Few places capture the imagination quite like Iceland can. It could be because of this Nordic nation's remote northern location. Or perhaps it's the phenomenal, almost otherworldly landscape. Travelers continue to be enthralled by whale watching, a midnight sun, UNESCO World Heritage sites, and all the valleys, peaks, glaciers, and geysers in this remarkable destination. The Land of Ice and Fire is where "north of the wall" was filmed for the hit series Game of Thrones, and you have to visit this winter wonderland for yourself.
One of the best ways to do so is on a cruise. A smaller vessel can squeeze into less conventional spots, and the mega-ships ensure you visit the capital Reykjavik and one or two other major ports of call. Let's dive into some of your options.
Silversea cruises are truly all-inclusive for guests' convenience, so you don't have to worry about forking out extra for shore excursions and tips. Of course, this means they're not cheap. They tend to be longer, with the shortest Iceland cruise lasting nine days and the longest spanning a month and hitting various UK ports. You can also do no-fly roundtrips from the UK. Besides classic Southampton, the cities of Hamburg, Helsinki, Stockholm, London, Portsmouth, and Lisbon are all places where you could begin or end your journey. Guest numbers range from about 250 to 600.
Setting sail from Reykjavik, you'll make your way around the island over at least seven days, with highlights such as the Westman Islands and colorful Seyðisfjörður on the east coast. The circumnavigation covers more than the usual tourist magnets. There's a 10-day option with inland stays and adventures in Husafell, for example. Longer voyages can include the Faroe Islands, Norway, and Scotland. Windstar has a newly-refurbished yacht called the Star Pride, which is sure to impress guests over the upcoming cruising seasons, and with a staff-to-guest ratio of 1:1.5, you'll feel well taken care of.
Ponant may be a luxury French cruise line, but the decor on its intimate Explorer yachts is distinctly Scandi. The vessels are environmentally sensitive and make Iceland-focused trips for 7 to 11 nights or 13-night educational treks to Greenland that retrace Viking expeditions. Some cruise options focus on just the west coast, and others do roundtrips. Ponant also partners with Smithsonian Journeys, so travelers interested in world-class lectures and edifying shore excursions can learn a little more than on your average cruise. In the 2022 Condé Nast Traveler Readers' Choice Awards, Ponant was number 1 in the small ship category with fewer than 500 passengers.
Oceania Cruises are known for tasty food and a laidback ambiance. This cruise line offers approximately 34 different itineraries, with Iceland featuring to various degrees. Some are short nine-day voyages, and then there's the bucket list Around the World in 180 Days cruise, which spends a day in Isafjordur and two days in Reykjavik.
You'll be scratching way below the surface with an ultra-luxe Seabourn cruise. Seabourn Venture has two submarines for a different perspective of Grundarfjordur and Papey Island. You can go kayaking, snorkeling, Zodiac boating, and hiking to see the flora, fauna, and various attractions. This cruise line also offers extended voyages between two weeks and a month, with places like the Baltic and Ireland on some long itineraries and Iceland segments during transatlantic Dover to Montreal trips. Guest numbers range between 450 and 600.
Scenic's been in the river cruise business for over a decade and recently entered new marine territory. Its Eclipse yacht has a submarine, a chopper, and a hull strong enough to navigate arctic waters, and 228 guests can fit onboard. Options currently include a 10-day cruise with Scotland and the Faroe Islands and a 15-day cruise focusing on Greenland and the Norwegian archipelago, Svalbard. Scenic's cruises are all-inclusive and very posh.
If you're going to traverse Viking country, you may as well do it on a boat that knows the brief. Viking are another cruise line with a longstanding reputation in the river cruise space. They're often voted as favorites in their respective categories, and they're well-placed to turn your Icelandic dreams into reality. There are 11 options to choose from between eight and 180 days long. The ships tend to carry close to 1000 guests, and you can book extension packages to customize your pre and post-cruise destinations.
Hurtigruten has some fascinating expedition itineraries covering the Northwest Passage, Jan Mayen, the Shetland Islands, and even a three-month pole-to-pole expedition from the High Arctic to Antarctica. You can opt for a short nine-day Circumnavigating Iceland cruise. The schedule packs in all the main highlights dotted around the country's coast. Hurtigruten often has special discounted prices for solo travelers, so be sure to look out for those.
Azamara's Iceland Intensive Voyages vary in length but tend to be between 11 and 13 nights long. You'll take in about six Icelandic destinations and be able to soak up the culture, wildlife, and spectacular scenery. Itineraries also include the Isle of Skye, Belfast, and Dublin, so if you're still hung up on the Outlander theme song, now's your chance to sing it to the open ocean.
Royal Caribbean does 12 to 17-night cruises in the region on the Jewel of the Seas, a radiance-class ship that launched in 2004. The vessel has room for over 3000 individuals, including crew members, so it's essentially a floating city. Royal Caribbean is a beloved brand and number 1 in the Reader's Choice mega-ship category, so you'll have all the amenities you could wish for.
Holland America has a whopping menu of 42 Iceland-inclusive itineraries to select from, so you're spoilt for choice. You'll likely be hopping aboard the following three ships: brand new Rotterdam, glassy Zuiderdam, or Nieuw Statendam. These vessels look faintly Titanic-like, but don't let that put you off. They're modern beauties with a boatload of safety features. The Volendam and Zaandam ships do some of the New England itineraries too.
Travel aboard the Island Princess or the Sky Princess, and you'll get to see Akureyri and Reykjavik, the two most-frequented ports in Iceland. You'll also stop by Grundarfjordur, where Thor was once worshipped upon the "Holy Mountain." Birdwatching in the fishing village, Arnarstapi, is rewarding, and you can marvel at the 4,000-year-old Berserkergata lava fields.
Celebrity Cruises is a subsidiary of Royal Caribbean. It has 14 Iceland itineraries, including Ireland, Scotland, and Greenland. You'll likely be traveling on the Apex, Summit, Silhouette, or Eclipse ships—the Apex is the newest of them all, having launched in 2019. Celebrity's Iceland combo cruises tend to last 11 or 12 nights. In the Readers' Choice Awards, Celebrity Cruises scored a top 3 spot in the large ship category.
Carnival Cruise Line is another well-known and well-liked cruise line brand, so you can expect world-class service and a memorable experience. The company's Iceland itineraries travel to Reykjavik, Akureyri, Grundarfjordur, and Seydisfjordur on the Carnival Pride ship. The trip lasts 12 days and begins and ends in London (Dover, specifically).
Now, let's move on to the bigger ships and cruise lines. Norwegian Cruise Line offers detailed Iceland itineraries. In addition to Reykjavik, you'll find that Djupivogur, Akureyri, and Isafjordur are frequent ports of call. NCL caters to budget and luxury travelers and is a tried and tested brand. In the Condé Nast Traveler Readers' Choice Awards, it holds the top spot for large ships between 2,500 to 4,000 passengers and a top 3 spot for mega-ships with more than 4000 passengers.