A view from the top: St Peter’s Basilica – Vatican City

Did you know Vatican City is the smallest country in the world? Pretty cool, huh? It’s not just a city in the middle of Italy, it is an actual independent city-state, where it issues its own stamps and passports and everything. So when in Rome… you can’t really pass up an opportunity to go see it for yourself! My favourite part of Vatican City was climbing the dome of St Peter’s Basilica to get some spectacular views over St Peter’s Square and Rome.

view from the top of St Peter's Basilica

Because the Vatican City is a religious site, the dress code must be respected – no shorts, bare shoulders or short skirts. For us visiting in November, this wasn’t a problem as it was pretty chilly. We also found the queues in November perfectly fine, it took us around half an hour to get through security checks. Again, this might be somewhat more lengthy during summer.

There are two ways to climb the dome – climb all the way by foot (551 steps) or go part way in the lift and climb the rest (320 steps). There is a slight price difference, obviously climbing by foot is slightly cheaper.

People standing at the highest point of the climb at the top of the dome (St Peter's Basilica)
People standing at the highest point of the climb at the top of the dome

Pros – The view! The climb is quite an experience but it’s worth it when you reach the top, even just for bragging rights and a quick instagram snap.

Cons – 551 steps is A LONG WAY! My dad didn’t even bother coming up the dome with us as he hates heights but to be honest, I think he might have found the climb too much of a challenge. In addition to the number of steps there are also parts that are very narrow, especially where you’re climbing inside the curve of the dome.

View inside the Basilica from the interior balcony - St Peter's Basilica, Vatican City.
View inside the Basilica from the interior balcony

Surprises – After the initial climb (or where I believe the lift may take you to) you reach the interior balcony where you are still inside the dome and can look down on the people visiting inside St Peter’s. At first we were a bit like, is this it?! But then we realised you can climb a little further to get those spectacular views from outside and over the square. Oh and there’s a cafe and shop on a terrace part way up too.

Verdict – When in Rome… make this a priority.


If you liked this then you might enjoy the view from Campanile di San Marco in Venice or any of my other View from the Top posts.

Visiting the Blue Lagoon in Iceland

Visiting the Blue Lagoon in Iceland

If you’re travelling to Iceland (or felt inspired by my post titled Top 5 things to do in Iceland) chances are that a visit to the Blue Lagoon will be on your Iceland bucket list. I had always wanted to go there but when it came to booking I became a little sceptical as I kept hearing about it being an ‘overpriced, overcrowded tourist trap’.

Nevertheless I booked my ticket for the Blue Lagoon, because when do I listen to what the critics say! Sure, it’s not that cheap but as someone who tends to save all her splurging for when she’s on holiday, it didn’t bother me too much. And you know what, it wasn’t crowded and I had a lovely time!

The Blue Lagoon in Iceland

Getting there

The Blue Lagoon is actually closer to Keflavik Airport than it is to the centre of Reykjavik, so for some people who may be catching a late flight, this makes for an ideal last day activity. We had already pre-booked our trip as part of a package with the travel agent so we had coach transfers to and from central Reykjavik already sorted.

Have a relaxing soak in the geothermal waters of the Blue Lagoon

What to bring

Obviously swimwear is required and you will need a towel to dry off too. You can hire these for a fee, or bring your own. I also took my waterproof camera but as the water is so milky and full of minerals I kept it out of the water then put it safely away in a locker after I was done taking a few photos. You may wish to bring sunglasses with you too if it is a sunny day as the sunlight reflects off of the water.

Visiting the Blue Lagoon

What to expect

There are separate male and female changing rooms that are decent, clean and spacious. When you arrive you will be given a wristband for your locker to store all of your belongings. The wristband also acts as a credit card so you can buy refreshments whilst having a soak (yes there is a bar in the lagoon!). You are required to shower before entering the lagoon and they also recommend that you cover your hair in conditioner to help stop the clay getting stuck in it. I didn’t cover my hair and instead tied it up, most of it was ok but I was left with a bit of a dry clay feeling around the hairline.

Scooping up a face mask at the Blue Lagoon
Silica mud bar

The blue colour comes from the way the silica reflects in the sunlight and the water is a glorious 37-40 degrees celsius and contains silica, algae and minerals – all good for your skin. There are different spa treatments such as facials and massages that you can pay extra for but if you opt for the cheapest ticket price you can still benefit from the silica mud masks which you apply yourself at the various silica bars dotted around the lagoon.

Thumbs up for the Blue Lagoon
All you serious travel bloggers looking hot in your instagram pics ain’t got nothing on me! I even got a creepy man eyeballing me LOL

Verdict

I really enjoyed my visit to the Blue Lagoon and if you’re planning on a vacation in Iceland then I would definitely recommend. Of course there are less touristy alternatives but National Geographic wouldn’t name it as one of the 25 wonders of the world for nothing would they?

If you enjoyed this, why not check out my True Blue pinterest board or follow me on Bloglovin.

The vibrant island of Burano – Weekly photo challenge

According to its official website, Burano is often named among the top 10 most colourful places in the world. Having been there myself, I knew it would be the perfect contribution to this weeks WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge theme – VIBRANT.

Burano is an island that lies in the Venetian Lagoon and is easily visited on a day trip by boat from Venice itself. Often these trips include the islands of Murano and Torcello too, but Burano was my favourite.

The vibrant island of Burano is mostly famous for two things – lacemaking and the coloured houses that line its canals. The coloured houses that inspire many photographers and tourists to get snap happy.

This is one of my favourite shots from my visit.

The vibrant island of Burano in the Venetian Lagoon, Italy.

If you like this picture, why not follow me on instagram or check out some of my other photo challenges.

Dining out Icelandic style

On the carnivore scale I sit a lot closer to bunny rabbit than T-Rex, infact I’ve thought about going vegetarian but I can’t quite commit to ditching a juicy cheeseburger for a mushroom burger just yet (Food fact #1: I hate mushrooms but really wish I didn’t).

Anyway, when we were in Iceland, my husband was keen to try some of the unusual meats they had there. While I wasn’t that bothered, but still a little curious, we decided to go for Icelandic tapas – a taster of the local cuisine without the full-on commitment of an entire meal of something unfamiliar. As they say, when in Rome do as the Romans do.

We dined at Tapas Barinn in the centre of Reykjavik, a cosy little Spanish-inspired restaurant. We decided to share a tapas set menu – the Icelandic Gourmet Feast – good for curious tourists and indecisive folk like us. The Gourmet Feast consisted of a shot of Brennivin (Icelandic spirit) followed by 7 courses, the first being smoked puffin with blueberry brennivin sauce.

puffin-dish-icelandic-tapas
Smoked puffin

I tried puffin. I can’t remember much about the taste but the texture wasn’t great. And I felt guilty eating it… puffins are kinda cute.

Following the puffin we were presented with some assorted seafood dishes, unsurprisingly seafood is big business in Iceland. We had Icelandic sea trout with peppers-salsa, lobster tails baked in garlic and blue ling with lobster sauce.

Lobster tails
Lobster tails

Next up was the lamb dish, another popular meat in Iceland. Now, I don’t actually eat lamb but, as I said before – when in Rome (or Reykjavik). I must admit it was really tasty!

The last of our savoury dishes was minke whale with cranberry sauce. I was quite wary of eating whale but I was reassured that the minke whale is not an endangered species. Whale to me was a bit like steak but really salty, I was more interested in the ginger mash it was lying on a bed of (Food fact #2 I love ginger – I think it’s hereditary!).

Minke whale
Minke whale

Saving the best for last, the dessert course! I do have a bit of a sweet tooth so the white chocolate Skyr mousse with passionfruit coulis was of course my favourite dish. Skyr is an Icelandic yogurt that is a big part of Icelandic cuisine, you can’t go to Iceland and not eat Skyr, although it is pretty much just thick yogurt, it makes for a good breakfast or dessert!

Dessert!
Dessert!

So that was our tapas with an Icelandic twist, but what else?

Well in England, where I’m from, fish and chips is a popular dish so we thought we might as well try what Iceland has to offer! The restaurant we ate at was called, unimaginatively, Icelandic Fish and Chips. The fish is so fresh that the menu varies day to day so I can’t quite remember what I ate (I chose it from the menu on the blackboard) but it looked like this-

Icelandic fish and chips
Icelandic fish and chips

The chips were more like potato wedges but were pretty good. We also ordered some dips to go with our dishes, including Skyronnaise (it’s that Skyr again!) and of course, the obligatory pot of tomato ketchup.

So if you’re ever in Reykjavik, why not try Spanish style tapas with a twist or British inspired fish ‘n’ chips – all served with fabulous Icelandic flair!

Top 5 things to do in Iceland

Being just a 3 hour flight from the UK, Iceland is an ideal destination for a short European break. But how do you make the most of your time there? Well here are my top 5…

Gullfoss
Gullfoss

1. The Golden Circle

A popular excursion for any first-timers visit to Iceland is The Golden Circle which includes Thingvellir National Park, where you can see the American and European tectonic plates that Iceland sits across. It also includes the magnificent Gullfoss waterfall, as well as Geysir – an area of geothermal activity that gives its name to the waterspouts known as, well, geysirs.

Geysir
Geysir

2. The Blue Lagoon

Take a relaxing dip in the mineral-rich milky-blue waters of the Blue Lagoon. This man-made lagoon with geothermically heated water is surrounded by a dramatic black rocky landscape and is another popular destination for visitors. You can even scoop up some of the clay to make your own face mask while you’re there and come out looking 10 years younger! (maybe!).

For more info, check out my guide to visiting the Blue Lagoon.

The Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon

3. Wander around Reykjavik

Reykjavik is the world’s most northerly capital and is unlike any other city I have been to. It’s clean, small and quiet which makes it easy to explore on foot. During my visit I actually forgot it was the capital as it was so peaceful but I hear that it comes to life on Friday and Saturday nights when the locals come out to party!

Reykjavik
Reykjavik

4. Hire a car and explore

For most of our trips in Iceland, we pre-booked our excursions with a travel agent, but for one day we decided to hire a car and just drive. Now, I’m not the most confident of drivers, but Iceland was a pleasant drive once out of the city. The roads are relatively quiet and there’s stunning scenery all around you wherever you look. Just don’t forget the sat nav!

Nothing for miles!
Nothing for miles!

5. Witness the Aurora Borealis

Seeing the Northern Lights will depend on the time of year but the best time to go is from late September to early April. We went in October and were lucky enough to see them but it’s not always guaranteed. If you’re planning a trip to Iceland during winter, make the Northern Lights the icing on the cake rather than the main purpose of your visit.

Northern Lights
Northern Lights

Those were my top 5 highlights but I would love to return one day to see glaciers, go whale watching, ride an Icelandic horse, spot puffins and experience the midnight sun!

Have you been? What are your top things to do in Iceland?