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Dynjandi waterfall in Iceland with Scenic Eclipse II (Photo/Chris Gray Faust)
Dynjandi waterfall in Iceland with Scenic Eclipse II (Photo/Chris Gray Faust)

Everything You Need to Know About Iceland Cruises

Dynjandi waterfall in Iceland with Scenic Eclipse II (Photo/Chris Gray Faust)
Dynjandi waterfall in Iceland with Scenic Eclipse II (Photo/Chris Gray Faust)
Contributor
Carolina Pirola

Last updated
May 30, 2024

Read time
7 min read

Iceland, known as the land of fire and ice, offers travelers a unique blend of history and unparalleled natural beauty. From the lively streets of Reykjavik and Akureyri to the remote fjords of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and the rugged cliffs of the northern coast, this is a trip to remember, whether you’re traveling with family, as a couple, or solo.

While driving down the Ring Road is an excellent way to discover the interior of the country, Iceland cruises offer a unique opportunity to take in the breathtaking landscape of volcanoes, geysers, tiny Nordic villages and dramatic waterfalls in just a few days. To us, there is simply no better way to experience everything that Iceland has to offer.

However, planning cruises to Iceland is not always easy. The weather, the activities you want to join and the differences between ports and cruise lines are all factors to carefully consider before booking. Read on to learn everything you need to know to choose the cruise that best suits you and your travel companions.

What Is the Best Time of the Year for Iceland Cruises?

Zodiacs in Iceland (Photo: Ben Sousa/Cruise Fever)
Zodiacs in Iceland (Photo: Ben Sousa/Cruise Fever)

Iceland cruises are only available for five months out of the year, from early May through the end of September. In winter, ice covers vast expanses of the island, making travel to some areas impossible, including many of the fjords and some of the northern regions.

The best time for Iceland cruises temperature-wise is summer. However, main ports such as Reykjavik, Akureyri and the fjords can get busy. If you want to avoid the crowds, visit in late spring, when temperatures are “milder” (average daily highs reach 38 degrees Fahrenheit by late March) and winds die down.

Snow slowly starts to melt in April after the long winter months, and the first signs of grass and flowers appear. Cruise ships can again call at all ports, and many of the attractions that remained closed during the coldest months reopen. By the end of the month, there are about 16 hours of sunlight per day, and daily temperatures hover around 43 degrees F.

Spring and summer are also the best seasons for whale and bird watching, hiking and horseback riding. The fjords and fields are in full bloom, and waterfalls carry all the water from melted snow, turning them into deafening, stunning sights.

Sudden weather changes are common in fall, which brings overcast skies, wind and rain. Indeed, September is the wettest month of the year, but snow usually arrives later in the season, around mid- to late October. Despite the rain, it is still a fine time for cruises to Iceland for those who don’t mind the cold. Just remember to pack lots of layers and waterproof clothing and shoes.

Things to Do on Cruises to Iceland: Dive into Nature, Visit Breweries, Learn About the Vikings and More

Fagradalsfjall volcano in Iceland
Fagradalsfjall volcano in Iceland (Photo: Fran Golden)

Dramatic natural landscapes dotted with volcanoes, geysers, rugged cliffs, roaring waterfalls and blinding glaciers make cruises to Iceland a nature lover’s dream. This is not a destination for those hoping to spend days visiting museums and shopping, but rather for travelers more interested in taking in the scenery and doing outdoor activities such as hiking and horseback riding.

While it's possible to see whales and seabirds almost year-round in Iceland, minke and blue whales, as well as porpoises, puffins and terns are more easily spotted in the late spring and summer months.

Thousands of birds flock to the craggy cliffs on the northern and western coasts to nest, making for a spectacular sight in the late afternoon. The waters around the island are popular feeding grounds for all kinds of marine life.

However, a cruise to Iceland doesn’t need to be all about nature -- all itineraries offer tons of other fun things to do, from learning about the Vikings and the herring industry to discovering the local beer culture and relaxing in a stunning hot spring.

Can You Cruise to Iceland from the U.S.?

LGBTQ Pride month in Reykjavik, Iceland (Photo: Chris Gray Faust)
LGBTQ Pride month in Reykjavik, Iceland (Photo: Chris Gray Faust)

Most Iceland cruises depart either from Northern Europe -- typically from the U.K., Denmark, Sweden or Germany -- or circumnavigate the country round trip from Reykjavik. However, it is also possible to cruise to Iceland from the U.S. In particular, Boston and Cape Liberty are the two main ports for these itineraries, which also often include Nova Scotia and/or Newfoundland and Greenland.

Itineraries that depart from the U.S. spend just a handful of days in Iceland. Those looking to explore multiple destinations in the country may want to consider a European departure port instead, or an Iceland-only cruise. Non-stop flights to Iceland are available from New York and other U.S. airports.

Do All Cruise Lines Offer Cruises to Iceland?

Viking Sky in Iceland. (Photo: Fran Golden)
Viking Sky in Iceland. (Photo: Fran Golden)

The main cruise lines offering cruises to Iceland from the U.S. include Celebrity, Regent Seven Seas, Norwegian, Oceania, Viking Ocean and HX (Hurtigruten Expeditions). These are typically longer itineraries (10 days and up) that make their way up the East Coast to Canada, and from there on to Greenland and finally Iceland.

In addition to more time in Iceland, starting in Europe provides travelers with many more options in terms of cruise lines and itineraries. Some of the main cruise lines offering Iceland cruises from the other side of the pond include Silversea, MSC, P&O, Princess, Crystal and Fred Olsen.

Iceland Itineraries: Do All Iceland Cruises Call at the Same Ports?

Akureyri, Iceland (Photo: TRphotos/Shutterstock)
Akureyri, Iceland (Photo: TRphotos/Shutterstock)

The ports your cruise ship will be calling at depend on length and departure point. Itineraries that begin in Reykjavik and circumnavigate the country often call at more ports than those that depart from either the U.S. or Northern Europe. As a rule of thumb, the farther away you start the journey -- or the more countries your itinerary includes -- the fewer the ports you’ll be visiting in Iceland.

Of the country’s 18 ports, the following are the most popular:

Reykjavik: The capital of Iceland is the main port in the country and located on the southwestern coast. Reykjavik may not be a big city with its population of just about 120,000, but it does offer many attractions, including the iconic Hallgrimskirkja, the National and Saga Museums, the Perlan dome, the Harpa and the Laugavegur neighborhood.

Reykjavik is also an excellent starting point for many day trips, such as to the glaciers of the southern coast, the volcanoes on the Reykjanes peninsula and the Blue Lagoon.

Akureyri: This charming university town is known as the capital of the north. Akureyri's many cafes, lively cultural life and Nordic architecture offer a taste of Icelandic city life. The Botanical Gardens and the Godafoss Waterfall are must-sees.

Husavik: This is the number one port for those looking to go on whale and dolphin watching tours. It also offers easy access to Mount Myvatn and the Vatnajokull National Park.

Isafjordur: Isafjordur is the largest harbor in the Westfjords and a great gateway to some stunning fjords. It's also home to a range of cultural attractions. Nearby ports in the region include Patreksfjordur or Djupavik.

Seydisfjordur: Seydisfjordur, a small Nordic village, serves as the primary port for cruise ships on the eastern coast and is known for its colorful wooden houses set against towering snow-capped mountains.

Grundarfjordur: Grundarfjordur is the gateway to Mount Kirkjufell and one of two main ports on the famous Snaefellsnes Peninsula (the other one is Stykkisholmur).

Packing for Iceland Cruises: What to Bring and What to Leave Behind

Blue Lagoon in Iceland (Photo: Chris Gray Faust)
Blue Lagoon in Iceland (Photo: Chris Gray Faust)

Although there can be some variations between the early spring and the middle of the summer, it never really gets hot in Iceland. Daily average temperatures in July can reach 57 degrees F, but it's rarely warmer than 39 degrees F in April, so you’ll want to pack warm clothes and multiple layers even if you are traveling in the summer.

Hiking shoes/boots and comfortable outdoor clothes are a must regardless of the time of the year, as are windbreakers and waterproof layers. Although it may not rain during your cruise to Iceland, you will be likely visiting waterfalls, geysers and windy coastal areas, making these items mandatory if you want to stay dry and comfortable.

Don't forget that Iceland is also known for its stunning geothermal baths, for which swimwear is required. If you are visiting in the colder spring months, you may want to pack a bathrobe, although a T-shirt and flip flops may be fine in the summer. Leave sandals, sun dresses and beach shorts at home.

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