Weekend Breaks From London: Iceland

Iceland has been on top of my bucket list for years. And not just for the Northern Lights – a couple of years ago Rebecca from The Clothes Horse visited the blue lagoon and that got me properly hooked.

Flights and Hotels

Last year flight tickets were super expensive so this year I pro-actively booked them back in September for £90 return trip with easyjet. I also used their website to book our apartment as well – and that came to another £100 per person for three nights.

By the way, I really love staying in apartments during my vacation no matter how short it is. Just having a kitchen and a couch – even if you don’t plan to cook because you want to go out and try the local cuisine – it is still awesome as you can enjoy a glass of wine in the evening. My favourite websites are Airbnb and Booking for international destinations and Homeaway for UK ones. Do you prefer another one? Please let me know in the comments as I am always on the lookout for one!

Back to the subject now – we stayed in the heart of Reykjavik which was handy as we could walk around in the evening and sample local restaurants and bars.

Car vs Tours in a van

I planned all our tours in advance – scheduled our northern lights tour during the first night (it got cancelled due to cloudy weather) as it can be so easily postponed, you need to allow as many nights as possible. With regards to tour operators, I completely trusted Tripadvisor and I can say I haven’t regretted it.

PS) I chose operators that only use mini-vans. I found that to be a good idea as they were more flexible and could make frequent stops

The alternative is to rent a car as all the Icelandic sights belong to nature and you do not need to pay any extra fees. Still it was snowing when we went so we thought that a mini van and a tour would be a more relaxing option.

Verdict

So I would suggest a car if you travel between May and October and a paid tour after that.

What to do

If you plan to stay around 3 days as we did (a long weekend) I recommend the Golden Circle tour which will take up the first day (about 8-9 hours) and will tour you around waterfalls, geysers and the tectonic plates that separate America from Europe. Our guide also stopped along the way for us to see some Icelandic horses.

Northern Lights is another must-do excursion if you visit Iceland between November and March. Apparently, northern lights can also be seen during the summer, with or without moon and the most important factor is the clear sky (NO DAMN CLOUDS!) but it is really a bit of luck you need as well in this equation.

I also recommend spending at least a few hours in Reykjavik to try out some spots for breakfast and lunch, see that impressive church and walk to the harbor. From what we were told, whale-watching is more probable over the summer so we did not give that a try but I would definitely try it on my second visit. There is also an excellent free walking tour which shamefully did not try as we had very few hours to spend.

And finally… Blue Lagoon aka paradise. And the bar in the middle of it is another highlight 🙂

What to wear

I contemplated between buying a new heavy jacket from a hiking clothes brand OR spend a couple of quid in Dekathlon for thermal underwear – I chose the second option and I think I was OK despite the heavy wind and snow.

I ended up with many layers and a fleece between my clothes and my jacket and I think that was sufficient. As one of our guides said during our Northern Lights tour “everyone remembers seeing the northern lights for the rest of their lives – but everyone forgets the cold quickly so get out there” 🙂

For restaurants we visited and food we ate, check out my sketchnote below:

Iceland

WEEKEND BREAKS FROM LONDON: PORTO

Last month I visited Porto in Portugal. Porto is excellent weekend destination – flying out with TAP, we spent two days port wine-tasting, sight-seeing and eating amazing fish.

For the rest of information, check out my sketchnote:

Porto_sketchnote

Weekend Breaks from London: Warsaw

Another easy destination from London is Poland. British Airways will get you to Warsaw Chopin airport (closest to the city centre; a 30-minute bus ride) in 2.5 hours and once there, just let the fun begin.

Warsaw is a city with a beautiful new old town centre, lots of history and amazing food. It can get a bit cold though so make sure you put on a couple more layers.

I have summarised my favourite destinations in Warsaw in the sketchnote below including places to see, best restaurants in town to try local cuisine and my favourite shot recipe!

Warsaw what to do

 

PS) Also I paid 4 pounds for 8 shots!

Weekend Breaks from London: Copenhagen

I spent a long weekend in Copenhagen visiting my sister.

It is very easy to get to Copenhagen from London as the flight only lasts 1.5 hour (easyjet flies from both Gatwick and Luton) making it the ideal weekend tracel destination.

As I had already been to Copenhagen twice  – I hopped on the train on Sunday and spent the day in Malmö. Malmö is about 40 minutes away and the seaside sunset views were out-of-this-world!

I have summarised my favourite destinations in Copenhagen in the sketchnote below including places to see, best chai lattes in town and dimly lit jazz bars!

Suffice it to say I came back with my bag full of cinnamon rolls – but they only survived for the day in London.

ps. this is not an accurate representation of the little mermaid (btw, did you know The Little Mermaid is among the 10 most disappointing european attractions? Not sure it is true but this was one funny list to read!)

Copenhagen To Do

Weekend Breaks from London: Bristol and Bath

I spent one of the most relaxing weekends of my  life in the UK in Bristol and Bath so I totally recommend it! We stayed in Bristol and made a day-trip to Bath – including an obligatory stop at Thermae Bath Spa (more on this below!)

todo bath bristol

Here is what to do:

 

Things to do in Bristol

 

1. Clifton Suspension Bridge: enjoy the views!

20140927_144929

We walked from the center to Bristol all the way to the bridge. It’s not more than half hour and I recommend that as you go through Clifton village which is one of the most picturesque areas in Bristol (and best brunch spot as well!!)

2. Spot a hot air balloon (we spotted ours in Bath but the whole area is full of them!)

Ideally, if you are not accompanied by someone with fear of heights (ahem!), you will like to actually get in one 🙂

hot air balloon

3. Follow Banksy around and enjoy Bristol’s street art scene

My sketch is misleading as you will not actually see the ‘girl with the heart balloon’ in Bristol. Instead you will see this one:

banksy

 

There are loads of maps out there. Be careful because most of Banksy’s graffiti have either been moved or drawn-over and some of those trails are out of date!

However, Bristol has a proud street art-scene and the first ex-toilet art gallery:

ex toilet art

4. Walk along the harbour and have a glass of wine

bristol harbour

 

Things to do in Bath

On Sunday, we got on the train to Bath. I have been meaning to visit Bath for over 2 years now – ever since I discovered it is protected by Unesco and part of the World Heritage List (any other list freaks out there?)

 

time for spa

1. Thermae Bath Spa

We had a massage and then a 2-hour spa session (if you have a massage, you get complimentary robe and slippers so no need to carry your own). I loved it! Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed but I have linked the site and you can see for yourselves.

Prices might seem a bit steep but if you break it down you will see that it is probably much cheaper than a London equivalent.

2. Visit the Royal Crescent

This is a massive half-circle building that my camera pictures did not do justice, therefore there is no picture 🙂

3. Have lunch at Sally Lunn’s

If you are a Foursquare fan, you will realise Bath is ideal for some afternoon tea (especially if you have a spa in the morning and feel all dehydrated!). There are lots of pretty places. We picked Sally Lunn’s because it is so old and I am addicted to old historic buildings.

Lunch was very nice. However – and I am sorry for that- I don’t think that the famous bun is so extraordinary. 


Tips
a. Staying in Bristol will probably work out to be cheaper. There are trains every half hour to Bath, journey lasts about 12 minutes and the fare costs around £7 (return!)

b. You can avoid spending money out by copying the locals and having picnics around Clifton Suspension bridge or the harbour!

Do your research: I found lots of information on Visit Bristol and Visit Bath.

Ideal for: couple’s retreat, hen party