But most cruises to Iceland barely scratch the surface; the bigger ships only stop off here for a day or two en route to other destinations, limited to the main ports of Reykjavik and Akureyri. While both of these cities have much to offer, the only way to truly immerse yourself in Iceland and get off the beaten track is by visiting on a small ship cruise. Smaller vessels are able to take you to sleepy fishing ports, remote fjords and tiny islands where tourists are thin on the ground, especially on the more expedition-style voyages where small Zodiac boats will take you up close to the amazing wildlife and hard-to-reach geological features.
The obvious choice if you want to see the whole island is a circumnavigation sailing from Reykjavik, which will typically last a week or two and cover all the main areas of interest, including the Golden Circle, the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and the wild Eastfjords. We always recommend adding on a pre- or post-cruise hotel stay in Reykjavik, allowing you more time to explore the capital and nearby attractions such as the famous Blue Lagoon. Iceland is also usually included on transatlantic cruises following the northern route, along with calls in Greenland and the Faroe Islands. Other options include longer voyages that combine Iceland with Norway, Scotland or the Baltic, and some cruise lines also offer no-fly voyages to Iceland from the UK.
Iceland's weather is notoriously unpredictable, even in summer, so you won't find any cruise ships here during the winter months. That means that you're unlikely to see the Northern Lights on a cruise to Iceland (though it is possible in September); for that, you're better off looking at Hurtigruten's winter voyages to northern Norway. The cruising season in Iceland runs from May to September, which coincides with the best time to see whales and puffins, and you'll also enjoy the Midnight Sun during June and July. It's important to note that Iceland cruises often get booked up well in advance, so it pays to plan ahead.
Here is our guide to nine of the best small ship cruise lines that visit Iceland:
Windstar's lovely yacht Star Legend emerges refreshed from a multi-million dollar refurbishment in summer 2020, with a newly increased capacity of 312 guests and with new public areas including two new dining venues, a new spa, infinity pool and fitness area. Her summer programme includes 7-night circumnavigations of Iceland sailing out of Reykjavik, with exciting calls including the rugged Westman Islands and an overnight stay in the picturesque port of Seyðisfjörður. Occasional longer voyages combine Iceland with calls in Norway, the Faroe Islands and Scotland.
French cruise line Ponant's sleek new Explorer yachts, each carrying just 184 guests, operate regular 7-night round-trips from Reykjavik. Our team were among the first to sail on these beautiful vessels, which are kitted out with the latest environmentally-sensitive hardware and decorated in a fresh, Scandi-inspired style. Highlights in Iceland include Grundarfjörður, on the dramatic Snæfellsnes Peninsula, and the remote island of Grímsey, which straddles the Arctic Circle and provides a home for thousands of nesting seabirds.
Seabourn's fleet of luxurious and contemporary sister ships, carrying between 458 and 604 guests, are a great option for longer voyages to Iceland, with options ranging from 14 nights to trips of 30 nights or more. These extended sailings allow you to combine Iceland with destinations including Norway, Greenland, Ireland and the Baltic, and they also have some fantastic transatlantic voyages between Southampton and Montréal. In 2021 Seabourn's first expedition ship, the 264-guest Seabourn Venture, will join the fleet, with exciting itineraries including a two-week voyage that visits the bird-rich islands of Vigur and Papey and the fjords of eastern Greenland.
Silversea's extensive fleet offers both 'classic' cruises and expedition-style voyages to Iceland, on ships that range in size from the 254-guest Silver Cloud to the 382-guest Silver Whisper. Options include 9-night round-trips from Reykjavik and ex UK sailings from London Tower Bridge and Greenwich, with the possibility of sailing back-to-back voyages to create a no-fly round-trip from London. The expedition voyages combine Iceland with less visited coasts and islands of Ireland and Scotland, with a focus on culture and wildlife.
Scenic is a well-established touring and river cruise company which recently moved into ocean cruising with the launch of the stunning Scenic Eclipse, a 228-guest yacht which brings a new level of luxury to the world of adventure travel. Eye-catching features include an onboard helicopter and submarine, and the ship also has an ice-strengthened hull which allows it to venture into polar waters. Voyages visiting Iceland include 8- and 9-night cruises out of Reykjavik, and a pre-cruise hotel stay in the Icelandic capital is included as standard. They also have some interesting itineraries combining Iceland with Scotland, Ireland, Greenland and eastern Canada.
Azamara have a few options if you're looking for a cruise to Iceland from the UK or Ireland, including round-trip voyages from Southampton and Dublin. Their trio of small ships each carry 686 guests, with a boutique hotel style on board, great value inclusive fares and an emphasis on destination immersion, with lots of time ashore. Key ports of call on their Iceland Intensive voyages include Reykjavik, Ísafjörður and the northern city of Akureyri, gateway to the bubbling mud pools and lunar landscapes of Lake Mývatn.
Oceania have some interesting Iceland options on their smaller 'R Class' ships, each of which accommodates 684 guests. Oceania's relaxed and unpretentious style, combined with plenty of long days in port, make them a popular choice for those seeking to explore each destination, and they're particularly well regarded for their excellent cuisine. Itineraries to look out for include longer voyages combining Iceland with rare calls in northern Russia, visiting ports such as Murmansk, Arkhangelsk and the Solovetsky Islands in the White Sea. They also operate transatlantic voyages visiting Iceland, Greenland and the Faroes.
Crystal have won more World's Best and Reader's Choice awards than any other cruise line in the business, and we're very excited about the launch of their first expedition ship, the 200-guest Crystal Endeavor, in 2020. This extraordinary vessel promises the largest expedition accommodation at sea, high-tech toys including submarines and helicopters, plus Michelin-inspired onboard dining including the Japanese-Peruvian fusion restaurant Umi Uma, by master chef Nobu Matsuhisa. In 2022 Crystal Endeavor will operate round-trip Iceland voyages from Reykjavik, with highlights including the spectacular Dynjandi waterfall and the incredible bird cliffs of Látrabjarg.
Viking are best known for their huge river cruise fleet, and a recent expansion into ocean cruising brings their distinctive Scandinavian style to a host of exciting new destinations. Their ocean ships carry 930 guests and are infused with a contemporary Nordic style. Selected shore excursions are included in your fare, and there is an excellent programme of onboard lectures and cultural activities. Their 12-night Iceland itineraries sail between Reykjavik and the pretty port of Bergen in Norway, and combine the highlights of Iceland with the Faroe Islands and the Norwegian Fjords.