Sailing the Great Bear Rainforest

British Columbia’s spectacular Pacific Coast is a maze of islands, inlets and fjords, covered in great swathes of temperate rainforest and home to an abundance of wildlife. Perhaps the best way to explore this area is from the water, and so I joined a 5-day sailing trip aboard the beautiful Island Odyssey, a 68ft ketch that carries a maximum of 16 passengers.


From Prince Rupert we sailed north via Kwinamass Bay and into the grizzly bear sanctuary at Khutzeymateen Inlet (known as K’tzim-a-deen by local Tsimshian First Nation communities). With the sun shining and our sails billowing overhead we stopped to explore untouched islands, learning about the strange and colourful invertebrates that can be found along the intertidal zones here – rockpools inhabited by seastars, urchins, anemones and more, all explained with great enthusiasm by our fantastic onboard naturalist guide, Lindsay.

Into the rainforest...

Crossing the open waters of Chatham Sound we encountered Dall’s porpoise (one of the fastest marine mammals) and a pod of orcas, before sighting our first grizzly bear at Kwinamass Bay. A shore landing at the estuary the following morning allowed us to see a bear’s scratching tree, stomp trail, footprints and scat, offering a greater understanding of how bears live in the wild. And so we were fully prepared as we entered the protected waters of Khutzeymateen…

Part of the Great Bear Rainforest, this region is home to Canada’s highest concentration of grizzly bears and we certainly weren’t disappointed. We saw around 20 bears in total – from solitary females, a mother with cubs and most exciting of all, two males battling it out for the affections of one poor female, chasing around the hillside and leaving us in no doubt as to just how powerful these mighty creatures are.


Leaving the Inlet we were treated to the sight of another pod of orcas, three small ones learning from a much bigger one how to follow the steep shoreline, rolling and tail-flicking as they hunted coho salmon. Witnessing an orca breaching in this incredible setting was every bit as thrilling as our close encounters with grizzlies, and as the sun set over the water we sat on the deck with a glass of wine, soaked up the views and wondered what the next day would bring…

Liz's trip was a version of the Great Bear Rainforest Cruise - contact one of our Canada Travel Specialists to plan your own adventure in Canada. 

Posted on June 24, 2014 in Canada , Wildlife | Permalink | E-mail this | Comments (0)

5 of the best places to eat in Iceland

After a long day of watching geysers erupt, climbing volcanoes, swimming in geothermal pools, and snowmobiling on glaciers, you'll probably have worked up an appetite. What you really want is a meal as fantastic as your day, but where to go? 

Here are a few suggestions of where you can go for an unforgettable eating experience in Iceland by Thora Ingvarsdottir, one of our Iceland Travel Specialists.

1. Baejarins Beztu hot dog stand (Reykjavik)

Although there are many fantastic restaurants and eateries in Reykjavik, perhaps the most famous of them all is a humble hot dog stand near the harbour. Baejarins Beztu (“The Best in Town”) has been providing the people of Reykjavik with delicious hot snacks since 1937 – the queue outside this little booth, often snaking its way out into the street and round the corner, testifies to the general consensus that the hot dogs served here are some of the best in the world. 

2. Vid Fjorubordid lobster restaurant (Stokkseyri)

Surrounded as it is by sea on all sides, Iceland has a long history of seafood. Vid Fjorubordid (“At the Beach”) is a famous restaurant in the tiny village of Stokkseyri on the south western coast. Small and personal, people come from far and wide for a taste of Vid Fjorubordid’s exceptional lobster dishes – and being just down the road from the village’s ghost and folk story museum, it makes for a great end to a fun day.

3. Brynja ice cream shop (Akureyri)

Strangely enough for a country with a cold climate, ice cream is very popular in Iceland; on warm days (and even on days that are not so warm!) locals can be seen enjoying large cones outside the country’s various ice cream shops, and few are as popular as Brynja in the town of Akureyri up in the north of Iceland. Famous for its extremely tasty secret family recipe, this ice cream parlour in the old part of the town down by the sea is well worth a visit, particularly for families. Ask for a “bragdarefur” and choose your own fruits and sweets to be blended into your ice cream, creating your own unique personalised flavour.

4. Kaffi Ku cowshed café (Eyjafjordur near Akureyri)

A cosy family run farm café in the beautiful fjord of Eyjafjordur in the north of Iceland, at Kaffi Ku (“Café Cow”) you can enjoy tasty locally baked goodies and a cup of tea or coffee from a balcony above a working cowshed. Watch the cows being milked and fed and learn about Icelandic farming; you can’t get much closer to the source of the whipped cream on your waffles and the milk in your tea! And on Saturday nights the café is opened as a pub with live music.

5. Hotel Flatey (Flatey island on Breidafjordur bay) 

If you want a beautiful place for a meal in the west of Iceland, you could do worse than the island of Flatey in the bay of Breidafjordur - which is full of beautiful green islands and birdlife. This tiny island community, where no cars are allowed, is framed on three sides by the mountains of the mainland so you can drink in the views while enjoying an amazing locally sourced meal at the island’s only hotel/restaurant.

As there are only two ferries to and from the island per day (from Stykkisholmur on the south side or Brjanslaekur on the north side of the bay) you can either get the morning ferry to the island, leaving on the late afternoon ferry, or spend the night on the island. (Please note that Hotel Flatey is only open between the beginning of June and the end of August.)



Icelandic dishes and delicacies you should try...

The above places are not the only places in Iceland where you can enjoy a mouth-watering meal – far from it! Iceland’s lamb is world renowned, and no trip to Iceland is complete without a taste of the local fish (often cod or haddock, or freshwater trout).

Even the tiniest villages will usually have a small restaurant where you can get a wonderful meal of local delicacies, and hotel restaurants are a great place for this too.

If you get the opportunity, don’t miss the chance to try some Icelandic specialties such as hangikjot (tangy, smoked mutton), plokkfiskur (a stew of mashed fish and potatoes), or the classic kjotsupa (lamb and vegetable soup).

For the more adventurous looking to try something truly unique, there is also the thoroughly traditional hardfiskur (dried fish), svid (burnt sheep’s head), and hakarl (fermented shark meat) – an acquired taste perhaps, but definitely an experience! 

To find out more about travelling to Iceland (and where else our Travel Specialists recommend eating!) visit our website or call the team on 01737 214 250

Posted on June 5, 2014 in Food and Drink , Iceland | Permalink | E-mail this | Comments (0)

What is travelling to see the midnight sun like?

I asked the team to share the secrets of what all-night daylight is like, why it's a great time to travel, and what practical tips you need to know before you go.


You can avoid the crowds...

Travelling in Iceland under the midnight sun is, in my opinion, one of the best times to explore the country. Often the weather is calmer and the lower sun can provide excellent photography opportunities. Summer is a peak tourist period and, as many people travel to Iceland to get away from the hustle and bustle, it can make a lot of sense to visit the major sites in the late evening or early morning.

Often it’s a very tranquil and peaceful experience where you feel like the only person in Iceland! The midnight sun is a great opportunity to experience Iceland at its best, under the conditions which make it a world class wilderness destination.

Dan Stacey – Education Manager

And hang out with the locals

When people mentioned walking through Tromsø at midnight, I expected darkness and snow, but go in June, and you will be treated to beautiful sunshine and a lively city. With people out at the various bars and restaurants, it feels like early evening, when it is in fact just creeping into the next day.

As it is still daylight, you don’t get the rowdy behaviour that the night can bring, just everybody laughing, joking and having a good time. I think the most surreal moment I had was having my ‘evening’ meal at 11:30p.m., sat outside by the harbour!

Bruno Kaufmann - Scandinavia Travel Specialist

It really doesn't get dark!

I went to Ammassalik, East Greenland in mid-May and had never experienced the midnight sun before. I thought that surely it must get a little dark? I couldn’t quite believe when, after an incredible day exploring then sitting down for a lovely dinner that lasted three hours, the time was 11:30pm and it was bright daylight. 

I can see how why the Scandinavians, Icelanders and Greenlanders have so much energy – you just don’t get tired! Ever!! I ended up going to bed about 1am and when I awoke in the ‘night’ I had to peak out of my blackout blinds to really believe all the ‘it’s light all night’ talk. It’s not a myth, no one is telling porkies – it honestly doesn’t get dark.

Amy Snow – Nordic Sales Manager

The light and colours are incredible

Whilst camping in Asbyrgi National Park in north-east Iceland, my partner and I decided to go for a walk after dinner up Eyjan (“The Island”), the high cliff formation that juts out into Asbyrgi canyon like a ship’s prow, dividing it almost in two.

We sat at the tip of Eyjan late into the evening – the midnight sun cast a golden, almost syrupy light over the landscape, low on the horizon but bright, making for fantastic colours and long shadows in the wide expanse of the national park below us. An amazing sight.

Thora Ingvarsdottir – Iceland Travel Specialist

And it’s not just in the northern hemisphere…

Travelling to Antarctica in December meant we could take advantage of long summer days, spending our evenings soaking up the scenery and watching for wildlife. One night after dinner it was decided we could do a late shore landing on Paulet Island. 

This island had something for everyone – geologists were impressed with its volcanic origins, historians were fascinated by the remains of a stone hut from Nordenskjold’s 1901-1904 expedition, and wildlife enthusiasts were thrilled to find a huge colony of Adélie penguins (who apparently like to stay up late to party under the midnight sun).

This would have been an amazing experience at any time of the day, but squeezing in this extra landing after dinner and then sailing back to the ship under a glowing pink sky just made it all the more special. 

Liz Lunnon – Product Development manager


Insider tips for travelling under the midnight sun:

When you go to visit the midnight sun, you will need to realise that sleep will be affected. When you go to bed at 1a.m. and the sun is still up in the sky, it can throw your body clock. However, the sun being up for 24 hours combats the lack of sleep, and you can actually feel perfectly refreshed from 4 hours sleep.

Many hotels have ‘black-out’ curtains, so if you really struggle sleeping in light, then there are hotels that will give you the nights sleep you are looking for – otherwise remember to pack an eyemask just in case.

Opening Hours
Restaurants and bars will be open later than usual, with the locals not eating until 10:30pm at the earliest.

As Norway in particular is notoriously expensive, if you would like an evening out, do not head out until 10pm. This will give you a chance to experience the midnight sun, while enjoying a stunning dinner (the food in Norway is second to none).

And finally…
It might be midnight, but the sun can still burn. Don’t forget your suncream!

Posted on May 14, 2014 in Antarctica , Greenland , Iceland , Norway | Permalink | E-mail this | Comments (0)

Q&A with Hannah Kent, author of Burial Rites

BURIAL-RITES-PB---NEW_175pxLooking for some summer reading? Burial Rites by Hannah Kent is a gorgeously written and haunting tale (based on historical events) about the last months of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last woman to be executed in Iceland, who was found guilty of murder.

Set in northern Iceland in 1829, Kent brings to life the last few months of the condemned woman's life as she is sent to wait for her execution on a remote farmstead. Kent's acclaimed first novel was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award 2013 and has won numerous awards in her native Australia.

We caught up with the author to find out more about what draws her to Iceland and how she came to write this incredibly evocative first book.

When did you first visit Iceland?

I first visited Iceland as a seventeen-year-old exchange student with Rotary, in 2003. I stayed for one year, fell in love with the country, and have been back many times since.

Do you have a favourite place in Iceland?

I have many favourite places, for a multitude of reasons. As an exchange student I lived in Sauðárkrókur, which is a small town in Skagafjörður. I often return there, as it's where many of my friends live. It's also surrounded by exquisitely beautiful countryside – mountain ranges and old glacial valleys, and magnificent fjords. There's lots of history in that area too. The north of Iceland from Húnaþing Vestra to Akureyri is my usual stomping ground. In recent years, however, I've been able to spend more time in Reykjavik, and I love that city. It has a wonderful vibrancy.

Was it the difference from Australia that first attracted you to Iceland? 

It was the differences between the two countries that first drew me to Iceland. I wanted to see snow for the first time. I wanted to learn another language, to see the northern lights, and to experience the long hours of darkness in winter and the midnight sun in summer. Iceland seemed an exotic place to me then, and utterly different to what I was used to. I saw the two countries as polar opposites.

However, the more time I spend in Iceland, the more similarities I notice. In particular, I see prevalent characteristics amongst both Icelanders and Australians that I think must come from living on an island with extreme climate. There's a tendency towards stoicism and fortitude, particularly amongst Australians and Icelanders who live in rural areas. There is often a love of landscape, and a deep respect of its power and magnitude. The harder I look, the more parallels I see.

What are your favourite things to do/see/experience in Iceland?

One of my favourite things to experience in Iceland is the réttir, the annual sheep and horse round up in September. This is the time when the locals set out into the highlands to round up the sheep and horses that have been grazing and roaming free during the summer. After the stock has been driven down the mountainside, the animals are driven into a sheepfold, where farmers then identify their own and separate them. The réttir is often a wonderful opportunity to see the countryside and appreciate some of its traditions.

I also love to experience Christmas in Iceland. The houses and townships are covered in lights, the snow is magical, and the Icelandic Yule Lads – the thirteen Santa Clauses that ply various trickery in the nights leading up to Christmas – are everywhere. The food is wonderful, and the Christmas drink – a mix of orange soda and malt drink – called Egils Malt og Appelsín is fantastically addictive.

The other things I love to do in Iceland include bathing in the hot springs, horse riding cross country, and afternoons of coffee and chat with the Icelanders I've had the good fortune to meet.

When and where did you first hear the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir? 

I first heard the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir when I was living in Iceland as an exchange student. A few months after my arrival in Sauðárkrókur, my host parents took me on a drive through Vatnsdalshólar, a peculiar expanse of small hillocks that surround the main road carrying traffic between the north and south of Iceland. They pointed out three hills in particular, called Þristapar, and told me that they were the site of Iceland's last execution. When I asked them what had happened and who had been killed, I was told that a woman called Agnes Magnúsdóttir had been beheaded in 1830 for her role in the murders of two men.

Over the course of my exchange, and in the ten years that followed, I slowly discovered more details about Agnes and her life's trajectory through a combination of research, reading and coincidence.

This is based on a true story, have you had any reaction from or contact with descendants of the characters you portray?

I recently received an email from Natan Ketilsson's great granddaughter (Natan was the man Agnes Magnúsdóttir was accused of having murdered), which was a lovely surprise. I've also been contacted by several Icelanders whose relatives had some role in the events, or who have a unique insight into the story. I am grateful to all of them, for they have accepted this retelling with astonishing good grace.

It's a dark and difficult tale in many ways, who do you have most sympathy for? 

I like to make a distinction between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy, I feel, is a feeling of pity and sorrow for another, whereas empathy is the attempt to understand or share the feelings of another. My approach in writing this book was to work out of empathy, rather than sympathy. I wanted to understand these characters more than I wanted to feel sorry for them.

Most of my empathy was directed towards Agnes, but not necessarily because I felt she was most deserving of it. The novel, I knew, would privilege her perspective, and so it was important for me to try and gain an understanding of her feelings and interiority.

Personal freedom is a big theme within the story - do you think the co-dependent relationships with neighbours that were prevalent in 19th century Iceland are still familiar to contemporary Icelanders?

It's a good question, and one I'm not sure I have the authority to answer. I would hate to speak on behalf of Icelanders. That said, in my experience I have certainly perceived a strong awareness of kinship networks, and a deep respect and interest in community. Co-dependency is perhaps less vital to survival than it once would have been, but it seems to me that ties to friends, family and neighbours continue to ensure collaborative and harmonious Icelandic communities.

Who are your literary inspirations?

I have many. There are the authors I have long loved reading, whose work inspires me to better my own. These writers include Margaret Atwood, Thomas Hardy, Janet Frame, Ron Rash and Angela Carter. Then there are the other artists (mainly musicians) that similarly motivate me to improve my writing, or to try new things: I have a great love of singer-songwriters, as I admire their concise lyricism. One of my greatest sources of literary inspiration is people watching. Daydreaming also turns up the most wonderful ideas.

Posted on May 1, 2014 in History , Iceland | Permalink | E-mail this | Comments (0)

Family holidays – big adventures or ‘buckets and spades’?

The summer holidays mean something different to everyone. Some families return to the same spots year on year, some choose to explore different regions or countries whenever the opportunity arises. And some families enjoy a mixture of both.

There are benefits of both approaches to going on a family holiday – and not just during the summer – from the chance to relax and spend quality time together, to broadening your horizons. With the welter of holiday options that are available, I did a quick survey of the Discover the World team to find out how they travelled as children, and what they believe travel can bring to young people.

The benefits of big adventures

"One of my favourite childhood memories is when my Dad took me to the Bahamas to go swimming with dolphins when I was around 12. It was just the two of us and was such a special trip.

"Travel does improve confidence; I gained friendships and also an understanding of different ways of life. On family holidays I enjoyed sharing my Dad’s passions for travel and spending quality time with the family. Growing up travelling to different destinations, I feel, has made me more open minded; open to different experiences and people.

Harvey-Iceland"This year Harvey (my 3 year old son) will be going to Iceland, Portugal and Finnish Lapland in December. I get so much pleasure in seeing him experience different countries, and sharing my love of travel, like I do with my family. I hope that as he grows his experiences will broaden his mind. We will look back with fond memories. Harvey will have opportunities to interact with different kinds of people, just like I did; I hope this will positively impact his maturity in his thinking and behaviour."
Kim Stacey – Scandinavia Travel Specialist (and daughter of Discover the World MD Clive Stacey)


"I love taking students abroad on action and adventure residential trips to the likes of Iceland and Costa Rica. Yes it is jolly hard work, but the rewards are in the life changing experiences that students are able to have. I have seen students’ confidence grow, and their passions manifest themselves. Over the years many have come to have a deeper appreciation of the world around us, become champions of sustainable and environmental issues and then become travellers themselves whilst pursuing careers in associated fields."
Karen Ash – Head of Geography

Beginning with ‘buckets and spades’ holidays

"As a child I was carted around Cornwall in a trailer tent. I spent times on farms, being chased by pot bellied pigs, finding jellyfish in the sea and being wrapped in plastic while rain dripped through the tent all night – for about 5 years in a row! As I got older I went to the likes of Majorca, Corfu and I had been to Orlando by the time I was 16. I think as I got older I would have liked to have gone to some more exotic places with my parents, but definitely while I was younger, I don’t think I would have appreciated all the amazing places we could have visited.

"It has given me a thirst for knowledge and a need to see as much of the world as possible, which I think is a very good thing – and perhaps one of the reasons I now work in travel. When I have my own children I want to give them an amazingly fun and exciting childhood – where possible. I will take them camping in the countryside, so they can get there fill of being chased by the local pot bellied pigs, but I might start to broaden their horizons a little earlier as there is still a lot of this world I need to see, so I shall certainly be taking them with me."
Katie Fox – Scandinavia Travel Specialist


"Speaking as a parent I can see the benefit of both kinds of holidays. The pesky low hanging jetstream tends to wreck English summers, especially during the school holidays! Income prevents us taking the family on dream holidays so they mostly have to live vicariously through me. Their next mini break “brought to you by Facebook” is to Iceland, however we are off to south west France for two weeks in the summer for a mixture of relaxation and culture."
Mark Champagne – Scandinavia Travel Specialist


"To me the summer holidays still says racing my brothers from Grandma’s caravan to the cliff-path, jumping over the waves, washing sand and grass cuttings off our feet at the outside tap, making dens from foldable chairs, pegs and a groundsheet, and wet afternoons spent playing board games. We went back to the same caravan site each year – it happened to be in Norfolk, it could have been anywhere – and almost all my memories are in one place.

"Punctuating the comforting familiarity there were other holidays to Europe, Canada (pictured at Moraine Lake) and America – I remember the excitement of going more vividly than most of the details. I think the combination has given me an appreciation of how lucky I am to be able to travel and how much fun exploring new places can be, as well as the importance of spending as much time as you can with your family before life spreads you all over the place." 
Clare Wilson – Content Editor

Planning a family holiday? Here are a few our our favourite trips

Posted on April 30, 2014 in Travel | Permalink | E-mail this | Comments (0)

South Island strolls – sampling New Zealand’s Great Walks

Five of New Zealand’s 9 Great Walks are situated on South Island, but if you don’t have the time or fitness to take on the whole route, there are shorter samples of these famous scenic walks on offer – and our Kiwi Travel Specialist Lauren tried out two of them…

Nelson/Abel Tasman Region

Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand’s smallest National Park, is a place I had dreamed of visiting. Its beauty is absolute; the sea sparkles like diamonds and the secluded beaches and numerous walking trails make it a must visit on the South Island…


For our first night on South Island, we stayed nearby Nelson and made our way to Kaiteriteri beach the following morning to catch the Abel Tasman Sea Shuttle into the Park. The boat trip alone is absolutely mesmerising. Native birds soared next us and fur seals either frolicked in the sea or were laid on the rocks soaking up the sun.

As a practical service, the shuttle is fantastic as it makes many stops along the park’s coastline, giving you the opportunity to choose what walk you would like to do, knowing you have transport to meet you at the end. The famous Abel Tasman Coast Track takes 3-5 days to complete, but if (like us) you prefer a shorter stroll, I can thoroughly recommend the Sky Track walk which takes you to a truly amazing viewpoint over turquoise seas and golden sand...

In Abel Tasman itself we stayed at the beautifully situated Peppers Awaroa Resort, which is well known for its Eco Lodge status. There are some great walks you can do from the lodge (including the Sky Track) ranging from 30 minutes to 7 hours, as well as opportunities to go off and explore by kayak.

Queenstown and the Routeburn Track

Queenstown is a gateway to a lot of activities – bungy jumping, skydiving, jet boating, it is also a 40 minute drive away from the Routeburn Track, another of New Zealand’s most famous scenic walks.

The Routeburn Track takes 2-4 days to complete, weaving through beech-forested valleys, glistening alpine lakes and surrounded on all sides by spectacular views of the Southern Alps. To get a taster, I joined Guided Walks NZ for a day trip.


Peter, our guide, was enthusiastic and passionate about the area and had a fantastic sense of humour too. My husband and I walked the Lake Sylvan Track, which we followed to the lake itself where we stopped for lunch and to take in the beauty of the area. The pace was relaxed and not strenuous at all, but this can be adjusted to suit the needs of clients on the day if you want a more invigorating tramp.

Peter showed us how to survive in the wild, finding plants you can and can’t eat and also what you can use for medicine. He then took us to a Maori Cave where we learnt how to start a fire; it was a great moment sitting in the cave looking down on the people walking along the track who didn’t even know we were there. It really helps you get a sense of why the Maoris’ choose the area to live and hide from their enemies.

Other short walks to try on South Island:

  • Fiordland National Park: You can do short sections of the Kepler Track from Te Anau (the gateway to the National Park) – read up on the selection here. For a short stroll with beautiful sunset views, the half-hour stroll to Frasers Beach from Manapouri is a stunner.
  • Franz Josef glacier: there are many ways to see the incredible Franz Josef glacier – including this 1.5hr return walk along a riverbed to the lookout near the glacier’s foot. Note: this track is rocky and sometime closed due to ice collapse and other factors. Glaciers should be treated with caution and visitors should follow all signs and barriers. 

Want more? Read about all New Zealand’s 9 Great Walks.


Posted on April 16, 2014 in New Zealand | Permalink | E-mail this | Comments (0)

Alaska from the air: glacier helicopter sightseeing

Liz Lunnon, our Product Development Manager, travelled to Alaska recently – a helicopter ride over Colony Glacier was a highlight, and here’s what she has to say about the experience:


Following a splendidly scenic cruise on Prince William Sound, revealing bald eagles, sea otters and an array of glaciers, we continued our journey to Girdwood to meet our pilot at Alpine Air Alaska.

Taking off into a rather off-putting bank of dense low cloud, we emerged to a spectacular vista of snow-dusted forest and the soaring white peaks of the Chugach Mountains. Spotting tracks in the snow below, we found three moose relaxing amongst the trees. The advantage of a helicopter flight being that we could swoop down for a closer look at these wonderfully ugly creatures!

Continuing we rounded the side of a mountain to suddenly reveal the breathtaking sight of Colony Glacier. Endless towering crags of dazzling blue ice rose in wave after wave below,
stretching away into the distance where the waters of Prince William Sound lay sparkling beyond.

Landing high up on the glacier we were able to sweep aside a light layer of freshly fallen powdery snow to see the ancient river of blue ice beneath. Surrounded by snowcapped peaks against the backdrop of a vivid blue sky, it was an overwhelming sight to witness.

Returning to earth we flew once more through the swirling mist, landing on what appeared to be a grey and overcast day. The thick cloud offered no hint of the majestic mountainous world just beyond...

Tempted to travel? Find out more about travelling to Alaska with Discover the World

Posted on April 14, 2014 in Alaska | Permalink | E-mail this | Comments (0)

5 destinations to discover your inner Viking

Far from just being the bloodthirsty raiders of popular myth, the Vikings were prolific traders and travellers who rowed and sailed their longships all over the known world. The BP exhibition Vikings: life and legend at the British Museum (on until 22 June) aims to tell their real story… Follow in their wake on a Viking-inspired vacation – here’s a few ideas of where you need to visit.

Scandinavia: the Viking homelands

You can travel almost anywhere in Scandinavia and be reasonably confident that there were once Vikings farming the land or sailing the waters.

Ferries (and trains) connect Helsinki, Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen, the modern day capitals of Scandinavia, so you can travel between these four cities (mostly) by water. Oslo and Stockholm in particular celebrate their Viking heritage, but each maritime city has plenty of more contemporary attractions so you can balance ancient and modern.

In the far north of Norway, Borg on the Lofoten Islands is home to the fantastic Lofotor Viking Museum, where you’ll find an 83m Viking longhouse – the longest ever discovered – which has been reconstructed in its entirety, and a replica of the Gokstad Ship in an inlet nearby.

Iceland: the land of the sagas

The Vikings play a rich part in Iceland’s history, and the famous Icelandic sagas – although written in the 13th and 14th centuries – provide the most accurate and detailed accounts of Viking life in existence. The Saga Museum in Reykjavik (Grandagardi 2, near the waterfront) has many of the legends from the Icelandic sagas.

And if you stay at the 4* Hotel Reykjavik Centrum, you can visit the museum in the hotel's basement which is built around archaeological remains of a Viking longhouse dating back to 871AD. 

Outside of the capital, you can visit many of the places mentioned in the sagas. Njál’s Saga, for example, centres around Hvolsvöllur on the south coast and the Saga Centre there depicts Viking life and the bloody and tragic saga story.

Greenland: sail in the footsteps of Erik the Red

When Erik the Red was exiled from Iceland for murder in 982AD, he sailed west and discovered, and named, Greenland. Three years later he had persuaded some 500 people to accompany him to Greenland (although not all the ships survived the journey), and eventually settled at Qassiarssuq.

Today you can visit the ruins of Erik's homestead, and the church of his wife Thjodhildur. The Viking population of Greenland survived for around 500 years, and its disappearance remains a mystery…

Newfoundland: Old Norse meets New World

Continuing the family tradition of discovering new lands, Erik the Red’s son, Leif Erikson is thought to be the first European to visit North America. The three regions he explored and named Helluland, Markland and Vinland are thought to be modern day Baffin Island, Labrador and Newfoundland respectively.

In 1968, archaeologists Helge and Anne Stine Ingstad discovered a cloak pin, which lead to the excavation of a Viking settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows. You can visit this World Heritage site, and nearby Norstead – a recreated Viking trading port.

Sail Scotland to Svalbard: Raiders in reverse

The fearsome reputation of the Vikings comes in part from their predilection for attacking religious – such as the attacks on Lindisfarne monastery recorded by the Venerable Bede. These raiders sailed across from Scandinavia, and you can now recreate a similar route back across the North Sea, sailing from Scotland all the way to the Svalbard archipelago in Arctic Norway.

This voyage cruises via the Orkneys and Shetland Islands where you can see Stone Age villages as well as Viking relics. The other draws of this epic journey are the chance to sail into the Midnight Sun, explore the beautifully rugged Norwegian coastline (which is itself rife with Viking history) and see a huge variety of wildlife in the seas and skies.

Find out more about the BP exhibition Vikings: life and legend


Posted on April 11, 2014 in Canada , Greenland , History , Iceland , Norway , Scandinavia , Travel | Permalink | E-mail this | Comments (0)

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