Five Must-Dos in Iceland

At the beginning of this month, we spent a wonderful week in Reykjavik Iceland. A vacation we’ve always been interested in taking, the off-season prices combined with an easy direct flight from Baltimore made December the perfect time to visit.

We arrived, bleary-eyed and jet lagged, at 5 a.m. local time. After a much-needed nap at our hostel, we hit the town in the afternoon. Reykjavik is an interesting city. Interspersed amongst the adorable brightly painted houses (that you see in all of the travel books and brochures) is a little bit of a run-down, dirty feeling. Abandoned lots, graffiti, and crumbling buildings were not an uncommon sight. Not to say we didn’t like the city—our love for New Orleans should show a little grime doesn’t bother us—but Reykjavik was just a bit rougher around the edges than we expected. It’s a case of remembering everything is not always as it appears on Instagram. dscn1797Throwing aside all expectations, Reykjavik was a beautifully unique city. You could be walking along a regular street, glance up, and realize that there are magnificent mountains just waiting to be gazed at. Read below to find out our five favorite activities in Iceland’s capital. dscn1876

Graffiti Gazing

 

Taking a leisurely stroll through pretty much any neighborhood in Reykjavik will provide views of  (undoubtedly) illegal graffiti and dozens and dozens of professional murals. It seemed like every neighborhood or section of the city had their own art thrown onto shops, houses, and government buildings. Set some time aside to just wander and you definitely won’t regret it.

Thufa Hill

dscn1904A hidden treasure in the city is Thufa Hill, which offers amazing views of Reykjavik and is a small adventure to get to. Tucked behind rows of shops and industrial factories, we had to use Google Maps to find this outdoor art installment. A spiral path of stepping stones leads to the top where a fishing shed and several stones sit. When we went, there wasn’t another soul in sight, giving us time to sit down and relax while soaking in views of Harpa concert hall and the bay. dscn1915

Sculpture & Shore Walkdscn1884

A popular path in Reykjavik, the Sculpture and Shore Walk is a lovely mix of natural and man-made beauties. Looking out over the ocean, the meandering pathway leads you by a collection of sculptures and famous landmarks. Along with taking in the view, it’s a great place to ‘people watch’ since a variety of tourists and locals alike frequent the area. Keep an eye out for natural hot springs areas where birds will hang out to stay warm.

Day Tours

dscn1966Outside of Reykjavik you can truly get a glimpse at the amazing beauty of Iceland’s landscape. Instead of attempting to navigate the public transit ourselves, we used the Gray Line tour company to easily book a day-long Game of Thrones Tour. We saw a multitude of waterfalls, snow-topped mountains, and even an abandoned ‘Wildling’ village. Whether it’s by tour bus or rental car, everyone should take at least a day to get out in the wide open countryside. dscn1954img_1149

Snorkeling

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Who would’ve thought that a snorkeling adventure was an option in such a cold country? Scuba Iceland offers a Silfra Snorkeling package that can’t be beat. During this particular tour, you’ll spend about 40 minutes snorkeling through the crystal clear waters of the Silfra fissure, which is between the tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia. It’s a shockingly warm experience since you’ll be bundled up in thermal clothes and a dry suit. The package is reasonably priced in comparison to competitors and is incredibly easy to do since transportation and a friendly guide are provided. Don’t miss out on this unique opportunity!

For other suggestions of where to visit, and eat, in Iceland, read my Vegan’s Guide to Reykjavik.

Five Must-Dos in Liverpool

Although my first two months of working abroad through Workaway were spent mainly in Ireland, I took the time to visit parts of the UK also. The first place I saw was Liverpool, England. I was a bit intimidated before arriving because several people said “You’re going to Liverpool? Alone?!” when they found out I wasn’t going for a visit with friends or family.

It all turned out well though, because I had a blast in Liverpool. There were plenty of things to do, places to see, and vegan food to eat. Plus any time I got lost (which I’m embarrassed to admit happened a few times), passersby were always happy to help and point to a spot on the map or tell me that Google Maps had sent me the wrong way.

Museum of Liverpool

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The Museum of Liverpool, is a great free place to explore the city’s past. Their exhibits are extensive and include the history of several people groups (the Irish, black, and Jewish communities), along with a large feature on the LGBTQ movement. My favorite part was their highlight on transgender individuals.

Albert Dock

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Albert Dock is an adorable little area that holds several entertaining spots. From independent shops to the Merseyside Maritime Museum, there’s something for everyone here.

While wandering around the dock, I was drawn into the Quay Confectionery shop due to their amazing jelly bean portrait of The Beatles (who originated in Liverpool). Inside, there were plenty of vegan-friendly sweets options.

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The Wheel of Liverpool (also known at the Echo Wheel) is nearby and definitely worth a ride. Although I’m not a huge fan of heights, I got on it anyway and had a great time being terrified of the squeaky ride.

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Western Approaches

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For any history buffs, or even those with a mild interest in WWII, Western Approaches is a must-visit when in Liverpool. Tucked away in the center of the city, the museum is inside the underground command center used during WWII by the Navy, Air Force, and Marines. Much of the same furniture and equipment still exists, so you can view the war cabinet’s telephone, the code deciphering room, and even a disarmed German bomb.

Walker Art Gallery

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With one of the largest art collections in England, visiting Walker Art Gallery is a great way to see pieces dating from the renaissance all the way to modern day. During my visit, I was amazed by the exhibit displaying some of the gorgeous quilts by Grayson Perry. Since the collection is so large, it took me about two hours to wander through the entire building.

Street Art

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It’s hard to turn around in Liverpool without seeing some sort of street art. From professional murals to impressive graffiti, the city streets almost always have some colorful message to convey. While there, I saw one of Banksy’s originals (see above) without even realizing it at the time.

20140727-183854-67134564.jpgBonus: An adorable yarnbombing I saw at St. John’s Gardens.

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