If you are traveling to Iceland, you are more than likely planning a trip along the Ring Road – a road that circles the island country. Even if you aren’t traveling the entire Ring Road, you can experience several of Iceland’s scenic views by just driving the Southern portion from Reykjavik to Vik.
On this journey, you will see multiple cascading waterfalls, a hidden waterfall,
mountains, basalt columns and a black sand beach.
Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrabúi
Less than 2 hours from Iceland’s capital city Reykjavik, you can find not one but two beautiful waterfalls – each with it’s own unique feature. Seljalandsfoss is a massive waterfall that you can actually walk behind. This is the perfect time to wear your waterproof gear. There’s a great photo opportunity (and chance to be sprayed by the water) in front of the falls. It is truly a glory to behold.
My advice is to slow down here and really take a chance to soak in the beauty of Seljalandsfoss. But before you leave, be sure to walk up the path nearby for your opportunity to find Gljúfrabúi, a hidden waterfall.
A short distance up a creek and into a cavern, you can find Gljúfrabúi, a hidden waterfall. If you are stopping at Seljalandsfoss, make the most of your visit and find Gljúfrabúi as well.
Approximately half an hour from Seljalandsfoss is Skógafoss. Skógafoss was my favorite place to visit during our Iceland vacation. The waterfall’s spray created a full rainbow (we literally saw one or multiple rainbows almost every day) when we visited – which is actually very common. It is one of Iceland’s largest waterfalls, towering 200 ft.
For you Game of Thrones fans, Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow fly here on her dragons and kiss in front of this waterfall in the final season.
While eating at the restaurant nearby Skógafoss, I had the perfect view panning left to right in front of me – a mountain, the roaring falls, a rainbow and a farmer and his dog herding sheep. It was a place where I could easily feel present in the moment.
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
Another half hour up the road, you will be at Reynisfjara black sand beach near Vik. This was my second favorite spot in Iceland.
Basalt columns line the beach as enormous waves crash onto the shore. This is definitely a place you need to respect nature and admire the waves from a distance. Sneaker waves travel across the Atlantic Ocean for hundreds of miles without any land to break them up and they come rolling far inshore. Still, if you can respect the power of Mother Nature here, it is an absolutely beautiful landscape to witness.
The Ring Road is full of amazing sites and hidden gems. If you want to see some of the Ring Road but still stay close to Reykjavik, make sure you check out these spots.
Have you ever been to Iceland? If so, what was your favorite place to visit?
If you have a short stay in Iceland, take a day of your vacation to travel Iceland’s Golden Circle. The Golden Circle can easily be driven in one day and the three main attractions (driving counterclockwise) include the Gullfoss Waterfall, Geysir Geothermal Area and Þingvellir National Park (pronounced ‘Thingvellir’).
However, if you truly want to make the most of your trip, I have a few stops to add to your Golden Circle drive. These stops feature a lake-filled volcanic crater, a farm-to-table restaurant where every item on the menu features tomatoes and a dairy farm where you can get ice cream straight from the source.
Follow along below for our Golden Circle trip in Iceland.
Kerið Crater is a 3,000-year-old volcanic crater. It is filled with a lake of aqua-green water that stands out against the red volcanic rocks that streak down the crater’s edge. My husband and I stretched our legs by walking around Kerið Crater’s upper rim and we then walked down a path to hike beside the actual lake.
The landscape in Iceland seems out of this world. Kerið Crater was one of my favorite spots that highlighted this during our Iceland vacation.
At Friðheimar, a greenhouse/restaurant along Iceland’s Golden Circle, diners can pour over a menu that features tomatoes in every dish. Yes, every dish.
While there is so much to choose from, including tomato-infused dessert, coffee, drinks, pasta and more, we took advantage of the all-you-can-eat tomato soup and olive bread. Our already-delicious lunch was elevated by the optional add-ins placed on our table, including fresh butter, sour cream, cucumber salad and herbs. After filling up on multiple bowls of soup, we were ready to take on our next stop.
Gullfoss Waterfall is the first official stop on the Golden Circle in this list and is quite a show. There are two levels to this fall – one dropping approximately 40 feet and the other approximately 70 feet. It is a powerful and beautiful display of nature. The light blue water that pours over its edge stands out against Iceland’s beautiful and formidable landscape.
Geysir Geothermal Area
Though there are multiple geysirs here, Strokkur is the one that everyone comes to see. We spent about an hour trying to time the perfect photo or video of Strokkur as the water shot out of the ground. The anticipation of seeing the geysir each time was quite fun, as were our attempts to hurriedly turn our back to avoid being hit in the face from its spray.
Ice Cream from Efstidalur
The Efstidalur farm was the perfect spot for a recharge during a day of adventuring in Iceland! Here, I grabbed some homemade ice cream and sat by a window to watch the cows who provided the goods. The ice cream was delicious and the experience was unique!
Þingvellir National Park (pronounced ‘Thingvellir’)
Our last stop was at Þingvellir National Park, the meeting grounds of two tectonic plates. You can actually scuba dive between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, which was an activity I wish we would have planned! However, it was still cool to say we were able to hike at Þingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I have to thank Jeannie from Iceland with a View for these hidden spots on our Golden Circle adventure. She is an expat with an authority on all things Iceland and she knows all the hidden gems to make your Iceland adventure truly unique.
And as of writing this in late March 2021, I’m excited to say that Iceland has reopened to vaccinated travelers from the United States and UK. So, start planning your trip to the land of ice and fire today!
The North Forest Lights is an outdoor exhibit with creative light installations paired with music that are meant to inspire and connect wanderers to Mother Nature. This season of the North Forest Lights – the second season at Crystal Bridges – was extended, running from September 2020 to April 2021. The exhibit featured five light installations along a 1.5 mile loop in the woods. I’ll walk you through the installations below!
Walking through the Crystal Grove felt like walking on Pandora in Avatar. Lit spikes that were stuck in the ground danced in waves of light. It felt like you were walking through a forest filled with snickering, shimmering fairies.
Forest Frequencies was electrifying. Vertical bars of light buzzed brilliantly to a sometimes calming and sometimes chaotic symphony. It was truly a place to vibe with the forest.
You can really feel the connection to Nature when you sing to the Whispering Tree. The Whispering Tree beckons and thrives in your song as orbs of lights leading up to her branches shine in a rainbow of color – the color of your voice.
This one was fun for me as my husband and I sang notes in the Whispering Tree’s microphone and encouraged our toddler to sing, too. She took it in but in her own way.
The Hearth was our absolute favorite. It felt like you were watching the forest’s heart beat as lights in the structure thrummed to melodic hums, which grew in intensity as the show eventually gave way to a vibrant dance of color.
Memory of Water
I wish I could tell you all about the Memory of Water, but our toddler was cold and tired at this point. At least there is one I don’t have to spoil for you! We did walk across the foggy and mysterious bridge that arched over the simulated stream, but we didn’t get to take in the exhibit in full. I have no doubt it would be a great way to end the night.
In between installations, we warmed up with hot cocoa and a bonfire at The Village, which was next door to large snow globes that you could rent and dine in with your close friends.
For those who have never been to Crystal Bridges, it has much to offer. There are indoor and outdoor exhibits, walking trails and beauty to behold around every corner.
This was a special trip for me! It was the first trip we took as a family of three (other than to visit relatives). I always said we could keep travel in our lives after children if we made it a priority, and I think travel and culture are great teachers. I love that the North Forest Lights was part of our first adventure together. What was your first trip as a family?
I was able to experience a top 10 life moment at Ocean Adventures Marine Park in Mississippi as I got to meet my favorite animal – a dolphin – in an up-close encounter!
The four of us (husband, friends and myself) had our dolphin interaction with Apollo, who playfully greeted us with a curious peek over his pool wall when we first arrived to the encounter.
Apollo the dolphin is almost deaf and would not survive on his own, according to the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies – a nonprofit that is associated with Ocean Adventures Marine Park and exists to educate, conserve and research on marine mammals in the wild and under human care. Our guide told us Apollo was found stranded on the beach and had been there so long that he got a sunburn. The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies took him in and gave him a home (and a ton of fish).
Apollo had us (especially me) giddy as he chased footballs, splashed us and let us get a hug and kiss from him.
Along with dolphins, Ocean Adventures MS also provides up-close experiences with sea lions, sharks, sting rays and birds.
I’m so glad I got to meet my favorite animal here and share this experience with friends!
Normally, each winter, Seth and I travel to a nearby city to see how they celebrate Christmas and have an extended weekend vacation. Four years ago, we were in Oklahoma City driving Route 66, enjoying hot chocolate on a double-decker bus, visiting Instagram-worthy destinations and eating some of the best poutine we have had in the States.
Located in the South Central U.S., Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, is approximately 3 hours from Dallas, 4.25 hours from Topeka, 5 hours from Little Rock, 5 hours from Kansas City and 5.5 hours from Austin if you are driving. Not too bad of a drive for a long weekend stay.
When we visited, we discovered Oklahoma City is great foodie destination – we enjoyed each restaurant where we ate – and they do a great job amping up the holiday cheer.
Where to Eat in Oklahoma City
The Mule – Get the Big Ass Poutine (that’s really what they call it). The atmosphere felt like a hipster’s paradise.
Cheever’s Cafe – Cheever’s is known for their Chicken Fried Steak. Plus, they have some mighty delicious rolls.
Empire Slice House – New York-style pizzas you can get by the slice or buy the whole whopping pie. The Empire Slice House has an eclectic vibe and pictures of your favorite movies, bands, etc. are plastered all over the walls (the throwbacks make excellent lunch conversation). “Live free. Pie hard.”
Junction Coffee: If you love unique coffee shops, this is one to add to your list. We sipped coffee/hot chocolate while warming up by a small heater on a double decker bus. Check Junction Coffee’s Instagram page to see where the bus is going to be each day!
What to Do in Oklahoma City
Pops Route 66 Soda Ranch – Drive Route 66 to find a giant soda bottle on the side of the road that is backed by a store filled with your favorite sodas and unique pops lining all of the walls. If you have ever been, let me know what you got!
Myriad Botanical Gardens – The Gardens’ Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory is $8 for adults, $7 for 13- to 19-year-olds, $5 for 4- to 12-year-olds and free for kids aged 3 and under. However, the Myriad Botanical Gardens Outdoor Grounds are free to roam. We visited Oklahoma City during the Holiday Market at Myriad Gardens and saw the giant poinsettia tree! Still, I know we barely touched the surface of what all there is to see at here!
Wheeler District – In Oklahoma City’s Wheeler District, you can find a perfect spot for an Instagram photo! The OKC sign sits by the historic Santa Monica Pier Ferris Wheel. I have a happy memory of getting this shot. It was incredibly windy and cold that day and we would run out from shelter to take a million versions of this photo as fast as we could, hoping that our hair wasn’t in our face and the sign was in the shot before. I’d say we got a good one. 🙂
Bricktown Water Taxi – While we didn’t get to ride the water taxi during our visit, it was definitely on our list. It was just far too cold and we couldn’t find parking. The Bricktown Water Taxi opened in 1999 and shows “tourists and locals alike the sights and sounds of Bricktown from a unique perspective, floating down the Bricktown Canal,” according to its website. If you have ever been, how was the experience?
Before visiting Oklahoma City, I recommend following Downtown OKC on Instagram. They are a great resource to find things to do and events that are free in Oklahoma City! When we went, the Myriad Botanical Gardens and the Bricktown Water Taxi were actually free to experience!
Our short stay in Zurich in 2017 was comprised of good eats, several walks (particularly to the grocery store to get some AC) and people watching. This bustling city was different from our stay in the quaint Lucerne, but it had a youthful vibe, which made me reminisce of college years spent getting late night snacks and chit-chatting with friends not so long ago.
If you saw my Instagram feed before our Swiss trip, it would make you salivate. I followed both the Taste of Zurich and Zurich Food Guide in preparation for our trip (Instagram is my local food guide) and I would scroll through posts of hearty sandwiches, scoops of colorful gelato melting in waffle cones, and bowls filled with a rainbow of veggies and noodles. It was AWESOME. While we only visited one spot of the many well-reviewed restaurants, it was one you don’t want to miss.
Kafi Dihei was less than a mile from our AirBnB, so we decided to make the stroll. Ivy streamed down the front of the cafe and we were excited to see the neighbor cat, Sira, chatting up nearby birds. When we sat down, Sira instantly came to greet us and tell us what was best on the menu. As the waitress joked, “If it tells you it hasn’t eaten in a week, it’s lying.” Sira recommended the pork schnitzel, so I got the dang pork schnitzel. It was the right choice. Seth got the open-face ham and cheese sandwich with the soup of the day. We devoured our food, leaving nary a crumb, as we listened to some college students studying French and kept Sira purring. I have a feeling if we were locals, this would be a go-to spot.
There were several sites to see in Zurich, but we were pretty worn out! We wanted to save our strength for our journey to Liechtenstein – the sixth smallest country in the world!
This day-trip from Zurich is well worth it! It is just an hour train ride to Sargans, Switzerland, and a 10-30 minute ride (depending on which line you take) on one of Liechtenstein’s lime green buses. The best part – it’s all free with the Swiss Travel Pass! As you ride the bus, you don’t even know when you’ve gone from one country and entered the next.
Liechtenstein’s population is nearly 38,000 (about the size of Tupelo, Mississippi) and it’s capital, Vaduz, has about 5,500 folks (that’s about 1,500 less than the small town where I grew up).
Prince Hans-Adam II is the country’s leader, and you can actually walk to his castle! We were dripping with sweat as we made the walk up the steep, cobblestone path and then trekked through the wooded trail, but we were smiling at the top! You get to learn about the history of the country every few steps. Moments like these are worth the climb.
We ate at Brasserie Burg (delicious) and I had my first ever gelato at Dolce Vita! Dark chocolate gelato with golden flakes. Since Liechtenstein gets a lot of visitors from both Switzerland and Austria (the countries bordering it), lots of stores accept both Swiss francs and Euros. Dolce Vita was about the only spot that didn’t accept credit cards, which we found out AFTER the guy behind the counter scooped our gelato into cups. So, Seth had to go find a bank and get some Swiss francs while I waited, trying not to look awk.
We spent a lot of our time checking out the local art in the city streets, meandering through a museum (also free with the Swiss Travel Pass) and being in awe of the staggering mountains.
The city of Lucerne takes you back in time with remnants of centuries past lurking around every corner. But before we dive into the city’s history, I want to tell you about one of my favorite experiences – a day trip to Mt. Pilatus.
In medieval times, tales of scaled and winged beasts spread through the cantons on which Mt. Pilatus is centered. Legend has it, the dragons who took refuge in the great mountain massif’s caves possessed mystical healing powers. Should you happen to be about when one soars by, count yourself lucky if you find yourself feeling healed.
Taking a trip to the summit of Mt. Pilatus is well worth the experience! It was one of my favorite days of the trip. You can either take the full tour (free with your Swiss Rail Pass) by taking a boat ride across the sparkling blue-green waters of Lake Lucerene, creeping to the summit on the world’s steepest cogwheel train and then going down the mountain on aerial cable car and a gondola OR you can take the whole trip the other way around. A local gave us the tip of taking the route less traveled – a trip up the gondolas and cable car first. After seeing the line of people waiting to go up the cogwheel train, we knew we made the right choice.
On our trip on the gondola, Seth and I were amazed at the views of Mt. Rigi and the towns linked to Lake Lucerne. We went through a few stops up the mountain and thought we were almost to the top. Then, our faces widened in surprise when we realized we still had a loooonnnggg way to go. The trip to the tip-top is accomplished by an aerial cable car, where you are sardined for a short ride. Take a chance and look down! It’s shocking to see how far you’ve come!
We walked a couple of the trails around the summit, spotting paragliders in the skies and taking in the jaw-dropping views of the Swiss Alps laid out on the horizon.
I then had the bright idea to hike to some rocks I spotted in a valley. Yes, in blue jeans and a cute shirt, with my purse and phone in hand and barely a grip on the soles of my shoes, I hiked down that trail at a snail’s pace, watching as folks going up took their strides in hiking boots and with hiking sticks steadying their climb. It might have been one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done – hiking down Mt. Pilatus alone – but I would do it again for the chance to spot blooming wildflowers, make friends with cows meandering the mountainside, take in views from the valley and earn the bragging rights to say I hiked in the Alps.
Going back up the trail was a feat as the thin air got to my lungs and my breaths just didn’t feel quite satisfying. Needless to say, I stopped several times along the path but eventually made it back to the top. Where I’m from, it’s really flat, y’all.
Lucerne’s Old Town
Exploring Lucerne’s Old Town only takes a few hours and is easily accomplished with a handy “Official City Guide” book. I assume you can pick these up at the train station. Luckily, our AirBnB hosts already had one available.
The Kapellbrücke, or Chapel Bridge, is the oldest wooden covered bridge in Europe and spans the Reusse River. While walking along it, follow the stories painted on the bridge’s interior. These paintings date back to the 17th century, though many of them were destroyed in a fire in 1993. The bridge is lined with flower boxes, which were full of summer blooms when we visited.
The Jesuit Church sits along the Reuss River in Lucerne’s Old Town. It’s picturesque on the outside and the inside (be sure to look up!). It was founded by Ignatius of Loyola in 1534.
The “Dying Lion of Lucerne” is a reverent spot where you might want to sit and stay a while. It represents the 300 Swiss soldiers who died while attempting to protect the Tuileries Palace in Paris during the French Revolution, hence the fleur-de-lis and the Swiss cross shields by the lion’s side.
The Musegg Wall stands as part of the rampart walls built in the 1300s. Four of the nine towers that dot the wall are open to the public. The Zyt Tower (pictured above) houses the city’s oldest clock. The clock is carried by two giants and chimes on the hour one minute before any other in Lucerne.
The Spreuer Bridge is the oldest timber bridge in Switzerland. As you walk along it, the paintings overhead depict a Dance Macabre.
We strolled the streets of Interlaken (locked between the blue-green waters of Lake Thun and Lake Brienz) in search of the Funky Chocolate Club, which had enticed my eye through several Instagram posts. The mountain views in Interlaken were outstanding, but the bustling city center made us glad we chose Lucerne for the majority of our stay in Switzerland. Though if you are looking for outdoor adventure, Interlaken is the place you want to be. On our hunt for Swiss chocolate, we walked by a park where several paragliders were landing after a trip in the skies.
The Funky Chocolate Club, I feel like, is a must! I got their cold chocolate drink and picked up a half dozen variety of chocolates (golden champagne chocolate, mocha, nutty nipple, salted peanut butter, lemon and caramel) to eat on the train ride home.
Have you ever wanted to live in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Elven realm in The Lord of the Rings? Visit Lauterbrunnen and you’ve found Rivendell. It’s said that Tolkien drew his inspiration for Rivendell while hiking through the Lauterbrunnen Valley back in the early 1900s.
Honestly, step away from the train station in Lauterbrunnen and you are stunned by the mountains towering above you (which have even bigger, snow-capped mountains looming behind them) and waterfalls cascading close-by quaint cottages.
We ate lunch at Hotel Oberland in Lauterbrunnen as we tried to find a place to cool off from the summer sun. You won’t find AC in many European spots, and it was just as hot walking the streets as it was sitting indoors. While the prices were steep at this restaurant (as they are in most of Switzerland), the Swiss fondue was good! This picture was taken right before a bee rolled all up in Seth’s spaghetti. We felt defeated trying to get away from the heat and couldn’t help but laugh as Seth tried to free the bee from the spaghetti monster entree.
We were hooked by Lauterbrunnen’s charm and spent a couple of hours exploring this beautiful town, trying to keep the memory of it forever in our minds.
Colorado was a thrill – an adventure I miss. Seth & I planned a mini-vaca, just four days in Colorado Springs in October 2016. The Rocky Mountains greeted us even before we landed, peeping up over the clouds on our plane’s descent. The view each morning as we stepped outside into the crisp autumn air was a perfect picture of golden Aspen trees and towering mountains.
Our main activities were the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Seven Falls and the Garden of the Gods.
The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo was a great start to our vacation. It was the first zoo we had ever visited together!
You get to feed giraffes. MUST do this. It’s hilarious to watch their tongues roll around and stretch out for your handfuls of lettuce.
Stand 5 feet away from wallabies – no barrier between you.
Have parakeets willingly perch on you as you give them snacks.
Random animals, like peacocks, walk the zoo trails by your side.
Next up, we went to Seven Falls. There are a couple of ways to do Seven Falls – take the tram to the bottom of the waterfalls or hike it. We wanted the full experience, so we hiked, taking time to appreciate the wildflowers and spot the various characters in the canyons. It’s about .08 miles up from where the bus drops you off to the bottom of the falls.
Tips for Seven Falls:
If you can, hike it. Let nature soothe you as you meander through the canyons.
Climb the stairs to the top of the falls, but take your time. There are 3 flights of what seems like 100 stairs – the elevation might get to you.
As you come down the stairs… clutch the rails because oh my gosh, the vertigo!
We found a comfy spot on the rocks and got our picturesque view of Pike’s Peak in the distance. You can see where the tree line stops on the mountain, and though we would have liked to visit Pike’s Peak, we didn’t get a chance. If you get to, I recommend trying the Cog Railway. Book it early though, because it fills up fast.
It’s a difficult task to sum up in a few words the adventures you experience while traveling. So, allow me the opportunity to express the wonder of the welcoming city of Montréal, Québec.
Montréal was a captivating blend of Old World beauty dashed with New World charm. Staggered throughout it’s towering skyline were highlights of the city’s beginnings, some of which were breathtaking churches heavily influenced by European architecture.
The most mesmerizing building to me was the Notre-Dame Basilica located in Old Montréal. Standing under the gaze of the giant Virgin Mary, Saint John the Baptist and Saint Joseph peering from the church’s façade made me feel incredibly small. As if the sight of the Gothic architecture on the outside wasn’t enough, the view when walking the rows of wooden pews inside is astounding. The stained glass windows along the left and right tell the story of Montréal’s founding as Ville Marie, the intricate ceiling depicts the heavens, the statues in the archway up front coincide with Biblical sacrifices and the organ at the back overwhelms with its might.
It’s not a trip to Montréal without a birds-eye view on Mount Royal. We were dropped off at the bottom of the mountain by our Uber driver and began the slow hike up the mountain. It was hilarious how sloth-like we were as we slid (but never busted it) along the icy path while people in spiked sneakers zoomed past us on their morning run. We stopped at the student center to admire the view and get in on the #mtlmoments action.
To warm up during our adventures, we popped our heads into local cafes and hung out in the Underground City. As Seth describes it, Montréal is a hidden foodie gem. The city thrives off of cafes and the food is delicious. The big point of our trip was to make it a culinary adventure and live like the locals. From Cacao 70 in the Gay Village where I had the best hot chocolate I’ve ever poured down my throat to O.Noir where Seth and I dined in pitch black and were served by blind waiters, Montreal’s food scene alone was worth the trip.
Speaking of locals, Montréalers were so kind. Québec is primarily French speaking and while Seth was delighted in every encounter he had to speak French, most of the people switch between French and English with ease. If I had to go alone, I’d be completely comfortable. All the signs are in French, but it isn’t difficult to understand the message they convey. Truthfully, I thought Montréalers had a very Southern-esque spirit in that they are incredibly polite and cordial, even more so than actual Southerners.
It’s a beautiful city I think everyone should take the chance to visit (and the locals really harp on coming in the spring when festivals are in store).