To be honest, Vienna wasn’t on my bucket list but I decided to spend a weekend there as the flight times from Doha were perfect. Who would know it would become one of my favorite European destinations! It was Autumn when all trees changed their colors and it made Vienna even prettier.
If you’re planning a visit to Vienna, here are the must-dos to get the most out of it in only two days;
1- Wander around Stephansplatz:
Vienna is a great walking city and Stephansplatz is in the middle of everything. Choose a café and spend an hour or so watching people passing by, or admire the huge St. Stephens Cathedral. Wander over to the opposite side of the square to see the postmodern Haas-Haus and watch Vienna’s street performers. You will love it!
2-Have breakfast at the terrace of Grand Ferdinand Hotel:
And stay there if you can. On the street where all upper scale hotels are, Grand Ferdinand Hotel has pretty rooms and a terrace restaurant where you can enjoy a breakfast while watching the beautiful Vienna’s skyline. It is quite posh so dressing up is highly recommended.
Eating the biggest and the most delicious Wienerschnitzel of Vienna is a must when you are in Vienna. Due to popularity, they recently opened their second restaurant just near the old one which is behind St Stephen’s Cathedral. Order a potato salad with schnitzel and you will be amazed and full as Figlmuller’s prides itself on presenting the largest
Order a potato salad with schnitzel and you will be amazed and full(!) as Figlmuller prides itself on presenting the largest Wienerschnitzel possible.
As I didn’t make a reservation, I could get a table in the new restaurant after waiting for a while. Make sure to reserve a table if you don’t want to wait.
There is really not much around Hundertwasserhaus but it is a must-see Instagtammable place while you are in Vienna. Designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser, the architectural highlight of Vienna offers a colorfully decorated exterior façade.
5- Take a ride in Vienna’s Giant Ferris Wheel:
After seeing Hundertwasserhaus, get to the other side of Danube River and experience the moving tradition of Vienna. Couples can also enjoy a whole cabin for themselves while having a romantic candle-light dinner for around 340 Euros.
6- Enjoy a concert in one of the historical cathedrals:
St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Karlskirche (Church of St. Charles) and many other sacred sites are regular showplaces for diverse classical music concerts. I bought my ticket from a booth near St. Stephen’s Cathedral for 25 Euros and had an amazing experience.
7- Visit Albertina Museum for some art intake:
The Albertina Museum has been presenting the largest Raphael exhibition in Austria until 7 January 2018 so art lovers should pay a visit to this museum which is located just opposite to Mozart Cafe. The entrance is 12 Euros, and visitors can visit Contemporary Art floor and Albertina’s staterooms alongside Raphael exhibition.
8- Taste the original sacher-torte at Cafe Sacher:
Vienna has hundreds of cafes and Sacher Cafe is one of them. Cafe Sacher is a home to the famous Sacher-Torte, a chocolate cake worthy of a trip to Vienna alone to taste. If there is a queue at the door, you can also try the next door – Mozart Cafe.
In some cafes in Vienna, you may be expected to dress up so make sure to pack some nice clothes.
9- Visit Schonbrunn Palace and its gardens:
Schönbrunn Palace is a former imperial summer residence located in Vienna, Austria. It is one of Europe’s most beautiful Baroque complexes, and gardens of the palace are worth to see.
It is in the suburbs of Vienna so you will need to take the U2 metro line direct to the Schonbrunn.
10- Visit Belvedere Museum:
Visit ‘The Kiss’, the most famous Gustav Klimt piece, at the Austrian Gallery Belvedere in Vienna.
11- Taste 1516 Brewing Company’s beers:
This is a cozy but busy street-side bar where you can go for late night drinks or bites.
Above are the maximum you can do in a weekend but if you have more time, make sure to visit Museums Quartier, see Rathaus and Hofburg Palace, taste more Viennese cakes at Strock bakery and have more schnitzel at Gasthaus Poschl or Augustinerkeller Bitzinger Wien.
When it’s about cherry blossoms, first destinations that come up in the minds are Japan and Washington DC, but the city of Bonn’s cherry blossoms are totally beating the competition these days.
Named among the ‘Places to See Before You Die’, Aldstadt (old district) of Bonn, Germany is covered with pink cherry blossoms for 20 days in spring. The trees were planted in 1984 and cherry blossoms are very sensitive to rain or cold.
French-inspired Old Town district is currently very popular with tourists and visitors so waiting for your turn for taking pictures might be a bit of challenge. Here are the photos that I managed to take this weekend in Bonn.
Why Visit Bonn:
Bonn is former capital of Germany and is also known by being the birthplace of the great composer Beethoven. The famous candy-maker Haribo has its headquarters in Bonn too. With its bakeries all around the city, café and bars on the streets of central area with many students, and a lot of greenery, it is a charming city lying on the romantic river Rhein.
Bonn is also a good base for day trips to Cologne or Dusseldorf by train or car. If you are planning a visit to Bonn, the carnival in February and cherry blossoms in April-May are not to be missed!
Vikings and Elves of Iceland is a country really worth a visit. With its dramatic landscape with volcanoes, geysers, hot springs and lava fields, it offers visitors two different kinds of experience in summer and winter.
Located in the North Atlantic Ocean, directly east of Greenland, Iceland is Europe’s western most country. While its neighbor Greenland is considered as part of North America, Iceland is considered to be a part of Europe. The United States was the first country to recognise Icelandic independence from Denmark in June 1944, and surprisingly, it is part of NATO even though they don’t have a military army.
The history of Iceland goes back to the 9th century when Vikings reached the uninhabited island. Since then, living with volcanoes has been a lifestyle for them. There are 130 active and extinct volcanoes and 18 of them have erupted since the first human settlement. The country’s three major volcanoes are Hekla, Katla and Grimsvotn, and the latest eruption was in 2010 in Eyjafjallajokull glacier. On average, an eruption occurs in Iceland every 4 years.
On the positive side, the volcanos provides an endless supply of geothermal energy. Over 90% of housing in Iceland is heated by natural geothermal heat – one of the cheapest and cleanest forms of energy in existence.
80% of the residents of ice and fire country live in the capital Reykjavik, which is a starting point for each visitor to discover the East, West, highlands and The North Iceland. In the recent years, thanks to the football victories and TV series, Iceland has been very popular among travellers.
Religion and Language:
In terms of religion, almost 80% of Icelanders follow Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland. Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland is the officially established Christian church in Iceland and it professes the Lutheran faith.
The language spoken in Iceland is Old Norse, which was the language of the Vikings or Norsemen. Iceland has a high level of education so we didn’t have any difficulty communicating in English.
If you are not a European citizen, all you need to get is a Schengen Visa to enter Iceland.
When to visit:
Midnight sun and warmer temperatures make summer attractive to visit Iceland. However, if you are interested in hiking and seeing Northern Lights, you should visit in February, March, September and October.
When we visited in July, we were amazed by the lack of dark skies and the beauty of midnight sun. The sun sets right after the midnight and the sky becomes grey until it rises again around 3:00 AM in the morning. The weather was both cold and warm, as you can experience 4 seasons in one day in Iceland.
What to do:
Road trip is a must if you are willing to see the natural beauty of the island. It takes 10 days to drive around the whole island, however you may also take a different route depending on how many days you have. Camping with vans is also very popular among budget travellers, and there are 170 registered campsites all around the country. Camping didn’t seem to be a bad idea for summer as all the hotels were fully booked, and the remaining ones were extremely expensive during our visit in July.
Having only 4 full days, we decided to take the Southern coast route, starting from Keflavik Airport. There are rental car offices in the airport but we suggest you to do it before arriving. After picking up the car, we headed to Grindavik to spend the night there as it is the closest central area to Blue Lagoon.
Blue Lagoon is located in a lava field in Grindavik. The geothermal spa containing 9 million litres of water hosts hundreds of people who want to bathe in the unique water and apply the silica mud to their skin. The blue colour of the lagoon comes from the silica and the way it reflects sunlight while the water’s actual colour is white. Make sure to use hair conditioner before and after you enter the water as it makes your hair pretty dry. There are also a hotel, restaurant, relaxing room and bar which you can enjoy while your visit to the geothermal spa. The water is 37-40 C degrees and its deepest point is 1.6 meters.
You need to make an online booking in order to visit Blue Lagoon. Make sure to do it as early as possible as it gets really crowded.
Thingvellir National Park: The UNESCO World Heritage centre is a protected national shrine which used to be an area where the disputes were settled. It is the most important place in Icelandic history as Alþingi – which is one of the oldest parliamentary institutions in the world – was founded there. It is also one of the Iceland’s most spectacular Game of Thrones filming locations.
You may walk inside the national park, go down towards the little church and the waterfall at the upper side easily by following the walking paths.
After spending a couple of hours walking, we headed towards the Route 37 which led us to Geysir.
Geysir: The Great Geysir is the most famous one in the field, however it spouts only when there is an earthquake. Strokkur, on the other side manages to satisfy most of its spectators by being the most energetic spouting spring in Iceland. It spouts every 6-8 minutes, sometimes to a height of 40 meters so we got to see the amazing view a few times by spending an hour there.
Gulfoss Waterfalls: This was one of the most exciting sights of the trip. Located in the canyon of the Hvítá river near the Geyser area, it is a must-see place if you like the nature. If you are lucky like us, you will see a rainbow when the sun is shining and be amazed by the dream-like views. Make sure to go down to the lower viewing platform as it offers much better views.
Vik: Finishing the Golden Circle route in one day, we reached to Vik to spend the night after 2 hours of driving. Hotels in Iceland are expensive and Vik is no exception. We stayed at Puffin Hostel which was our only option as all other hotels were fully booked.
The natural beauty of the area is spectacular as it is the most rainy area of the island. Mountains surrounding the roads were all green and you can see many sheep and horses – and of course puffins if you are lucky.
Accommodating less than 300 residents, Vik is framed by a long black volcanic sand beach. Drive up to the church sitting on a hill, head to the amazing Black Sand Beach and Dyrholaey Nature Preserve where you can see puffins. None of them are in a walking distance from the city centre, so we left these sights to the next day.
Black Sand Beach: There is really no cafes and bars in Vik, except the small restaurant near the Puffin Hotel/Hostel where we had our dinner the previous evening. For the morning coffee, we headed to the petrol station. It seems like petrol stations are very useful in Iceland as not only petrol but also food and drinks supplier. Then we drove towards our next destination – Black Sand Beach.
Black Sand Beach is a black pebble beach and it features an amazing cliff of regular basalt columns. The area has a rich birdlife including puffins so make sure to look up if you want to spot a puffin. The waves at Reynisfjara are strong and unpredictable so people are advised to take extra care when visiting the area. You are also not allowed to steal the sand from this mystical dark beach.
Jokusarlon Glacier Lake: After leaving Vik, we hit the road again towards our easternmost point – Jokusarlon which is 2 hours away from Vik i Myrdal. On our way, the surrounding green environment replaced itself with quite extensive areas of moss-covered lava. Depending on conditions, it takes moss around 200 years to grow on lava so make sure not to create new paths while walking on it. (Icelanders believe Vikings and Elves live under the moss)
600 meters deep Jokusarlon Glacier in Vatnajokul Region is a must visit place in Iceland. In summer, icebergs melt and roll down the channel into the sea, so we were lucky to see and even touch the pieces of icebergs.
Additionally, some famous movies such as Batman Begins, Tomb Raider and James Bond: Die Another Day were shot in this area.
Hornafjordur Ice Glaciers: Hornafjörður is a small fjord near Jokusarlon so we didn’t have it in our initial plan but just passed by to check it out. It is also a sight that worth visiting.
Hof: After a long day seeing glaciers, we decided to spend the night in Hof. Hof is a small town with a little cute Turf Church. There is nothing to do in the town other than getting your drinks from the closest petrol station near Skatafell and sitting on the grass, enjoying the mountains view and relaxing.
Skaftafell / Vantajokull National Park: The next day, we were totally recharged and ready to climb up the mountains. As we didn’t have much time, we didn’t book a glacier tour and decided to take a walk inside Vatnajokull National Park in Skatafell. After 1,5 hours of climbing, we reached Svartifoss Waterfall. It is also possible to continue walking and reaching the Skaftafellsjökull Glacier Mountain, but we were tired of climbing so we went back down to the entrance.
On our way, we see lava fields again which are covered with moss from 1780s eruptions in Katla Geopark. We suggest you to stop by and take pictures of this amazing landscape.
Dyrholaey: On the other side of Vik, you can visit Dyrholaey, a naturally formed arch in the cliff. If you are visiting in summer, you can watch puffins nest on the Dyrhólaey Cliffs. On the other side of the bird sanctuary, you will see another beach covered with black basalt. It is forbidden to go down to the beach but you can enjoy views from the top.
Skogafoss Waterfall: One of the biggest waterfalls in Iceland, this one welcomes us with another scenic beauty. Thanks to the summer sun, we were welcomed with a vivid rainbow in front of the 60 metre high Skogáfoss waterfall.
Get in front of the waterfall, take pictures and don’t care about getting wet. If you’d like some trekking, climb up to the stairs which are on the side towards the church. In some belief, Vikings have left a treasure in a cave behind this waterfall, and people who found this treasure could only get the ring which is now being displayed at this church.
Seljalandsfoss Waterfall: This was our second favourite waterfall in Iceland. One of the interesting things about this popular waterfall is that visitors can walk behind it into a small cave. Just be careful not to fall as the mud is very slippery.
We drove back to Reykjavik on our third night so that we could spend our last day in the city. As there were Euro 2016 football games, we spent the evening watching the game at Lebowski Bar, and had a very nice dinner at Sjavargrillo – tasting Icelandic food and beers. After dinner, we headed towards the coast to watch the amazing midnight sun.
The next day, we went to Bjork’s favorite café – The Gray Cat Café to have a breakfast. After getting lost in streets full of shops, we went up to the terrace of the Hallgrimşkirkja Church to view the city from the top. Hallgrímskirkja Church is Reykjavík’s main landmark and its tower can be seen from almost everywhere in the city.
In general, there is a very relaxed life in Iceland. It gave us the feeling that no one works in winter so everything costs double in summer. Still, it was worth every penny we spent there. So thank you Iceland, for giving us the opportunity to see your hidden gems and beauty.