Holidays in Iceland have always had a reputation for being on the expensive side, but with Iceland Air’s great flight and accommodation deals and Iceland’s depreciating currency we thought it was a great opportunity to visit the land of waterfalls, fire and ice.
With so much natural beauty to see and do outside of Reykjavik we pondered whether to take the many guided coach tours or to self drive to see the natural beauties around the Golden Circle and the Icelandic Southern Shores.
Researching the Iceland activities and tours we wanted to do, we calculated that it would cost £554 for two people. Pretty expensive, especially when you consider that most of the tours require you to be stuck on a coach for half a day.
We looked into hiring a 4×4 to do our own self drive tour, which surprisingly came out much less than the combination of tours, totalling £311 for 4 days hire including petrol via Thifty. Not only was it cheaper, but we would have more flexibility and could drive off in any direction at a whim (we did get stuck up a mountain though), and we wouldn’t be stuck on a slow coach for most of our time.
The next stop on our Baltic trip was Riga. We arrived in the capital of Latvia suitably relaxed and refreshed and got off at the main coach station to start our Latvian travel adventure. We had to walk through the Central Market to reach our accommodation and it was bustling!
Riga is the largest city by population in the Baltics and the Riga Central Market is not only the biggest market in Europe but also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The raw hustle and bustle of daily life at the market was a marked difference in atmosphere to the picturesque Tallinn. The energy that hit us immediately after stepping off the coach widened our eyes and only increased our excitement for things to do in Riga during our 3 day stay in the characterful city.
Riga has a beautiful Old Town filled with Art Nouveau buildings, but unlike Tallinn it feels as though the Riga Old Town is for locals as much as tourists. It is abound with fashionable boutiques, galleries, hip restaurants and bars. After a relaxed day of discovering the Riga’s old town, we hit a few of these bars.
We began the second part of our Baltic trip by entering Estonia and the World Heritage site of Tallinn via the Gulf of Finland by a high-speed hydrofoil which covered the 85 km in less than 2 hours at a cost of 20€ each. Tallinn is one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe and this was apparent with the cobble-stoned alleyways and picturesque buildings we saw as we entered Tallinn Old Town.
The old town is no doubt touristy with its pristine streets and many “traditional” restaurants, but it is beautiful nonetheless. There are sprinklings of the new and hip with modern culture graffiti and retro cool Soviet style cafes such as Kohvik Must Prudel facing ornate orthodox churches and historic residential buildings.
We flew into Helsinki airport as the starting point for our 2 week Baltic trip taking us through the Baltic states and ending up in Poland. Here’s our list of the top things to do in the modern capital of Finland.
Meeting Moomin in Helsinki
Ateneum is a great art museum in central Helsinki. If you are interested in art it is always worth checking out what current exhibitions they have on offer. On our visit the Ateneum held an exhibition to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the birth of Finnish author/ artist, Tove Jansson. Tove Jansson is probably best known for her series of Moomin books. The exhibition was well presented with rooms and rooms of both collected and borrowed work, and plenty of information offered in both English and Finnish. Admission is 13€ pp.