How to Spend Two Days in Vienna

 

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Grand Ferdinand Hotel’s terrace

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!

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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.

https://grandferdinand.com 

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3- Eat schnitzel at Figlmuller 

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.

https://www.figlmueller.at

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Figlmuller’s Wienerschnitzel

4- Take a picture of Hundertwasserhaus:

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.

 

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The queue for the Cafe Sacher

 

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.

 

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Schonbrunn Gardens

 

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.

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Dublin Vibes

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Ireland is one of the most underrated destinations in Europe – probably due to its grey weather, but the country is full of castles and ruins to discover and fall in love with. It has such a good vibe as Ireland has the youngest population in the European Union.

I visited Dublin and Galway in June, as Qatar Airways started direct flights to Dublin from Doha. The flight time is perfect and I got to experience the Dreamliner aircraft’s Business Class which made my flight a spoiling experience.

If you’re planning to fly with Qatar Airways and worried about the political situation in Qatar, you can be assured that there is nothing to worry about. The flight times to Europe hasn’t changed at all and all operations are running smoothly.

How to get to Dublin:

The flight from Doha to Dublin with Qatar Airways takes 7,5 hours. If you’re transiting through Doha, I would strongly suggest taking the opportunity to have a free stopover in Doha with Qatar Airways’ +Qatar campaign. You can stay in Doha’s one of the luxurious hotels for free, experience the desert safari or enjoy the Arabian hospitality.

Getting to Dublin from Europe is much easier and cheaper. The Irish low-cost airline Ryanair offers non-stop daily flights from almost all European countries. Train is another option if you live in the UK.

Dublin Airport is conveniently located approximately 10km north of Dublin City Centre with access to a large number of buses, coaches and taxis all allowing you to get to and from the airport with ease.

In terms of visa, citizens of certain countries must apply for an Irish entry visa before traveling. Note that it is not a Schengen visa, and some UK visitor visas allow onward travel to Ireland.

Where to stay:

If you don’t want to go for a quieter option, I would definitely recommend you to stay in the city centre of Dublin. We stayed at The Brooks Hotel which was located within a short walking distance from the famous Grafton Street. It is a 4-star designer boutique hotel, and you can actually order your breakfast to your room for only a service fee of 3 Euros.

Staying in a castle is another option to consider. We stayed at Clontarf Castle Hotel which was just 10 minutes away from Dublin City Centre and easily accessible by car to the airport. I would definitely recommend it to couples who want to celebrate anniversaries and special occasions.

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When to visit:

The best time to visit Dublin is summer time when the temperatures are warm and festivals fill the streets. If you’re lucky, the sun shows its face but remember that Dublin is a city where you can experience summer and winter all in one day.

Must-sees in Dublin:

Dublin is a great city where you can walk from one place to another in only 30 minutes. So it is easy to see the whole city only in a few days but you never get enough of it. I would suggest at least 5 days to enjoy the historical, cultural and entertainment scene of the city.

Trinity College and the Old Library was the highlight of my visit to Dublin. Trinity College is the oldest university in Ireland, founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I and is famous for its graduates such as Swift, Goldsmith, Wilde and Beckett. The Old Library’s wooden bookshelves, statues, and knowing the fact that it is still operating gave me goosebumps. Strolling around the campus is ideal in the morning before students start rushing to their classes so make sure to be there early to take the best photos.

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The Little Museum of Dublin was also pretty impressive in terms of understanding the history and culture of Ireland. Surrounded by plants, it is a hidden gem in the city centre, with photographs on its walls telling stories about the history. Have a look at Ireland’s greatest rock band- U2’s room if you are interested in the band.

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When you stroll around the cobbled streets of the city, you will see lots of street art, traditional pubs, book shops (even the ones specialising in 20th century Irish literature) and small design clothing stores. As you can walk anywhere, footwork is the best way to discover the city.

No visit to Dublin is complete without a trip to the Guinness Storehouse – the Home of Guinness. Don’t miss a real Irish experience at this unique factory. Try out the fresh Guinness you can’t have anywhere else.

Tip: Try a fresh Guinness with brownies, it is an unbelievable combination!

You can also visit Chester Beatty Library and have your lunch at the Silk Road Cafe which is located inside the library. On your way to the library, you can see the colourful Dublin Castle.

If you’re interested in shopping, take a short tour of Brown Thomas which is an iconic store and an important part of Ireland’s retail history since 1849.

Where to eat:

This part is my favourite! Dublin has an incredible and buzzing restaurant scene, and they have such amazing dishes.

Fallon & Bryne:

This award winning restaurant is a slow food inspired brasserie in the heart of Dublin. There is a grocery area downstairs so you may want to check it out too. They had two menus, one with meat and the other with vegetarian options. Make sure to have a reservation and ask for their early bird menu!

http://www.fallonandbyrne.com/

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Sophie’s:

Located in a stylish hotel, Sophie’s is a beautiful and modern glasshouse restaurant. You can enjoy the 360 degree views of Dublin while eating your delicious meal.

http://sophies.ie/

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Rustic Stone:

This modern and rustic Irish diner exceeded my expectations! Each item is served in the most artistic way so it was not only delicious but also an eye candy.  The steak comes raw but it’s on the stone so you need to be a bit patient until it is cooked. Enjoy the delicious complimentary olives while waiting for it.

http://www.rusticstone.ie/

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When it comes to food, I shouldn’t skip mentioning about the Irish butter. It is a creamy and salty butter which gives a complete satisfaction to your mouth. It is generally served in all restaurants before your meal so it is impossible to skip it. Buy some at the airport if you want to take the tastes of Dublin to home.

Finally, you will be amazed by the entertainment and nightlife options in Dublin. There are historical pubs at every corner, and the fantastic nightlife offers not only pubs but also lounges and late night clubs. As an alterantive option, dozens of people get together at The Stag’s Head‘s second floor every Tuesday for an Ukulele night.  It was so fun and we felt very welcomed by the people playing ukuleles, sitting on every corner of the pub.

In short, Dublin has a lot to offer to its visitors from all ages and nationalities, and I’m pretty sure I will visit it once again.

Weekend in Como Lake

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If you live in Europe and are looking for a weekend getaway, look no further than Como Lake. Abount 45 minutes away by car from Milan Malpensa Airport, the lake’s surrounding towns are extremely pretty. Set against the foothills of the Alps, the lake is shaped like an upside-down Y, with three slender branches that meet at the resort town of Bellagio. At the bottom of the southwest branch lies the city of Como and Cernobbio where we went to attend a wedding ceremony last weekend.

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Como Lake view from Hotel Asnigio, Cernobbio

Bellagio:

Flying from Qatar and Germany, we hired a car at Milan Malpensa Airport. As the wedding took place at the evening, we headed to ‘the pearl of Lake Como’ – Bellagio directly from the airport. Bellagio town is characterised by century-old buildings, stone lanes and picturesque cobbled stairways filled with shops showcasing the finest Italian wares. It is very small so you can easily walk around the town’s narrow streets, dine in one of the Italian restaurants, shop Italian fine leather and even swim in the stunning lake. If you don’t have a car, you can take the train from Milan to Como Town and then a ferry to Bellagio. You can even take your car in the ferry but parking may be a problem in this little town.

If you visit Bellagio, don’t miss the Basilica of San Giacomo and the stone tower (“Torre delle Arti Bellagio“), and avoid summer time if you don’t like the crowds. Restaurants and hotels are a bit expensive but the town itself is definitely worth a visit.

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Bellagio streets

Varenna:

Varenna is an attractive village on the eastern shore of Lake Como, looking over the central part of the lake towards Bellagio. The best way to get there from Bellagio is a ferry, and the return trip costs 9 Euros per person. This fishing village which dates back to the 11th century offers panoramic views and cafes overlooking the colourful houses on the shores of the lake. Walk along the lakeside, and you will be amazed by the breathtaking views. Personally, Varenna is my favourite but others are also not to be missed.

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Varenna – the view from Bar Il Molo

Cernobbio:

Our last stop was Cernobbio. It is located about 40 kilometres north of Milan and about 2 kilometres northwest of Como, on the border with Switzerland and near the Lake Como. This little town is a popular holiday resort because of its proximity to the city of Como.

Other than checking out villas, having a bite at one of the restaurants and taking a walk near the lake watching swans, you can drive up to the Monte Bisbino taking the cycling route. It is a mountain of the Lugano Prealps, located west of Lake Como, and the view from the top is spectacular.

If you are considering to stay in Cernobbio, you have a lot of options. We stayed at Hotel Asnigo which has views of the lake and an outdoor pool. Villa d’Este is another option if you are into a bit of luxury. We were not allowed to check out Villa d’Este but it seemed pretty from the outside.

Cherry Blossoms in Bonn

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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.

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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!

 

 

4 Days Roadtrip in Iceland

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Turf Church in Hof

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.

 Volcanoes:

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.

Visa:

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.

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Blue Lagoon

DAY 1:

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.

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Geysir

DAY 2:

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.

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DAY 3:

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.

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Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

DAY 4:

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.

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Midnight sun in Reykjavik