Category Archive for Iceland
12 things I love about Iceland! Travel guide to best Reykjavik restaurants, nature tours, art galleries.
Iceland, you are magic. I’ve recently been reminiscing about my trip to the “land of fire and ice,” which turned out to be one of my favorite destinations of all time!
It’s now easier than ever for North Americans to fly to Iceland. WOW and Icelandair have increased the number of inexpensive, direct routes from major cities in the US/Canada to Reykjavik. If you’re on the East Coast, you can find tickets for under $300, and the flight time is only about 6 hours.
Recently, I’ve gotten quite a few requests for Reykjavik travel tips — so I thought I’d lay it all out on one page. Enjoy my “12 things I love about Iceland,” and check out all my detailed Iceland travel guides here.
(You can also check out my travel video about my Iceland adventures, above. It includes footage of the Blue Lagoon, food, nature, art and nightlife that we experienced.)
1 – Get outdoors and discover Iceland’s unique nature
You can’t miss out on the sci-fi landscapes and mystical Northern lights. From Reykjavik, it’s easy to book a car or tour that lets you experience Iceland’s surrounding landscapes. I suggest that you do a day trip with a guide, such as a Northern lights tour package in Iceland.
Iceland’s intriguing black sand beaches were the perfect backdrop for a Gothic fashion photoshoot. My braided hair and bell-sleeves are inspired by Daenerys in Game of Thrones (the show films the “Wall” and “North” scenes on this island).
2 – Take a selfie with a horse
Icelandic horses are the definition of “kawaii” (cute). This breed developed in isolation, which gives them a short, plush appearance. The layers of fat and fur protect them from the cold, but also makes them extra warm and adorable! I stopped to say hi to a herd of Iceland horses: they gently nuzzled up and took a selfie with me.
3 – Search for elves
Many locals believe that they share their country with elves, or “Huldufólk”. According to the folklore, these little creatures hide in mossy rocks, caves and forests. I recommend stopping by Hafnarfjordur, the park where they supposedly reside. While I didn’t catch any glimpses of Huldufolk, I did enjoy the serene energy of the elf park.
4 – Witness Iceland’s waterfalls and geysers
Many travelers go on Iceland’s “Golden Circle” tour, which takes them to the most popular nature sights: Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall, and the erupting geyser Strokkur. However, I recommend going off the beaten path: you’ll find mesmerising waterfalls and sulphuric pools, without the tourists and gift shops. Above is Öxarárfoss, my personal favorite. Such an incredible feeling to get close to these powerful falls.
5 – Dip into the Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon is a popular attraction, but it’s well worth the visit. The lagoon is man-made, with warm waters rich in sulphur and silica that come from a nearby power-plant. You can choose from a variety of passes, and I recommend booking well in advance for the best possible access times.
Unlike in hot tubs, which make me light-headed, I felt great in these soothing, mineral-rich waters. You can wade into different parts of the pool for varying heat levels, and dab a white, natural face mask on your skin. Don’t forget to tie up your hair and protect it from the steam, especially if it’s colored (I put mine in a bun and wore a shower cap, after Joey Wong took these photos).
(If you like my swimsuit, you can shop for similar designs with a click below!):
6 – Smile at the street art
Street art is everywhere in Reykjavik, and it’s beautifully executed (case in point — this London Police x Above mural above, on Laugavegur street). From 2010-14, Reykjavik’s major was an offbeat comedian named Jon Gnarr. He encouraged people to create public art, which resulted in innovative large scale works all over the capital city.
7 – Shop for skulls at Dead Gallery
I noticed a Reykjavik art studio with a Buddhist mandala and skulls on the outside: how could I resist going in? This turned out to be Dead Gallery, the lair of musician and artist Jon Saemunder. Jon’s works — especially his paintings and watercolors of skeletons — are expressions of his mantra: “He who fears death cannot fully enjoy life.”
8 – Feel uplifted at Hallgrims Church
I’ve long been fascinated by Hallgrímskirkja, a futuristic church on top of a hill in the center of Reykjavik. I was thrilled to see the Expressionist architecture in person: the alien-like curves are reminiscent of stark Icelandic landscapes under snow. Inside, there is a pipe organ that reminded me of Blade Runner, and windows that reflected coffin-shaped shadows over the white altar.
9 – Pose inside a prism at Harpa Music Hall
Reykjavik is a small city and easy to explore by foot. Make your way towards the waters, where you’ll find Harpa Concert Hall. The building’s ultra-modern facade flickers in the light, with 1000 prismatic panes that seem to change colors when viewed from different angles. At night, the glass and steel structure comes to life with light projections.
10 – Dine at Apotek
One of my favorite dinners in all of Europe came from Apotek. This comfortable yet upscale restaurant is located in a 19th century pharmacy, hence the name. I started with cocktails named after medicines, and then feasted on the freshest seafood inspired by both Icelandic and Argentinian cuisine. Beautifully presentation, lovely atmosphere: I’d say this is the best restaurant in Reykjavik.
11 – Feast on fish and chips
I ate like a Viking at Icelandic Fish and Chips, an inexpensive eatery that delivers tremendous flavors. You can choose from a variety of fish such as pollock, and it comes with creative dips, roasted potatoes and vegetable sides such as cauliflower tempura. Leave room for the handmade desserts made with ingredients like coconut.
12 – Party hard in Reykjavik
The country that birthed Bjork has an exciting music/nightlife scene. I bar-hopped in Reykjavik, and was impressed by the live bands found in most of the venues. For those who love rock and alternative sounds, check out Dillon. Reykjavik has something for everyone: hip hop, LGBT, retro, and even RuPaul’s drag race performers.
(And you can pick up a Gothic swimsuit for the Blue Lagoon below!)
2015 is drawing to a close… Time for my annual blog ritual of looking back at the highlights of the year!
In my 2014 recap (see part 1 and part 2), I was determined to dedicate more of this site to travel and subculture stories. I feel like this goal came into fruition: my work took me to 14 different countries in 2015, where I covered alternative topics ranging from British Goth festivals to Moroccan beauty workshops.
In this post, I’ll share how these projects came together, and reminisce on my favorite memories of the first six months (above is my Giuseppina Magazine cover – here is the whole shoot). I’ve also embedded my travel videos from each destination, in case you missed them when they first came out.
And the year’s not quite done yet… Two more destinations ahead. Find out what they are at the end of this post, and on my social networks (@lacarmina, linked below). Thanks for being part of my journey, and here’s to a meaningful 2016!
My travel filmmakers and I started the year in Hong Kong, where we were working with the new Hotel Sav. I always love coming back to this city, where I have many friends and relatives.
It was an incredible honor to have my own hotel room at Sav, which I decorated with artist Naomiyaki! This “Floor of Love” project appealed to us because it had the goal of elevating a traveller’s stay through art, and giving back to charity.
Check out all my Hong Kong articles here for the behind-the-scenes story of how we made a “La Carmina” room, and what these paintings represent.
We also celebrated Chinese New Year for the first time, in Hong Kong.
Dragon dances, fireworks and food… take a moment to watch the travel video above, to see it all in action.
Next, my film team and I flew to Tokyo, Japan. We were working once again with trip-planning startup Odigo. I had the time of my life at the Odigo launch party with my friends.
We also did stories and videos about the bizarre, kawaii attractions found only in Japan. From the Pompompurin puppy cafe (above) to the mecha Gundam robot, you can see the latest pop culture oddities in all my Tokyo posts.
And above is the Tokyo travel video — Pokemon cafe, Suspiria horror pubs, game centers and more madness.
In the spring, I finally visited one of my top dream destinations: Iceland. The country is like nowhere else, with science fiction buildings and an otherworldly landscape.
My Reykjavik memories include exploring the street art and prismatic architecture, eating insanely fresh seafood, and meeting the RuPaul drag queens (they were randomly performing while we were there).
You absolutely must take a nature tour in Iceland. Our wonderful guides Salty Tours took us to secret spots including black sand beaches, waterfalls and elf caves, instead of the usual Golden Circle. (Here are all my Iceland photos and posts, to help you plan a trip here.)
Enjoy the ethereal video of my Iceland adventures above and on YouTube @lacarmina. There’s footage of me dipping into the Blue Lagoon and taking selfies with plump Icelandic horses!
My white rabbit (Miffy) and I went onward to Manchester UK, where we were working on stories with support from the tourism board. These British adventures included Alice in Wonderland high tea…
… and a pilgrimmage to Manchester music landmarks, including Salford and Sons. (Enjoy the full story about my The Smiths and Joy Division music tour.)
After a train ride through the Yorkshire countryside, I arrived at the seaside town of Whitby. We did a magazine cover shoot at the Dracula abbey that inspired the Bram Stoker novel.
Such fun to finally experience Whitby Goth Weekend, where Andi Sex Gang and other Gothic greats performed. For more photos of the event, take a gander at all my England posts.
I then went back to Tokyo, Japan for a Travel Channel TV shoot. I can’t reveal anything about this TV hosting gig yet, but when it airs next year, I’ll be sure to let you know.
I also got to see the Japanese cat temples, Gotokuji and Imado shrines (featuring thousand of lucky cat statues). I haven’t had a chance to blog about this yet… still so many posts from 2015 that need to go up…
In May, I traveled to Singapore for the first time (it was a year of many firsts). We got insider access at Marina Bay Sands, and ate our way around the city — from high end molecular gastronomy, to hawker center street food.
I still have a Little India and Chinatown post to share with you, but until I get around to it, you can see all my Singapore travel tips so far.
And then, there was Bali — land of temples and spirituality. I thoroughly enjoyed my time here with my friends Cohica Travel, and think back fondly at our temple tour around Ubud.
We also had far too much fun taking a Bali cooking class at the Ritz-Carlton Nusa Dua, with these jolly chefs!
I invite you to check out my Indonesia posts here, for a visual diary of my time on the island.
That takes us up to June! Next up, I’ll look back at memories from the second half of the year.
And what’s next? Off to New York City and Mexico — with partner in crime Yukiro! We’ll be celebrating New Year’s Eve, and kicking back at the new Karisma El Dorado resort in Riviera Maya / Tulum.
How about you — what were your favorite moments of 2015? Did you achieve any goals that you set, or experience something extraordinary?
If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones, then I have a feeling you will like these Iceland photos… inspired by the fantasy fashion and northern landscapes!
I’m also happy to announce that our Iceland travel video is now out — and you can watch it here.
(It would be amazing if you can share this post with friends who are fans of the HBO series. I’d love to hear what they think.)
Above: I’m honored to have one of these Icelandic images on the cover of Love Japan magazine. Inside, you’ll find an exclusive interview with me, and a spread of photos taken both in Reykjavik and worldwide.
Love Japan is a publication that I believe in: it’s dedicated to Japanese culture, lifestyle, food and fashion. You can find this issue in various stockists around London, or order it online through their site (the first 20 customers get special gifts). It’s also free to read online here.
During our time in Iceland, Joey and I also shot an atmospheric film of our travels. It’s quite different from my usual episodes, and has more of a music video feeling. What do you think? Watch our video above, or on my LaCarmina YouTube.
A big round of applause for my team:
I’m a fan of HBO’s Game of Thrones, which is partially shot in Iceland (standing in for the Wall and North of the Wall). What better place to do a photoshoot inspired by the characters?
I channeled Daenerys Targaryen with my braided and curled hair.
Iceland is a photographer’s paradise, thanks to the clear light and dramatic landscapes. Photographer Joey couldn’t resist crossing the road to capture this mountain range.
We got access to these hidden nature areas, thanks to Thor and Anna of Salty Tours. They were excited about our photoshoot concept, and brought us to the perfect settings, far away from other tourists.
Since we were on a private Jeep tour, we could go wherever we wanted and work at our own pace. We couldn’t have asked for a more magical location, at this elf park.
I’m channeling the dragon queen and King’s Landing fashion, with my wide-sleeved top (by Japanese brand Ozz On, found at Closet Child.
Salty Tours took us to sulfur hot springs, Icelandic horse farms and other hidden spots throughout our day journey. We were grateful for this customized 4×4 experience, which went above and beyond a regular Golden Circle tour.
We even stopped by a bizarre rack of dried fish, and tried fermented shark! For the full story of my Salty Tours adventure in Iceland, check out this post.
When Joey and I researched Iceland, we were in awe of the black sand beaches. We asked Salty Tours to take us to one, and they delivered by bringing us to this epic, deserted beach.
How Gothic is this location? Joey set up lights, and Thor and Anna kindly assisted us with the equipment.
We were grateful for their help — we wouldn’t have been able to capture images like this, without Salty Tours!
The image above should have you humming the Game of Thrones theme song…
My stylist, Stephanie Hoy of Stratosphere Hair Salon in Vancouver, put my hair in princess braids. We looked at photos of Daenerys and Cersei, and she created her own look inspired by their hairstyles.
Stephanie also does all my vivid hair colors, which never fade out. Give her a ring if you want rainbow hair like mine!
Waiting for my dragons to come back to me…
Finally, Salty Tours took us to a little-known waterfall, Öxarárfoss. We got to go right up against the crashing falls, and get the best possible photos.
Yes, there’s an Asian dragon on my Ozz On top — how appropriate!
The mist from the waterfall resulted in a mystical effect.
It’s pretty obvious that I fell in love with Iceland! The energy here is remarkable, and unlike anywhere else in the world I’ve visited.
Humongous thanks to Salty Tours for making our dream photoshoot a reality. If you come to Reykjavik, shoot them a email — there’s no better way to experience Iceland than on one of their private, bespoke Jeep tours.
See the rest of my Icelandic nature tour, including the cute horses we met on the way!
If you enjoyed this post, we’d appreciate any shares! And please take a few minutes to watch our Iceland travel video — there are RuPaul’s drag queens in there.
Reykjavik’s cool architecture & street art murals! Iceland Dead Gallery, Harpa Concert Hall, Hallgrimskirkja.
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!
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…
.. and marvel at the prismatic architecture of Harpa Concert Hall.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
The simple white altar conveys surprising grace and power. (It happens to match my coat, too.)
I thought the architect succeeded in building a space that felt like Iceland: stark landscapes under snow.
Hallgrimskirkja looks like it teleported down from another planet. It’s not your typical church, and I love that.
Outside, there stands a statue of Icelandic/Norse explorer Leif Erikson, the first European to set foot in North America.
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
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.
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.
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.
It has a sweet selection of Nordic and European decorative objects. Cuteness is universal, it seems!
Bjork, Yoko Ono, Wynton Marsalis and more have performed at Harpa (upcoming events can be found on their site).
Reykjavik truly is photography heaven. Joey and I felt inspired by the city’s small details, eccentricities, and long hours of clear light.
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.
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?)
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.
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)?
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.
We ducked into a corridor, which was covered from ceiling to floor with graffiti and illustrations.
New works are constantly appearing, like this one. The scale, quality and variety of street art in Reykjavik can’t be beat.
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.
If you need more proof that Reykjavik has become a hipster haven, peer inside the camera shop, Reykjavik Foto.
The store sells old lomography cameras, photo books, and prints that put a unique lens on life in Reykjavik.
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…
… and not only welcomed us, but let us go behind-the-scenes in his work studio!
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.
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.)
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 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.)
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.
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.
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.
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?
PS — see more of my latest travel photos and highlighted hairstyle (by Stephanie Hoy of Stratosphere Hair Vancouver) on my Instagram @lacarmina.