Category Archives: Europe

Backpacking Around Reykjavik, Iceland

Iceland is not the first place you would think about backpacking in Europe. But it’s one of the most interesting. The country with population of only ~300,000 on large territory offers northern experiences that you can’t find anywhere else.

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One of the problems of budged backpacking in Iceland is that the country is scarily expensive. At least for people on budget of course 🙂 So to go around the whole country and visit glaciers and wild nature you’ll need to be the guy with piles of cash.

If that’s not you, let me offer you a small region near the capital Reykjavik that’s interesting enough to experience.

Reykjavik

The chirch in Reykjavik

The chirch in Reykjavik

Reykjavik itself, in my opinion, isn’t at all the most interesting place in Iceland. Sure, it’s nice to see a capital with so few people and there are few interesting buildings and parks to check. That’s almost all you could do there however so don’t plan for more than a couple of days.

Do: walk around the sea, view the Opera, check some museums. Eat some hot-dogs, it’s the cheapest food you can find outside.

Don’t do the mistake to spend your whole time in Iceland only in Reykjavik. Even if you are on a thin budget, there are few nice places around to visit.

Here I want to give you some advice about the bus system in this part of Iceland. The buses are divided by zones, and Zone 1 covers the whole city plus Kopavogur and (I think) going to Hafnarfjordur. The ticket is a bit expensive (euro 2) but it’s valid for given time. During this time you can catch more buses with the same ticket. You can buy tickets from the driver but only if you have the exact amount, as they have no change.

If you buy tickets for Zone 2 or Zone 3 (like the case with going to Hveragerdi), have in mind that you can also use these tickets for Zone 1. They are usually valid for at least 2 hours, so that’s a good way to save some cash. Tickets for zone 3 are around euro 6.

Hafnarfjordur

Hafnarfjordur port

Hafnarfjordur port

Hafnarfjordur is a very nice small town 10km away of Reykjavik. I highly recommend you to visit it. You will see real Nordic houses, nice empty streets, and the nature much closely than in the capital.

Do visit the museum, it’s free and very nice. Get a city guide from your hotel or hostel, there are surprisingly many interesting landmarks in the city.

Speaking about hostels, I recommend you to stay in the town instead of Reykjavik. We did so and saved quite a lot of money. We used this hostel, I recommend it fully.

There are not many supermarkets in Hafnarfjordur – one small is in the mall, and a bigger one is at North on the way to Reykjavik.

Hveragerdi

Geysirs in Hveragerdi

Geysirs in Hveragerdi

Hveragerdi is a little town 40km away of Reykjavik. While in the capital you should go to Mjodd bus station and get the bus from there. You need tickets for Zone 3. There are buses each 1-2 hours going to Hveragerdi.

Do visit the geysir park and try the bread made on geysir heat there. It tastes great. Later you can buy almost the same bread from supermarkets in Reykjavik.

The town is really small and you can easily go out in the wild to see some more geisyrs, horse farms, abandoned barns, camping site and more.

Keflavik

Abandoned ship in Keflavik

Abandoned ship in Keflavik

This is actually the town where the Iceland international airport is – it’s not in Reykjavik. As there are no buses who go to Keflavik from the airport, most visitors miss to visit this nice port town. I recommend you not to skip it. You can get a bus from Reykjavik BSI bus station and go to Keflavik.

What we did was to spend the last night in Kevlaink, in the B&B Guesthouse and they offer free airport transfer, so it was perfect. It’s not as cheap as the Hafnarfjordur hostel, but its location is great and they offer bread, butter, milk, tea, etc all the time for free.

Do: enjoy walking on the path near the sea, see the old abandoned ships, drink some polar beer.

So here you go, four towns, each with its own character, and all that on really low budget. It’s hard to beat this experience in Iceland.

What About Backpacking in Bulgaria?

Can a visit to a small country in Eastern Europe be of any interest? Yes, unless you are from another Eastern European country (or even then!).

A train in Lakatnik

Take the train and explore the small towns and villages

Bulgaria is small and not widely known as backpacking destination. It’s better known as a place of cheap beaches and cheap girls. This sucks, because there is more to see in there. Here are few ideas:

Where to Backpack In Bulgaria:

  • In the big cities. Sofia (the Capital) is the usual place to land here. It’s a bit ugly and unorganized city but might be interesting if you come from the Western countries. There are plenty of hostels in Sofia at very good prices – find them at HostelWorld. Great for backpackers. Better looking big cities are Bourgas, Plovdiv and Varna. If you can land there, do it. Otherwise they are relatively easy to reach by train or bus from Sofia. In the big cities you’ll find young people, clubs, shopping centres, cheap food, cinemas, historical monuments etc. Pretty much what you would expect but with a little bit of Eastern taste. Varna and Burgas are on the Black Sea Coast so you’ll see the sea there as well
  • In the small towns and villages. If you have the time, take the train or bus and move a little bit outside the big city you landed. Many small towns and villages are less than an hour away of the big cities – so they are excellent for a day trip.
  • In the mountains. If you like trekking, go to Vitosha, Pirin, Rila, or Stara Planina. The mountains here are easy to reach and have well developed structure of huts.

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How To Reach It

For Europeans the best way to come to Bulgaria is with some of the low cost airlines that operate accross Europe. There are good connections from England, Italy, Denmark, Netherlands, Germany, etc.

If you are from Asia it might be best to land in Istanbul in Turkey and then get the train to Sofia or a bus to Burgas. This may be far cheaper than flying to Sofia.

Coming from USA, Canada, Australia or New Zealand you may either land Istanbul again and get the train, or somewhere in Austria or Germany and take a low cost flight.

For information about visas etc check Wikitravel’s section on getting in Bulgaria.

When to Go

Unless you are keen to ski I would not recommend you to come in the Winter. Winter can be very unpleasant in Bulgarian cities. The sidewalks become wet, muddy or slippery. Public transportation gets crowded and delays are often. It’s cold and the day is short. Sofia looks especially sad in the period Nov – March.

The best time to visit Bulgaria is from May to September. It is usually hot and sunny although you should be prepared for occasional cold days (under 10 – 15 C mean temperature) especially in May, June and September and showers.

However be careful if you plan to visit the sea. In June, July and August the sea resorts are full and the prices of food, accomodation and plane tickets go up.

What Else – Some Random Tips

There is good tasty food in Bulgaria although not all restaurants prepare it well. Check the site I just linked, it will give you good idea where to look for delicious food.

Do try Bulgarian wines, their quality is excellent especially if you count the price. If you drink alcohol try also the famous rakia with some salad.

The people you’ll meet at hostels will most probably speak English well and most of them won’t be Bulgarians.

Many night clubs aren’t the best places to see in the country, be picky and don’t just enter any random one.

Be prepared to have hard time finding your way in Sofia and other big cities because the street signs are not always available in English and many times are confusing.

From Bulgaria you can easily reach Turkey, Greece, Serbia, Macedonia, and Romania by land (train, bus or car).

That’s it for now, if you have questions, feel free to ask. I happen to live here!