How to Experience Chicago in Two Days

When it comes to U.S. cities, I’m always going to be a bit bias to my hometown, New York. Between the constant movement, the air of ambition, and the best bagels and pizza you’ll ever have the pleasure of eating after a long night out, it’s hard not to be. C’mon, Frank Sinatra even got famous for singing all about it.

But Sinatra also had another song called “Chicago”, a city he regularly discussed his love for. And considering how difficult it is to go a day in Chicago without hearing him blaring over the radio, I think it’s safe to say Chicago loved him back. And just like his song “Chicago”, which was simple and catchy, this city will have you relishing in it’s urban simplicity and humming along as you stroll down State Street. I’ve been to a few cities, but Chicago is one I could see myself going back to again and again – hopefully for longer than a weekend next time.

But luckily, due to the compact size and design, you can still experience a whole lot of Chicago in just a couple of days

DAY 1:

Pre-Breakfast at Goddess & the Baker

How to Experience Chicago in Two Days | Weekend Trips | US Travel | Chicago, Illinois | AGBHOW | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | Goddess and the Baker

Goddess & the Baker had been recommended to us by quite a few people, and while the breakfast menu didn’t call out to me, their baked goods definitely did. Of their most popular offerings, one is their rainbow cake, which you may have scrolled passed on your Instagram feed one or two times. Since we had a half hour to kill before our breakfast spot of choice opened up, we decided “why not” and decided to get a slice of that tempting rainbow cake at 9 am.

Let me start off by saying that other than Dominican cake (#DominicanPride), I’m not really a cake person. But this cake was like no other I have ever tried. I’m not sure how they were able to make this as moist as they did or what flavorings (but I’m thinking extra vanilla) they added into their mix, but we wanted to savor every single bite of it. The cake is also topped with almost whipped-cream style frosting that wasn’t overbearingly sweet like many others.

I literally did a Google search to see if it was possible to have one of their cakes delivered to New York, if you need it’s perfection put into context.

How to Experience Chicago in Two Days | Weekend Trips | US Travel | Chicago, Illinois | AGBHOW | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | Goddess and the Baker

 

Grab Brunch at the Gage

Any restaurant with an Irish breakfast and corned beef hash on the menu is a place I’d like to be. In case you’re wondering, I went with the latter. The Gage is an American restaurant with slight Irish undertones and sits right across the street from Millennium Park, providing a tourist’s perfect view if you choose to eat outside.

We did and ended up regretting it once the heat spiked but despite being slightly uncomfortable, my boyfriend said he’d dream about his side of Gage potatoes and I’d rank my corned beef hash in the top three I’ve ever had.

Pro Tip: Winters in Chicago may be notoriously cold, but their summer heat can be unbearable. We went over Memorial Day weekend and were hit with 92 degree weather both days, so make sure to check the forecast beforehand and be aware that Chicago’s temperatures tend to be a bit extreme.

How to Experience Chicago in Two Days | Weekend Trips | US Travel | Chicago, Illinois | AGBHOW | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | The Gage

Take a  Walk Through Millennium Park

They say you can’t leave Millennium Park without taking a mirror picture in Cloud Gate, also known as the Bean – but I found the Bean to be way less worth dodging a crowd for than waiting ten minutes to watch random faces “spit” water at Crowne Fountain.

I know schedules can be tight, and you may have an urge to take that prized photo of “the bean” and run, but there are so many hidden gems of Millennial Park. During our stroll we ended up coming across several small gardens we had no idea were there.

How to Experience Chicago in Two Days | Weekend Trips | US Travel | Chicago, Illinois | AGBHOW | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | Crowne Fountain in Millennium Park

Spend a Few Hours at the Field Museum

We had a tough time choosing between the Field Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry, but considering that this museum is much closer proximity to where we were spending out day, and online reviews seemed to lean towards the Field Museum, it didn’t take us long to make a decision.

Admission ranges from $24-$38 depending on the ticket you choose, though the middle option, which includes General Admission and admission to one 3D movie seemed perfect for us. But honestly, the museum is so expansive, you’d probably have a great experience with General Admission alone.

You’re greeted at the Field Museum by Sue, a 67-million year old T-rex. From there you can visit an ecolodge to an Egyptian pyramid.

How to Experience Chicago in Two Days | Weekend Trips | US Travel | Chicago, Illinois | AGBHOW | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | The Field Museum

Grab a Classic Chicago Style Hot Dog

We spent many a Google search trying to find out where to get the best hot dog in Chicago – in the end, just like in New York, the best hot dogs can usually be found at a random hot dog stand. Lucky for us, we spotted a hot dog stand right outside of the Field Museum almost as if it were waiting for us. This stand not only offered classic hot dogs, but vegetarian and turkey options as well, which is great for people who enjoy that but I already knew I was getting a classic with all the Chicago goodness (a.k.a pickle spear, relish, onions, and mustard).

How to Experience Chicago in Two Days | Weekend Trips | US Travel | Chicago, Illinois | AGBHOW | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | Chicago Style Hot Dog | Chicago Eats

Let Out Your Inner Athlete at the Chicago Sports Museum

The Chicago Sports Museum is located inside the Water Tower Place mall along the Magnificent Mile with a price of admission of only $10! On top of that, it’s one of the smaller, lesser known museums so we almost had the entire place to ourselves. The concept is pretty similar to that of the NFL Experience in Times Square, combining nostalgic sports adverts and equipment with interactive experiences. Guests can compete as a goalie with Blackhawks, jump on the court with Bulls, or stay behind the scenes desk recreated to look like that of the late Harry Caray’s – an American sports broadcaster.

How to Experience Chicago in Two Days | Weekend Trips | US Travel | Chicago, Illinois | AGBHOW | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | Chicago Sports Museum

Have an Authentic Italian Meal at Rosebud on Rush

Let me start off by saying that Rosebud on Rush was a long-time favorite of stars like Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennet, and Robert Redford, so if you’re looking to follow in the footsteps of legends, add this spot to your list. Second, the atmosphere makes you feel as if you’ve been transported back to Chicago in the 1940’s. Finally, there food was so good that I literally texted all of my closest friends back home in New York, just to tell them that I finally found a city to compete. My pappardelle was the perfect texture and was cooked to perfection (and in-house that very day). Should I go back to Chicago, this place will always be in the itinerary. And to think, we only ate here because the line at Giordano’s was around the block; so thankful for that!

How to Experience Chicago in Two Days | Weekend Trips | US Travel | Chicago, Illinois | AGBHOW | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | Rosebud on Rush | Chicago Eats

Wrap Up Your Day with the Navy Pier Fireworks

I’m a Disney World fanatic, meaning most firework shows do not reach my standards and the Navy Pier Fireworks are no exception. However, as a relaxing way to wrap up a jam-packed day with Lake Michigan as the backdrop in one direction and the Centennial Wheel as the backdrop in another, it’s a fun add-on. Unfortunately we didn’t have time this day to actually enjoy the Navy Pier, but we were glad to not have missed visiting entirely.

Pro Tip: Should you decide to end your night at the Navy Pier, analyze your transportation options fully before going. By the end of the firework display, the amount of people leaving was so many that we, and many others, experienced almost 45 minute “searching for a driver” Uber and Lyft waits. Chicago has a decent subway system, but most stops actually leave you a few blocks (or quite a distance) from the main attractions, including the Navy Pier, so public transportation wasn’t an option. Regular cabs were even up-charging up to $40 for a not-worth-40-bucks ride to the train station. Eventually, we decided to walk a few blocks and came across the most awesome cab driver who charged us just $10 to get to the station, and from there it was just a 25 minute ride to our hotel on the blue line.


DAY 2:

Spend a Morning at the Adler Planetarium

There are three admission options for the Adler Planetarium: General Admission, which gives you access to the museum only; the Basic Pass, which gives you access to the museum and one sky show; and the Anytime All Access Pass, which gives you access to the museum on any date of your choosing, one sky show, and access to the Historic Atwood Sphere Experience – but most of the salespeople will tell you that the Basic Pass provides enough for one day.

With this pass we were able to spend a couple of hours scoping out each unique exhibit, ranging from topics like Astronomy in Culture and A Walk Through Space and Time, as well as one interactive star show in the dome-shaped planetarium.

How to Experience Chicago in Two Days | Weekend Trips | US Travel | Chicago, Illinois | AGBHOW | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | Adler Planetarium

Take in the View of Lake Michigan

A few feet from the Adler Planetarium you’ll find you a short stairway leading your directly towards Lake Michigan, which provides a relaxing and scenic view after a few hours roaming the museum. On a beautiful day like ours, it almost felt as if we were relaxing along the coast in California, with the blue water and Chicago skyline in the background. If you remember your bathing suit, you can even hop in for a quick dip along this “tar beach”.

How to Experience Chicago in Two Days | Weekend Trips | US Travel | Chicago, Illinois | AGBHOW | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | Lake Michigan

Grab a Churro at La Bodega

If you’re thinking that this spot sounds like a hipster bodega, you are absolutely correct; but I’m in no position to judge a shop that focuses solely on coffee, hot sauce, tacos, and various flavored churros. Yes, it is as awesome as it sounds, plus there’s an assortment of piñatas hanging from the ceiling.

We ended up getting a couple of coffees, as well as a Red Velvet churro and a Fruity Pebbles churro. While the Red Velvet option was good, Fruity Pebbles was the real winner due to the creamy filling. We didn’t grab any tacos on this round, but we did get to enjoy the delicious aroma of some being cooked in the back, and it was almost enough to make us consider a pre-lunch lunch.

How to Experience Chicago in Two Days | Weekend Trips | US Travel | Chicago, Illinois | AGBHOW | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | La Bodega | Chicago Eats

Stroll Along Riverwalk

While Memorial Day weekend meant the river was packed with private yachts (apparently everyone in Chicago owns one?) and tour cruises, we couldn’t leave without checking out one of Chicago’s staple locations. We actually stood along the river, sipping what remained of our coffees for a good half hour just taking in the scene – and also questioning how such an urban city managed to keep their waterways looking so clean.

How to Experience Chicago in Two Days | Weekend Trips | US Travel | Chicago, Illinois | AGBHOW | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | Chicago Riverwalk

Get a Cliché Snap of the Chicago Theater

The Chicago Theater is not only one of the most legendary venues in the city, but it’s also a widely popular landmark. The theater was one of the most visited movie theaters from 1925-1940 and post-restoration, now serves as a venue for concerts and tours.

How to Experience Chicago in Two Days | Weekend Trips | US Travel | Chicago, Illinois | AGBHOW | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | Chicago Theater

Grab a Quick and Delicious Lunch from Nando’s

If you’re from Chicago, Washington D.C., or parts of Maryland, you may have always known about the culinary magic that is Nando’s. If you’re not, you may have had your first experience with the not-so-fast fast food spot abroad in the U.K. We had Nando’s for the first time in Ireland where we willingly ate it, and I kid you not, three times in seven days. Nando’s centers around chicken and Mozambican-Portuguese flavors, but unlike other “fast-food” chicken spots, this chicken is grilled fresh on a grill right in front of you after it’s dipped in one of their several tasty marinades. In fact, a majority of their sides are even completely healthy. Okay, maybe not the garlic bread but it’s made on Portuguese bread, so I’d suggest saying “to heck with it” and ordering it anyway.

 

Catch a Cubs Game at Wrigley Field

Whether you’re a die-hard baseball fan or someone who just enjoys cracker jacks and the roar of the crowd, you can’t miss out on the opportunity to catch a Cubs game if you’re in Chicago during the season. We were able to get two 400-level seats (a.k.a, the best seats anyway) for about $32 each on Stubhub, but they weren’t going for much more on the official Wrigley site.

The appeal of Wrigley is it’s old-school design, which provides an entirely different feel than fields like Yankee Stadium. While the tech leaves something to be desired (we couldn’t hear a thing broadcasted over the speakers), it’s worth visiting for the nostalgia value alone.

Pro Tip: Don’t splurge on overpriced Cubs swag at Wrigley Field. There’s a sports store right across the street that had a bargain bin of $10 Cubs t-shirts that served us just as well.

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6 Days in Iceland: A Self-Drive Itinerary

When it comes to planning a trip to Iceland, especially during the winter months, it’s best to accept prior to your trip that every day may not go exactly as planned. While going through security before our flight home, we heard numerous groups discussing their own trips to Iceland, complaining that all of their tours had been cancelled or that they hadn’t been able to experience every single thing they thought they would.

So before we continue, take a deep breath, and accept that your plans may perhaps fall through. Winter weather in Iceland is wildly unpredictable, but at the same time, winter there is so visually stunning. I would’ve been fine if we did nothing but drive around “oohing” and “ah-ing” at volcanic ranges. Secondly, if you or another person in your party has experience with harsh winter driving, rent a car. I’m not saying that it is necessarily a smart idea to drive into a blizzard despite all tours being cancelled, I’m just saying that on certain days we drove into a blizzard despite all tours being cancelled.

All joking aside, renting a car gives you a lot more flexibility when it comes to your schedule. Whereas booking a tour could result in a wasted day, driving gave us the option to change our plans at last minute notice if roads were closed or there was inclement weather in certain areas. We definitely left Iceland having missed out on a couple things we had originally wanted to see, but to be honest, we experienced so much that those things were barely a thought. Plus, that just means we have to go back.
Day 1: Reykjavik
Day 2: The Golden Circle
Day 3: Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Day 4: The Langjökull Glacier
Day 5: The South Coast
Day 6: The Blue Lagoon

Day 1: Reykjavik

Coming from New York meant that a majority of flights we could’ve booked would get us to Reykjavik at approximately 4:30am-6:30am the following day. Personally, I always prefer earlier arrival flights because I’m able to run on adrenaline for almost twelve hours after landing; but also because it can often mean a whole extra added day to your trip.

First things first: get your rental car. When you exit the “arrivals” area of Keflavik, you’ll find various car rental depots for popular car rental companies, such as Budget, Hertz, Enterprise, etc. However, if you’re like us and booked your car through a company exclusive to Iceland, you’ll have to hop on a shuttle to the actual rental car office. This shuttle is a bright yellow bus that you can catch at the designated bus stop about a minute walk from Keflavik. I’d assume if it were summer and you had minimal luggage that you might be able to walk to the rental office, because Blue Car Rental was the second stop and we were there in what felt like three minutes.

    • While I highly recommend Blue Car, please be smarter than we were. Just because a car says “7-seater” does not mean it’s the type of 7-seater you may be used to. In fact, once we stored our luggage, it only really fit five of the six of us. Sitting awkwardly atop two of my friends while my head was bent in an a 90 degree angle, definitely did not make for the most comfortable 45 minute ride to Reykjavik. To make matters worse, even after we unpacked our luggage, we consistently rotated since the back two seats were suitable for people 4″11 and under. Long story short, if you’re more than five, get a second car.
    • We opted to have Wi-fi included with our car rental and it was the greatest choice we made. Your wi-fi comes in the form of a portable little egg shape device that one us kept in our pocket even when we left the car. Because what’s better than being able to Snapchat data-free virtually everywhere you go?
    • Purchase all the car insurance. It’s better to pay upfront than have to worry about a potential large payment later.

Next stop: Breakfast.

It had been a goal of mine to have breakfast at the Laundromat Cafe, and luckily that’s exactly where we ended up at 8:00am on our first morning in Iceland. The Dirty Breakfast which consists of eggs, bacon, potatoes, tomato, sausage, and yogurt is just as heavenly as it sound, and the ambiance is a liberals paradise.

 

 

Unfortunately, I found out a few days ago that the Laundromat Cafe shut its doors just a week after we left. But never fear! The owner insists they are currently seeking another Reykjavik venue to re-open. Until then there are a boatload of other great spots for breakfast in Reykjavik like Bergsson Mathús, Cafe Bablu, and C is for Cookie.

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After breakfast, head to the Saga Museum; but don’t forget to stop along the way and appreciate the beauty of Mount Esja, which isn’t actually a mountain at all, but an entire volcanic range. We spent a good fifteen minutes just gawking at its beauty – this was before we realized that the entire country is one giant scenic view.

The Saga Museum uses life-like figures to depict different moments in Iceland’s history, and is a great way to learn a bit more about the country you’re visiting before diving right in.

The Saga Museum is open daily, from 10:00am-6:00pm and entrance is 2100kr ($20).

 

 

The next two stops are quintessentially Reykjavik. First, stop by the Sun Voyager statue for a quick photo opportunity. Jón Gunnar Árnason, the sculpture of the statue has said its design was meant to convey, “the promise of undiscovered territory, a dream of hope, progress, and freedom.” In a way, it reminds me of the meaning behind the Statue of Liberty back home.

When visiting you’ll also have an excellent view of both Thufa, an outdoor art piece by Ólöf Nordal; and Harpa, the majestic concert hall of Reykjavik.

6 Days in Iceland | Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary | Winter in Iceland | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

From here, head over to Hallgrimskirkja. This structure which took 41 years to build is not only the largest church in Iceland, but is also among one of the largest structures of Iceland in general. I guess that’s why most visitors can’t leave Iceland without heading to the top to take in the view of Iceland’s largest city. And once you’ve descended, don’t forget to check out the statue of Norse explorer, Lief Erikson who greets visitors as they enter.

Hallsgrimskirkja is open from 9:00am-5:00pm during the winter months, and 9:00am-9:00pm during the summer. Note that on Sundays, the tower is closed from 10:30am-12:15 due to mass. Admission to the tower is 1000 ISK.

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If you’re a history buff, your next stop should be the not-to-be-missed National Museum of Iceland, which is home to over 2,000 artifacts.

The National Museum of Iceland is open daily from 10:00am-5:00pm, though it is currently closed on Mondays. Admission is 2000 ISK, and free for anyone under 18.

At this point you may be getting smacked by hunger pangs and sleep deprivation. So run over to Baejarins Beztu Pylsur and order one (or two) with everything, and take a relaxing walk around pond Tjornin. Then when you’re done, do a quick grocery run at the closest Bonus, stock up Skyr, and head to your accommodations for a much deserved nap.

 

 

NOW WAKE UP, because you have to spend a night experiencing Reykjavik nightlife at least once. Literally, maybe just once, because the booze prices in this country are astronomical.

The first bar we stopped at was the Lebowski Bar, where we ordered White Russians all around. If you don’t get the reference, add watching the Big Lebowski to your list of post-Iceland activities. The Lebwoski Bar has a list of about a dozen different White Russians, though I prefer a classic.

If you’re feeling lucky, for 2500 ISK you can have the bartender spin a wheel which might leave you with 10 “free” beers. Our first friend to spin actually hit the jackpot and won 10 (really 8 if you subtract payment) free beers to start the night. But don’t get too cocky; the next two to spin both hit “gutterballs” and walked away 2500 ISK poorer.

Hopefully you didn’t spend all your money spinning the prize wheel, because Lebowski’s bar food is surprisingly delicious. After all, nothing goes down better with a White Russian than mozzarella sticks and a Honey Boo burger.

Side note – our bartender was beyond awesome! By the end of the night we felt like she was part of the gang.

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American Bar was next, which also had a spin-to-win wheel, but thankfully we had learned our lesson by then. One of the best parts of Reykjavik is that a majority of the bars are all in a five block range, so walking between them is super easy. Others worth checking out: The English Pub and The Dubliner.

6 Days in Iceland | Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary | Winter in Iceland | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com


Day 2: The Golden Circle

The Golden Circle is one of the most popular sightseeing routes in Iceland and offers an array of different stops along the way. The weather was a bit back-and-forth on this day and due to the minimal light hours during the winter, we had to cut out some of our hidden gems off the itinerary. That being said, it’s definitely possible to hit more stops than we did depending on the weather and time of year, so definitely pick out your favorite gems to add to your own itinerary.

Stop one: Thingvellir National Park

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How much you enjoy your time at this park is going to be based on how adventurous you are willing to be. At first glance, the park seems pretty barren, though even barren is stunning with the sun shining through. The deeper into Thingvellir you go, the more there is to see – from towering lava rock to a small church with adjacent buildings, which was apparently the site of Iceland’s first parliament in 960 AD.

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Many of the paths had been snowed over but we, along with a few other visitors, trekked through the slush to experience as much as we could.

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    • If you’re traveling in winter, make sure you have a pair of waterproof winter boots. There is nothing fun about attempting to make your way in sopping wet sneakers, or injuring yourself by slipping on an icy patch.

 

At one point on our adventure, we accidentally stumbled upon Öxarárfoss, a small waterfall that remains semi-frozen during the winter months. This ended up being one of those accidents we questioned not originally having on our itinerary; though it may be much smaller than some of the more popular Iceland falls, it’s slight seclusion and simplicity make it that much more beautiful.

 

 

After your excursion through Iceland’s only UNESCO Heritage Site, head over to Strokkur, Iceland’s most famous geysir that erupts every 6-10 minutes. Though on our trip it seemed a bit more frequent. Not every eruption is as dramatic, so it may be worth sticking around for a two or three.

6 Days in Iceland | Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary | Winter in Iceland | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

After freezing your fingers off trying to capture an image of Strokkur blowing its top, head over to Fridheimar for a late lunch/early dinner. I highly recommend making a reservation to be on the safe side, though we had made the latest reservation available and were dining with only four other groups.

Fridheimar is located inside one of Iceland’s geothermal tomato greenhouses, and hence every menu from the entrees to the desserts are tomato-based. This restaurant is more of an experience than a meal, and is worth every penny.

Fridheimar is open daily from 12:00pm-4:00pm.

 

 

Finally, it’s time to visit the majestic and popular, Gullfoss. Gullfoss is one of those natural wonders that leave you wondering why so many places to choose to pave over beauty for skyscrapers. Be sure to do some walking among the open space surrounding Gullfoss as you’ll be able to get a few differently angled views of the falls.

This is one of those rare occasions where I’ll suggest stopping at the visitor center gift shop before departing. Were some of the items overpriced? Of course, it’s Iceland. But I was able to grab some stunning post cards and prints that actually didn’t break the bank.

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Other stops you may want to make during your Golden Circle self-drive tour:

Faxi Waterfall (64.2254° N, 20.3372° W)

Porufoss (64.260707, -21.369836)

Kerid Crater (64.0413° N, 20.8851° W)

Solheimar Eco-Village (64.0656° N, 20.6419° W)

Gamla Laugin Geothermal Pool (64.1377° N, 20.3097° W)


Day 3: The Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Often called “Little Iceland” due to the varying landscapes that exist in one location, the Snæfellsnes Peninsula had been calling out to me from the initiation of our trip planning.

If you’re driving from Reykjavik, which is about 2.5 hours, this definitely requires an early start if you’re attempting to see much of the peninsula in the same day. So quickly down some of that Skyr you purchased at your local Bonus supermarket and hit the road.

 

  • Reminder: Though not quite as north as the Westfjords, in winter this area was approximately 8-10 degrees colder than Reykjavik. We also experienced some intense winds that at times were almost painful if your face wasn’t covered, so I’d recommend bringing along some extra layers and a ski-mask.

Stop 1: Búðir

You’ve probably seen snapshots of the Búðir or “the little black church” without even realizing, as it’s become a common stop for photographers visiting the peninsula. To many, this may seem an odd spot for church – secluded from much else. But this little hamlet provides an erie but stunning break from the snowy surroundings.

6 Days in Iceland | Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary | Winter in Iceland | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

Stop 2: Bárður Snæfellsás

Legend has it that Bárður Snæfellsás, half troll and half man, was the settler of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. In 1972, co-founder of the Icelandic Sculptors Society, Ragnar Kjartansson built a stone figure of Bárður, which now stands tall in the fishing-village of Arnarstapi watching over his land.

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If traveling in winter, don’t be surprised that Arnarstapi is almost completely deserted. It seems that this town is mostly utilized during the summer season, which makes sense considering how dramatic winters in the area can be.

Stop 3: Hellnar

Hellnar is an ancient fishing village one stop over from Arnarstapi, and is a great place to stop for the perfect view of Snæfellsjökull, a 700,000 year old glacier.

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Stop 4: The Londrangar Basalt Cliffs

  • Warning – If you think the rest of the peninsula is windy, just wait until you stroll along the Londrangar Cliffs. In the wintertime, there are also some difficult-to-see ice patches, and one almost sent me flying off of a ledge. So walk slowly, take your time, and pay attention to your surroundings.

The view, however, is completely worth it.

6 Days in Iceland | Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary | Winter in Iceland | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

Stop 5: Vatnshellir Cave

Vatnshellir is the cave that apparently inspired Jule’s Verne’s, “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and with Summit Adventure Guides you can journey down into the 8,000 year old lava tube. We had a great tour guide who went by “Gummy” during our 45 minute tour, and his knowledge, jokes, and Marvel references really added to the experience.

At one point, once you’re two stairwells, a bridge, and a walk deep into the tube, everyone is asked to turn of their lights, leaving you absolute darkness. This is the level of darkness that your eyes will never be able to adjust to. Despite this proclamation, we all still attempted to stare at our own hand, thinking at some point we’d make out an outline. But nothing.

Summit Adventure Guides provides several tours including the Vatnshellir Cave Tour, which runs all year. Tours should be booked in advance and run 3750 ISK, roughly $37.

 

 

Stop 6: Djúpalónssandur & Dritvík

While Djúpalónssandur is known for being the “black-lava pearl beach”, Dritvík is known for something a bit more somber. In 1948, an English trawler ship slammed into the beach, killing 14 of the 19 crewman. The few iron remains of the ship remain in the same location out of respect and memory of those who passed.

Despite the snow covering much of both areas, these destinations are not to be missed.

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Stop 7: Feast in Ólafsvík

We had asked our Vatnshellir tour guide for some restaurant recommendations, considering a majority of businesses in West Iceland were closed for the winter. He eagerly suggested two spots over in his hometown of Ólafsvík, one he described as “a black house with a green roof”. This restaurant ended up being “Hraun”, which was not only run by some of the most accommodating staff, but also is home to some of the best tasting burgers you will ever eat.

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Stop 8: Hunt the Northern Lights

We had booked an Airbnb for one night alongside Kirkjufell to experience the countryside and hopefully catch a glimpse of the northern lights. We had accepted the day prior that we probably were going to leave Iceland without having seen them; after all, we had daily snow, almost complete cloudy skies, and on that night the aurora forecast was extremely low. But hey, at least the views from the cabin were stunning.

6 Days in Iceland | Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary | Winter in Iceland | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

6 Days in Iceland | Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary | Winter in Iceland | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

While we hung inside, I made a point of running outside every twenty minutes or so to see if we could at least get a view of a dark starry night sky. But due to the weather, all I kept seeing was solid darkness. But luck was on our side. On my fourth time out, there finally seemed to be a gap in the cloud cover, and I was greeted by a strip of stars like I had rarely seen. If this was all we got, I’d have been happy. However, after calling my friends out, one pointed out what appeared to be a mild bright, white light from behind Kirkjufell.

Slowly these light patches lightened and began to spread out and few snaps of my camera proved we were finally getting a glimpse – a few green stripes were in fact streaking the sky. During the peak, there were even what appeared to be some vertical moving lines. But just as quick as they appeared, the cloud cover regained its position over West Iceland.

6 Days in Iceland | Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary | Winter in Iceland | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

 

 

We might not have experienced the most intense aurora borealis, but the experience was still memorable – and waiting it out was half of the fun.


Day 4: The Langjokull Glacier

We had originally planned to wake up early and drive the almost three hours to the Husafell Base Camp, where we would begin out Snowmobile Into the Glacier tour with Mountaineers of Iceland.

This tour would’ve taken us snowmobiling on the second largest glacier in Iceland, followed by a cave tour. However, there are only so many experiences that can be saved by self-driving in Iceland. And it is extremely dangerous and never okay to enter an ice cave or take part in activities like glacier hiking without certified professionals.

But if the weather wasn’t a deterrent, this would’ve been a great chance to take part in some action-packed activity on your way down from the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

On the flip side, Mountaineers was great to work with and processed our refund in a timely manner with no issues. Be sure to check out their official site for other awesome Iceland tours.

The Snowmobile Into the Glacier Tour with Mountaineers of Iceland must be booked in advanced, and runs 29.900 ISK for two guests on one snowmobile. All drivers must have a valid driver’s license. 


Day 5: The South Coast

Stop 1: Seljalandsfoss

Seljalandsfoss is the first of the two main waterfalls you will hit on your South Coast drive. Though it appears smaller in comparison to Skogafoss, it actually drops about 197 feet. During the summer months or when icy paths are no issue, guests can walk a path behind the falls for a unique view.

6 Days in Iceland | Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary | Winter in Iceland | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

Stop 2: Skógafoss

Skógafoss is one of the biggest and most accessible waterfalls in Iceland, making it a popular stop all year round. Pictures really don’t do this waterfall justice, as you really don’t understand its power or size until you’re there in person, walking right up to it.

  • If you’re traveling in winter and want to get up close and personal, make sure to bring a waterproof jacket or poncho. You do end up walking right into a thick wall of mist, and wet clothing isn’t a great combination with potentially strong winds.

6 Days in Iceland | Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary | Winter in Iceland | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

Stop 3: Sólheimasandur Plane Wreckage

On November 24, 1973, a US Navy plane ran out of fuel and crash landed on Sólheimasandur’s black sand beach. Later on it would be found that the pilot actually just switched to the wrong fuel tank. Fortunately, all onboard survived but the wreckage still remains on the beach as a popular tourist attraction.

Though driving to the wreckage used to be allowed, in order to preserve the beach it has since been prohibited. In order to reach the wreckage, you now have to walk approximately 45 minutes there and 45 minutes back. This walk, I’m sure, can be relaxing in the appropriate weather. We chose to do walk in an almost zero-visibility blizzard – and let’s just say, I would not ever recommend it. But in general, I do recommend taking the walk to the site. It’s really something.

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Stop 4: Reynisfjara Beach

Despite Iceland being home to primarily black sand beaches, Reynisfjara has always been the iconic black sand beach to visit. This is due in part to it’s unique features, like Hálsanefshellir Cave, basalt columns, and stunningly tall rock formations.

  • When exploring the beach, be sure to avoid walking to close to the shoreline. Reyinsfjara is home to sneaker waves, which can appear suddenly and are strong enough to pull you out to sea. Putting yourself in dangerous situations is not worth the photo op.

If you feel you didn’t take in enough of the sites on your drive, never fear, because you just might get a glance when you turn around to drive all the way back to Reykjavik!


Day 6: The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon is the perfect last stop before your flight home, due in part to it being not too far from Keflavik Airport.

  • Be sure to look up sunrise time for the day you’re planning to visit when booking your tickets. Watching the sun come up behind the bridge of the lagoon was the highlight of our time there.

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Tickets for the Blue Lagoon run from 6990 ISK – 53000 ISK depending on your package. We went with the cheapest package, which ended up costing about $80 for our time slot, and have no regrets. Just a heads up: bring a towel, as the cheapest option does not include one.

While the Blue Lagoon can seem a bit pricy, the entire experience seemed worth the price of admission. The staff, premises, shower/changing rooms (which are even equipped with blowdryers) are clean, spacious, and top of the line. If you’re envisioning a giant swimming pool, yes, $80 is a bit steep. But if you appreciate the Blue Lagoon for the spa experience that it truly is, then it’s a steal.

Plus, when it begins to hit you that your spectacular Iceland trip that you spent months planning is finally coming to an end – you can drink your sadness in beer and Skyr smoothies at the pool bars.

6 Days in Iceland | Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary | Winter in Iceland | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

 

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6 Days in Iceland | Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary | Winter in Iceland | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

How I Accidentally Hiked to 1200 Feet in the Hudson Valley

If you read my last post, you know that I believe that accidental experiences often end up being the most memorable and worthwhile. Well yesterday, just a few days after writing that post, I ended up on another accidental adventure. How’s that for irony?

“Wanna go hiking tomorrow? I heard there’s a place in Cold Spring with some ruins?”

Let me start off by saying that while I have hiked, I in no way consider myself a hiker. If I did, I’d like to think I would have done more research than Googling “Ruins in Cold Spring” before responding to a friends invite with “Sure, why not.”

We began our trip with a two hour drive to Fishkill, NY, expecting nothing but a semi-leisurely hike to explore the Cornish estate. Being that we had parked at Little Stony Point, we thought we’d take a little pregame hike along the Hudson River, if for nothing but the views.

Aside from the clouds, we had perfect mid-70s weather, and honestly I could have spent more time than we did just relaxing around Stony Point. But we had come here with the goal of exploring the Cornish Estate and we were determined to complete it. Little did we know that we would not only complete that goal, but surpass it entirely.

We crossed the street and made our way over to the starting point, a sign with two directions: “Cornish Trail (Blue), Washburn Trail (White). Awesome, so we just have to follow the little blue markers. Easy enough, right?

Our hike began just as we expected. Primarily flat terrain, easy-going, with some photographic sites along the way.

Considering I did little to no research on this hike, it should come to no surprise that I didn’t exactly object when my hiking partners suggested taking short, off-trail detours, one of which included hopping rocks across a stream. You may be thinking, “Ah, okay. Now I see how you got yourself into an unplanned predicament.” Well, you’d be wrong. Despite our off-trailing, we still managed to find our way back onto our planned, blue-marked trail. And soon enough we had stumbled upon the Cornish Estate!

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The Cornish Estate, otherwise known as Northgate, was once owned by Edward Cornish and his wife Selina. In 1938, Edward tragically died at his desk at work, followed by his wife two weeks later. The estate then fell into the care of the Cornish’s nephew Joel until 1956 when a fire destroyed most of the mansion. By the 1960’s the estate became part of the Hudson Highlands State Park, but by then a majority of the estate had begone to deteriorate and nature had begun reclaiming pieces of it. This includes the destroyed mansion, the greenhouse, and other assorted buildings. After a half hour of walking passed the mansion, we were still passing smaller structures that were a part of the original estate, including the Cornish dairy.

The ruins of the barn, tower, and that of a wagon were still visible. The large lot of land behind the barn, which was most likely used for livestock or crops is also still completely visible, adding an odd transition considering it’s the only area of it’s kind on the entire trail. Oh yeah, there’s also a super creepy well that’s way too reminiscent of that from The Ring films.

The fact that the structures aren’t really that ancient made exploring them that much more eery. Above some fireplaces and are certain spots of flooring, there still remains tiles in mostly perfect condition.

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Once we passed the dairy the hike slowly began to increase in incline and difficulty. Paved paths and cement roads slowly turned into rocks and mud puddles, still we followed the markers as we had not yet had enough. At some point we came to a fork in the road. One way would lead us back to the beginning of our route, thus ending our hike for the day. The other would, or so we thought based on our interpretation of the maps we had gotten, take us close to Lake Surprise. If you faced that direction you also had a far view of one of the mountain summits. It was at this time that I made the joke, “While we’re going in that direction, let’s just head to the summit.” And so we continued in that direction.

However, it was soon apparent that our casual hike was becoming a bit more like an semi-climb. Though we obviously weren’t mountain climbing vertical slopes, the incline we were coming across was pretty close and soon we were using large rocks and branches in order to continue. This was definitely not the type of hiking any one of us had done before.

Using what little juice I had left on my phone, I was hoping my GPS signal could give us a little clue as to where we were. From the looks of it, we were nowhere near the end of the loop where we assumed we had been traveling. We were beginning to get tired and honestly, a bit stressed. While we still were able to follow marker’s letting us know we were indeed on a path, we had no idea the level of the path that we were currently on. But we did know it was a league out of anything we had ever done. Taking a minute to compose ourselves, we figured that we had made it too far to turn around. Going back seemed almost as tiring as finishing. Even though we had no idea exactly when we would finish.

It seemed as though every few feet we went got steeper, and I could already tell my legs would be killing me tomorrow, though my ankles were already starting to feel like jello.

I wasn’t able to get much footage of our steep hikes as I was wanted to have both hands free, but this is a good representation of some of the areas we had to get passed.

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We were drained and part of me felt like sitting down and giving up, but suddenly we heard “Guys, come see this!” from our friend who had gotten ahead of us. And there it was.

We hadn’t even considered attempting to make it to the summit and yet we had accidentally. For fifteen minutes we sat there taking in the view, resting our legs, and repeating over and over that “this made it all worth it.” We would’ve stayed longer but by then it was already around 6:00 PM and we knew we had to at least make it down the steep areas before sundown. As our luck would have it, getting down proved to be a bit more difficult than we had anticipated. It took going in the wrong direction twice and getting separated from and finding one person of our group, but eventually we re-found the blue markers that were leading us in a downwards direction. The descent took way less time than the way up but it was still quite a hike. Thankfully, we made it back to flat lands just as the sun finally set. Despite having seen the ruins earlier in the day, passing the dairy, then the mansion ruins, and eventually the greenhouse that we had missed originally with nothing but a flashlight definitely gave us the chills.

It took some time but by 8:30 PM we were back at Little Stony Point and hurrying into the car. What was supposed to be a 5 mile, relaxed hike ended up being maybe a 10 mile hike to 1200 feet which took us about six hours.

My legs are still sore and my body is still trying to process the usage of muscles that I swear I have never used before. And yet, I wouldn’t go back and change the adventure that we had. I’m very grateful to have been with two friends who are fun and laid back, but most importantly, able to remain calm and collected even in times of stress. Even when we felt like giving up at time, we were cracking jokes the whole way up..and down.

If I learned anything from this hike, it would be this:

  1. RESEARCH YOUR HIKES. Know the path you are taking and make sure you know the level of the trek you are taking on. Though we made it down safely, navigating the steep areas after sundown could’ve been ridiculously dangerous. Also make sure you are prepared with adequate equipment. While we had flashlights, adequate water, and protein bars to make our trip a little easier, my running sneakers were so not made for this type of trip.
  2. You are most likely capable of so much more than you think you are. If I had been told the type of hike we were taking on beforehand, I honestly might’ve passed; I would’ve blamed my asthma, or my lack of experience, or my nerves. And while I’m sure this hike is nothing serious to some, for me it was completely out of my comfort zone. Before yesterday I had hiked, but those hikes were generally long distance with mild incline. And now I can say I conquered 1200 feet of steep hiking without preparation. Not gonna lie, it feels pretty awesome.

So, I guess I have to leave this post off the same way I left my last.

The unplanned adventures definitely make for the best stories.

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