Iceland is a breathtaking land of ice and fire, home to ancient volcanoes, steaming geothermal lagoons, glacier-capped peaks and lava fields. The Nordic country lies in Northern Europe in the North Atlantic and is the most sparsely populated country in the continent, being both volcanically and geologically active. Its coastlines are dotted with windswept beaches and lively port towns while its interior hinterlands are home to the ineffable Icelandic Highlands – filled with peaks and waterfalls. Tourists visit to explore Reykjavík, the country’s tiny and uber-trendy capital, bathe in natural hot springs and geysers, and experience natural wonders like the magical northern lights or mind-boggling midnight sun.
Why cruise Iceland
Iceland’s coastline is made for cruising, scattered, varied and offering something slightly different at each port. Most major cruise lines offer sailings to the capital Reykjavik and Akureyri – like Princess Cruises, NCL, P&O Cruises, Celebrity Cruises and Fred Olsen Cruise Lines. Many cruise lines offer Iceland-intensive voyages too, like expedition line Hurtigruten and Crystal Cruises expedition arm. Luxury cruise lines offering Iceland sailings include Oceania, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Seabourn.
Best places to visit in Iceand
Reykjavík is a city that just oozes appeal, be it its colourful harbour, abundance of cool cafés, grassroots art and music scene or the fact it’s surrounded by snowy mountains and churning seas. For its tiny size – housing just 122,000 people – Reykjavík is surprisingly cosmopolitan and has everything its rival European capitals have. Here, you’ll find the waterside Harpa concert hall, the cool Laugavegur shopping street, impressive Landmark Hallgrímskirkja Church and trendy Kling and Bang art gallery. Foodies will love the city’s fine dining and restaurant scene – head to Michelin-star Dill for Nordic produce with a modern twist – while hedonists will go mad for the city’s late-night music scene – championing local DJs and bands at chic subterranean venues.
Akureyri lies at the head of Iceland’s longest fjord, Eyjafjörður, a city of stunning natural beauty and only 20,000 inhabitants. Akureyri is Iceland’s second city and known as the ‘capital of the north’, and here you’ll find a winter wonderland of ski slopes and ice-skating rinks – set against a backdrop of snow-capped peaks. While the city is often seen as the gateway to explore the fjord and the Myvatn region, it has a buzz of its own worth seeing. Like Reykjavík it also has trendy cafés, great eateries and cool art galleries. In the city, check the Akureyri Art Museum, the verdant Akureyri Botanic Garden and Hof Cultural Centre – Harpa’s rival venue. Outside the city, venture to the Hlíðarfjall ski slopes or time your visit with one of Akureyri’s many festivals – like the Iceland Summer Games.
Ísafjörður is a firm favourite on Icelandic cruise itineraries, a town on Iceland’s West Fjords peninsula – the country’s least populated region. Just 3,500 people call this town home, once one of Iceland’s main trading ports and now a historic fishing village with some of Iceland’s oldest and most well-preserved buildings. For such a small town it packs in some fantastic museums, like Osvör Museum and Maritime Museum – located in an 18th-century house and serving up Icelandic delicacies. Most people, however, come to Ísafjörður for its intense natural beauty, located near glaciers and fjords. Nature lovers should be sure to stop at Vigur Island – surrounded by deep blue water and boasting Iceland's only windmill, Europe's smallest post office and a colony of 80,000 puffins.
Seyðisfjörður is a town in the east of Iceland, nestled between Mt Bjólfur and Strandartindur. It’s by far the most interesting town in the region, a jumble of traditional colourful timber houses with a light-blue church, rainbow-coloured brick road and a handful of great art galleries and museums. The town has developed a trendy community of creatives, craftspeople and students, whose work can be seen in the likes of the Skaftfell - Center for Visual Art. Of course, the scenery is stunning, surrounded by snowy peaks and gin-clear waterfalls. Make sure to venture out to the picturesque Seyðisfjörður, once a base for British/American forces during the Second World War and housing an abandoned landing strip and wreck of the bombed SS El Grillo – now a dedicated diving wreck.
Located next to Mount Kirkjufell on the Northside of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Grundarfjörður is one of the most picturesque fishing towns in Iceland. Most visitors come to the town to visit the mountain itself, which took millions of years to form and was shaped by glacial erosion. The mountain features on the 10 most beautiful mountains in the world and has even had a role in Game of Thrones – where it played ‘Arrow Head Mountain’. Visitors to the town should also wander its fishing harbour, breathe in fresh salty air and check out activities like horseback riding, kayaking, birdwatching and sea angling.
There’s no denying that Iceland’s Blue Lagoon is the country’s biggest tourist hotpots, but it’s a tourist hotspot for a reason. Just a 45-minute drive from Reykjavík, travellers are greeted with a mystical lagoon of milky blue waters and geysers, naturally heated by the bubbling volcanic landscape. Travellers come to relax in its warm waters and bathe in its healing silica white mud, which is rich in nutrients and known for its skin renewal benefits. Those looking to make the most of this truly bucket-list experience should also book into the Blue Lagoon day spa for special silica beauty treatments and rejuvenating massages.
The Golden Circle
Whether you hire a car or book a special guided tour, no trip to Iceland is complete without exploring the magnificent Golden Circle. The route covers around 300km and traverses Southern Iceland, starting in Reykjavík and winding through the Thingvellir National Park, by the Gullfoss waterfall and the geothermal Haukadalur with its bubbling geysers. One of which, Stokkur, erupts every five to 10 minutes – so you’re guaranteed to see some action. Other stops on the cinematic route include a volcanic crater, the historic Skálholt Cathedral and some of the country’s thermal power plants that naturally power the country.
Those who want to spot humpback, minke, white-beaked dolphin, harbour porpoise and blue whales should head to Husavik – the country’s whale watching capital. The town is located in the north of Iceland around an hour’s drive from Akureyri and spotting whales is almost guaranteed in the warmer summer months. Centred around the Skjálfandi Bay, the town has the famous Húsavík Whale Museum and its harbour is packed with restaurants, souvenir shops and tour booking offices centred around whale watching. Husavik also hosts the annual Mærudagar festival – where thousands of Icelanders come to the town to enjoy music, food and drink and colourful decorations.
Best things to do in Iceland
Iceland is rich in wildlife, from its marine life-packed waters to its skies filled with seabirds and mountains with Arctic foxes, mink, mice, rabbits and reindeer. Whale lovers should head to Husavik – the country’s whale capital – and puffin spotters should head to the likes of the West Fjords.
See the Northern Lights
The northern lights season in Iceland runs from late September to late March where the skies are at their darkest. During this time, you’re more likely to see the magical aurealis borealis light up the skies. The lights can be spotted all across the country with the beautiful Thingvellir National Park – a popular destination for tourists.
…Or Midnight Sun
Come the summer months and Iceland becomes a country bathed in sunlight, where the dark night skies are replaced by a warming pinkish hue. That’s because, due to Iceland’s high latitude, the sun never properly sets, and in turn that means more day light and more time for exploring.
Climb inside a volcano
One of the most thrilling things to do in Iceland is to climb inside the Thrihnukagigur volcano, deep into the volcano’s mesmerising magma chamber – the only magma chamber in the world that you can descend into. Sound terrifying? Don’t worry, the volcano has been lying dormant for 4,000 years.
Visit a geothermal power plant
Iceland is a powerful and forceful land, so much so its natural resources power the country. You can pay a visit to the Hellisheiði Power Station and see the energy harnessed firsthand in the plant’s visitor-friendly exhibition.
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