Three Perfect Days: The Canadian Rockies
hemispheres

Three Perfect Days: The Canadian Rockies

By The Hub team , November 06, 2017

Story by Peter Koch | Photography by Sam Polcer | Hemispheres, November 2017

Ever since the Canadian Pacific Railway laid tracks through the Bow Valley in the 1880s—and a group of railway workers stumbled upon a hot spring on the side of Sulphur Mountain—the Canadian Rockies have been marked as a retreat for people who like their holidays a little rugged. The sublimely beautiful area that would become Banff National Park was preserved in 1885, starting a trend that would see seven parks created and united under the banner of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO World Heritage site. In the same stroke, Banff transformed all the barriers to westward expansion—braided blue-green rivers, snowcapped peaks, massive glaciers, and lodgepole pine forests crawling with wolves and grizzlies—into the region's greatest assets. Even today, despite the proliferation of locavore restaurants, high-end hotels, luxury retailers, and world-class ski resorts, the wilderness continues to assert itself. Rugged mountains press in on all sides. Bull elk graze on golf courses. And, from time to time, wolf howls still split the night.

Day 1 Graphic

In which Peter takes a black-diamond tumble, skids through a glorious canyon, and wolfs down a trio of steaks

I wake early at the Moose Hotel & Suites in Banff, anticipating a bluebird day and, with luck, first tracks on fresh powder at one of the three local ski resorts. Stepping outside, however, I quickly forget all that—partly because of the sub-zero temperatures and partly because of the view along Moose Street: the enormous, radiant face of Mount Rundle.

This astounding view is no accident. Unlike many western mountain towns that began as mining interests, Banff was developed with visitors in mind. Banff Avenue was oriented to afford the best possible views of Cascade Mountain in one direction and Sulphur Mountain in the other. Every eastbound street ends at the base of Tunnel Mountain, with Rundle looming high above—so every now and then, as you stroll past cutesy businesses, you'll look up and get the shock of your life. You can see why the Romantic painters had a thing for mountains.

At the tiny Whitebark Cafe, I grab a window seat and watch a procession of brightly garbed pedestrians, most with skis over their shoulders or snowboards under their arms. Resolving to beat them to the slopes, I inhale a yogurt parfait with housemade granola and blueberry compote, glug my latte, and hit the road to Sunshine Village, which is perched 7,200 feet up, on the Continental Divide.

Gondola ride up Healy Creek Valley

The 20-minute gondola ride up Healy Creek Valley to Sunshine's high-elevation base incrementally reveals a skier's paradise: bumps, gullies, cliffs, glades, and chutes spanning three mountains. On one side, ice climbers hack away at the frozen Bourgeau Falls; on the other, hot-doggers huck themselves off sheer drops in the Wild West Freeride Zone. The bass thump of a helicopter dropping avalanche control bombs reminds me that nature, for all its beauty, can also be unforgiving, so it's best to start slowly.

I'm met at the top of the ride by Kendra Scurfield, whose family owns Sunshine and who grew up playing on these slopes. “I don't even remember learning to ski," she says, shortly before performing a series of perfectly rhythmic turns through the glades and powerful slalom arcs out on the groomers. While Scurfield skis with childlike abandon, I simply ski like a child, whooping as we cross over into British Columbia, whimpering when we reach the edge of double-black-diamond Delirium Dive. After a while, foolishly perhaps, I announce that I'm ready for a challenge.

“I have a challenge for you," Scurfield replies with a grin. I follow her halfway down Lookout Mountain to a lip that serves as the entrance to South Pocket, a seemingly vertical black diamond that's split down the middle by trees. The right-hand chute is choked with boulders that have cleaved off Brewster Rock, and the left-hand chute seems too narrow to even make a turn. I drop in, managing a few sloppy turns before I catch an edge and crash down the mountainside, clawing at the snow as I fall.

In need of de-icing, I persuade Scurfield to join me in the resort's Lookout Kitchen + Bar, where, over a spicy elk burger and arugula salad, she graciously suggests a slightly less challenging escape route.

Later, as I drive down Sunshine Road back to Bow Valley, I spot a flock of bighorn sheep ambling around on a hillside. I'm out of the car, trying to snap a half-decent photo, when one regal-looking ram indulges me by mounting a rock to assume a statuesque pose.

On my way out to Johnston Canyon, a popular hiking destination in Banff National Park, I cruise along the sinuous Bow Valley Parkway, where it's not uncommon to encounter wolves, elk, and grizzlies. The 30-mile byway meanders beside the emerald Bow River between Banff and the village of Lake Louise, offering a peaceful alternative to the Trans-Canada Highway. Soon, I reach the canyon pullout, where Ryan Capel waits for me.

A fixture on the local ski scene, Capel is remarkably athletic for a man in his mid-50s. As we pass through a fragrant spruce and pine forest, he tells me he was born in Banff and raised on the slopes of Mount Norquay. He worked with his father in the ski shop for Candian Mountain Holidays, the world's first heli-skiing operation, before taking over retail at Lake Louise Ski Resort. “The ski culture is strong here—always has been," he says, ticking off the names of pros and Olympians from this town of just over 8,000 people. And the culture endures: Capel's three kids, ages 15 to 23, are all sponsored freeskiers.

Capel strides with purpose on the catwalks that run alongside and over Johnston Creek, ascending the limestone ravine toward a series of waterfalls. Sunlight dances on the blue-green pools where snow and ice haven't settled. “I've been here my entire life, but I never take it for granted," he says. “It's a privilege to live here." I nod—in the cathedral-like silence of the canyon's depths, it feels like a sin to even speak.

Small house in Banff

Until we hit the ice, that is. Mist from the creek is frozen on the walkways—most wintertime visitors wear cleats for this journey—and what begins as awkward Bambi steps soon evolves into a spirited game of “skating" down the trail as fast as possible. It's silly and incredibly fun, and I wonder aloud why anyone would want to spoil a good slide with something so practical as cleats.

Playtime over, Capel and I agree to meet for a drink back in town, at Park Distillery Restaurant + Bar, a new bar that produces small-batch spirits using Alberta grains and Banff's glacier-fresh water. Taking a seat beneath a photo of heli-skiing pioneer Hans Gmoser, I order a gin cocktail with mint, lime juice, peach puree, and spruce tips foraged from just beyond the park boundaries.

The crowded dining room and bar is a blend of classic Canadiana—antler chandeliers, enamel tin cups—and Mid-Century Modern decor. “Banff is a small community, but it's also a fast little town," Capel says, referring to the constant thrum generated by nearly 4 million annual visitors. That said, it's not uncommon to see mule deer wandering the side streets (a couple of years ago, one of the animals was hunted down and killed by a pair of wolves just a block off the main thoroughfare).

I'm feeling a bit wolfish myself, so I say goodbye to Capel and head down the street to Chuck's Steakhouse, which takes its inspiration from the ranchlands on the Rockies' eastern slope. A waitress in cowboy boots and a denim skirt serves me no fewer than three steaks: a melt-in-your-mouth marbled wagyu, a nutty dry-aged ribeye, and a massive tomahawk. A smoky Campfire cocktail with rye whiskey, rum, amaro, and dry Curaçao rounds the meal off nicely.

Back at the Moose, I soak in the rooftop hot pool with an Alberta beer from Blindman Brewing, idly scanning the sky for signs of fresh snow, until the darkness seems to pour into me, bringing with it the urge to sleep.

Day 2 Graphic

In which Peter has a natural bubble bath, encounters a prima donna snail, and sees Mickey Mouse come to an untimely end

The morning breaks gray and drizzly—a perfect complement to my head. I linger by the lobby fireplace, nursing a coffee and contemplating the moose paintings by Aboriginal Canadian artist Jason Carter. I head out for breakfast at the Juniper Hotel Bistro, set on a hill outside of town overlooking the Vermilion Lakes, where I eat eggs Benedict served with buffalo mozzarella, braised rabbit, and juniper berry glaze on bannock flatbread.

With the mental fog clearing, I head for Banff Upper Hot Springs. Here, at one of three natural springs that bubble up from under Sulphur Mountain, the mineral-rich waters remain at a toasty 98 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. I hook my elbows over the edge of the pool and stare across the valley at Mount Rundle's partially shrouded western face. I don't know if these waters help with infertility or rheumatism or any of the other maladies that early operators claimed, but they're great for sore ski muscles.

Just down the mountain at Cave and Basin National Historic Site, I follow park interpreter Gareth MacKay into a dripping, craggy grotto lit by a natural skylight. In 1883, three railroad workers climbed into a mist-filled cave 37 feet deep. “When they came down that hole," MacKay says, “they had no idea they would create a national park." The men laid claim to the spring—even building a crude, cabin-size “hotel" a few feet from its entrance—but the Canadian government, which was struggling to bankroll its transcontinental railroad and saw an opportunity to do so with tourism, took control, ultimately establishing the country's first national park, and the third one in the world after Yellowstone and Australia's Royal.

Three Ravens Restaurant and Wine Bar

One of the discoverers, William McCardell, described the cave as “some fantastic dream," and I can see why. A spring-fed waterfall pours into the pool, and rainwater percolates down through the porous limestone ceiling, dripping into the glassy water and scattering the shaft of daylight around the cave. “This place changed the course of history in the Bow Valley," MacKay says, almost reverently. “History lives here." As does the park's most endangered creature.

Before leaving, I ask MacKay to show me the Banff Springs snail, which exists in hot springs here and nowhere else in the world. He grudgingly agrees—he seems to consider the tiny mollusk a bit of a prima donna that distracts from the site's history—and soon we're on hands and knees, scanning the bubbling basin. “Right there," he says, pointing to a blob that's barely half the size of my fingernail. The moment doesn't have the raw electricity of spotting, say, a grizzly, but in its own small way, it's yet another reminder that this is a special place.

After the damp of the cave, the chill outside cuts through me, so I head for the warmth of downtown Banff's Wild Flour Bakery for a comforting lunch of carrot and fennel soup; a grilled cheese with apples, spinach, and onion jam; and a kale salad that offers a colorful contrast to the gray tableau outside. Nearly everything is organic and sourced locally, which I'm finding to be common practice here.

From here, it's a short walk to the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, where Winnipeg artist Diana Thorneycroft has a witty and subversive show, O Canada (I'm Sorry), in which she painstakingly creates tabletop dioramas with handmade figurines and then photographs them. Included here are Martyrdom Near Moose Jaw, which has Mickey Mouse being drawn and quartered by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and Burning Braids, which shows a First Nations girl being forced to burn her braids as part of a policy of “aggressive assimilation" at a state school.

Frankly, it's a surprising exhibition for a tourist hub like Banff, especially in a year when the national narrative is centered on Canada's 150th birthday. “I had another exhibit planned," photo curator Craig Richards tells me, “but I thought this was perfect to start off the anniversary. It's challenging, it's thought-provoking, and, for some people, it's downright disturbing."

The Banff Spring in winter

To learn more about the local arts scene, I head up Tunnel Mountain to the 53-acre Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity to meet artist-in-residence Janice Tanton. The walls of her studio are filled with monumental works in various stages of completion. “I'm the queen of unfinished paintings," she says with a laugh.

For locals, the center often solves the problem of what to do tonight, with a busy events calendar (including the world-famous Banff Mountain Film + Book Festival) and the excellent Three Ravens Restaurant and Wine Bar, which commands sweeping views of the town and valley beyond. Tanton and I make our way to the fourth-floor eatery, where we're seated beside the floor-to-ceiling windows.

Our dinner is suitably creative—from the sturgeon amuse-bouche with strawberry and mint compote to the smoked elk tartar dolloped with bright yellow sous vide egg yolk, deep brown balsamic “pearls," and blood-red pickled beets, and sprinkled with dehydrated bison. Just then, the clouds part over Bow Valley, and the sun breaks through. We sip our wine in silence, watching as, farther west, a fresh line of clouds gathers over the peaks of the Massive Range, already dropping more rain.

Day 3 Graphic

In which Peter goes off grid, plays pond hockey with an Alec Baldwin look-alike, and embarks on an ill-fated hike

The rain turned to big, fluffy snowflakes overnight, and they're settling on the roads as I drive north and west to drop my bags at Storm Mountain Lodge and Cabins. Once marketed as a place for “unconventional, old-clothes vacations," Storm hasn't changed much nearly a century later. It's still a secluded collection of elegant, off-grid cabins along Highway 93S; there's no Wi-Fi, no phone, and no TV, and cell reception is spotty at best.

When I pull off the Trans-Canada Highway at Castle Junction, a worker informs me that avalanches on 5,510-foot Vermilion Pass have shut down the road. I tell him that I'm staying at Storm, just three miles up; he checks my name against a guest list and waves me through. The road beyond is a blank canvas of powder, and driving it is strangely invigorating. Do these count as “first tracks," I ask myself, before throwing the rental car into reverse and doing donuts in the middle of the highway because, well, I can.

There are more conventional tracks to create at Lake Louise Ski Resort. The 4,200-acre area is legendary for its long season, extensive back bowls, and high-consequence steeps, where, each November, Alpine Ski World Cup competitors like Lindsey Vonn and Ted Ligety charge downhill at 80-plus mph. After getting outfitted in the rental shop, I board a chairlift with veteran ski instructor Patrick Caïs, climbing 2,800 feet to a lookout with spectacular views.

Born in Bordeaux, France, Caïs came to Lake Louise via Montreal, where he worked as an accountant. “I'm not here for the money," he says. He gestures at the sharp mountains and tumbling glaciers. “That's why I'm here."

On our first real run, Caïs and I cruise down wide-open groomers with those killer views, though he admits that his favorite place to ski is in the woods. “The press of the trees makes me feel at one with nature," he says.

For lunch, we pull in to the mid-mountain spot Whitehorn Bistro. “A lot of people think it's a bad thing that we don't have ski-in/ski-out accommodations," Caïs says, “but that's because we're in a national park. Otherwise, this view would be full of hotels and condos." The relatively sparse development here, he continues, means abundant wildlife: elk, bighorn sheep, and the elusive Canada lynx. On the backside of the hill, a few grizzly bears are hibernating in dens beneath the snow. Come spring, they'll emerge and head downhill with cubs in tow, which causes rolling closures across the resort—but that's park life for you.

Over a cheese and game platter, Caïs regales me with stories about the Klondike Gold Rush. Then I take one last ride up the mountain, steeling myself for the World Cup men's downhill course. At first I think I'll try to crush it, Ligety-style, in world-record time, but then I find myself staring at that horizon again, and it dawns on me that this is a moment to be savored, not rushed. So I finish my run with broad, sweeping turns, popping in and out of the trees.

Back on level ground, I head into Lake Louise village, where I'm meeting Wilson Mountain Sports manager Bill Keeling—a towering Alec Baldwin look-alike—for a game of pond hockey on what may be the world's most beautiful rink. Skates and sticks in hand, we make for the castlelike Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, which maintains the ice on the iconic lake throughout the winter.

Dozens of visitors wobble gingerly around the ice, the mountains crowding in behind them. A sign reads: “No Hockey!" But Keeling skates past it with a shrug. “It's not written in French, too," he says, “so it doesn't really count." I'm as shaky on ice as the other tourists, but Keeling has been playing since age 4, “with a one-piece Ski-Doo suit and a pillow on my butt." He manages to rope a couple more “players" into our game. It's hilariously, joyously fun, and by the time we call it quits we're all smiling. “Most Canadian kids
play pond hockey," Keeling says, adding that adults enjoy it too, “because beer tastes
better afterward."

As tempting as a beer sounds right now, I've got a dogsled to catch. A few minutes down the road, I pull over at the Great Divide Trail, where I can make out a frenzy of yelps even with the windows up. Nearby, a team of Alaskan huskies are going out of their minds with anticipation as they're harnessed for a 10-mile run to Kicking Horse Pass and back with Kingmik Dog Sled Tours. The moment the musher, Stef, releases her brake, the sled lurches forward and the dogs fall silent, focused on the task of pulling. “These dogs are bred to run," she calls out from behind me, “and that is all."

Dogsledding dates back at least 1,000 years in Arctic Canada but only came to the Rockies in the early 1900s, when adventurer Ike Mills started using dogs to deliver goods to the frozen backcountry. At the Great Divide, where waters part ways east and west, we turn back. Stef offers me a chance to drive, with a warning: “If you fall off the sled, don't let go, because they're not going to stop." I don't fall, but I'm soon aware of just how tenuous my “control" over the dogs is; rather than driving them with purpose, I'm clinging to a runaway train.

With snow falling once again, I head back to Storm Mountain Lodge, where a roaring fire warms the hearth in the great room, and the local version of an Old Fashioned—with spiced whiskey and maple syrup—warms my insides. The all-Canadian dinner menu features classic alpine comfort food, with free-range bison, elk, venison, and wild boar alongside scallops from Nova Scotia and salmon from the B.C. coast. I opt for the wild boar belly and tenderloin, served with huckleberry sauce, acorn squash, and beet puree. Like everything else on this trip, it's presented with pride and care—and it's wonderful.

Before bed, I settle into a leather couch in front of the lobby fire with another Old Fashioned, watching flames lick logs as the snow piles up outside. But soon I feel restless. The lodge lends snowshoes, and a nighttime trek seems like just the thing to finish my time here. With a little bit of charm, and a promise to bring beer, I convince a young couple from Calgary to join me for a jaunt on what I think is a half-mile nature trail around the property.

It's all merriment when we set out, what with the awkward footwear, fresh snow to throw, and the novelty of moving through the pitch-black woods by headlamp. But, as 15 minutes wear on to 45, with no sign of the lodge and not a drop of beer left, my trekmates grow worried. Haven't we walked a half mile yet? (“Well, yes.") What are these tracks in the snow? (“Hmm … dogs?") Won't our tracks fill in with snow? (Clearing throat: “Yes.") Are we lost? (Silence.)

But on we clomp—one foot in front of the other, heads down—until we spot an orange light, followed by the outlines of buildings. Safely inside, we sit before the fire, get ourselves a drink and tell stories about our adventure, which was fraught with danger and fear, yes, but also a sense of wonder and of humbling perspective. Just like any other story worth telling in these parts.


This article was written by Peter Koch from Rhapsody Magazine and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

Rio: A dream come true

By The Hub team

Each week we will profile one of our employee's adventures across the globe, featuring a new location for every employee's story. Follow along every week to learn more about their travel experiences.

By HOU Quality Control Aircraft Inspector Rey Sacueza

When I was a schoolboy, I wished and dreamt of visiting Rio de Janeiro. But wasn't sure it would ever happen. Though everything changes when you make a goal for yourself in life and pursue your dream. This dream finally became a reality a few days ago, and I thank United for giving us the opportunity for it to come true.

Colorful steps in Rio

Our journey started when we flew to Rio de Janeiro from Houston, an overnight flight crossing the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea, northern South America and part of Brazil. We landed late in the morning and, upon arrival, the adventure began. Everything was smooth, from the airport to our hotel, located in the center of Copacabana beach at the Avenida Atlantica. Along the way, the views were fantastic with both mountains and water in sight, which made me excited.

A few hours after arriving, I was so eager to explore and stroll the streets of Rio, which displayed different mosaic designs on sidewalks. We attended late afternoon mass at the Our Lady of Copacabana church and ate dinner at Marius Degustare, a Brazilian seafood and steakhouse located on the northern end of the beach, a few blocks from our hotel. Here, we drank local beer with our sumptuous meal and went back to the hotel with full stomachs for the night.

Over the next few days, we toured and explored the city with our first stop at the famous Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor) statue, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. It is located on the peak of the Corcovado Mountain, and there you can experience the amazing view of the city and surrounding area. The statue itself is unbelievable in size, and people from around the world, from all walks of life, come to see it. It is indeed one of the world wonders and an experience of a lifetime just to be there.

Tijuca Rainforest

Next, we went to the Sugarloaf Mountain -- just hop on the cable car to reach the top. Along the way, on display at the Morro da Urca hill, you can see the cable car used in the making of the James Bond movie "Moonraker." At the top, we explored the 360-degree vista and unforgettable views of the Copacabana beach, Christ the Redeemer at the peak of Corcovado Mountain, Macaranã stadium and more. The view is amazing and picture perfect, it could've been a postcard.

We then headed to Macarana stadium, the venue that hosts Brazil's most popular sport, soccer, and where international, national and local games are held year round. We walked the Sambadrome, where samba parades are held during the carnival every year. Tens of thousands of people participate as either spectators or performers during this major event in the city. We also toured the cone-shaped cathedral known as the Metropolitan Cathedral, a major landmark and a masterpiece of modern art. We climbed the Escadaria Selaron, probably the most fascinating staircase in the world, where tiles from around the world were collected or donated for the project and now make up one of Rio's top attractions and touristic spots. The last place we visited on this tour was the Sao Bento Monastery, which is one of the most beautiful architectural complexes in Brazil.

Our adventures continued as we did an early morning hike through Tijuca Rainforest with our guide at the Bom Retiro trail, hiking through narrow trails, towering trees, passing by the waterfall and making our way to the "Pico da Tijuca." At 3,353 feet, it's the highest point of Rio de Janeiro. From this unparalleled vantage point, we enjoyed spectacular views of Rio, Guanabara Bay and other city sights like the Maracanã and Engenhão stadiums and surroundings. On the way down, we passed "Vista Chinesa" from where you can view the Corcovado and Two Brothers Mountains and the other part of the city.

Brazilian dancers

During the evening, we enjoyed an all-you-can-eat feast at a Brazilian steakhouse and washed our food down with the famous local drink caipirinha. Afterward, we experienced the Ginga Tropical, a Brazilian samba and folklore Show, with authentic Brazilian music and dance styles including samba, bossa nova and lambada. We got to experience the vitality of Carnival with dancers, festive costumes, live drumming and rituals from various regions of Brazil.

In search for a hang gliding experience, we took a trip to São Conrado Beach. The launch point is at Tijuca Forest National Park. You glide over the lush, verdant Mata Atlantica (Atlantic Forest) and touch down on the beach of São Conrado. During the glide, you see some of Rio's most famous landmarks such as Sugarloaf Mountain, the Rocinha Favela and the Christ the Redeemer statue atop Corcovado Mountain. It's an unforgettable and amazing experience with a bird's eye view of the city.

United employee and wife on Sao Conrado Beach

After days of exploring and adventures, we wound down with an early walk to one of the most famous beaches in the world, Copacabana Beach. We decided to stay and relax and enjoy the beach, sights and surroundings. At the beach, be prepared to see more skin than clothes – on men and women of all ages! There were also many peddlers trying to sell things to tourists. We swam in the cold water of the Atlantic Ocean and later slept with the sound of splashing waves on the shore. What a wonderful feeling, ending this trip on such a positive tune.

The city of Rio de Janeiro has a lot to offer, and there is never enough time to experience it all, but with the time we had we created a lifetime of wonderful memories in this amazing city.

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3 under the radar places to travel to in October

By Betsy Mikel

For travelers who enjoy cooler temperatures and fall festivals, these are the perfect under-the-radar destinations to check out this October.

Stuttgart city with buildings and trees

Stuttgart, Germany

Head to Stuttgart in Southern Germany to experience a combination of German culture and a passion for fast cars and innovation. Here, you'll also find the country's second largest beer festival. It's considered the ideal home base for exploring the Black Forest mountain range and its surrounding towns. Throughout the city, historic government buildings coexist with contemporary architecture with green spaces and parks galore. Germany's sixth largest city is also home to the Porsche and Mercedes-Benz headquarters, both of which have impressive automobile museums that are open to the public.

What to do

The main event attracting visitors in October is the Stuttgart Beer Festival. Second in size only to Munich's Oktoberfest, this fairground-style festival presents more activities for all ages. There are still plenty of beer tents for adults, as well as theme-park style rides for kids. Everyone will enjoy the authentic German food stalls, music and dancing.

Stuttgart is also home to two car museums, the Mercedes-Benz Museum and the Porsche Museum. You don't have to be a car buff to enjoy their contemporary architecture and elegant interiors, both of which feature impressive collections of pristine historic cars. Visit Market Hall Stuttgart in the city center to peruse booths and stalls from local farmers, restaurants, producers and artisans. Another unique Stuttgart attraction is the Wilhelma zoological-botanical garden, which houses the largest collection of exotic animal and plant species in Europe. Spend a leisurely afternoon strolling through Wilhelma's many gardens and footpaths, which were previously a king's private retreat.

Getting there

Our Star Alliance™ partner airlines offer service to Stuttgart (STR) from multiple U.S. cities, including direct flights from New York/Newark (EWR).

Landscapes of Ireland. Blarney castle, near Cork

Cork, Ireland

Jazz, food and friendly locals in Ireland's unofficial capital

Often overshadowed by Dublin, you might be surprised by everything that Ireland's second-largest city has to offer. Some even refer to Cork as the unofficial capital of Ireland. The city's smaller footprint makes it easier to navigate, and Cork's genuinely friendly locals are more than happy to rub elbows with visitors at its cozy pubs and restaurants. Cork was even recently named the world's third friendliest city by Condé Nast Traveler, and October is an especially good time to visit. Cork's long-running jazz festival brings international talent and well-known acts to the stage. Lastly, Cork is known as Ireland's food capital thanks to its many world-class restaurants and delicious local specialties.

What to do

The Guinness Cork Jazz Festival held at the end of October gets a little bigger and better every year. The music festival has been running since 1978 and welcomes famous talent and up-and-coming jazz performers alike. It kicks off with a jazz parade that winds its way through the city streets. If you're not a jazz enthusiast, The Fringe Festival runs in parallel with live theater and musical performances from other genres.

The heart of the city's lively food scene is the English Market, an 18th-century covered market that's Ireland's most famous food emporium. Shop for produce, meat and other provisions alongside Cork's chefs on the ground level, or sample traditional Irish fare at restaurants on the second floor. After you've had your fill, make your way to one of Cork's most popular and peculiar attractions — Cork City Gaol — a castle-like building that was once a 19th-century prison. Ireland's famous Blarney Castle (and home of the Blarney Stone) is also just a 20-minute drive from Cork.

Getting there

United and our Star Alliance™ partner airlines offer services to Cork (ORK) from multiple U.S. cities.

 Redwoods at Armstrong Redwoods State Park

Guerneville, California

An underrated Sonoma destination with rustic charm

Though Sonoma welcomes fewer visitors come October, wine country is a popular year-round destination. Do as the locals do and head to Guerneville for a charming wine country getaway, just a 90-minute drive from San Francisco. This rustic ex-logging town in the Russian River Valley has welcomed several new restaurants, art galleries and shops over the last few years. Spend your time visiting tasting rooms at the many nearby wineries. Stroll underneath majestic coastal redwoods in the 806-acre state park just a few minutes from town, or pop into the eclectic storefronts along Guerneville's Main Street. This casual, unpretentious town is an ideal destination for a couple or a relaxing getaway with a group of friends.

What to do

Guerneville sits in the heart of the Russian River Valley, where pinot noir and chardonnay grow plentifully in the cool climate. More than 50 wineries are within a 20-minute drive. Between established Champagne houses like Korbel to the many family-owned wineries dotting the region, you can easily spend a day or two sampling the region's wines while taking in the valley's scenic vineyards. Beer lovers can make the short trip to Russian River Brewing Company, one of California's most well-known craft breweries.

Back in town, enjoy the retro vibe strolling along Guerneville's Main Street. From antiques and used books to clothing and collectibles, you'll find an eclectic variety of shops and boutiques. The Main Street dining scene has many options, including San Francisco-inspired farm-to-table bistros and more casual, laid-back eateries with live music. To see the nearby redwood forest, head north, just a short drive to the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve. The reserve has many self-guided trails ranging from an easy one-mile walk to a more strenuous nine-mile hike. The Russian River runs right next to Guerneville, where outdoor adventurers will enjoy fishing, kayaking or swimming.

Getting there

United offers service to San Francisco (SFO) from multiple U.S. cities. Guerneville is a quick 90-minute drive from San Francisco.

Contributor

What to do in Zurich

By The Hub team

Passion Passport is a community-based website that tells meaningful travel stories and facilitates global connections. Our team hails from across the United States and Canada and is always up for an adventure. To learn more about where we're going and what we're doing, visit our website: PassionPassport.com

On the surface, Zurich, Switzerland, is known for banking and finance — but those who dig a little deeper discover just how enchanting the city really is. If you have the opportunity to visit, check out some of our favorite spots in this charming, upscale destination.

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Enjoy the view

Known for its scenic environments and outdoor attractions, Zurich is a perfectly walkable city. The waterfront is also a great location for picnicking and sailing. To refuel after your lakeside adventures, head to one of the area's charming restaurants — we loved Seerestaurant Quai 61 and Fischers Fritz.

After you've refueled, embark on a shopping trip for Swiss goods and souvenirs in Bahnhofstrasse, a thoroughfare that connects Lake Zurich with the city's main railway station. Home to an array of boutiques and department stores, this area presents countless opportunities to soak up the surrounding views.

waterfront in Zurich

Since Bahnhofstrasse is a highly popular locale, you'll get a more intimate experience if you venture off of the main thoroughfare and explore the areas of Augustinergasse and Rennweg Street. While they are home to a number of beautiful shops, they also acted as the city's most significant streets during the Middle Ages. Today, the popular areas are filled with boutiques, but photographers will attest that the historic, pastel buildings are now the streets' biggest draw.

For a closer look at Zurich's history, visit one of the city's most famous landmarks: the Grossmünster Cathedral, a Protestant church dating back to 1100. If you climb to the top of one of the building's two towers, you'll be greeted with views of Zurich's lake and rooftops beyond.

Another one of Zurich's famed churches is St. Peterskirche, which also happens to be the oldest in the region. Built in the ninth century, St. Peterskirche is home to the largest clock face in all of Europe, measuring 28.5 feet (8.7 meters) in diameter. The tower also features five bells that date back to the late 1800s. Visitors can explore the stunning clocktower and tour the church's minimal — yet historical — interior, which features remnants of a medieval mural.

Swiss flag along stairwell in Zurch

St. Peterskirche in Zurich

Taste the traditions

No visit to Switzerland would be complete without sampling the country's sweetest delicacy — chocolate. Zurich's famous confectioner Confiserie Sprungli is a dream for visitors with a sweet tooth. With a legacy of over 175 years, the shop's popularity endures with delicious handmade desserts ranging from truffles to cakes.

Another favorite of ours is Zeughauskeller, a locale serving traditional Swiss cuisine and local beer. Built in 1487, Zeughauskeller is also historically significant, as the building was initially used to store weapons in medieval times — though in 1926, it evolved to be a welcoming social spot for hungry patrons. As an added bonus, the menu is traveler-friendly — meaning it's written in eight different languages — and includes Zurich specialities like zürcher geschnetzeltes (sliced veal in gravy) and rösti (Swiss hash browns).

Birds flying above buildings in Zurich

Bask in beauty

After taking in Zurich's stunning sights, you might want to view them from an entirely different perspective. If that's the case, consider embarking on a Limmat River Cruise. While riding a motorized boat along the Limmat River, you'll pass the quaint features of Old Town and Lake Zurich — so be sure to bring your camera along! A round-trip cruise lasts about 50 minutes and costs 4.40 CHF (roughly 4.43 USD) for adults.

Regardless of what time of year you visit, Zurich always has plenty to offer.

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Great places to enjoy a Fall weekend

By Benét J. Wilson

Just because summer is nearly over, it doesn't mean that the travel season is over. Cities across America continue their efforts to attract autumn tourists wanting to take a trip somewhere new. Here are seven cities that offer plenty of things for you to do over a weekend.

Cape Cod sand dunes

Cape Cod, Massachusetts

This region, located on a hook-shaped peninsula, is known mainly for its beaches and busy summer season. While fall is still warm enough to visit the beach, there's even more to do with less crowds and no "Cape traffic". There are plenty of fall festivals to choose from to celebrate the season. From the 6th Annual PumpkinFest to Martha's Vineyard Food and Wine Festival — there is no shortage of events. Additionally, take a free, self-guided walking tour on the 1.6 mile Kennedy Legacy Trail, which celebrates the role the family played in the history of Hyannis and Cape Cod. Or visit the Hyannis HyArts Cultural District, home to local artists, galleries, concerts, theatrical performances and classes year-round. Indulge in the bounty of the sea at restaurants like Hyannis institution Cooke's Seafood, known for its fried clam strips, or Ocean House if you want to enjoy a meal with a view.

Denver, Colorado

The Mile High City has recently become one of the hottest craft brew cities in the country. Be sure to check a few out on the Denver Beer Trail, which covers more than 100 brewpubs, breweries and taprooms. Beer lovers should plan their trip around the Great American Beer Festival that takes over Denver in September with brews from 800 breweries. Take a stroll or a shuttle bus down the 16th Street Mall and indulge in outdoor cafes, shopping and the D&F Tower, a two-thirds replica of the Campanile of St. Mark's in Venice built in 1909. Depending on the venue's schedule, you can also catch a concert at the city's famous Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre or hike the trails around the park which is especially beautiful in the fall. Other must-see places include the Colorado Railroad Museum, Denver Union Station and Punch Bowl Social, a restaurant and entertainment venue that used to house the old Stapleton International Airport's air traffic control tower.

Sunset cruise in Key West

Key West, Florida

Florida's southernmost point — a mere 90 miles from Cuba — is known for its diving, snorkeling and beaches. And visiting during the fall means the humid summer months are over, bringing cooler ocean breezes and refreshing water temperatures making outdoor activities great options. Go on a sunset cruise, take a tour of the island on a wave runner, participate in a pub crawl or rent a moped, a scooter or a bike to explore the Keys. Sunbathe at beaches like Fort Zachary Taylor, an 87-acre state park that is home to a pre-Civil War Fort. And make sure to visit author Ernest Hemingway's home, where he lived from 1931 to 1939 and where he wrote a few classics including the novel, To Have And Have Not.

Memphis, Tennessee

The tagline for this Southern city is the Home of Blues, Soul and Rock 'n' Roll. You can hit iconic locations covering all three by visiting the Blues Hall of Fame, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music and Sun Studio, the birthplace of Rock 'N' Roll. Walk down the city's iconic Beale Street, where you can check out bars, restaurants, clubs and shops. Take a cruise on a Memphis Riverboat and indulge in a barbecue dinner at the famous Rendezvous. Cooler temperatures also mean a variety of festivals to choose from, including Gonerfest, — Goner Records' annual music festival —Mempho music festival, Memphis Pride Festival and more. And no visit to Memphis is complete without visits to the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. passed away and Elvis Presley's Graceland.

Lake Tahoe at dawn

Lake Tahoe, Nevada

Located 154 miles north of San Francisco, this region is mostly known for ski resorts like Squaw Valley, home of the 1960 Winter Olympic Games. But there are still plenty of things to do in the fall with fewer crowds and off-season specials with lower prices. For example, take a hike along the 1.9-mile Lake of the Sky Trail, ride on the M.S. Dixie II Paddlewheeler or play a round of golf at the Lake Tahoe Golf Course. But the best way to take in all that Lake Tahoe has to offer is to do the 72-mile most beautiful drive in America, where you can take a ride on the Heavenly Gondola, visit the historic Donner Memorial State Park or try your luck at the Crystal Bay Casino.

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah National Park is located 124 miles west of Washington, D.C. and one of the best places in the country to enjoy fall foliage along the 105-mile Skyline Drive. View the leaves changing colors and enjoy beautiful scenery by going on a hike in the park — home to 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail along the ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Take a guided tour through Luray Caverns, a series of large rooms with 10-feet-high ceilings, stone columns and pools. Go horseback riding or do a tour of the Blue Ridge Whisky Wine Loop, which showcases the region's wineries, a whiskey distillery, breweries and dining.

Vineyard in Napa during Autumn

Napa, California

It's a given that you'll do a wine tasting or two in this world-famous region, though keep in mind that during fall months, wineries tend to close by 5 pm so plan to start early. And even if wine tasting isn't for you, witnessing the fall foliage while driving on the Silverado Trail from Napa to Calistoga is worth it. Or indulge yourself by visiting one of Calistoga's wonderful day spas, play a round of golf at the Vintner's Golf Club in Yountville or take a sunrise hot air balloon ride. There are no shortages of delicious restaurants — the valley is home to six Michelin-starred restaurants, including Chef Thomas Keller's French Laundry. Or you can scout out the next generation of dining talent at the Culinary Institute of America's The Restaurant at CIA Copia. If you're looking for a unique wine experience, consider doing the Art in the Afternoon tour at the Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville, which pairs a tasting with a tour of its world-class collection.

Getting there

When you've decided where to go for your Fall weekend getaway, visit united.com or us the United app, and share your story on social media with the #myunitedjourney hashtag.

We view New Jersey's success and ours inextricably linked

By Jill Kaplan , September 17, 2018

As a proud resident of the New Jersey and New York area for the past thirty years, I know firsthand how vitally important Newark Liberty International Airport is to the success of the communities and families throughout the state – the jobs it creates, the economic activity it generates and the businesses and people it connects to markets around the globe.

We are one of the top ten employers in the state, with 14,000 employees as part of the United family and are Newark Airport's largest airline, together with our Star Alliance partners, account for more than two-thirds of both total flights and passengers. It's obvious that keeping Newark competitive requires a competitive United Airlines.

That's why we've invested more in Newark Airport than any other airline, making both our service and the airport better. We've committed $2 billion in unsubsidized airport investments since 2000 and nearly $400 million over the past two years alone.

Not only are we giving back at the airport, but we are also supporting the communities we call home. This July, we announced two new partnership grants totaling $1 million for the cities of Newark and Elizabeth supporting the Community Foodbank of New Jersey and Urban League of Essex County. These grants will greatly expand opportunities in each city, helping hundreds of young people and adults on the path to meaningful carriers and economic mobility. This commitment complements our longstanding support across New Jersey, from schools to local shelters, to vital community anchors such as the Newark Museum, the Liberty Science Center and New Jersey Performing Arts Center.

We view New Jersey's success and United's as inextricably linked, which is why the negative tone that's been adopted recently has been extremely disappointing. I am determined to get us back on the right track.

Case in point: the discussion regarding our recent decision to transition some of our operations from ABM Aviation to United Ground Express (UGE) has been unfair. Let me clarify a few things.

The current contract held by ABM was up for renewal and we began a competitive bidding process in order to improve our customers' experience at Newark Airport. After our review, we determined that UGE was the right vendor to achieve this for United's passengers and in turn, our overall operation at Newark airport.

To date, we've hosted seven job fairs and received hundreds of applications, many from current talented ABM employees and, we expect our employment figures to remain where they were before the transition to UGE. These newly created jobs will be represented by IAM, one of our union partners.

As a company we believe it's appropriate for the state to determine the minimum wage and as a good corporate citizen we continue to observe and comply with all applicable federal, state and local laws and regulations. We remain committed to treating all of our employees fairly, providing them with competitive compensation and benefit packages which feature a progression wage scale, paid time off (PTO), double-time holiday pay and company subsidized health care plan for full-time employees. Under UGE, employees also receive United flight benefits, which is a notable and unique addition to our employees' overall compensation.

United is important to the region. Without United's continuing investment in the airport, not only would jobs be lost, but also it would be a major blow to the state's economy and to the New Jersey taxpayer. We pay local taxes; the Corporate Business Tax (which was increased earlier this session); and the jet fuel tax and in addition, we pay more than $400 million a year in rates, charges and fees to the Port Authority to fund operations and infrastructure development at Newark airport. All told, United pays our fair share and creates nearly $16 billion in economic output in New Jersey and we're very proud to be doing our part to drive the New Jersey economy.

The stakes are too high for this issue to be turned into a political football and subject to overheated, misleading rhetoric.

We care deeply about our employees, our customers and our state and take our responsibilities as a good corporate citizen very seriously. We're determined to remain competitive so we can continue offering the service and standards our customers and this community deserve. United is proud to call Newark home, I hope you'll support our efforts to continue investing and growing in the great state of New Jersey.

Introducing Better Boarding

By United Airlines , September 17, 2018

The feedback from customers and employees was clear: we needed to improve our boarding process. As part of our ongoing efforts to put customers at the center of everything we do, we identified boarding as an opportunity to improve the airport experience. We tested a variety of different boarding processes on thousands of flights across multiple airports. Best practices emerged from each test, and combined, they now form what we are calling "Better Boarding".

Better Boarding consists of three key improvements

Less time in line:

By reducing the number of boarding lanes, there is more space for customers to enjoy the gate areas, many of which have been completely remodeled with more comfortable seating and in some airports, the ability to have food and drinks from within the airport delivered directly to the gate area. Over the years, we have invested millions of dollars in our terminals, and now with less time spent standing in line, customers will have more time to dine, shop, relax, work or enjoy a United Club℠.

Simplified gate layout

Say goodbye to the five long lines we see today

Group 1 will board through the blue lane.

Group 2 will board through the green lane, followed by groups 3, 4, and 5.

Two groups on each side of sign indicating lanes 1 (blue) and 2 (green)

Late arriving customers in Group 1 and 2 will use the blue lane.

Customers in groups 3, 4, and 5 always use the green lane.

Better information:

We are providing customers with more information throughout the boarding process so that they feel more at ease, and more equipped with the latest information about their flight. Customers with the United app can receive a push notification once their flight starts boarding. Customers will only receive the notification if they've opted in for push notifications and have a mobile boarding pass in the app's wallet.

Enhanced communications

Be in the know about boarding

Mobile phone and smartwatch with boarding notifications

Customers will receive boarding notifications through the United app (if they've opted in for notifications).

Gate information display with boarding instructions for group 1-2 through lane 1 (blue) and group 3-4 through lane 2 (green)

Improved gate area digital signage to guide customers through boarding.

Balanced groups and better recognition:

United MileagePlus® Premier 1K® customers will now pre-board and United MileagePlus Premier Gold customers will be boarding in Group 1. For more information on our boarding groups, visit: https://www.united.com/web/en-us/content/travel/airport/boarding-process.aspx

Improved premier customer recognition

We're happy to make them happy

Premier passenger in front of boarding line

Improved premier recognition and better positioning of customers to create balanced boarding groups.

The new Better Boarding process is just one of the steps we are taking to improve the customer experience. We will continue to collect feedback from customers on ways we can further improve boarding and you may receive a post-travel survey to tell us more about your experience

Towns in the U.S. with unusual names

By Bob Cooper

You don't have to travel to Timbuktu or Dull, Scotland to check out a uniquely named place — there are plenty in the United States. It's true that you might not find much to do in Boring, Oregon, or anything peculiar about Peculiar, Missouri — and who wants to go to Hell, Michigan? But there are even more places with strange names worth seeing.

Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg, Massachusetts

And you thought “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" was a mouthful. The 45 letters in the name of this lake in Webster, Massachusetts, makes it America's longest-named place. The lake's name means, “English knifeman and Nipmuck Indians at the boundary or neutral fishing place." Hundreds of pricey homes on its shoreline can be seen during a ride aboard the Indian Princess, one of America's last authentic paddle wheel boats. For those looking to do more than laze along the shorelines, unique fishing spots and a range of water activities are popular attractions in this town. The nearest airports are Boston and Hartford/Springfield (Bradley), each a 75-minute drive away.

Wild Horses of Assateague Island Maryland

Chincoteague, Virginia

This easternmost town in Virginia, with a name derived from its Native American name, is the southern gateway to Assateague Island National Seashore, best known for its wild horses. About 150 Chincoteague ponies, which stand only four-and-a-half feet tall, roam the island where visitors also can tour Assateague Lighthouse, a candy cane-striped 1867 national landmark that stands 142 feet tall. The nearest airport to Chincoteague is Norfolk, Virginia, approximately a two-hour drive away.

Kalamazoo, Michigan

The Glenn Miller Orchestra's “(I've Got a Gal in) Kalamazoo" was the #1 hit song of 1942, putting the Michigan town on the map. How can you not like a song with lyrics like, “I liked her looks / when I carried her books / in Kalamazoo"? Even now, it's performed by the Western Michigan University marching band at football games. The college town is also known for being home to prestigious Kalamazoo College, many brewpubs, the nearby wine village of Paw Paw and the Gilmore Car Museum. United flies to Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport.

Emerald Lake in the Mammoth Lakes Basin appear green.

Mammoth Lakes, California

Mammoth Lakes was named after the Mammoth Mining Company, which brought it into existence as a gold rush boomtown. It's a fitting name because it also describes the mammoth-sized Sierra Nevada mountains that surround it, including the famed granite rock faces of nearby Yosemite National Park. Mammoth Lakes has emerged as one of America's leading destinations for trout fishing, hiking, mountain biking — and most of all — snowboarding and skiing. The Mammoth Ski Museum is a big draw. United flies into Mammoth Yosemite Airport from San Francisco December through April.

Wahoo, Nebraska

It's not a tech company or an expression of joy. Wahoo is a town named after the native eastern wahoo shrub. The town of 4,500 is best known for being named “home office" of the David Letterman Wahoo Gazette Top-10 List after town boosters bribed Dave with a wall clock made of cow dung and free checkups at Wahoo Medical Center. Wahoo Creek feeds into the town's biggest attraction, Lake Wanahoo, where you can hike, kayak, fish and camp. The nearest airport is in Omaha, Nebraska, a one-hour drive away.

Zzyzx dry lake in California

Zzyzx, California

This spot in the Mojave National Preserve is last on any alphabetical list of places and not far behind on any list of Southern California hotspots (except literally in the heat of summer). Many drive past Zzyzx Road on road trips from Las Vegas to L.A., but few know what's at the end of the road or the history behind the small town. Today, the only thing you'll find there, after taking Zzyzx Road off I-15, is the California State University-run Desert Studies Center on the land of a former hot springs resort. But the hiking is a treat if you like desert-mountain solitude. The nearest airport is an 80-minute drive away in Las Vegas.

Getting there

United Airlines flies to these places or to airports within a two-hour drive. MileagePlus® Rewards can help pay for your accommodations. Go to united.com or use the United app to plan your trip,

Spending a week in Iceland

By The Hub team

Passion Passport is a community-based website that tells meaningful travel stories and facilitates global connections. Our team hails from across the United States and Canada and is always up for an adventure. To learn more about where we're going and what we're doing, visit our website: PassionPassport.com

Iceland is a place of incomparable beauty. We recently visited some of the country's most popular destinations and explored the stunning landscapes that it is most known for. If you have the opportunity to travel to this country full of otherworldly views, be sure to check out some of our favorite places.

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Visit the capital city

Reykjavík may not be a large city, but it still offers plenty to do and see. The capital's relatively small size makes it easy to visit its most notable attractions on foot or by bicycle. Architecture enthusiasts should stop by Harpa Concert Hall to marvel at the iconic glass building, while music lovers should check out the hall's events and enjoy its array of shows, such as Iceland's Symphony Orchestra performances.

For great photo opportunities and gravity defying architecture, seek out Hallgrimskirikja, the largest church in all of Iceland. Designed by Guðjón Samúelsson in 1937 and inspired by the shapes that emerge when lava cools, the church can be spotted from almost anywhere in the city. Visitors can also climb to the top of its tower for the best views of the city below — so don't forget your camera! Once you've seen this architectural beauty, explore the city center on foot. If you're looking for a place to shop, visit Laugavegur Street, Bankastræti, Skólavörðustígur, and Lækjargata.

One of the many swimming pools in the Reykjavik area.

If you want a truly Icelandic experience, visit one of the many swimming pools in the Reykjavík area. Located behind Hallgrimskirikja, Sundhöll Reykjavíkur is the country's oldest public bath. Or, take some time to relax at Iceland's famous Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa, located just 30 minutes from the capital city by car — though, if you're not looking to rent a car, you can also take a bus from Reykjavík to the spa. The locale is open year-round, and the water in the large lake is always warm and beautifully hued. Experience the seemingly magical powers of geothermal seawater at this natural spa and enjoy a mask bar, a massage, an in-water bar, and a sauna and steam room. Note: this is a popular activity, so be sure to book in advance.

Travel along the Golden Circle

If you want to road-trip around iceland, the Golden Circle is the perfect route for you. It features three of Iceland's most popular destinations: Thingvellir National Park, Geysir Hot Springs Area, and Gullfoss Waterfall. There are also many Golden Circle tours to choose from, if you prefer to sit back, relax, and enjoy the scenery without the hassle of driving.

Your first stop will likely be Thingvellir, which became a national park in 1930 and later, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Due to Thingvellir's fascinating geology and unique history, visitors are often enchanted by its proximity to tectonic plates, lava rocks, and surrounding volcanoes. Interestingly, the land was once used as a meeting place for the parliament of the Viking Age commonwealth (its name actually means "the fields of parliament"). Today, the park is also a popular draw for those interested in bird-watching, diving, snorkeling, and viewing the Northern Lights (come winter).

Thingvellir national park in Iceland

Gullfoss Waterfall in Iceland

The second stop along the route is Gullfoss Waterfall, a stunning waterfall located in an ancient valley. The two-tiered fall is beautiful during both the winter and the summer, offering cascades of ice in cold weather and an abundance of rainbows just after the spring thaw.

From here, Geysir Hot Springs Area is just a short drive away and a 50-minute trip from Thingvellir. Although the geysir is a famous hot spring, it isn't the only geyser in this geothermal area. Keep an eye out for the region's most active, Strokkur, which sprouts hot water approximately every few minutes. Have your camera ready and keep a safe distance from the boiling eruption.

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon in Iceland

Immerse yourself in beauty

Stunning vistas are not uncommon in Iceland. It seems like everywhere you look, there are natural wonders to observe and photograph. One of Iceland's most beautiful destinations is Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, an area filled with blue waters dotted with glistening icebergs. What's more, this particular location is also popular among those aspiring to spot the Northern Lights. If you want to get up close and personal with the frozen landscape, the lagoon hosts amphibian boat tours, which allow you to sail alongside the icebergs. You might even spot some seals leading the way. While the lagoon is nearly six hours from Iceland's capital, it's a beautiful drive, which offers roadtrippers the chance to observe a range of Icelandic scenery along the way.

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