki and feta! At nearly all of our destinations we ate together at a restaurant selected by Thimos, who always knew the best spots to eat that were affordable and great quality. We also had two themed nights, which is a bit of a Topdeck thing. The first was a Mexican night where we went to a tequila bar and had shots provided by Thimos, and the second was a Shisha night where again Thimos provided us with some complimentary shisha. I think some shots appeared at one point too! These nights were always really fun because we would all be together and move around as a group, but on other nights some people would chose to take it easy, or others might stay out until the early hours of the morning. 

Grilled feta with local Rose wine and vinegar

Grilled feta with local Rose wine and vinegar

Lunch onboard; Greek salad, fish, rice done Egyptian style and potato bake

Lunch onboard; Greek salad, fish, rice done Egyptian style and potato bake

The boat itself was stunning and comfortably slept over 30 of us, including the crew. It had all the cabins below deck, dining room and kitchen on the first deck, seating up on the second where the control room was and then a small, third deck on the top provided great views. The whole decor of the boat was lovely and the rooms each had their own bathrooms, cupboards, power points and towels provided. Sadly there was an issue with the air con which made the rooms a bit stuffy and not the best smelling, so a few of us took advantage of the sun loungers on the top deck and would sometimes sleep under the stars. 

Me enjoying boat life at one of our swim stops

Me enjoying boat life at one of our swim stops

Even after my first Topdeck I’ve been recommending them to people, as I believe they’re a great way to travel, particularly when you’re solo, and even more so if you’re female. They’re a really safe option and if you haven’t done a lot of travel then it’s a great way to ease into it, or get an idea of what you enjoy about travelling and would want to do more of. On the flip side, it was an excellent break for a weary traveller like myself and it was such a treat to have my Flight Centre travel expert book it all for me. Then, once I was on the trip it was all organised and the hardest decision I had to make was whether to swim or sunbathe - living the dream! 

Greek Islands Topdeck 8

Have you ever done a Topdeck trip? Would you consider it?

Budapest stopover

Sometimes you can plan and plan and plan your trip, but some of the best things are last minute, snap decisions, like my 2 night stopover in Budapest. It was going to be super expensive to fly from Greece straight to Croatia, but taking a detour through Budapest was actually a pretty cheap option. I can't remember if it was much cheaper, but the fact that it came close was enough for me to decide to see a new city. 

The view of the Liberty Statue looking out over Pest from my drone

The view of the Liberty Statue looking out over Pest from my drone

From memory, flights from Athens to Croatia were a couple hundred dollars, rather than the flight from Athens to Budapest which was under NZ100, and then the bus from Budapest to Croatia was about NZ50. Obviously, there was the accommodation to pay for as well but I found a really decent, cheap place called Fifth Hostel which wasn't too far from the city centre. Even if it was more expensive in the end, I'm so glad I didn't just fly straight to Croatia. 

I had no idea what there was to see and do in Budapest, but the hostel owner drew a rough route for me on a map so I could see all the highlights, and that's basically what I did! 

I headed out from the hostel around 9am and already it had gotten hot. I did a clockwise circuit around the city, starting at the Dohany Street Synagogue, which was so beautiful in the morning light. Then I headed to the Produce Market which was fascinating, they love their peppers in Hungary apparently! From there I headed across the river on the Szabadsag Bridge which offered a beautiful view of the city on either side of the Danube, including my next destination, the Liberty Statue on the Buda side. Near the base are the Gellert Baths, which the hostel owner recommended to me because they are less touristy than the main ones, the Széchenyi baths. Sadly though, I had no time for either. 

The view of the Danube and the bridge I crossed to get to Buda

The view of the Danube and the bridge I crossed to get to Buda

The walk up to the statue was quite taxing on a hot summer's day, even though it was only early still, it felt like it was getting to the mid 20's and the sun was relentless. And on top of that, the walk was very steep. There were plenty of paths and the one I took (couldn't tell you the route sorry, I just winged it) had some beautiful views of the city on the way up. On the top of the hill I had just beaten the crowds, but by the time I got my drone ready, the tour groups were swarming the citadel. Nevertheless, I got some great shots and was grateful to finally get calm enough weather to fly in. 

The Citadel with the Liberty Statue in the foreground

The Citadel with the Liberty Statue in the foreground

I didn't realise that a lot of the attractions of the city are actually really close together, up on the hill near the statue. It took about 20 minutes to walk back down the one hill towards the palace. I passed the Gerard of Csanad Monument on the side of the hill looking out towards Pest. The bushes around it were quite overgrown but I kinda like that, and down below it was a lovely waterfall in between where some of the paths ended in mirroring flights of stairs. The first part of the palace I encountered was some beautiful gardens up more stairs, so I flew the drone there again and the headed up. At the top I had a look around at the courtyards and fountains and that was when I saw a map and noticed that most of the things I had wanted to see in Buda were up there on the hill; aptly named Castle Hill. 

Fisherman's Bastion and Mattias Church

Fisherman's Bastion and Mattias Church

I headed north and visited the Fisherman's Bastion and Mattias Church, which is now my favourite church in Europe. I paid to go inside, it wasn't very expensive at all, and it was spectacular. I don't know if all the churches in Hungary are like that but it wasn't like any other church interiors I've seen. Such cool patterns everywhere! A bit further along I went to the Labyrinth but didn't go in because it was a bit out of my budget. It looks incredible and I would recommend it if you have time/money, it's a vast system of tunnels that run under the castle area and have been there for hundreds of years. I then had "lunch" at Ruszwurm Confectionery because the hostel owner said they have the best cream cake in Hungary, where you'll find the best cream cake in the world. I'll take his word for it; I've never had cream cake before, or since, but it was pretty delicious!

After that I headed down the hill and back over a different bridge to the Pest side where I went to check out Parliament. It's a pretty spectacular building! Then I went along the river to see the statues of the shoes that are lined haphazardly along the river to commemorate the hundreds of Hungarian Jews who were shot by the Arrow Cross party during the second World War. It's so humbling, and made me feel so grateful that I lead the life I live. Nowadays most people stand on the Danube and admire all the wonderful things on either side, but less than a century ago, people were forced to remove their shoes etc before being shot in the back, and their last view was Pest.

The shoes to commemorate the Hungarian Jews who were shot on the Danube in the second World War

The shoes to commemorate the Hungarian Jews who were shot on the Danube in the second World War

The last stop on my journey was the Hero's Square, which is a bit of a trek in the opposite direction to where I had been, but not far from the  Széchenyi baths. I didn't have time for the baths but I went into the entrance and took a photo through the window! The Hero's Square was cool, I loved the statues and the floor was pretty unique, looked wonderful from the drone's point of view. The sun was setting as I left and I stopped at Frici Papa on the way back for dinner, once again it was a recommendation from the hostel owner. I ordered some goulash which wasn't half bad, seeing as it was one of the few things on the traditional menu that I recognised and knew I would like. Good choice, I left with a happy belly and it was easy on the wallet. 

Me at the Hero's Square

Me at the Hero's Square

Bird's eye view of the Hero's Square with me in the middle

Bird's eye view of the Hero's Square with me in the middle

Would you do a Budapest stopover? Or would you need more time in this wonderful city? 

The truth about being a solo female traveller

A few decades ago the idea of a young female travelling the world alone might've set off alarm bells, but after doing just that, I'm convinced it's something every woman should do at least once in her life! Solo travel hasn’t seemed like too much of a big deal for me personally because I’ve been inspired by so many other solo female travellers who I've read about, watched videos of and followed on social media. But also, I’ve been itching to travel for so long and didn’t have anyone to travel with, it ended up being the path I’ve taken. 

A romantic sunset is just as romantic when you have the best company; your own

A romantic sunset is just as romantic when you have the best company; your own

The truth is, being a solo female traveller is badass and an incredible experience, but it isn't all sunsets and waterfalls. As with anything in life, it has its pros and cons. I've made a list of a few of the most important ones that I've discovered on my trip so far. 

Pro

You can see things your own way. 
I think everyone should travel solo at least once, men and women alike. You might find it’s not for you, but you might also surprise yourself with how much you can see, who you meet along the way and what you’ll learn about yourself. You have the freedom to do whatever you wish, the world is your oyster, carpe diem…so many cliches to pick from! When you travel alone there's no compromising with someone else and I think that's great for women as we still have to make a lot of compromises in our lives, no matter how progressive our society gets. If you want to spend 9 hours strolling through an art gallery? Sure thing. Stay up all night to see the Aurora Borealis? Go crazy. Feel like drinking sangria all night with new friends you made at the hostel and dancing on tables? Ain't nobody gonna stop you! 

Oh, the places you'll go! - Dr Seuss

Con

It can get lonely. 
I would be lying if I said that my whole trip has been a whirlwind of crazy moments surrounded by amazing new people whom I now consider friends and I haven't had a moment to myself to feel lonely. Of course you will meet amazing new people from around the world and make unforgettable memories, but that's only if you put yourself in situations where that can happen, and doing so 24/7 is hard work. Some days I arrive at a hostel and just feel like a hot shower and an early night, or on a long bus ride I will choose to plug in my headphones and watch Netflix rather than try chat to the person next to me. Don't mix up being alone and feeling lonely though, often when I'm alone, I'm loving it. But there are plenty of times where I wish I had someone to share the moment with. It can even happen when I'm surrounded by people, so the two are definitely not mutually exclusive. 

Looking cool, calm and collected at Nyhavn, but a few hours later I went back to my Airbnb and had a huge cry

Looking cool, calm and collected at Nyhavn, but a few hours later I went back to my Airbnb and had a huge cry

I did have one mini meltdown after leaving the hostel I was volunteering in for three weeks in Denmark. Once I'd left Aarhus I spent one night in an AirBnb in Copenhagen and had a big cry about being alone. Luckily I had a friend to call in a similar time zone (thanks Aliesha) and after a bit of a chat I felt much better. I think it was hard leaving behind a whole bunch of new friends and a city that I’d fallen in love with, and I had gotten some Snapchats from my friends back home which made me miss them as well. Luckily that's been the loneliest moment for me and I haven't felt as lonely since that. 

Pro

Solo Female Traveller - Snapchat

The internet brings us closer together. 
Although sometimes I hate it, thank goodness for the internet! I’m so grateful for being able to easily make calls with apps like SnapChat, WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger to friends and family when I need it. It also means I can easily keep most of them in the loop at the same time about my trip. The picture on the right is from a drunk night out in Santorini when I thought it was very important to let some of my fellow nugget-loving friends back home know that I love them and miss them. What a time to be alive!

There’s a really cool community online for solo female travellers so I hope that during my trips I’ll get a chance to meet some! I came close once but it fell through, but I know that there are plenty of ladies who have met up in real life after becoming friends online, or just travelling together because it was convenient. I’ve also found people to ride share with online too, which brought down the cost of my Golden Circle and south coast road trip in Iceland, so resources like this are really helping make the lives of solo travellers much easier.  

Con

Selfie sticks.
There will come a time when your own arm just doesn't cut it anymore. When you've had a million helpful strangers take your photo only to come away hating every single one of them (the photos, not the helpful strangers). You're sick of all the nice scenery shots of isolated places being empty and missing the key ingredient - you. The minutes spent setting up a good self-timer shot are starting to tally up. At this low point in your travels, you have a tough choice to make - keep trying the above, or bite the bullet and by a selfie stick. I am at that point, I feel a little defeated but I think it's time to join the hordes and purchase a selfie stick.

I hate to admit it, but deer selfies would've been much easier with a selfie stick

I hate to admit it, but deer selfies would've been much easier with a selfie stick

Pro

You're only responsible for yourself
I have travelled with other people in the past and it's always when I'm with someone else that something I've booked has gone wrong. Or maybe it's just a matter of perspective, because when I screw up something for myself I just deal with the fall out and make a new plan, but I hate the stress of potentially ruining someone else's day or their whole trip. Ok...I haven't stuffed up that badly! But in the past when I've travelled with others and something has gone wrong, I've been 10x more stressed than when something has gone wrong and I'm alone. It's also easy knowing that you only have yourself to excite or disappoint, so the pressure is off in that regard.

Con

You need to be more cautious. 
Sometimes people brush off the added danger of being female when you travel but I don't think it should be ignored just because society is becoming more progressive and female-friendly. I’m always cautious when I travel anyway, but even more so when I’m alone and especially because I’m a woman. So far I haven’t travelled anywhere where I’ve felt very unsafe being solo, but there’s always a bit of anxiety that I could be seen as a more easy target than a man. And there’s always the looks that men give women, that’s present everywhere you travel to some extent and it will always make me feel uneasy. When men ask me if I'm travelling alone, I usually say that I am but am meeting up with friends soon, or something similar, and I never give away my whereabouts just in case.

Make sure you have travel insurance too. You never know what could go wrong and if you don't have someone else there with you, you'll really be grateful that you found yourself a good insurer to sort out the problem. I was so surprised at what my travel insurance covered (gifted to me by Worldcare Travel Insurance, thanks again!); things like strikes and emergency dental care. They're things that hadn't even crossed my mind as scenarios that could happen while I've been away, so it definitely pays to look into it properly so you don't get caught out. 

Also, be cautious when sitting on bridges...you never know.

Also, be cautious when sitting on bridges...you never know.

Pro

It's easier to meet people.
This one is definitely true for me at least. Even though I can be antisocial at times, I know that I won't make new friends if I don't put myself out there, and making new friends is awesome! When I've travelled with others in the past it's been easy to just talk to them the whole time and not bother striking conversations with strangers. If you're in a group situation, you're much less likely to be approached by someone alone, but if you're alone too they'll find it easier to come over and say hello. You never know what could happen when you talk to a stranger on the plane, or start a conversation over breakfast at the hostel. 

The question isn't who is going to let me; it's who is going to stop me. - Ayn Rand

Pro

A sense of camaraderie, from both genders. 
I’ve had a lot of really nice responses from people when I tell them I’m travelling solo. It’s a wicked feeling when someone is impressed that I’m travelling alone but I’m quick to tell them that it’s actually easier than they might assume. When I meet other solo travellers we have that instant bond over common ground, we’ll share our stories and travel advice, as well our gripes and complaints. When I meet other ladies out there doing it like a pro I just want to give them a high five, but don't because I assume they're just too cool for that! 

Pro

No worrying about awkward money chats.
Maybe a small win, but I hate the conversations you have when you're travelling with people on a different budget to you and they want to split the bill. I always seem to be the one on the tightest budget who just drinks water and orders the cheapest item on the menu. There's no worrying about keeping a running tab of who owes who how much either. 

Pro

You'll never have so much freedom. 
Travelling alone gives you a wonderful sense of freedom. As mentioned previously, you don't have to compromise on your trip, but there's also the freedom of not having to answer to anyone. Of course, if you're a solo female traveller who has left her partner/family at home it's slightly different, but I'm just relating this to my experience. I have the freedom of going off the grid and finding myself a small little island hut and not worry about explaining why I'm being a weird hermit. I don't have to consult anyone about my next step because I'm the only one it affects. In saying that, do let your mother know you're still alive from time to time, they tend to worry ;) 

To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the most pleasant sensations in the world. You are surrounded by adventure. - Freya Stark

Solo Female Traveller - Aarhus

Iceland - the Golden Circle and south coast road trip

Iceland was expensive, out of the way and very cold (obviously), but totally worth it! I knew that I had to visit Iceland on my Europe trip this time around, even though it wasn't Aurora season and I'm so glad I made the journey up there. 

I wasn't there for long, just a four day trip and really wanted to see some of the highlights, so I opted for the Golden Circle and some of the highlights of the south coast. 

The Golden Circle (partial)

Seljalandsfoss on the southern side of Iceland

Seljalandsfoss on the southern side of Iceland

I decided to do the Golden Circle myself because the cost of tours was quite high and I heard it wasn't all that necessary to do one. Because I didn't organise much of my trip in advance (I was hoping to find someone else to travel there with but had no success), I didn't do a very good job with the car hire and had to cram a lot into one day. The Golden Circle takes around 5 hours return from Reykjavik, and I also wanted to do a lot of things on the southern coast, so my road trip lasted from 8am until about 7.30pm.

I posted my journey on a noticeboard in the hostel and Samferda, a carpooling website and found two people, one from each, to join me on the trip to split costs so I was very happy about that, it was not cheap for petrol and I did a lot of driving. They gave me 5000 Icelandic kroner towards petrol. It definitely helped so I would recommend it, even just asking around in the hostel to see who has a car or who needs a seat.  

Thingvellir National Park

Thingvellir National Park

Geysir on the Golden Circle route 

Geysir on the Golden Circle route 

We headed along route 36 to our first stop, Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park, where we just stopped briefly to take some photos of the stunning lake at a couple of different points. For the whole journey we had spectacular views but the clouds were moving so fast across the sky and a lot of the time it was very ominous. We didn't hang around at the National Park too long and didn't head down to the lake but I think there are a few waterfalls around there. After that we headed to Geysir, which was fun to wait for and try to time photos and videos for. But the area around it wasn't overly spectacular so once we'd all gotten a couple of successful shots we moved on to Gullfoss, which isn't far up the road. 

Gullfoss did not disappoint. I think it was the highlight of the trip actually. It's the perfect example of the power of nature and it took my breath away. I think my eyes might've watered up a bit! I've got a few photos but none of them do it justice! Thousands of litres of water cascading down a wide "staircase" and then down two giant drops into a 32m/105ft crevice. The waterfalls so hard that the spray shoots up a few metres above the falls in a thin mist. There are a couple of paths that you can take and they're both fairly short and easy; one takes you down along the waterfall's side and the other goes along the top of the ridge that looks down over the waterfall. Both offer stunning views and are very easy walks, just make sure to watch your footing as the little rocks can be a bit treacherous. 

The power of Gullfoss

The power of Gullfoss

The view of Gullfoss from above

The view of Gullfoss from above

Southern coast highlights - waterfalls and black sand beach

After that we started the detour that took us down to the southern coast. It was gravel road for a little while which made me nervous with the rental car but I pushed on and after about 20 mins of dodging potholes we were back on tarmac. The journey was windy and very much back country, I could see that you wouldn't want to go through there in winter with a small rental car like the one I had. The weather got worse and worse as we went south which was such a shame because the scenery would've been amazing. Just before we got to Seljalandsfoss there was this huge rock with some buildings at the bottom, it was such a neat little find. 

Little huts built into the rocks

Little huts built into the rocks

There are actually a few waterfalls on the cliff side near Seljalandsfoss, the other prominent one being Gljúfrabúi. We parked near Gljúfrabúi because if you park at Seljalandsfoss you have to pay. We sat in the car for a bit and had some food in hopes that the weather would get better (they say in Iceland if you don't like the weather just wait 15 minutes and it'll change), and when it was slightly better we headed to the falls, Gljúfrabúi first. I would've loved to go inside but it was just too cold and rainy to get my Nike's wet and I didn't have much in the way of rain protection and we still had a long way to go. So I got a shot from the outside and have sworn to return one day. 

Gljúfrabúi Waterfall - you can see why the locals kept it a secret for so long! 

Gljúfrabúi Waterfall - you can see why the locals kept it a secret for so long! 

As we walked along to Seljalandsfoss, the rain didn't let off. It was pouring down by the time we arrived at the waterfall but we had to go inside. It was so incredible, the waterfall was crashing down and spraying us, but we still walked the whole way under; we were already soaked. It was just very hard to take photos because I could hardly feel my fingers. 

Behind the Seljalandsfoss waterafll

Behind the Seljalandsfoss waterafll

By the time we drove to Skógafoss I was freezing and wet, and not all too keen to spend much time out of the car in the harsh winds, so our trip there was quite brief. It was so powerful and you could feel the spray of it from 50 metres away. I wish I'd gone for the walk up the top but I think I would've frozen up there and become Iceland's newest tourist attraction. 

Skógafoss was magnificent!

Skógafoss was magnificent!

Our last stop for the day was the black sand beach at Vik. It was getting late and we were so cold so we didn't stay long. I'm not sure if we went to the best part of Vik but it was nice seeing some horses stroll across the beach while we were there, and the ocean was very impressive. After that it was time to return to Reykjavik! We arrived back around 7.30 which was my prediction. I had used about a whole tank of my little Opal rental car. Music and good company definitely made the 10 or so hours of driving much more manageable and it was a wonderful trip!

The majestic horses of Iceland

The majestic horses of Iceland

The black sand beach at Vik

The black sand beach at Vik

Have you ever been to Iceland? Did you do the Golden Circle or head down to Vik?