Category Archive for Art + Design

El Palauet Living Barcelona: Spanish Art Nouveau boutique hotel. Where to buy Goth clothes, skeleton dress!

barcelona art design luxury hotel

La Carmina loves Barcelona! Finally, I have a chance to catch up on work and share my recent travels in Spain. My film team and I flew into Barcelona, and rode around the country on Eurail train passes.

Long-term readers of this blog know that I’m an Art Nouveau obsessive — so it was a dream come true to stay with El Palauet Living, a masterpiece of decadent Catalan architecture.

purple red ombre hair, la carmina haircolor

We couldn’t resist shooting fashion photos in the curvacious lobby and suites. In this post, I’ll also reveal my favorite places to purchase Gothic clothing — including skeleton dresses and spiky shoes!

modernista historical building barcelona

When we first saw photos of El Palauet hotel, my team and I were mesmerized. We simply had to stay here.

The five-story mansion, built in 1906, is located on one of the city’s most beautiful boulevards. Two of Gaudi’s buildings are on the same street, including the skull-like Casa Batllo.

(Address: Passeig de Gràcia 113, Barcelona, Spain, 08008)

barcelona passeig de gracia catalan architecture

The photos say it all. El Palauet is a magnificent example of Modernisme: the flowing, ornate, Catalan version of Art Nouveau.

Principal Tibidabo suite, el palauet

I’m sure you are wondering about my outfit, so let’s chat about fall Gothic fashion before we go inside…

● I’m wearing my new skeleton dress from Rat Baby Clothing. I paired it with a translucent vintage blue dress, and YRU platform shoes. The bag is from the hotel, and I used it during the entire trip.


gothic high heel spike shoes

I’m a fan of Rat Baby, an alternative clothing brand inspired by rock music and Gothic styling. They also make the most delicious shoes, with lightning bolts and spikes.

● Shop their footwear below — the prices are pretty, pretty, pretty good! 

witch hooded dress, killstar

Now that fall has arrived, I’ve been looking at new wardrobe pieces. I can’t get enough of this Killstar hooded witchy dress with dangling sleeves. It can double as a costume for Halloween.

● Pick up this dress online: they make a bodycon version (left) and skater skirt version (right).

skeleton sexy dress, rat baby apparel

Or how about a skeleton dress, like mine? I picked out my favorites, at various price points, below:

leather goth jackets

In my mind, fall is leather jacket weather. I’ve got my eye on the following:

1) Sigil jacket: what glorious symbols! Get it from Killstar
2) This rocker-style one is a steal, at only $48 
3) I love my hooded leather jacket, similar to this

goth backpacks, gothic bags

Finally, for those going back to school (or back to Ghoul)… I thought you’d dig these Gothic backpacks.

4) Witch occult backpack
5) Circular Goth bag
6) Luna the cat from Sailor Moon! 

art nouveau buildings, barcelona architecture

Back to the “Palauet”, which means a small palace in Catalan. The hotel is right next to this elegant facade: Modernism was truly a glorious era for design.

barcelona 5-star luxury hotel suites

The architect of this building is Pere Falqués, a contemporary of Antoni Gaudí. He’s famous for his stylized lampposts and mosaic benches on this exclusive street, Passeig de Gràcia.

el palauet living barcelona entrance

Now a hotel, El Palauet Living Barcelona keeps the rich, decorative history alive.

catalonian modern architecture palace

All of the original ceilings, wood carvings and tiles have been restored to perfection. The lobby is a work of art, with details like peephole windows and stained glass.

(My hair color and cut are by Stephanie Hoy of Stratosphere in downtown Vancouver.)

rose painted spanish ceiling

Don’t forget to look up, lest you miss out on the rose-painted, swirling ceiling. 

glass rotunda barcelona

During the early 20th century, Art Nouveau took on a distinct character in different European regions. In Catalonia, the style had a bold and patriotic feeling.

spain modernism architecture art nouveau

Curves, rich handcrafted details, and organic forms are major themes.

antique grape shaped lamp chandelier

This antique chandelier, which mimics the shape of grapes, drew my attention.

barcelona carved wood staircase bannister

If there was really a “stairway to heaven,” it would look like this carved wooden wonder. (El Palauet also has a fun old-fashioned elevator, where you squeeze inside and close the metal gate by hand.)

art nouveau windows, apartment barcelona

The hotel has six spacious apartments, which merge Modernism with 21st-century amenities. 

We stayed in the two-bedroom Principal Tibidabo suite. When we first walked in, we couldn’t get over the high ceilings and semi-circular lounge!

el palauet living suite

This is my Art Nouveau apartment of dreams. The floral stained glass window has views of the Convent of Pompeii and Tibidabo Mountain.

elegant luxury apartments barcelona

All of El Palauet’s suites come with a fully stocked kitchen, dining and living room, and balconies or terraces that overlook Barcelona. The magic is in the elegant details, such as these sliding doors to the two bedrooms.

beautiful hotel interiors

These interiors feel clean and modern, thanks to designer furniture by Eero Saarinen, Philippe Starck, Knoll and others.

heart art nouveau carved ceiling

The minimal-modern decor harmonizes surprisingly well with the historic stucco ceilings.

occult sigil gothic dress

El Palauet also equips the apartments with touch-screen panels, which we used to turn lights off and on, and play music. They also offer guests a personal assistant.

(My white 90-style shoes are by YRU. They always have fabulous footwear, including the rainbow platforms below.)


goth model, occult gothic fashion

We played around with the beauty lighting in the bathrooms. (Photos by Borderless Media)

modern spanish bathtub

The bathtub looks like a modern art piece, and is surrounded by flower light projections that change color. 

white jellyfish ceiling lamp

Love this lotus-meets-jellyfish lamp.

makeup mirror beauty lighting

Can you see my ribcage? (I might get this skeleton-sweater for colder weather).

curved art nouveau sculptures

I’m sure you now understand why El Palauet is my fantasy apartment! I have a new appreciation for Spanish Modernisme / Art Nouveau after staying here.

el palauet lobby, lounge

Thanks also to Visit Spain and Eurail for making our travels possible, and to Blacklane Limousines for the transportation. I’ll get off the couch and take you around Barcelona’s hippest districts next. 

barcelona designer hotels, espana

What do you think of my skull-and-bones dress? Which of these below Goth designs would you add to your closet? 


Hindu temple tour in Ubud! Balinese architecture, Uluwatu kecek fire dance, Barong theater.

bali hindu temple architecture

Bali, the Island of Gods! At last, I was able to come to this destination known for its warm, spiritual culture.

I had seen stunning photos of Hindu temples in Ubud…

Pura Desa Ubud

… but nothing prepared me for how impressive it feels to be there in person, surrounded by incense and flowers.

prvate day tour bali indonesia

You’ll remember that I stayed at The Ritz-Carlton Bali, a five-star hotel that encourages guests to take in the culture of the island. They have a partnership with Destination Services, who offer private tours and immersive activities for travellers.

Destination Services was wonderful at listening to my goals for a day trip, and arranging a temple and culture journey around Ubud. We had a sweet local guide with us, and we learned so much about Bali living — from temple histories to marriage customs.

bali culture tour, uluwatu

In addition to visiting sacred places in Bali, we watched two colorful performances — including a kecak fire dance, as the sun set over Uluwatu Temple. There’s video footage below, so read on.

pink sari, indian fashion outfit

That morning, our Destination Services guide picked us up from The Ritz-Carlton Bali. The climate is especially humid around noon, and we were grateful we had a private, air-conditioned van to take us around.

The temples provide sarongs and scarves for guests to cover up bare limbs, as a sign of respect. I wore an Indian garment, which kept me cool yet covered. 

Pura desa puseh batuan

I love customized private tours since you get to go exactly where you want with a local expert, and can avoid tourist traps like gift shops. Our guide took us to Pura Desa Puseh Batuan, a lesser-known village temple. (Photos by my friends Cohica Travel, who blog and consult on sustainable traveling.)

bali temple offerings to gods

This pura (Hindu temple) is a thousand years old, and dedicated to the god Brahma. 

bali temple architecture

At the entrance, we saw these beautifully packaged ritual offerings. Devotees present these to the spirits three times a day, in a uniquely Balinese tradition.

bali split gate, candi bentar

You feel a special energy as you walk through the “candi bentar,” or ornate split gate that is found in many of Bali’s temples.

pura worship pavilion

Balinese Hinduism is distinct from the Indian tradition. Here, the religion merges with folk rituals and mythological deities. Many temples also have Buddhist statues, as the Balinese look to the Buddha as a spiritual figure.

indonesia stone sculpting, ornament

I was mesmerized by the sculpted stone designs. Bali’s craftsmen are known for their intricate techniques.

hindu offerings for deities

Bali is known as “the island of the thousand temples” because in addition to village temples, people set up their own “puras” at home. As we drove through Ubud, every third house seemed to have an adjoining courtyard for worship.

offerings at temple altar, ubud

Balinese Hindus give a colorful packet of offerings three times a day, to thank the good spirits and appease the evil ones. This lady at Pura Desa Batuan holds a tray of fruit, flowers and incense.

ubud buddhist temple, art

We were glad to have our guide with us, to tell us personal stories of growing up in this spiritual place.

fashion blogger bali temples tour

Most of Indonesia is Muslim, but Bali practices a distinct form of Hinduism.

indonesian trees, leaves

Nature plays an important role in Balinese spirituality, and the temples are blossoming with trees and flowers.

ubud spiritual temples

You can’t help but feel the love, when you see these devotional gifts everywhere.

ornate bali temple roof

I was in awe of the intricate rooftop carvings.

balinese gates, entrance

I had never seen architecture like this anywhere else. Courtyards, pavilions, bas reliefs, prayer areas.

ancient bali sculptures

The design of traditional puras follows a “tri mandala” concept that creates balance.

gate guardian statues hinduism

These guardian deity statues protect the gates.

elephant statues bali ubud

The elephant god, Ganesha, is one of the best loved in the Hindu pantheon. I also saw many representations of the garuda, or holy bird.

uluwatu elephant statue

On another evening, Destination Services took us to the famous Uluwatu Temple, which dates back to the 11th century. 

ubud monkey forest, bali

At the parking lot, we spotted several long-tailed macaques! These monkeys are seen all over Bali, and the trouble-makers tend to be at Uluwatu. Our guide warned us to secure our sunglasses and belongings, since these monkeys are notorious thieves.

crazy bali monkeys, macaques

You can see many of these creatures in the Sacred Ubud Monkey Forest.

uluwatu temple cliff

Pura Luhur Uluwatu is one of Bali’s nine directional temples, which protect the island from evil spirits. Down below, we saw the rolling waves that make Uluwatu beach a hit with surfers.

uluwatu pura, ocean temple

Talk about a dramatic location. The tiered-roof temple stands at the end of the cliff, 70 metres above the Indian ocean.

ganesha hindu statue uluwatu

We arrived right before sunset, and spent about 30 minutes walking through the accessible grounds of Uluwatu Temple. (Other areas are closed off from visitors). Wear good shoes, as you’ll have to climb about 100 stone-cut steps. 

bali carvings, art architecture

These swirling stone friezes caught my eye.

bali sunset, famous temple

To respect the sacred ground, both men and women wrap sarongs around their waist, covering their legs.

uluwatu sunset, bali

Sunset over the ocean, with the temple silhouetted in the back… a postcard-perfect view.

hindu lighting fire ritual

Time to gather in an open arena to watch the kecek dance. This performance takes place as the sun sets, around a central flame that casts dramatic shadows.

indonesian men wearing flowers

The male performers wear this traditional wrap garment, and red flowers tucked into their ears. Kecek is a combination of dance, chanting and theater that tells the story of the Hindu epic, “Ramayana.”

kecek dancers, bali fire dancing

The chorus of males ranged in age, from pre-teen to senior. They chanted the story Prince Rama, who with the help of a monkey-like being, defeats King Ravana to rescue the kidnapped Princess Sita.

bali prayers, kecek chanting

These men chanted “jack-a-jack-a-jack” while sitting in a circle facing the flames, and waved their arms in trance-like patterns. Some voices rose high above the crowd, keeping the rhythm in a higher pitch. A leader yelled out “Jack” and “Deen” to change the volume, tone and sequences of the chorus.

uluwatu fire dance ceremony

This man anointed the chanters. Meanwhile, actors in masks roamed and spun around the group.

finger dancing girl, traditional Balinese Dance

I couldn’t take my eyes off the female dancers, who were able to bend their fingers in the most expressive ways. 

bali rituals and ceremonies

It’s hard to know exactly what the kecek fire dance is like until you see and hear it. I filmed parts of it, which you can watch here on VideoFy Me.

gamelan players, indonesian orchestra

My friends and I also got to watch a Barong performance. This features the live music of the gamelan, an Indonesian ensemble of percussion instruments like the gong and xylophone.

barong play, mythologyical dance lion

The Barong is a good, lion-like creature in Balinese mythology. It was incredible to watch the actors clack his jaws and shuffle his feet.

barong monkey mask, dancer

The story features his cheeky monkey friend, and their battles with the demon queen Rangda.

indonesia theater makeup masks

It’s a rather complex plot: Dewi Kunti is supposed to sacrifice Sahadewa to the Rangda, but mischief ensues and in the end, goodness prevails.

You can see highlights of both Indonesian dances in my video above and on VideoFyMe

ubud monkeys stealing

The monkey in the barong theater moves exactly like this cheeky fellow, who ripped the antenna off a taxi!

Thanks to Cohica Travel for the photography and company in these adventures, and to Destination Services for this bespoke tour.

bali temple roof, uluwatu silhouette

Moments like this — the sun setting over Uluwatu — are what make travel such a joy. Thanks for letting me share these stories with you.

PS: please be patient, as I write up my recent adventures in Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Hong Kong and Vietnam… They’ll be up soon,  I promise!


Hong Kong Causeway Bay shopping guide & fashion maps! New travel TV & Vietnam food tour.

causeway bay hong kong colorful signs

Oh, the eye-popping energy of Hong Kong! If you only have a day to explore, then I encourage you to see Causeway Bay. This district is home to my favorite shops and malls, which sell cute character toys, streetwear and smoosh-faced pet cats.

Read on for a shopping guide to Causeway Bay (including maps), and a whole lot of “maooo!”

hong kong fashion magazine, visual kei hair, china gothic, goth punk fashion hong kong,

But first… let me give you a head’s up about my next trips. I’m thrilled to be in Hong Kong again, for one of the biggest TV jobs of my career. For now, all I’m allowed to tell you is that it’s a travel TV show, for a major American network. Once the program is ready to air, I can fill you in on the details and cast — and it’ll be worth the wait, I promise you!

In addition, my friend John Skeleton (above) and I will be adventuring in a new destination…

ciao vietnam travels, tour

Vietnam, at last! We’ve teamed up with Ciao Travel, a local tour company that offers bespoke journeys all over Southeast Asia. Since you gave great feedback on my recent food coverage, I’ll be continuing down this path — and sharing their unique Vietnam Food Tours with you.

vietnam food tour, hanoi halong bay

John and I will be eating our way around Hanoi and Halong Bay:  cooking classes, market tours, local village visits, and other authentic experiences. I’ve heard so much about the famous street food in Vietnam, and can’t wait to try it for myself. As always, if you have travel tips for us, please let us know in the comments or on my social networks (@lacarmina on Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and more).

(Above two photos by my friend Joey Wong, who went to Vietnam in 2011.)

hong kong taxi cabs, street traffic

Whenever I’m in Hong Kong, I pay a visit to Causeway Bay for a shopping haul. It’s easy to get here. Hong Kong’s iconic red taxis are cheap, so you can hop in and tell your driver to drop you off at Causeway Bay station, or one of the major malls such as Times Square or Hysan Place.

The MTR subway system is also clean and convenient: simply ride to Causeway Bay station on the blue island line, and exit out of D3.

batmobile, batman display

Taxi drivers almost always speak English in Hong Kong (a former British colony), so we had no trouble asking ours to let us off at Times Square Mall (home to Lane Crawford and other luxury stores).

The entrance plaza usually has a funny themed display for people to pose with. Remember when John saw the One Piece exhibit, featuring a big pirate ship and life-size anime characters?

batman museum, exhibition

On this last visit, there was a Batman exhibition. Look up: someone in a mask is keeping close watch on Gotham City.

times square hong kong mall

People could pose with the comic book walls for free. Yukiro seems to be one of the illustrated characters, cackling “Muahahaha”.

hong kong fashion blogger outfit

How cool to see Batman art over the years. The glass display had cute “chibi” versions of The Dark Knight.

I’m wearing a black and white skull dress from Gladnews Tokyo. The shoes are Yosuke, from Marui Shinjuku. My white purse is from Baby the Stars Shine Bright.

arm scarification, sigil magic symbol

Unlike in Japan, anything goes in Hong Kong culture. Want to sit on the Bat-cycle? Take photos inside stores? Go for it, nobody will stop you.

causeway bay shopping map, store guide

I created the above shopping map for you.  Save or print a copy: it’s my ultimate guide to Causeway Bay’s coolest and cutest stores.

As you can see, most locations are near the subway station (the white symbol in a red circle). Essentially, if you drop by my favorite malls — World Trade Center, Sogo, Laforet, Hysan Place, Times Square — you can’t go wrong.

island beverley, sogo hong kong mall

I usually start with the Japanese malls, which are all next to each other: Sogo, Laforet, and the smaller Island Beverley. As you can see above, this is a popular shopping destination with a crazy cross-street like in Shibuya, Tokyo.

nozomi and friends pirate shirt

Ride the escalator in Sogo department store, and you’ll find all sorts of kawaii Japanese goods. Ironically, many of these aren’t found in Tokyo: such as “Nozomi and Friends” pirate shirts, and the Kilara Hello Kitty clothing line.

ans hello kitty accessories

Hello Kitty is as popular here as in Japan. ANS makes accessories with more “adult-oriented” Sanrio designs, like these chic keychains and wallets.

hello kitty stuffed toys hong kong

Sogo’s Sanrio shop has a wall of stuffed toys, including plush Tuxedo Sams, Bad Badtz Marus, and special edition Hello Kitties. The one with the raised paw is a “jinmao,” the Chinese version of the lucky maneki neko.

my melody paper shredder

Some items veer towards weird, like this My Melody paper shredder labelled “Let’s Shred!”

miffy Garfield astroboy

I love shopping for character goods in Hong Kong because prices tend to be better than in Japan, for the same or similar items. Miffy, Garfield and Astroboy — who is your favorite? (You know the answer, for me… Miffehhhh.)

lockhart road hong kong, causeway bay street

John and Yukiro get spooky beneath the stacks of signs on Lockhart Road. Lots of great stores on this road, including the makeup chain SaSa (look for the pink logo).

my melody makeup eyelash glue

I can’t take a trip to Hong Kong without ducking into SaSa. You can find affordable, only-in-Asia items here like My Melody eyelash glue…

japanese eyelashes makeup

… and Japanese false eyelashes, cosmetics and more for lower prices than in Tokyo.

cat pet store hong kong

Look above, and you’ll see this adorable awning. The Chinese name that translates to “Purebred paradise, dragon cat playground.” (Address: 527 Lockhart Road). But locals call it the “squish-faced cat shop” because that exactly describes what you’ll find inside…

smoosh faced exotic shorthair cat

Cats with flat faces, for sale! This smooshy-faced fellow is an Exotic Shorthair.

scottish fold kitten for sale hong kong

There was a grey Scottish Fold kitten, cleaning his squishy-face with his paw.

cute kitten breeder china

Part of this store sells “dragon-nosed” cats (how amazing is this Chinese term?) The other part sells toys, food and other pet supplies. I got my Scottish Fold, Basil Farrow, a moving toy that looks like a panda.

silver metallic sneakers

Onward to Laforet, a building dedicated to Jpop fashion (which is why it shares the same name as the Harajuku department store). However, the similarities end there. Laforet is a jumble of little independent stores, housed side by side.

Each carries a variety of mostly no-name brands, meaning you can find Japanese street styles for a fraction of the price (such as a sailor-style dress for $90 HKD). Look out for the Marie Antoinette shoe store, featuring a display window of towering, glittery shoes.

jinmao chinese lucky cats

The “kawaii” shops are excellent for picking up character goods at discount rates. There are quite a few cat-tastic little shops in there. This one contains nothing but feline objects, like this row of lucky cats wearing golden bells (jinmao).

Ginger tshirts 服裝店

This is Ginger (服裝店), a designer t-shirt and streetwear shop with a number of locations. They do collaborations both with indie artists and major mascots, like Garfield.

chinese robots exhibit

“We are the Robots.” By now, you can tell that funny-cute-bizarre displays are big in Hong Kong.

銅鑼灣 hong kong wtc mall

Some of Causeway Bay’s malls (like Lee Garden, Fashion Walk and Hysan Place) contain mostly international brands (Hollister, Valentino, etc), which don’t interest me. I prefer the offbeat Chinese street style in World Trade Center. Sugarman x Little Twin Stars encapsulates the type of streetwear you’ll find here.

sugarman chinese streetwear

In Hong Kong, you’ll see a lot of “borrowing” in character design. The Sugarman duck looks like the rubber ducky, and the mushroom creature has a Super Mario feeling.

miffy cartoonn, chinese shop

WTC is also home to my happy place… the Miffy Shop! This white, expressionless bunny is a Dutch character, but her “kawaii” look makes her popular in Asia. China’s TwoPercent fashion brand has a branch 100% dedicated to Miffy.

miffy bunny sneakers

All of the clothing features the rabbit in a creative way, such as silky tops with her face, or shoes decorated with her stuffed head.

miffy clothing boutique

Prices are reasonable and the quality is high, such as $200 HK ($25 US) for a bunny-eared hoodie.

hong kong sneaker street shops

Forget the Mongkok sneaker street shops. You can get the funniest custom sneakers right here.

miffy rabbit tshirts

You can’t find the Miffy store outside China, so put this on your must-see list.

miffy balloons

If you purchase a few items, you’ll get a gift or discount at checkout. I bought a black and white purse, and we walked away with these free Miffy balloons! (Remember how we made Miffy drink wine at a restaurant?)

causeway bay map, shopping malls

I hope you find my Causeway Bay store map helpful. Let me know if you were able to easily find these spots, or have any to add!

chinese fantasy girl anime

Isn’t Hong Kong shopping the best? I’ve been blogging about this city for years, so for more travel tips, check out my previous Hong Kong posts.

And let me know if you have Vietnam travel advice for my upcoming trip. I’m getting ready to eat a lot of pho!


Reykjavik’s cool architecture & street art murals! Iceland Dead Gallery, Harpa Concert Hall, Hallgrimskirkja.

Reykjavik cool young travel destination

When I was growing up, I didn’t know anyone who dreamed of going to Iceland. Now, it seems all my friends want to visit Reykjavik. Somehow, this far-away place has become the hipster travel destination.

I didn’t know much about Reykjavik before I came, but heard whisperings of an indie music scene, wild nightlife and creative culture. Sounds like my type of place — and it delivered on its promises!

interior hallgrimskirkja reykjavik

In this post, I’ll show you the artistic side of Reykjavik. We’ll wander into street art tunnels, shoot inside the alien-like Hallgrims Church

harpa music hall glass windows

.. and marvel at the prismatic architecture of Harpa Concert Hall.

hallgrims, famoous iceland church

First impressions: Reykjavik is smaller than I expected. The city essentially has two main streets filled with shops and restaurants. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised since only 119,000 people live here — and there are only 325,000 residents in the entire country!

Hallgrimskirkja towers over the city center. This Lutheran church is a wonder of Expressionist architecture, the early 20th century movement that harmonizes stylized forms with the native landscape. In this case, the exterior patterns are inspired by Iceland’s basalt formations, which naturally result from cooling lava.

white disco coat, 70s pimp jacket

The church design was commissioned in 1937, but wasn’t finished til the 1980s. I suppose it’s fitting that I’m wearing my Italo Disco pimp-coat, which would be en vogue during the last days of disco. I love this decadent garment, which  I found in a Portland vintage store (more photos here).

My leopard print fuzzy backpack is Gladnews, from Closet Child Tokyo.

icelandic language writing

At the entrance, there is a poem by Hallgrimur Petursson, who the church is named for. Isn’t the Icelandic language fascinating? It stems from early German and developed in isolation, which essentially preserved this ancient tongue.

(But don’t worry about getting around — everyone speaks fluent English in Reykjavik.)

hallgrims pipe organ

Look up, once you’re inside. There’s a pipe organ that looks straight out of Blade Runner. As soon as I stepped into Hallgrims Church, the organist played a short melody and it resonated through the white arches.

church window light shadow reflection

It was a rare sunny day in Reykjavik, which gave us the opportunity to play with light and shadow. Photographer Joey Wong captured this dramatic image of me — it almost looks I’m in a coffin — cast by the windows.

iceland visiting hallgrims church

The simple white altar conveys surprising grace and power. (It happens to match my coat, too.)

cool reykjavik attractions buildings

I thought the architect succeeded in building a space that felt like Iceland: stark landscapes under snow.

hallgrims exterior outside

Hallgrimskirkja looks like it teleported down from another planet. It’s not your typical church, and I love that.

hallgrímskirkja expressionist architecture

Outside, there stands a statue of Icelandic/Norse explorer Leif Erikson, the first European to set foot in North America.

harpa concert hall exterior

If you walk towards the water for about 15 minutes (remember, this is a small capital), you’ll come across yet another futuristic building. This sparkling, angular structure is Harpa Concert Hall: opened in 2011, and designed by Henning Larsen Architects

Húsið þitt

As we walked closer, Joey and I were puzzled by the facade, which seemed to shift colors and refract light from different angles. I found out that these panes are made from both clear and color-coated glass, and cut according to geometrical principles to fit on the steel framework.

iceland harpa music hall windows

More than 1000 of these three-dimensional prismatic “bricks” make up the exterior. At night, the entire facade comes to life with moving light projections.

iceland cute gift store

Inside, Harpa plays host to concerts and conferences (we heard musicians testing a gamelan on one of the upper levels). The lobby has an Epal Design gift store, and it’s well worth a browse.

iceland toys, design shop

It has a sweet selection of Nordic and European decorative objects. Cuteness is universal, it seems!

harpa music hall interior

Bjork, Yoko Ono, Wynton Marsalis and more have performed at Harpa (upcoming events can be found on their site).

harpa glass panels photoshoot

Reykjavik truly is photography heaven. Joey and I felt inspired by the city’s small details, eccentricities, and long hours of clear light.

reykjavik sculpture, art

Photos can’t begin to capture the experience of walking through Harpa and seeing the changing lights, colors and moods. If you come to Reykjavik, you’ll have to stop by and see for yourself.

Sun Voyager sculpture iceland, solfar

Down the road, we saw the Sun Voyager or Sólfar sculpture. Made by artist Jón Gunnar Árnason and unveiled in 1990, this is a “boat of dreams, an ode to the sun.” It also pays homage to the people who first migrated to Iceland, centuries ago.

(Behind the sculpture – how gorgeous is the mountain landscape?)

hipster cute cafes iceland

Reykjavik has many other art attractions, including various museums and a street filled with galleries. However, we were most impressed by the art we saw on the streets – like this yellow coffee shop painted with good vibes.

iceland street art big mural

While we were strolling the main street Laugavegur, we saw a smiling face peeking at us from a side street. How cool is this giant mural, made by  The London Police (from the UK) and Above (from USA)?

cool mural, london police, reykjavik

From 2010-14, Reykjavik’s major was an oddball comedian named Jon Gnarr. He encouraged people to create art in public spaces, resulting in big, striking works like this one.

reykjavik graffiti, street art

We ducked into a corridor, which was covered from ceiling to floor with graffiti and illustrations.

reykjavik big wall mural

New works are constantly appearing, like this one. The scale, quality and variety of street art in Reykjavik can’t be beat.

cool mural iceland

Some of the big streets have become very touristy (overpriced food, shops selling puffin toys). However, the city overall has an authentic feel, thanks to the DIY creativity that is allowed to thrive here. 

Reykjavik Foto camera store

If you need more proof that Reykjavik has become a hipster haven, peer inside the camera shop, Reykjavik Foto.

hipster young travel Reykjavik

The store sells old lomography cameras, photo books, and prints that put a unique lens on life in Reykjavik.

mandala mural, om sanskrit buddhism

Finally, one of my favorite memories of Iceland was visiting Dead Gallery, run by Jón Sæmundur or Nonni. Look for a mandala and DEAD written on the wall.

We heard that Jon only opens up his store/gallery at odd times. Fortunately, he was in that day…

dead gallery studio reykjavik

… and not only welcomed us, but let us go behind-the-scenes in his work studio!

jón sæmundur iceland artist

I felt an instant connection to Jon’s inspirations, which include Tibetan Buddhism and Goth aesthetics, particularly skulls. He surrounds himself with spiritual talismans as he paints.

nonni, Jon Saemundur Audarson

Jon is a multidisciplinary wonder — he also sings in his psychedelic rock band, The Dead Skeletons. He showed us his skull series, which will be published in a book. Each of these faces emerges viscerally, as he drives his brush across the paper. (The one pictured below resonated the most with me.)

skull art, reyjkavik artist

Dead Gallery’s logo is a skull surrounded by a mantra, which reads “He who fears death cannot fully enjoy life.” (I’m wearing one of his t-shirts in this post.)

Seeing past the illusions of life and death — which keep us clinging and fearful — became the major themes of Jon’s work. As he writes on his site, “Dead is focused on life, a paradox intended to shock people into thought. A benign virus.”

dead gallery tibetan buddhism art

Dead Gallery has stayed in my thoughts, and I hope I can go back soon. (Above is a photo from his site, which shows the staircase and bull head in winter.)

reykjavk hipster bars clubs nightlife

We also spotted Jon’s works at Húrra, a relatively new bar infused with incense and a young crowd. The nightlife in Iceland is notoriously wild; most have live bands who play surprisingly well. There are no cover charges, so you can hop into different bars and see what’s happening. On any given night, we recommend Dillon, a laid back rock / alternative / metal bar.

reykjavik boutique design hotel

Back to Hotel Alda, who hosted our stay. This modern, boutique hotel played disco vinyl records during breakfast, and served blueberry Skyr (my beloved Icelandic yogurt). 5 stars right there.

alda hotel, laugavegur street iceland

The lobby has a sleek retro feel, and houses a barber shop. Hotel Alda is located on the happening Laugavegur street — so you can party late, and easily walk back for a good night’s rest.

reykjavik city streets

I’ll leave you with this street view. Note the polar bear on the far left.

Isn’t Reykjavik the coolest place? Is it on your bucket list? 

iceland travel blogger tourism

PS — see more of my latest travel photos and highlighted hairstyle (by Stephanie Hoy of Stratosphere Hair Vancouver) on my Instagram @lacarmina.