Rosie Romance

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Travel Tips: 9 Unmissable Things To See and Do in Iceland


Thingvellir National Park, The Golden Circle, Iceland, Travel

“The mountains are calling and I must go.”John Muir

For as long as I can remember, I've always wanted to visit Iceland. But if I'm completely honest - I don't remember how or why it first made its way into my sights. For a place that I knew relatively little to nothing about, I was strangely drawn to it. Maybe it's because I imagined it to be like visiting another planet? Maybe it's because it sounds so archaic, so unusual, so far away from city life in London that an opposite existence attracted me? Or maybe it's because somewhere down the line, I'm part Viking; I can't quite be sure... So for my birthday last year, I decided that Iceland was where I wanted to celebrate it. We booked a flight from London Luton to Keflavik and chose Reykjavik to be our base for a few days.

And it seems I'm not the only one who's been curious to explore Iceland recently. Over 2 million tourists visited the island last year - and considering that the general population is around 337,780, that's a whole lot of non-Icelanders who've made it their mission to get to know The Land of Ice and Fire. And after spending 3 days immersed in its culture, I understand completely why Iceland is on (and should be on) everyone's travel bucket list. With its stunning landscapes, diverse food scene, natural wonders and welcoming people, it's a wonder why anyone ever leaves.

Now, it's pretty much impossible to see and do every incredible thing that Iceland has to offer in 3 days - so here's a round-up of some of its highlights if your travelling time on the island is limited.

Drive The Golden Circle Route

You've probably heard of the Golden Circle and whatever you think you know about it, the drive is even more beautiful and inspiring in real life. You'll find that nearly every tour company in Iceland hosts a Golden Circle tour at a reasonable price but there's no better way to experience it than driving the route yourself. If you're comfortable with driving on the right-hand side of the road, it's much more convenient to be in your own car, spending time taking in the sights at your own pace. And the best part of it is, you never know what else you're going to find along the way. 


Thingvellir National Park, Travel, Iceland, The Golden Circle

Appreciate the Beauty of Thingvellir National Park


The first stop on the Golden Circle route from Reykjavik is Thingvellir National Park. Covering a vast area of roughly 35 square miles, you could spend forever and a day exploring this stunning UNESCO World Heritage site. Not only is it considered to be the birth place of Iceland's democracy over 1000 years ago, it's home to mountains, volcanoes, hiking trails, snorkelling rifts, the country's largest lake and where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. 


Thingvellir National Park, the Golden Circle, travel, Iceland

Visit the Geysir Geothermal Area and Watch Strokkur Explode

Located in Haukadalur Valley is the Geysir geothermal area, whereby various environmental factors make it the perfect place for hot springs, fumaroles and bubbling mud pots to exist; things which only occur in a handful of places across the world. Among these natural phenomena is Strokkur, a highly active hot spring which erupts every 5 to 10 minutes and reaches heights of up to 130 feet. It's evidence of nature at her best and no matter how many times you see Strokkur erupt, it's always as impromptu and impressive as the last.

Geysir, The Golden Circle, Travel, Iceland, geography, nature

Stand and Listen to Gullfoss Waterfall

Not far from the Geysir geothermal area is Gullfoss Waterfall, which is whole-heartedly one of the most beautiful waterfalls I've ever visited. Born from the Hvítá River and displaying distinct 'staircase' tiers, Gullfoss can be experienced from several different viewpoints (some of which will spray you with water). At the viewpoint closest to the falls, it's difficult not to be overcome with emotion as the noise, the landscape, the climate and the sheer force of the water crashing to the earth reminds you just how raw and powerful nature is. And if you visit when the sun is shining, you'll see the most beautiful sidewards rainbow!

The Golden Circle, Gullfoss waterfall, travel, female travel, nature, winter

Walk Around Kerid Crater

Kerid Crater isn't included on the official Golden Circle tour but it's conveniently located on the return to Reykjavik from Gullfoss, making it easy to stop off at along the route. Being a relatively young volcanic crater means the iron deposits in the rock are still fresh, creating an intense red coloured slope which makes it distinguishable from other volcanic craters. Around the crater, you will find walking trails, which encircle the whole perimeter and finish at the vivid blue lake below. Be aware that on arrival, there is a small entrance fee of 400 ISK which goes towards helping preserve and protect the landscape. 

Kerid crater, Iceland, travel, landscapes, earth

Bathe in the Blue Lagoon (or a Natural Hot Spring)

While the Blue Lagoon may be a visually spectacular outdoor spa experience with a fantastic restaurant and 5 star hotel, it's not as authentic as you'd expect. In fact, it's entirely man-made and one of the most tourist-heavy spots in Iceland, making it feel less like a spa and a little bit more like a theme park. Thankfully, I'm a fan of theme parks but if you're expecting a secluded lagoon in the middle of the Icelandic mountains, this isn't the lagoon for you (unless you purchase a VIP package). It's often fully booked so realistically, here's how an average day at the Blue Lagoon unfolds: Coaches full of people arrive every 10 mins or so who must queue for their electronic wrist-bands (making it easy to purchase drinks, snacks and spa treatments) before entering the warm milky waters. The lagoon itself is pretty big so space isn't a concern but know that you will encounter many selfie-sticks and waterproof phone bags as you drift around. As long as you're not looking for complete tranquility, you'll have an amazing time because let's face it, it's still a unique way to while away the hours.

Iceland, the blue lagoon, bikini, travel, spa

Visit Hallgrimskirkja Church


One of the tallest and most prominent landmarks in Downtown Reykjavik is the Hallgrimskirkja Church. Inspired by the Icelandic landscape, the church boasts a unique stepped concrete facade which took over 40 years to complete. Even for the atheists among us, it's a stunning sight and inside the church, you'll find a 15 metre pipe organ - the largest in the country - which is impressive in its own right. Admission to the church is free but for a small charge, you can take a lift to the top of the tower to enjoy panoramic views of the city. 


religion, Iceland, travel, architecture, church, Hallgrimskirkja


Dine at the Hlemmur Food Court

Reykjavik's food scene is definitely one of the most diverse. From fermented shark and puffin to full vegan taster menus, you'll be sure to find something delicious and unusual to tickle your tastebuds. If you have no idea where to begin your culinary journey, head to the Hlemmur food court, where you'll find upscale dining, artisan pastries, gourmet coffee, open sandwiches, Mexican street food, experimental cuisine, ice-cream, local beers and cocktails in a relaxed setting all under one roof. 

food, fish, Iceland, cuisiine, traditional food, restaurants

Take an Northern Lights Boat Tour

Many people visit Iceland to try and catch a glimpse of the elusive Northern Lights. While there are many ways to experience them (overnight camping tours, coach trips, self-drives or boat trips), nature can be fickle and unless the conditions are perfect, your chances of seeing active aurora are limited. So, when thinking about booking a tour, choose something that you'll find fun even if the lights don't show. We chose a private Northern Lights boat tour and although the lights decided not to dance on the night of our trip, we still had a fantastic evening sailing along the Icelandic coast.



Have you been to Iceland?

Culinary Capitals: A Guide To Eating Out In Reykjavik, Iceland


"Blind is a bookless man." - Icelandic Proverb

Being a self-confessed foodie and travel-holic, it seems I've subconsciously made it my life's mission to eat my way around the world. So, during a recent 3-day trip to Iceland, Tom and I spent our days (and nights) visiting as many restaurants as possible - eating as much as was physically possible - to experience first-hand what the Icelandic culinary scene is really like. (Bye bye, waistline). 

In recent years, Reykjavik, the country's capital and the base for our trip, has established itself as a true foodie destination, earning itself its first Michelin star in 2017. So with a massive influx of tourists wanting a slice of Nordic cool, there are now more restaurants in the city than you can shake a stick at. Taking advantage of their local seafood and hand-reared meats, the capital is the perfect destination if you're looking for a taste of New Nordic cuisine. 

In veritable Viking style, hearty meat stews, fermented shark, reindeer meatballs and puffin are just a handful of the local dishes you'll stumble across - but this is just the tip of Iceland's culinary iceberg.  In complete contrast, many restaurants not only recognise the global vegan trend but are able to serve up a delicious plant-based storm. So whatever your dietary preferences, you won't go hungry in Reykjavik any time soon. 


KRÖST

Located in the Hlemmur food court, Kröst is one of 10 vendors providing a sample of the best food that Iceland has to offer. Set in a casual, relaxed environment typical of European food halls, you'll find artisan pastries, gourmet coffee, open sandwiches, Mexican street food, experimental cuisine, ice-cream, local beers, cocktails and upscale dining all under one roof. 

Specialising in cured meats, grilled delicacies and fine French wines, Kröst's menu is small but mighty fine. With a head chef who sharpened his skills at top steakhouses in Iceland, the restaurant offers a crafted selection of sustainable meat and fish dishes, grilled to perfection in a wood-fired oven. 

As well as offering contemporary dishes, Kröst stays true to its Icelandic roots, serving up meat soup and plokkfiskur, a traditional Icelandic fish stew - and with a strong hold on the Western world, they also offer a steak (or vegan) burger. Whatever you're craving, there's something for everyone at Kröst. And if you're partial to a glass of prosecco (or four), be sure to pop in during their 'prosecco happy hour' from 2pm-6pm. 


Kopar

If you're looking for romance in Reykjavik, head to Kopar. What was once a fully working fishing shed serving Iceland's marina is now a colourful, charming restaurant overlooking the historic Old Harbour.  

With a strong focus on quality, locally-sourced produce, Kopar offers diners an exciting glimpse into the world of contemporary Icelandic cuisine. Juxtaposing new flavours and techniques with those of old, Kopar succeeds in whisking diners on an exciting culinary journey, surprising and seducing them in a unique and vibrant setting. 

The à la carte menu is appealing from start to finish. From mouth-watering lobster and crab soup, topped with a lobster-filled choux pastry and Coca-cola braised pork belly to battered tofu pops and papaya pecan salad, each dish brings something new and intriguing to the table. But worry not, you don't have to choose; during the festive season, Kopar offers a delectable 8-course 'Christmas Adventure' menu to appease all food desires and they also offer a full vegan 'Christmas Adventure' menu for those looking for a plant-based option.

If you're not already drawn in by the food and the ambience, the expertly-crafted cocktail menu will definitely seal the deal. With quirky names (Planet of the Grapes being my absolute fave) and original flavour combinations, I challenge you to find a cocktail that doesn't tickle your fancy. 





AALTO Bistro

Overlooking a beautiful lake on the outskirts of Reykjavik's city centre, nestled inside The Nordic House arts centre, you'll find AALTO Bistro.  Named after the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, who made The Nordic House a reality, AALTO Bistro serves up a tantalising array of Scandinavian fare, which draws upon strong Central-European influences. While the dining room is contemporary and artsy, it allows the food to shine and take centre stage. In true New Nordic style, AALTO Bistro prides itself on using fresh, local, seasonal ingredients (many grown in their own greenhouses) to bring diners the finest flavours of Iceland. 

With Celebrity Chef Sveinn Kjartansson leading the way for AALTO Bistro, each dish incorporates a dash of his trademark magic to create the prettiest - and tastiest - of plates. Although seafood is one of Kjartansson's specialities and features prominently throughout the menu, AALTO Bistro also offers a selection of meat and vegan dishes, allowing everyone to come together to enjoy the culinary delights that AALTO Bistro has to offer. 

From succulent starters of cured Arctic char and salmon mousse and Cognac-infused seafood soup to mouth-watering main courses of rhubarb glazed cod with shiitake mushrooms and racks of garlic-smoked lamb with crispy Parma ham and apple cranberry salad, every element of each dish has been meticulously pieced together to bring all of the flavours to life. Sweetening the final moments of the dining experience at AALTO Bistro, delve into the lavender honeycake with orange and white chocolate or the baked cinnamon apples with crushed ginger biscuit and advent ice cream. You'll want savour every last bite until your next visit. 




Ramen Momo

Near the Old Harbour, you'll find a tiny, unassuming restaurant called Ramen Momo - the only ramen bar in all of Iceland. With around 10 stools, it gets full pretty quickly but if you can't get a seat, there's the option to get your ramen to take away. Either way, your taste buds will thank you for the ambrosial bowl of Asian comfort food to come. 

First of all, what makes Ramen Momo's ramens so special is their homemade organic noodles. They hold their shape and texture for the whole time it takes to finish your bowl (because let's face it, nobody likes a soggy noodle). Secondly, the diner has complete control over their ramen; with a choice of broth and toppings - meat, seafood or vegan - for approximately £12. And if you fancy going all out, treat yourself to an additional side of gyoza, kimchi or edamame beans for a not-too-shabby £6. 

It's a well-known fact that eating out in Iceland can be rather expensive but finding hidden gems like the flavoursome Ramen Momo makes it very affordable.




Have you eaten out in Reykjavik?










Canada's Capital: 48hrs in Ottawa, Ontario


'For those who are lost, there will always be cities that feel like home' 
- Simon Van Booy

As a British tourist, when thinking of cosmopolitan Canadian cities, it's often that Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver are the first to spring to mind while Ottawa is usually left without a single thought. But with so much history, culture and adventure on offer, Ottawa is by no means any less of a multicultural metropolis than her Canadian counterparts and in fact, she's a pretty cool place to explore - come snow or shine!

Appointed as Canada's capital city in 1857 by Queen Victoria, Ottawa is indeed the epitome of bureaucracy but after spending a short while in her company, it's safe to say that there's a lot more to Ottawa than politics, poutine and pucks (of the ice hockey variety, of course). 

Where To Stay

ARC The Hotel, 140 Slater Street, Ottawa, Ontario


Ottawa's first boutique hotel, ARC The Hotel, pairs ultimate comfort with unobtrusive luxury set inside a beautiful contemporary design. Centrally located in Downtown Ottawa, ARC The Hotel offers a tranquil dwelling for those looking to explore the city and is within walking distance of many of Ottawa's top attractions including Parliament Hill, the Rideau Canal, ByWard Market and The National Gallery of Canada.


Enter into the lobby where you will be greeted with the warmest of welcomes and a truly harmonious atmosphere. Oversized windows fill the space with natural light while bright bursts of red breathe life into the muted brown and grey tones. On the walls, local art is proudly displayed which pays homage to Ottawa's history and subtly accentuates the hotel's creative energy. Atop a mezzanine floor, you will find a large, lavish lounging area with sizeable sofas and stylish tables, offering guests the opportunity to be social in a comfortable and homely environment.


With a choice of 112 rooms and suites, there's a space perfect for everyone; whether you require a queen room, a kingsize room, a double room or a luxury suite. Each room is modern, minimalist and calming with all the amenities required to provide impeccable comfort. The bathrooms come complete with deep Roman bath tubs, powerful showers, vanity mirrors and a selection of Gilchrist & Soames toiletries. And with luxurious linen, plush bathrobes and a pillow menu, ARC The Hotel is dedicated to providing its guests with a blissful night's sleep. 

When you're not out exploring Ottawa, ARC The Hotel makes it very easy for guests to enjoy some down time in their rooms: watch some HD TV complete with premium cable channels or take advantage of the in-room complimentary WiFi. Lounge in the sumptuous arm chairs with a good book or munch on the complimentary fruit and bottled water. What's more, ARC is a pet-friendly hotel so guests can enjoy all of these moments alongside their furry friends.


While there are many places to dine out in Ottawa, ARC The Hotel's lounge and bar is a must visit if you're looking to embark on a culinary journey across Canada. Providing a versatile space ideal for both intimate dining and group gatherings, the ARC lounge and bar prides itself on using locally sourced ingredients to create mouth-watering dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

Start your day with a hearty classic breakfast or healthy smoothie and finish it with Ontario pickerel and a chia-spiced creme brûlée. But if you don't fancy dining in in the restaurant, the devoted lounge and bar team will ensure you receive the same unrivalled dining experience and delicious food in the comfort of your own room instead. Nothing is too much trouble for ARC The Hotel, making it a great place to stay in Ottawa whether you're visiting for business or pleasure. 



What To Do

Visit Parliament Hill, 111 Wellington St, Ottawa, Ontario

Overlooking the Ottawa River, Parliament Hill is home to Canada’s federal government. Vast, yawning archways, copper-topped turrets and Gothic revival gargoyles dominate the facade of the stunning lime and sandstone Parliament buildings. Completed in 1865, Canada's political core welcomes visitors year-round; tours are free but a same-day ticket, which are offered on a first-come first-served basis, must be acquired from the ticket office to gain entry and expect lengthy security checks on arrival.

As well ascending the Peace Tower, discover Centre Block and see the Senate, the House of Commons and the Library of Parliament. The Library of Parliament is the only part of the original structure to survive a disastrous fire in 1916 and has often been called The Most Beautiful Room in Canada.


Visit ByWard Market, 55 ByWard Market Square, Ottawa, Ontario

The ByWard Market is one of the oldest and largest farmers’ markets in Canada, as well as the name of the eclectic neighbourhood that surrounds it. Ottawa’s entertainment district is filled with great restaurants, clubs, bistros, coffee shops, boutiques and food retailers making it a cool place to explore while you're in town. In the height of summer, up to 175 outdoor market stalls sell an endless selection of art, jewellery, plants, flowers, fruits and vegetables so there's something for all tastes to enjoy. You'll also find the original Beaver Tails stall, which serves up the most iconic and delicious Canadian pastries known to man. 



Visit Parc Omega, 399 Road 323 North, Montebello, Quebec 

Located approximately 1hr from Ottawa and situated on 2200 acres of beautiful Canadian landscape, Parc Omega allows you to observe Canadian wildlife within their natural habitat. From the comfort of your own car, take the safari tour while listening to Parc Omega's informative radio station and come face-to-face with red deer, moose, elk, bison, wolves, bears and more. Before you embark on the tour, be sure to purchase a bag of carrots from the gift shop to feed to the smaller roaming animals  - they will love you forever!



Visit the Rideau Canal, Queen Elizabeth Drive, Ottawa, Ontario

Stroll along the Rideau Canal through downtown Ottawa and explore the series of lakes, rivers, and canals. Winding 202 kilometres from Kingston to Ottawa and designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the canal fills Ottawa with quaint bridges with waterfront views, and a system of paths to explore downtown Ottawa by foot and fresh air. In the winter, watch as the canal turns into the world’s largest naturally frozen ice skating rink and thousands strap on skates to commute to work or for play. Ottawa’s popular Winterlude Festival takes place over several weekends in February each year along the canal, featuring ice carvings, a snow playground, and skating.


Visit the National Gallery of Canada380 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, Ontario

The National Gallery is a work of art in itself: its striking ensemble of pink granite and glass spires echoes the ornate copper-topped towers of nearby Parliament. Inside, vaulted galleries exhibit predominantly Canadian art, classic and contemporary, including an impressive collection of work by Inuit and other indigenous artists. It's the world's largest Canadian collection, although additional galleries of European and American treasures include several recognizable names and masterpieces.  


Visit the Bank of Canada Museum, 30 Bank Street, Ottawa, Ontario

The Bank of Canada Museum reopened on July 1, 2017 in a totally renovated building on Sparks Street, sharing an impressive glass entrance with the Bank’s conference centre. The new facility features a gift shop, an educational space, a bright and open visitor centre as well as temporary and permanent exhibition halls. Positioning itself as the heart of the economic system with fun, hands-on and interactive exhibits that cover everything from how people’s expectations affect the health of an economy to how inflation targeting works, the museum mixes in high-tech interactive and informative videos, multimedia stations and old-school exhibits featuring centuries’ worth of economic artefacts.




How do you like to spend your time in Ottawa?

Unique Hotels: Hotel 10, Montreal


"Believe in something." - Dédé Fortin

Montreal; edgy, nonconformist, seductive and bohemian. A cultural chameleon with bundles of European charm, a vibrant arts scene, mouth-watering food and home to one of the most extraordinarily unique hotels that I've ever had the pleasure of visiting. 

On the corner of Sherbrooke Street West and St Lawrence Boulevard stands Hotel 10. From the outside, it looks like many other modern boutique hotels; a contemporary, grey, square structure with floor-to-ceiling glass windows lining half of its external perimeter. It's only when you venture inside that you realise Hotel 10 is in a class of its own. Behind the glass lies an ultra-modern reception area complete with stylish furnishings, offering guests a glimpse of what to expect from the rest of the hotel. Sophisticated, abstract and chic and with striking bursts of colour. 

But there's more to this than meets the eye.

Hotel 10 actually comprises of two contrasting buildings that live in harmony. It may not be obvious to the average passerby but the contemporary grey structure was built to complement its art nouveau neighbour; an original residential building built by Joseph Arthur Godin, which dates back to 1915. In bringing the old and the new together, Hotel 10 has created a space that remains true to its heritage but is bang on trend. And in return, the whole hotel has an incredible sense of character which mirrors Montreal's personality perfectly.


Whatever the occasion, Hotel 10 has a tastefully furnished room for all. Single rooms, double rooms, privilege and deluxe rooms as well as a glorious selection of luxury suites to make your stay even more comfortable. From deep-soak bath tubs and LCD TVs to large lounging areas and vintage sofas, each suite is so comfortable and unique that a regular room will no longer suffice. 

Of all the rooms at Hotel 10, there's one so special it will bring tears to your eyes: Suite 2116. Located in the original Godin building, Suite 2116 pays homage to Dédé Fortin, the lead singer of Les Colocs, who formerly resided in this exact room in the 1990s. Thanks to Dédé, Les Colocs had a huge impact on the Montreal music scene and were the inspiration to many musicians in the early 2000s. Sadly on 8th May 2000, Dédé took his own life but his legacy lives on through his music, his family and here at Hotel 10. Around Suite 2116, you will find hand-written notes from Dédé himself, stained glass windows and a mural dedicated to his life, enabling guests to share a moment with him and to fully immerse themselves in his art.


Along with its heart-achingly beautiful story, Suite 2116 is also full of life's little luxuries. Being the corner room, its large windows fill the space with light while a round vintage loveseat overlooks Downtown Montreal. In keeping with the hotel, the suite is furnished superbly with pops of blue and yellow. With a king-sized bed, an enormous mirrored bathroom and sleek sofas, guests can relax and unwind with Dédé in comfort. As Suite 2116 is so close to Hotel 10's heart, a 10% donation from each reservation is made to the Dédé Fortin Foundation, which is dedicated to the prevention of suicide and mental health disorders. 




For those looking for the ultimate luxury apartment within a hotel, the Penthouse is the perfect escape. A home from home. Spread over two floors with floor-to-ceiling wraparound windows overlooking Montreal, a 'floating' loft bedroom with a king-sized bed, a stunning bathroom complete with a deep bathtub and a walk-in shower, automatic window shades, a contemporary lounge area, a dining room and a fully furnished kitchen, this is a suite with pizzazz aplenty so why not push the boat out? 



There are so many great restaurants in Montreal but once settled in at Hotel 10, you don't really have to leave! A buffet style breakfast is served daily in Espace Godin - the beautiful space created to join the old building to the new - bringing guests the best of local and seasonal produce and offering an optimum start to the day. Adjacent to Espace Godin is Café Origine, which showcases some of the best baristas in Montreal. Here, you can drop in for an artisan coffee, a sweet treat or set up camp for the day with delicious coffee and snacks on tap. When hunger strikes again, head to Le Bar 20, which serves a simple yet scrumptious snack menu and is open until 11pm. They're also known for their fantastic wine and cocktail menu, making it a very convenient place to socialise then stumble up to your room after a drink (or twelve). 


With a strong connection to local history and art, Hotel 10 has decided to tell its story through its walls. Throughout Espace Godin, you will find old black and white photographs of Montreal juxtaposed against contemporary drawings and seductive colours. This unique style of decor is one of the hotel's focal points (as well as their fabulous toilets but I'll let you discover those for yourself). It makes each visit personal, allowing people from all walks of life to get to know the real Montreal and see it in all its glory. 

Another art form favoured by Hotel 10 is perception art. Located on several floors, you will find drawings that will only become apparent when standing at a particular spot. A stiletto, a saxophone player and a guitar are some of the images you will see. Not only does this offer guests something fun to do but it shows that the people behind the hotel are also creatively-driven. By no means is this another corporate hotel; it's bold, it's unique and it's full of life. 



So if you ever find yourself in Montreal, Hotel 10 will make you feel right at home. Not only will you find a gorgeous room to call your own for the night and incredible staff to tend to your every beck and call, it will draw on your creative spirit; you'll learn something new about this wonderful city and you'll find another version of yourself within its history and its art that will ensure a little bit of Montreal is always with you.




Have you ever been to Montreal?

© Rosie Romance

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