15 Incredible Things to Do in Iceland
This article was written by Katie Hammel on behalf of Viator.com.
The average person probably knows one of three things about Iceland: it’s the home of Bjork, the country went bankrupt in 2008, and in 2010 its unpronounceable volcano disrupted air travel in Europe and North America for several days. For decades, Iceland remained off the radar of most travelers, but in recent years the country has amped up its tourism campaign, showcasing its beauty and culture to prospective visitors who are discovering that this seemingly-remote speck of land in the North Atlantic Ocean is much closer—and much more exciting—than they might have guessed.
Iceland is one of the most diverse countries on Earth, with a small land area that contrasts with just how “big” that diversity makes it feel. An hour’s drive can take you across glaciers, over lava fields and black sand beaches, up mountains and over rivers, through prairies and rolling meadows, over volcanoes and in caves, or even in between two tectonic plates. Located in between Europe and North America, Iceland straddles two worlds, both literally and figuratively. It sits on a rift between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates—plates that are slowly moving apart, widening Iceland by a few centimeters per year. It’s their movement that makes geysers shoot water 120 feet in the air, hot springs bubble up and create steam that provides electricity for the whole country, volcanoes explode, and islands rise from the sea. It’s their movement that shakes the ground in dozens of small (usually unnoticeable) daily earthquakes and gives Iceland its striking, at times other-worldly, appearance.
Iceland has a foot in two worlds in less tangible ways as well. It’s at once provincial and modern, traditional and progressive. It’s one of the most technologically connected countries in the world yet the phone book is still organized by first name. It was one of the first countries to legalize gay marriage but families still have to choose baby names from a list of “approved” Icelandic names. The “land of fire and ice” is a land of contrasts—both physical and cultural—that make it a delightful, quirky, enchanting surprise just waiting to be discovered. How to discover it? Here are a few ideas for incredible things to do in Iceland:
Stop by the airport Duty Free
Okay, this first one may not be an incredible thing to do, but it is necessary if you plan to drink in Iceland. Once you deplane, make a beeline for the airport Duty Free shop to pick up provisions. Drinks in Icelandic bars and restaurants are on the expensive side at around $8 for a beer and $12 to $20 for a mixed drink, so when planning a night out, most people have a few at home to start. Aside from the Duty Free, alcohol is only available at licensed Vínbúðin stores (which in small towns might have extremely limited hours, such as Thursdays only from 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.) and it’s taxed based on alcohol content. A bottle of Icelandic Reyka vodka, for example, bought at the airport Duty Free will cost about 1/3 of the price at the Vínbúðin. Beer and wine prices are about equal, but if you’re heading to a smaller town it still pays to stock up.
Get wet, and then get wet again
Yes, it’s touristy, and from May to September it will be packed, but the strange, milky blue waters of the Blue Lagoon truly are curative after a few hours cramped in coach. Located closer to the airport than to Reykjavik, it’s a great stop either on your way from (my vote) or back to the airport. In the north of the country, the Myvatn Nature Baths provide a similar, though much less crowded, experience. Once you’ve experienced the touristy hot springs, you’re not done getting wet in Iceland. Icelanders love to soak and swim, and do so at public pools in every city as well as secluded natural hot springs that dot the countryside. No matter where you are in Iceland you’ll have the chance to do the same.
Just. Drive. On and off the Ring Road.
No really, just get a rental car and leave the city. I love the tiny metropolis of Reykjavik but no visit to Iceland would be complete without some time spent out exploring what really makes Iceland unique: the rugged land that has shaped its people, its history, its food, and its culture. Even if you’re visiting in winter and plan to base yourself in Reykjavik, there are several easy day tours you can do without the need for four-wheel drive. If plan to drive a bit farther to other regions of Iceland, you’ll be driving on the Ring Road, the 832-mile road that encircles the island. In many places, it’s the only road, but when the road does diverge into smaller branches, be sure to diverge with it. It’s down some of these smaller roads that you’ll find some of the country’s most spectacular natural wonders.
Explore the Golden Circle
The country’s most famous drive is The Golden Circle, which loops approximately 150 miles from Reykjavik to three of Iceland’s top natural attractions. The first stop is Thingvellir National Park, site of Iceland’s (and the world’s) first Parliament and the place where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet. The rift is clearly visible and you can even walk (and snorkel and dive) in between the plates. Yes, you can snorkel in Iceland, even in the winter. You’ll be outfitted in a dry suit to keep you warm and dry in the cold water which comes from nearby glaciers and is some of the clearest on earth thanks to years of filtering through lava rocks. Its clarity has been known to give snorkelers vertigo as they float above the rift, peering hundreds of feet down into the center of the earth. The next stop on the Golden Circle is Geysir, the site of the geyser for which all are named. Geysir no longer erupts but nearby Strokkur does, shooting water in the air at regular intervals. The last stop is the mighty Gullfoss waterfall.
Take a turn on the Reykjavik runtour
In town, there’s no better way to get to know the citizens of Reykjavik than on the runtour, the weekend pub crawl. Runtour means “round tour,” a throwback to the days when bored kids would spend their evenings driving around town in circles. Now they make those circles on foot, bouncing from bar to bar in the compact downtown. To join them, start late (around 10pm) with some pre-drinking at home, hit the clubs around midnight and stay out until the bars close at 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. For a tamer intro to drinking in Iceland, the Olgerdin Brewery tour is a great option. The tour takes you behind the scenes of the brewery and of course includes several samples.
Eat some Icelandic hot dogs—and other delicacies
Which brings me to my next must-do: eating an Icelandic hot dog. Come 5 a.m. on Saturday, the most popular spot for the post-bar crowd is Bæjarins beztu pylsur, a hot dog stand down near the harbor. Hot dogs may well be the official national food of Iceland, available in every city (and at every gas station) around the island. And these are no ordinary hot dogs. Topped with raw and fried onions, a brown mustard and some remoulade, they’re made of lamb and pork and incredibly addictive—whether you’re sober or not. Other, slightly more traditional, Icelandic fare includes local delicacies like puffin (often served smoked with a berry sauce), skyr (a very low fat, high protein yogurt eaten alone or often used in dips and desserts), whale (controversial, but actually pretty tasty, with a texture like beef), hákarl (fermented shark), and—my favorite—plokkfiskur, a dish made from boiled and mashed cod and potatoes. To sample a variety of foods in smaller portions, head to Tapas Barrinn. For a quick and casual meal, try Icelandic Fish and Chips, which serves a variety of baked fish with an assortment of flavored skyr dips.
Go riding on the cutest horses in the world
You may have seen photos of the Icelandic horse and assumed it was actually a pony. It’s not. Though they are short, squat, and impossibly adorable, these horses are super strong and very smart. They develop long shaggy fur during the cold winters and are known for being very curious and docile. They also have a unique fifth gait called the tolt that is superfast and smooth, like riding in an easy chair. Even if you don’t book a horseback riding excursion (there are farms just a minutes outside the city), be sure to pull over when you see a few grazing in a nearby field. Chances are they’ll wander over in search of new friends.
Learn about early Icelanders at the Settlement Museum
One of the best museums in Reykjavik, the Settlement Museum, is built around an old (circa 871) Viking long house that was uncovered in 2001. Inside the museum you’ll find interactive exhibits that detail the settlement and early years of life of Iceland.
Wander the Reykjavik Harbor
For a study in juxtaposition, head to the Reykjavik harbor where you’ll see whaling ships (with their big red H’s painted on top) side-by-side with tourist whale watching ships. If you’re looking to take a whale watching trip out of the city, this is where you’ll meet the boat. The harbor also has some top notch seafood restaurants nearby, like Seabaron, where you choose a kabob (lobster, fish, whale) that’s cooked to order and can be served alongside a hearty bread-bowl full of lobster soup.
See the view from Hallgrímskirkja
Built in 1938, the “big white church” is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Iceland (find your hotel relative to it and you’ll never be lost). Most tourists visit for the view from the top, which is takes in the brightly colored houses of Reykjavik, the grey bay, and snowcapped Mount Esja in the distance. The viewing platform is accessed via an elevator for a small fee (about $6).
Shop for a lopapeysa at the Kolaportið
Reykjavik’s weekend Kolaportið flea market is like any other—amidst a lot of trash, you’ll find some true treasures. Among them are the lopapeysas, traditional hand knit sweaters sold here for a fraction of the cost as those in the souvenir shops.
See the Northern Lights or the Midnight Sun
Iceland’s skies fascinate year round, as the midnight sun dominates the horizon well past 12 a.m. in June and July and the Northern Lights twinkle overhead from September to March. The latter is less predictable; I’ve visited during March and left without a sighting and have visited during the first week of September and been treated to an unusually bright and spectacular display. If you’re hoping to catch the show, pay attention to the Aurora forecast and be ready to head to a rural area if conditions are right.
Go whale watching—and then stay a while—in Husavik
You can go whale watching from the harbor in Reykjavik, but in summer the best place to spot whales is farther north, in Husavik. Once a whaling town, it’s now considered the whale watching capital of the world thanks to the thousands of whales that visit each summer. Most visitors blow through Husavik—they come for the whales and then continue on their way—but the town makes a great base for more exploration in the north. Kaldbaks-kot offers small, no-frills cottages with gorgeous views of the fjord, within easy driving distance of several of the north’s best attractions, including Lake Myvatn, the Myvatn Nature Baths, and Godafoss waterfall.
Pick a region and go
Many of the visitors who venture out of Reykjavik choose to drive the whole Ring Road. With minimal stops, you could it in 24 hours. But trust me, you’re going to want to stop. A lot. If circling the island seems too ambitious, just focus on one or two regions. The Snaefellsness Peninsula is easily covered in a day or two and provides a great intro to the diversity of Iceland’s landscapes; it’s often called “Iceland in miniature” for this reason. To really get off the beaten path, head to the Westfjords. The region is one of the least densely populated in Iceland but is known for its beautiful mountains and fjords. Another lesser-visited spot, the East Fjords offer a look at the early Norwegian settlements of Iceland.
Iceland is closer—and warmer—than you think. On average, its winters are warmer than New York, and the flight from NYC is just about five hours. Flights from Seattle and Denver, the other U.S. gateways, aren’t much longer and if you go in the off-season, you can often score flights for less than $600 round-trip. Click here for more things to do in Iceland.
10 Beautiful Reasons To Visit Crete
This article was written by Sasha Heseltine on behalf of Viator.com. Famous as the cradle of civilization in the eastern Mediterranean, Crete was settled 9,000 years ago by the Minoans—today, the island is scattered with ancient ruins, dramatic mountain scenery, and numerous sandy beaches. Here's my list of ten of the most beautiful places on the Greek Island of Crete. Heraklion RampartsThe mighty 13th-century Venetian ramparts that wrap around the old harbor in Heraklion give the best views of the short but fortified Koules Fortress as it stands over the harbor mouth. Closer inspection of this formidable edifice reveals a Lion of St. Mark carved into the stonework above the main gateway; this motif for Venetian power can be seen all over northern Italy and the eastern Mediterranean. Chania Old TownChania is Crete’s prettiest town and has an ancient heart crammed with synagogues, mosques, and churches, plus charming buildings of Turkish and Venetian origin clustered around the harbor promenade. Artsy boutiques, bars, and tavernas line the waterfront alongside the domes of the Mosque of Hassan Pasha and the Venetian Great Arsenal. KnossosThe Minoan site of Knossos showcases the remains of the world’s earliest sophisticated civilization, a city that flourished for thousands of years as the biggest trading power in the eastern Mediterranean. The Neolithic and Bronze Age site is the most impressive on Crete, despite some of the villas and sections of King Minos’s gigantic palace, originally built around 2,000 B.C.,having been rather haphazardly redecorated in the early 2000s. MaliaThe Minoan remains at Malia may not be as well known as Knossos, but they will almost certainly be quieter despite the party-reputation of the adjacent town. There’s plenty to explore, including the knee-high remains of a vast palace complex and imposing pillared villas, some with luxurious bathing halls, all nestled into olive groves although the sea views have been spoiled in places by the protective carapace placed over the complex. Samaria GorgeStarting from Omalos, the legendary Samaria hike in the White Mountains wends through a narrow, rocky gorge for 11 miles (18 km) before ending at Aghia Roumeli. From there, little ferries take hikers to the village of Chora Sfakion, where buses and taxis connect with Heraklion and Chania. Samaria Gorge is only open in the summer but gives walkers the chance to see wild goats, carpets of wild herbs, and birds of prey playing in the thermals. LoutroThe cute coastal village of Loutro can only be reached only by boat or on foot; it has remained a delightful and traditional white village and spending the day there is like experiencing time travel. It’s Crete’s biggest secret with nothing much to do but swim, enjoy a lazy lunch at a taverna, and watch the ferries, which run several times a day from Hora Sfakion. Arkadi MonasteryThe golden-stoned monastery church at Arkadi near Rethymnon is beautiful to look at with its Venetian carvings and exotic bell tower—it also tells a story symbolic of Crete’s struggle for independence. In 1866, more than 1,000 people took refuge here during the island’s rebellion against Turkish occupation. When the Turks stormed the monastery, its gunpowder stores were ignited and hundreds of the refugees were killed. Those who escaped the explosion were massacred by the Turks; a memorial marks the spot where they died. Panagia KeraSeemingly stuck together from a miss-match of tiny round chapels and three triangular gables, the interior of this little Byzantine church above Meseleri is entrancing for its mass of faded frescoes. Inland from Agia Nikolaos, it also has far-reaching views over Mirabello Bay on the north-east coast. SpinalongaThe arid islet of Spinalonga was a leper colony until 1957, immortalized in Victoria Hislop’s book The Island. Today it’s uninhabited but can be visited by a short boat hop from Elounda. Spinalonga’s deserted streets, old stone dwellings, fortifications, and cemetery all have a brooding, tragic beauty as they slip slowly into dereliction. Matala BeachOne of Crete’s most famous beaches, Matala, hit the big time in the 1970s when mobs of dazed hippies descended on the island from all over Europe. Still popular but no longer quite so bohemian, the sandy beach has a backdrop of honeycomb-colored cliffs pockmarked with caves and a laid-back village with plenty of low-key tavernas serving seafood. Catch the sunset right over the islet in the middle of the bay.
7 U.S. Pub Crawls You Will Never Forget (No Matter How Much You Drink!)
The following article was originally written by Jeremy Crider on behalf of trivago. Whether you're looking for a way to celebrate National Poetry Month (marked every April in the U.S.) or simply searching for a fun alternative to the typical sight-seeing tour during your next vacation, hotel search site www.trivago.com has your 2014 pub crawl calendar covered. From more than 20,000 zombies sloshing in the streets of Minneapolis to a peddling party through the streets of Portland, to a day of drinking and reciting poetry during a walking tour of Manhattan, these seven unique pub crawls in cities across the U.S. are sure to quench your hankering for hops. Zombie Pub Crawl—Minneapolis, MinnesotaWho: Zombies. Well, people dressed as zombies—thousands of them, in fact.What: Zombie Pub CrawlWhere: Downtown Minneapolis, MinnesotaWhen: Saturday, October 11, 2014Why?: Why do you need a reason to dress like the undead and literally crawl around Downtown Minneapolis once a year? What began with just 150 zombie enthusiasts in 2005 has ballooned into one of the world's largest annual gathering of zombie lovers. The Zombie Pub Crawl—once crowned the "World's Largest Gathering of Zombies" by the folks at Guinness World Records—is expecting some 25,000 people in 2014. If you're hoping to make an all-day event of the occasion, you can also participate in the ZPC's 6.66K run and watch in horror as some of the world's best eaters tackle the World Brain-Eating Championships. In 2013, Joey Chestnut, the world's #1 ranked competitive eater, demolished the competition by eating 54 "brain tacos" created by Andrew Zimmerman, host of the Travel Channel series, "Bizarre Foods." Need a hotel in Minneapolis? Click here for options. Freedom Trail Historic Pub Crawl—Boston, MassachusettsWho: History buffs or tourists looking for an excuse to drink while learning. What: Freedom Trail Historic Pub CrawlWhere: BOSTIX Booth at Faneuil Hall in Boston, MassachusettsWhen: Every Tuesday at 5:30 p.m.Why?: Boston is steeped in hundreds of years of history, and there may be no better way to walk the same streets as native Ben Franklin (and Ben Affleck for that matter) than while buzzing on Sam Adams. The weekly pub crawl, which is led by an 18th century costumed guide, takes guests on a stroll through the past while visiting four of the city's most famous drinking holes—Union Oyster House, the Point, the Green Dragon, and Bell in Hand. The 90-minute crawl includes light snacks and costs $43 per person. Don't forget to make a reservation—this history-packed pub crawl fills up fast! Need a hotel in Boston? Click here for options. Music City Pub Crawl—Nashville, TennesseeWho: Music lovers, cowboys, cowgirls and brides-to-be. What: Music City Pub CrawlWhere: Downtown NashvilleWhen: Tours available daily. Reservations required.Why?: Nashville is home to the music industry and Tennessee is home to Jack Daniel's Whiskey, so a pub crawl through the heart of Music Row is almost a rite of passage when in town. Popular with tourists and local brides-to-be, the Music City Pub Crawl has become a sought after alcohol-filled attraction. The two-and-a-half-hour guided walking tour stops at three watering holes in downtown Nashville. Each stop on the tour takes a lighthearted look at Music City's past and drink specials are available to wet the whistle at every stop. Groups of 6-15 people can reserve a guide for the night as they take in the sights and sounds of Nashville with a stiff drink in hand. Need a hotel in Nashville? Click here for options. Pirate Pub Crawl—Anchorage, AlaskaWho: Lads, Lasses and all sorts of Scallywags who want to support a great cause. What: Pirate Pub CrawlWhere: Downtown AnchorageWhen: September 2014 (Date, TBA)Why?: Aye, this here annual party isn't just an opportunity for the people of Anchorage to celebrate their inner pirate; it's also a fundraiser to support the Blood Bank of Alaska. Since 2010, hundreds of mateys have shined up their swords and put on their best sailing garb for a night of drinking and treasure hunting at pubs in the heart of Downtown Anchorage. From 7:00 p.m. into the wee hours of the night, the "land lubbing" pirates crawl from one drinking destination to the next collecting stamps on their official Pirate Pub Treasure Crawl Map. At the end of the night, the philanthropic pirates with the most stamps are entered to win some serious loot—80,000 airline miles! Who needs the Jolly Roger when you can fly first class? Need a hotel in Anchorage? Click here for options. The Greenwich Village Literary Pub Crawl—New York CityWho: Book lovers looking for an atypical tour of one of Manhattan's most famous neighborhoods. What: The Greenwich Village Literary Pub CrawlWhere: Begins at White Horse TavernWhen: Saturdays at 2:00 p.m.Why?: If you're looking for an alternative to the double-decker bus tours NYC is famous for, The Greenwich Village Literary Pub Crawl may just be your cup of tea. Famous for its contributions to America's bohemian culture, Greenwich Village has been home to some of the world's literary greats. During the two-and-a-half-hour walking tour of the neighborhood, crawlers will visit bars that were beloved hangouts for many writers and stroll through the historic district of The Village, all while reciting some of the poems and prose that were written there. Speaking of poetry, lovers of verse can celebrate National Poetry Month by joining a tour dedicated to the many poets who have helped make the Village the most literary neighborhood in the nation. According to owner and tour guide, Eric Chase, attendees will toast to "poets who literally, or should we say "literarily" changed the world in a tiny corner of Manhattan." Need a hotel in New York City? Click here for options. BrewCycle Portland—Portland, OregonWho: People looking to burn off calories while simultaneously consuming them. What: BrewCycle PortlandWhere: All rides start at 1425 NW Flanders St. in Downtown PortlandWhen: Tours offered daily. Reservations required. Why?: What's not to love about BrewCycle Portland? You can avoid getting a beer gut and take a tour of Portland, all while enjoying some of the city's best craft beer. This two-hour tour includes stops at three of Portland's most popular local breweries aboard a giant, people-powered bicycle-bar. According to owner, Andrea Lins, "One thing people are usually surprised about when it comes to our brewpub crawl is that it's actual work! While that varies depending on who you are pedaling with, the northwest hills are slight, but challenging. People should come ready to pedal!" If you're up for an athletic endeavor, guided tour and night out on the town, BrewCycle Portland is a great option for seeing this popular Pacific Northwest city. Need a hotel in Porland? Click here for options. The Christmas Crawl: The Official Tacky Christmas Sweater Bar Crawl—Washington D.C.Who: Owners of tacky holiday clothing searching for fun and acceptance.What: The Christmas Crawl: The Official Tacky Christmas Sweater Bar CrawlWhere: DuPont Circle—Northwest Washington D.C.When: December 6, 2014 Why?: Celebrate the holiday season by sporting a tacky sweater and drinking with thousands of strangers in our nation's capital. Since 2011, The Christmas Crawl has taken over DuPont Circle, a neighborhood in Northwest Washington D.C. In 2013, 11 participating bars offered up more than 40 drink and food specials for thousands of partygoers wearing their finest (and funniest) tacky Christmas outfits. According to organizers, even more party perks are being offered this year and crowds are expected to be even larger. Finally, the perfect opportunity to put your grandmother's handmade Christmas gift to good use! Need a hotel in Washington D.C.? Click here for options. Hotel search site trivago compares the prices of over 700,000 hotels on more than 150 booking sites (including Expedia, Priceline.com, Travelocity, and Hotels.com), saving millions of users an average of 35% per booking—and lots of time. From beaches to business, Trivago has your next trip covered.
5 Ways to Experience Oahu From Above
This article was written by Kyle Ellison on behalf of Viator.com. In a word, the island of Oahu is gorgeous. Yes, there are freeways, high-rises, and sprawls of development which climb like ivy up the terraces of the Ko’olaus, but there is also the ever-present fusion of nature where sky, sea, shoreline, and summit all form a tableau of tropical perfection. While you can experience this beauty in many forms on all different corners of the island (a sunrise from the shoreline of Kailua comes to mind), one of the best places to bear witness to the island’s beauty is with a bird’s eye view from above. More so than on any other Hawaiian island, Oahu has opportunities to soar high above the peaks for an aerial view of the island. So whether it’s whirring above the battleships of Pearl Harbor, silently gliding over the beaches of the North Shore, or plummeting through the air at cheek-flapping speeds, here are some of the best ways to experience Oahu from above. ParasailingWhen it comes to parasailing, many people erroneously equate the activity with being scary, terrifying, and extreme. On the contrary, instead of looking at the height of the parachute and immediately thinking “scary”, you should instead be looking at your private perch and instead be thinking “silent.” Think about it—when was the last time you were 500 feet away from even the slightest sound? As your toes are tickled by the moving breeze and the royal blue waters of Maunalua Bay stand in contrast to the green of the mountains, parasailing on Oahu becomes one of the most serene ways to get an aerial view of the shoreline. SkydivingIf you’d rather crank the adventure dial all the way to the realm of the extreme, Oahu is the most popular place in Hawaii to throw yourself out of an airplane. Much of the skydiving takes place on the North Shore above reefs which thunder with surf, and you can also get views of Mt. Ka’ala as it rises gently from seashore to summit. From the brisk altitude of 14,000 feet where you’ll exit the door, you can occasionally see Honolulu, where the pace of the city moves as quickly as the thump of your adrenaline-fueled heart. GlidingIf flapping cheeks and ultimate free fall seem just a bit too intense, a more mellow way to experience the beauty of the North Shore is with a calming glider ride above Dillingham airfield. From an elevation of about 3,000 feet, slowly glide back down to the airfield without the use of a motor or propellers. These rides can be as “mild or wild” as you want them to be, and while many people opt to simply take in the sights from high above the North Shore, there are also the options to do acrobatic loops or even pilot the glider yourself. Soaring above the shoreline of Waimea Bay and gazing towards the wilds of Ka’ena, this is a panoramic journey of Oahu’s beauty that is as silently stimulating as it is scenic and serene. SeaplaneUnlike Alaska, Canada, or even the Caribbean, one type of plane you rarely see in Hawaii is an old-fashioned seaplane. With these “flying boats”, you have the chance to explore the perimeter of the island after a take-off from Ke’ehi Lagoon. On a one-hour Oahu seaplane tour, you can circle the island from the crater of Diamond Head to the island of Chinaman’s Hat. Soar above the peaks of the jagged Ko’olau mountains, and gaze down on fields which are pregnant with pineapples as they tan in the sunshine below. On your return to the waters of Ke’ehi Lagoon (which is conveniently located next to the airport), you can also fly over the waters Pearl Harbor where it’s still possible to see the outlines of ships as they rest in their watery graves. HelicopterOf course, when it comes to viewing the island from the air, few things will ever be able to rival the sights on a helicopter tour on Oahu. These whirring choppers can hover in valleys where fixed-wing aircraft can’t venture, and it’s the hands-down best way to get views of waterfalls which are otherwise completely inaccessible. From the comfortable confines of the helicopter cockpits with their expansive, wrap-around windshields, this is truly an experience where you can spend an hour not knowing which way to look. After all, when you have morning clouds tickling the peaks of the mountains off the left side of the chopper, and ribbons of surf which are breaking on the reefs so clearly it seems you could touch them, a helicopter tour is a visual feast of color, topography, and adventure. One final tipGranted, there are a number of factors that determine if your session above Oahu is going to be a success. One, of course, is weather, and it’s vitally important to schedule your adventure for the early morning hours. This is when the skies are clearest and offer the best chance for views, and it’s also the time when the winds are light and you can expect the least amount of turbulence. Also, while winters in Hawaii are far warmer than the rest of the mainland U.S., there can still be precipitous winter storms which can roll through during the winter. The thick clouds which linger over the island can greatly reduce the visibility, although the plus side is that the mountains can turn into dripping walls of water. In order to ensure the best conditions for your aerial foray above Oahu, be sure to keep an eye on the near-term weather forecast for and idea of the upcoming conditions. This way, in the event you have to reschedule, you can still do so within the terms of the contract of the tour or activity you book. On most days, however, the skies above Oahu are brilliantly blue and open for aerial adventure, and the myriad jewels of the island of Oahu like a canvas beneath your feet.
7 Things to Do in Vernazza (Besides Hiking)
This article was written by Jessica Spiegel on behalf of Viator.com. Most of the people who have been flocking to the pretty town of Vernazza in the Cinque Terre for decades do so because of the famous hike that connects Vernazza with other towns along the coast. Hiking remains the top thing to do in the Cinque Terre, but it’s by no means the only thing to do. Here are 7 other things worth checking out. The BeachBy many accounts, Vernazza has the prettiest harbor of all the Cinque Terre towns—and although none of the beaches in the Cinque Terre are particularly noteworthy, Vernazza’s harborfront beach can be a lovely place to spend a sunny day. The beach in Vernazza has the benefit of being entirely public, so there aren’t any umbrellas or beach chairs set up that you’d have to rent. You just need to find an available spot on the beach, put down a towel, and enjoy the sun and sea. Doria Castle TowerOne of the features that makes Vernazza so picturesque from the trails on either side of it is the Doria Castle Tower that sits on the promontory overlooking the harbor. Built in the 11th century to help protect Vernazza from pirates, it now serves as a gorgeous lookout point. Boat ToursIn addition to hiking or taking the train between the villages of the Cinque Terre, there is also boat service connecting the towns during good weather. You don’t have to think of it as transportation, however. Hop on a boat in Vernazza and ride back and forth along the coast for lovely views of the villages and cliffs from the water, a vantage point many visitors never get. Wine TastingUp and down the cliffs in the Cinque Terre you’ll see vineyards, so why not sample some locally-grown wine while you’re in Vernazza? Much of the Cinque Terre wine is white, and one of the best-known wines is a sweet wine called sciacchetra that’s often paired with biscotti for an afternoon snack. Visit any of the wine shops (called “enoteca”) in Vernazza to see what’s local and get some Cinque Terre wines to bring home. Church of Santa Margherita d’AntiochiaThe bell tower and pretty tiled dome of the Church of Santa Margherita d’Antiochia are part of what makes Vernazza’s harbor so picturesque, so don’t miss visiting the actual church. No one knows when the original church on this site was built, but it could be as old as the 11th century. Major architectural changes were made in the 17th and 18th centuries, with more restoration work in the 20th century. ShoppingEvery Cinque Terre village has ample shopping options open during the high season, and Vernazza is no exception. In addition to the wine shops listed above, there are shops selling local foods (such as pesto and olive oil) and plenty of postcards and souvenirs. Many of the souvenirs are similar from town to town in the Cinque Terre, so if you’re in the area for a few days you can browse shops in each town to find unique gifts or mementos. VoluntourismIn October of 2011, Vernazza and Monterosso were both heavily damaged by the mudslides that resulted after torrential storms. The towns have recovered incredibly well, thanks in large part to the help of volunteers who spend part of their vacations restoring the villages and the hiking trails. There are still projects that are ongoing in Vernazza and throughout the Cinque Terre, so if you’re interested in doing some good work during your stay check out the Save Vernazza website.