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Hello, and welcome to Getaways.
-The show where we go...
-..where you want us to go.
We're on a mission to check out
some of your most popular holiday destinations.
You've been sharing your top travel tips,
-telling us where to go...
-..and what to do when we get there.
This week, we've flown north-west across the Atlantic
to the island of Iceland.
We're here to find out why this
is the ideal alternative to a sun holiday.
Iceland has long been one of the must-see Nordic destinations.
It's famous for its natural wonders of northern lights,
national parks, geothermal pools
and active volcanoes.
And happily, with direct flights to Reykjavik,
it's one you can easily tick off your bucket list.
Yes, you can fly direct to Iceland in about two and a half hours.
And the transfer to Reykjavik takes around 45 minutes.
Reykjavik is the capital city
and it's where you will most likely base yourself.
It's small enough for you to get around on foot,
and one of the first things many of you recommended we do
was to get an overview of the city
at one of the main tourist attractions.
Behind me there is the Hallgrimskirkj.
At 73 metres, it's Iceland's tallest and largest church
and it took over 40 years to build
and its design is inspired by Iceland's geological landscape.
So it's probably why it's one of the country's most photographed sites.
The tower, which dominates Reykjavik's skyline,
is designed to resemble the basalt formations
left behind as lava cooled into thick, upright columns.
Once inside, you can take the elevator
to the top of the bell tower.
And up here at the top of the tower is what it's all about.
You can have a fantastic view of the entire city of Reykjavik,
from the water, the mountains,
and it's a great place for you to come
so you can really get your bearings on the city.
And before you leave, check out the statue in front of the church.
This is the Viking Leif Eriksson,
who discovered North America in the year 1000,
more than 500 years before Columbus.
Did you know that? I didn't.
Iceland is known as the land of fire and ice
and no trip here would be complete
without the obligatory Golden Circle tour -
a tourist route in southern Iceland
which takes in some of the country's most famous attractions.
And as you'd expect, some stunning scenery.
About 45 minutes from Reykjavik is Thingvellir National Park,
a Unesco World Heritage Site about 240 square kilometres in size.
It's a place of historic and geological interest,
as it's a meeting point of two continents.
Now, there aren't many places on earth
where you can see tectonics in action.
In fact, there are only two.
There is the Great Rift Valley in East Africa,
and the Mid-Atlantic Ridge in the Thingvellir National Park,
which is actually here.
Look! You can see it in action.
There's not much happening, but it's there.
You can see the continental drift
between the North American and Eurasian plates
in the cracks and faults in the Thingvellir region,
which are slowly pulling Iceland apart.
The largest crack between two plates is here, known as Almannagja Gorge.
To the west, that's the North American tectonic plate.
To the east, that's the Eurasian one.
And they are separating from each other
at a rate of two centimetres per year.
That is, fact fans,
the same growth rate as your fingernails annually.
Many major events in the history of Iceland
have taken place at Thingvellir.
It was here that the Althing, Iceland's parliament,
was established in 930.
This is the Logberg, or the Law Rock,
and it's the focal point of the Althing.
And this is where the chairperson of the assembly
would convene the meetings.
This is kind of in the middle of nowhere
and quite a hike to get up here.
But I rather like that, because I think
to come up here and do this would mean
you really wanted to be in politics and you really loved Iceland.
Because if you looked out over the majestic surroundings,
it would really inspire you to do the best for your country.
And I think there's a lesson in there for all of us, isn't there?
Next stop on our Golden Circle tour,
and one that rated highly with you lot, is the geyser hot spring area,
one of the greatest natural attractions in Iceland.
A geyser is a spring
from which boiling water and steam spout upwards
and are mainly found in volcanic areas.
And the word geyser, meaning to gush,
comes from the famous great geyser here.
This is the spot where the great geyser once gushed.
It's been dormant for years, but back in its heyday
it would shoot up to 60 metres high.
Now, this entire area is a geothermal park
resting right on top of a bubbling cauldron.
According to geological studies,
the hot springs in this area have existed for over 10,000 years.
This is Strokkur, the most famous spouting geyser in all of Iceland
and the reason being is because she goes off every 10 or 15 minutes,
which is pretty handy for us tourists.
So we're all just going to stand here and wait.
Nice bit of heat off her, actually. Very welcome right now.
Shame about the eggy smell.
It's like waiting on the kettle to boil.
Whoa...! There she goes!
Up 30 metres high.
Boiling hot eggy-smelling water.
That is brilliant!
You get a little fright when you see that.
Our final stop on the Golden Circle tour
is the magnificent Gullfoss waterfalls, or Golden Falls,
situated on the River Hvita, or White River.
The falls are made up of two tiers.
The first is 11 metres high and the second is 22 metres high,
with the water falling into
a two-and-a-half kilometre long canyon below.
It's fed by water that flows
straight out of Iceland's second largest glacier.
And I've got to tell you, guys, this is one spectacular sight,
one you cannot miss.
In the early 20th century,
foreign investors wanted to harness the power of the waterfalls
to produce electricity.
This plaque here is dedicated to Sigridur Tomasdottir.
And the story goes that she campaigned heavily
against plans to build a hydroelectric power plant here.
And fair play to her,
because that would have changed this place for ever.
Gullfoss is now protected by Icelandic law
and is a national park.
All three attractions on the Golden Circle
are within 100 kilometres of the capital
and you can take an excursion tour or drive yourself.
Tony Oakey, from Kilkenny, recommended we check out the Harpa,
a cultural and social centre at Reykjavik's harbour.
Since it opened its doors in 2011,
it has welcomed more than five million visitors
and is one of the city's most recognisable landmarks.
The facade of the Harpa is made up of multiple hexagonal glass tubes,
with coloured and mirrored panes
designed to reflect and fragment light,
mimicking basalt crystals which are indigenous to Iceland.
It's like being inside a man-made iceberg.
There are three concert halls and two restaurants here,
so plenty of reason for you to come and visit.
Me, I'm just happy to sit here, dig the architecture
and enjoy my coffee.
Loads of you mentioned how expensive it is to eat out.
And in fairness, you are right. It really is.
But tons of you also suggested a visit to what's now become known
as Reykjavik's most famous hot dog stand.
It's called Baejarins Beztu,
and hot dog master Skuli is showing me the ropes, so to speak.
-Are you ready?
-I do the fried onions first.
The fresh onions.
Hot dog. Hot dog.
And the mayonnaise-based sauce.
The only rule is that the mustard and the mayonnaise-based sauce
has to be on top.
And is that the secret to why these hot dogs are so popular?
-Yeah, the ingredients, how fresh everything is.
Dab hand at this. This is no bother to me at all.
..mayonnaise. I mean, come on.
Skuli, tell me why hot dogs are so popular in Reykjavik,
because you wouldn't think they are a typical food for here.
The company has been working since 1937.
People are kind of raised as kids...
-To go there...
-Dropping by and...
So they continue and...
And over the years, have you had any famous customers?
Yeah. Of course. We had Bill Clinton.
-I love Bill.
-And just recently,
-I had the opportunity to meet Kim Kardashian...
-..and her sister Kourtney.
-You met the Kardashians?
-Kourtney and Kim.
-Did they eat one?
Yeah, they all had hot dogs.
-Do you think I could look like Kim when I finish this?
-No doubt about it.
One of the big attractions in Iceland
is, of course, the northern lights,
or aurora borealis,
a magnificent display
of bright, colourful, dancing lights in the sky,
which you can see in the winter months from October to March.
Unfortunately, we have come in May,
so we're visiting the Aurora Reykjavik Centre,
which tells you everything you might want to know about them.
-..an invisible shield, the Earth's magnetic field.
Now for the science bit.
The northern lights are a result
of electronically charged particles from the sun
colliding with gaseous particles in the Earth's atmosphere.
And they are a regular occurrence in the Icelandic sky.
If you're looking for a break closer to home,
then check out Mairead's road trip to Donegal.
I'm taking a drive around the Inishowen Peninsula.
And my journey starts with a short ferry crossing.
Inishowen is just three hours from Dublin
and a really cool way to get here is drive up the stunning north coast
and take the Foyle ferry across.
And that's exactly what I'm doing today.
The ferry drops you off in Greencastle in County Donegal,
a small fishing port with an important history
that's been preserved here at the Maritime Museum & Planetarium.
It's got a detailed collection of memorabilia
that covers every aspect of the maritime history of Inishowen.
Driving around the peninsula
takes you through some beautiful rugged Donegal scenery.
And I'm following the route of the Inishowen 100.
The Inishowen 100 is perfect for people who love a good road trip
because it is a 100-mile scenic route
right the way round the peninsula.
It's really well signposted.
You could do it in a day, if you like.
Or you could do what I'm doing - take your time and do it over two.
There are some surprising stop-offs in the Inishowen 100.
Like here, just outside Buncrana,
where there's a park dedicated to John Newton,
the wretched sailor whose slave ship was washed ashore here
and who has gone down in history
as the composer of the hymn Amazing Grace.
One of the highest points on the Inishowen 100 route
is the Mamore Gap,
which reveals some spectacular views of the Atlantic
on the way to Malin Head, the northernmost point in Ireland.
But before I get there,
I'm stopping off to learn a bit about the local history.
During the Irish famine,
the population of Inishowen and Donegal was decimated.
And the famine village is the brainchild of Pat Doherty,
who converted his family home into a museum
that describes the history of the famine
and the tradition of the Irish wake.
One of the questions people ask is,
"Why would you sit beside a dead person for two nights?"
So we explain to them how it began.
A fear went across the world, the fear of being buried alive.
They sat beside the person in the hope the person would wake up.
And that's why it's called a wake in Ireland,
-sitting round, hoping for the person to wake up.
For the final leg of my journey, I'm going to the top of Ireland
and I'm staying the night at the country's most northerly hotel,
the Seaview Tavern in Malin.
It has only three rooms but, as the name suggests,
they all have a view of the sea.
-The shipping forecast issued by the Met Office
on behalf of the Maritime And Coastguard Agency...
Malin is a name that most people recognise
from the shipping forecast.
-Rockall, Malin, Hebrides, Bailey...
And this is why.
These are the instruments that gather the weather data
for the coastal area of Malin.
So when you hear the shipping forecast from Malin,
it's right here that all the information is gathered.
So, here I am, the most northerly tip of Ireland, Malin Head.
Malin Head is known as Banba's Crown,
named after the mythical Irish goddess Banba.
These markings were put on the headland during the Second World War
to identify it as Irish territory to the aircraft flying overhead.
But more recently, this spectacular setting was used
as the location for the latest Star Wars film,
so the man who runs the local coffee van must have some stories to tell.
Or has he been sworn to secrecy?
Now, I was told I can get a really good coffee in Malin Head.
I didn't believe it, Dominic, but it's true!
You have to come to the top of the world
-to get the best coffee in Ireland.
-Oh, it's true, it's lovely!
And I believe there was a pretty big movie shot somewhere around here.
-I couldn't possibly say.
-You didn't hear anything about that?
-I didn't hear a thing.
Right. You must have been living under the rocks, then.
We're on a getaway in Iceland,
taking advantage of direct flights from Ireland.
So far, we've explored the wonders of the Golden Circle.
From tectonic plates...
..to shooting geysers...
and gushing waterfalls.
Bathing in volcanically heated hot springs
dates right back to Viking times in Iceland.
Outdoor pools can be found across the island,
used by locals and visitors alike.
But we were inundated with recommendations
for one in particular.
Well, feast your eyes on this.
The Blue Lagoon, a man-made oasis in the centre of a black lava field.
It uses water from a local geothermal plant,
and National Geographic named it as one of the 25 wonders of the world.
And lucky me, I'm about to get in.
The Blue Lagoon is made up of six million litres
of geothermal seawater,
which has been pushed up from 2,000 metres beneath the Earth's surface.
Some of this water is used by the plant
to generate electricity and hot water for nearby households.
So no immersions in Iceland.
The water is then fed into the lagoon
and it's rich in minerals like silica and sulphur.
These minerals are thought to help
with skin disorders such as psoriasis.
But it's worth mentioning that they also play havoc with your hair,
so you will need a lot of conditioner afterwards.
You may have seen my teeth chattering earlier on
because it's five degrees outside.
But in here, it is 38 degrees
and pure bliss.
Also on site is a cafe, indoor and outdoor loungers,
and a swim-up bar so you can enjoy the experience all day.
You may have noticed some pasty white faces
bobbing up and down in the lagoon there.
It's not sunscreen that they're wearing.
It is this silica mud mask.
They say it rejuvenates the skin
and gives it lots of vitamins and minerals again.
And I'm a sucker for anything that's going to make me look 20 again.
The Blue Lagoon is open every day all year, even Christmas Day,
and you can come here on an organised tour,
or if you have a hire car,
it's under an hour's drive from Reykjavik.
But a word of warning...
You'll need to book your tickets online in advance
or you just might not get in.
For my visit to Iceland, I don't think I was fully prepared
for some of the weird but wonderful, attractions here.
Take the Perlan, for example.
It has a cafe and a restaurant,
all that you'd expect from a visitors centre.
But what really intrigues me about it
is it sits right on top of the city's reservoir.
This landmark building combines modern architecture
These shiny, curved walls are in fact storage tanks,
each with a capacity to hold over four million litres
of hot geothermal water.
The mirrored dome, which sits on top of the tanks,
is designed to reflect the sun's rays,
making it stand out on the landscape.
The building itself is absolutely ingenious, with the added bonus
of having this viewing platform on the fourth floor
where you can take in the entire city.
And it's absolutely breathtaking.
And there's another draw here for tourists.
On the top floor of the Perlan, you will find the restaurant.
It is fine dining and the prices reflect that.
But you're on your holidays. Treat yourself!
I don't know if you've noticed this, but the restaurant rotates,
so you get to take in the entire vista.
It takes about two hours.
Plenty of time for a couple of rounds, at least.
Iceland's not all about fine dining, Joe.
I think it's time you tried some traditional Icelandic food.
-OK, hello, folks.
-There we go.
Look at that!
We bake rye bread every night.
-It takes 10 or 11 hours to bake the bread.
-This better be good, then!
-It is, try it!
And here is mashed fish.
We call it plokkfiskur.
It is very Icelandic.
-And this is the shark.
Don't smell it, just taste.
Brennivin is very good with it. The Black Death, you know?
Hang on, you're recommending food that goes well
-with a drink called Black Death?
-Black Death with the shark.
She's right, you don't smell it.
You see, now I want to.
Would you recommend it, Joe?
It's the only thing I don't like about this place.
It's not bad.
Some people like it a lot.
-Can I just take a drink of the Black Death?
All right, OK. Skol!
With tourism booming in Iceland,
new hotels are popping up all over Reykjavik.
We stayed at the CenterHotel Midgardur,
part of a small family-run chain.
It's a mid-range hotel with only 43 bedrooms,
which are compact but bright and modern.
A three-night break here costs from £502 per person sharing,
Or you could stay at Iceland's largest hotel,
the recently opened four-star Fosshotel, Reykjavik.
It's close to the city centre and it has a good restaurant.
Three nights' bed-and-breakfast at the Fosshotel, Reykjavik
costs from £648 per person sharing.
Another tour that rated really high with you guys
is a trip out to sea for a spot of whale watching.
There are several companies who offer tours in Reykjavik,
which depart from the Old Harbour.
It's a suitable adventure for all the family,
with regular sightings of humpback, minke and fin whales.
Hopefully, we'll get lucky today.
I've grabbed tour guide Marcus to find out
what our chances of a sighting are.
Our summer success is very high.
We have 98%, almost close to 100%.
OK, so from May onwards we have a pretty good chance?
We have a good chance to see dolphins or whales, yes.
Well, we should also tell people that you are not guaranteed,
because this is their natural habitat,
so you're not guaranteed to see anything, either.
We always mention that, that this is wildlife.
We are here on their terms, in their territory.
They are not here to entertain us. They are here on their own terms.
-And we can't argue with that.
With that word of advice firmly planted in my mind,
I find my place at the railings alongside all the other passengers,
in search of some wildlife action.
There was great excitement there just a minute ago,
sightings of a minke whale just over there to my left.
But with the choppy waters, we've lost him.
There's still time, though. There's still time.
We've got one more hour to go, so fingers crossed.
Whale watching tours generally last about two to three hours.
They are bit pricey, so you'll need to budget for this.
If you come whale watching between the months of May and October,
there is a 98% chance that you will see some whales.
Unfortunately, for me,
I have fallen into the 2% that have seen nothing today.
But it's worth mentioning that the tour operator
has given everybody on board a complimentary ticket,
which lasts for two years, so...
I'm just going to have to come back. Happy days!
Reykjavik is renowned for its wild party nightlife.
Here, that basically means going out on the absolute rip.
And on our social media, an overwhelming amount of you,
including Deirdre from Limerick and Stephen from Belfast,
said there's only one bar in Reykjavik to go to.
The Lebowski Bar.
-And, of course, we shall abide.
The retro American bar pays homage to the famous Coen brothers'
1998 cult film starring Jeff Bridges
as the White Russian-drinking, avid bowler Dude.
This is quite possibly one of the greatest bars I've ever been in,
-being a massive fan of the movie.
How did the Lebowski Bar happen?
Well, I just love the film
and wanted to do something about this theme.
I wanted to do some American-theme bar also.
I just decided to combine this together and make the Lebowski Bar.
White Russians are kind of the big thing within the movie
and you have a wide variety of White Russians,
all the beers named after characters.
-You've really put the detail in.
-Yes, I have.
We decided, you know, if we're going to do this,
we're going to go all the way and have a lot of little things that,
you know, really, Lebowski fans... "Hey, this is from the movie!"
AS THE DUDE: I like your style, dude!
Now, it's fair to say Iceland is not famous as a shopping destination,
but you did have some suggestions.
Recommended to us by Hugh Yeamen in Bangor, County Down, is this,
the flea market, or as it is known, Kolaportid.
It takes place every weekend right down by the harbour.
How good does that look?
How much is this one?
You're not going to be troubling Antiques Roadshow any time soon,
but what you will find is a great array of books, clothing, records,
and it has that feeling of being a neighbourhood market.
A jumper with a cat on it.
I really want a jumper with a cat on it.
You also suggested we visit
one of the most famous record shops in Iceland.
Your wish is my command.
I'm going to have a look around your store.
So you may as well just take my wallet now.
-Just, you know...
-How much money do you have?
Just, you know, until the bank call you.
-Yeah, yeah, I'm used to that!
The 12 Tonar shop is not only a record shop
but it's also a local record label,
reflecting the passion of the Icelandic music scene.
What is it about this record store particularly you think
that gives you that great reputation?
I think it's quite an old-fashioned store
and we're just in it for music, you know?
We are just...
Everybody who works here is involved in the music and that's what we...
I mean, it's not our job, you know? It's more than that. It's our life.
I think music is very important for Icelanders.
Whenever they come together, they start singing.
You know, that's just part of being Icelandic.
A trip to Iceland will inevitably involve taking in nature,
and the landscape here is beautiful and it's dramatic.
So... what better way to appreciate it
than to drive around it in a high-speed, reckless manner?
Take your protein pills and put your helmet on.
Buggy Adventures offers off-road,
off-the-beaten-track tours of Iceland
and the rugged landscape here lends itself perfectly to thrill-seekers.
They suit you up in overalls and a helmet and, believe me,
you need the kit, as these buggies are all about driving through dykes,
ditches and dirt tracks.
All you need is a valid driving licence
to take control of these cages.
Or, like me, you can offer some thrills as a passenger.
Congratulations on passing your test
and good luck to you in your future career as a school bus driver!
So, Mairead, how was Iceland for you?
I loved so many things about it, Joe.
But my highlight was probably the Blue Lagoon.
In my current pregnant state, I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it
and I even bought the silicon mud mask on the way out.
-It's why you look so young!
I have to say I love pretty much everything about Iceland.
It's one of the most beautiful, fascinating,
idiosyncratic countries I've ever visited.
-Do I have to give it marks out of ten?
I'm going to go nine out of ten.
Iceland, you lose a point for the fermented shark.
-You need to get over the whole shark thing.
It's still repeating on me. See you next time on Getaways.