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!
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!
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.
Perhaps incredible food isn’t the first thing you think of when planning a trip to Montréal. It should be. Not well known to most Americans, Montréal is a hidden foodie gem. Seth and I made our trip to this wonderful city a culinary adventure while also living like the locals. Armed with Instagram and a few Pinterest posts, I spent each night planning out which cafes and restaurants we would visit based on what the locals shared.
Cantinho de Lisboa
Our first cafe stop was actually by accident, but it was an accident with a delicious outcome. We were headed to Olive et Gourmando, which we learned to be closed for a couple of weeks. Across the street sat Cantinho de Lisboa, so we took the chance and went inside. It had a charming atmosphere, bright yellow with giant roosters posted on one wall and local goods scattered throughout the store. The waitress said we made a great decision when we both got the porc mariné (a marinated pork sandwich). She wasn’t kidding. Pork, cheese, aioli and yellow and orange tomatoes made the best blend of flavors.
Toi et Moi cafe
Then we hit up Toi et Moi cafe where Seth got a Croque Monsieur and I had Eggs Benedict. Can I please go back just for this one meal? The Hollandaise coating the Eggs Benedict was the bomb and every corner of the plate was filled with something yummy, including roasted potatoes and fresh fruit.
At Cacoa 70 in the Gay Village, I had the best hot chocolate ever. We both got the Peru, a slightly bitter chocolate with nodes of dried fruit. It was on point. The dish came with a giant goblet coated with chocolate on the bottom and chocolate on the sides. It got all over my face, but that brought me little worry as I downed the drink and warmed up from the snowy streets.
Shawarma and Pizza, Pizza Plus
There were a couple of times we had food delivered to our AirBnB (shout out to Coco’s place). We had Shawarma one night – so good with pickled beets, tender meat, tzatziki sauce and more – from Shawarma and Pizza. Another night, we American-ized the Canadian dish of poutine by getting it on a pizza from Pizza Plus. GREAT DECISION. Probably Seth’s favorite.
It wouldn’t be a trip to Montreal without some macaroons. We picked ours up at M Cafe. I got tiramisu (favorite, tasted like ice cream), lime basil (true to its name and awesome), lemon (mmm..lemon squares, anyone?), salted caramel, chocolate and raspberry.
We also adventured to the cafe Tommy, partly because many folks our age hung out there and partly because so did Rihanna. We had the butternut squash soup paired with a roast beef and cheddar sandwich. Both were delicious and the atmosphere (books, desks and tables, art) reminded me of local cafes back in Oxford, MS. I also had my first cannoli – yum!
Once when we were desperate to get warm, we slid into Kantapia, a Korean restaurant. They gave us kimchi and potatoes soaked in soy sauce “on the house” (still thinking about those potatoes). We had fried dumplings as an appetizer and I got Raymun avec fromage (Ramen with cheese…and egg and veggies) for my main meal. It had a wonderful spice to it and warmed me up for more time out on the town.
One morning, we walked to Schwartz’s deli to eat the smoked meat sandwich, as recommended by the late Anthony Bourdain. Layers of smoked brisket sat between two slices of rye bread slathered with mustard. It was so good and the restaurant has been a staple in Montreal for so long that it even has it’s own musical (no joke). The atmosphere reminded me of Bill’s Hamburgers in Amory, MS.
One night, we decided to dine in pitch black at O.Noir restaurant where blind waiters guide and serve you. The whole idea is to experience what it is like for those who are blind while awakening your other senses of taste and smell. Seth got a surprise appetizer and loved it! It turned out to be scallops, something he would have never tried had he known. His lobster pasta was also great and I had a delicious time experiencing the flavors of my balsamic glazed shrimp with bacon, cucumber salad with fresh lime sour cream and an avocado puree. I topped it off with a delightful dark chocolate terrine.
If you ever venture to Montréal, I definitely recommend all of the places mentioned!
Most small towns have a unique feature or event that makes them charming. For Ennis, Texas, there’s the National Polka Fest, but better yet, there’s the Bluebonnet Trails Festival.
The Bluebonnet Trails Festival is typically in mid-April with the dates changing slightly each year depending on when the wildflowers are supposed to be in full bloom.
Growing up, I’d often hear my mother, a native-Texan, talk about how beautiful the bluebonnets were during the spring, though I’d never seen them on our vacations (that I remember). So, I put “see bluebonnets” on my “live-it” list.
During a trip to Dallas, Seth (my husband) and I loaded up in our friend’s van along with her Texas buddies and made the 30-minute drive to Ennis to see the blooms during the festival.
When we arrived at the trails, I got tickled watching moms desperately trying to get their kids, sun right in their faces, to make genuine smiles as they snapped photos in the flowers. Of course, we also took advantage of the rows of blue and red (red coming from the Indian paintbrushes) that covered the fields near Ennis.
Of course, there’s more than just flowers at this festival. In downtown Ennis, away from the flowers, vendors line up to sell everything from woodwork to brisket. There are children’s activities, arts & crafts and rides to keep you busy. Or, stop by the stage to hear some live music. Don’t forget to step into some of Ennis’ downtown shops – they have cute bluebonnet souvenirs for you to take home!
Here’s where you can get the latest information on the blooms. Also, stop by the visitor’s center in downtown Ennis (right by the railroad tracks) to get a pamphlet of all the wildflowers in the area.