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Hurtigruten Group

Travel Guide to Iceland

If your list for wanted vacation experiences involves volcanoes and lava fields, hot springs, geysers, glaciers and waterfalls, there is really just one place on earth you can to go. Welcome to Iceland.

6 mins read

Why travel to Iceland:

For a small island, Iceland sure has a lot to offer to those who come to visit. It is a world of contrasts. A world of fire and ice, hot springs and frozen waters, white mountaintops and black beaches, with a cool climate but with warm and friendly people.

It is called “The Saga Island”, and for good reasons. Because of its geographic location on top of two tectonic plates moving away from each other, the geology of Iceland is unique. At certain locations water spurts several meters from the ground up in the air. There are natural pools of steaming hot water outside in the middle of winter, and smoke and even lava erupts through solid rock. It absolutely is a fairy-tale world, and now you have the chance to explore that world and experience the magic first-hand.

Discovering Iceland from a ship is great, no matter if you are visiting Iceland for the very first time, or if you just can’t get enough of it. The diversity in geology is much more visible from sea. Much of the wildlife lives along the coast, and in addition to visiting the obvious highlights of the island, we use our small expedition boats to go ashore on places that are unreachable from land.

Best time to visit Iceland

Every season has its charm, but when travelling by ship, the best time to visit Iceland is between April and September. That’s when there is less ice in the water, making the deep and beautiful fjords more accessible. And with the ice and snow gone, green grass and flowers starts painting nature in beautiful spring colours.

Although it doesn’t get very warm in the summer, with temperatures around 10–13 °C (50–55 °F), the sun lures the wildlife out in the open. Whales are more frequently seen, and millions of birds get ready to nest on the rugged cliffs along the coast. Most of Iceland lies beneath the Arctic Circle, but the Midnight Sun shines on through most of the night in June and July, offering visitors many extra hours of daylight for outdoor activities.

Where to go on Iceland:

As we explore Iceland by ship and do landings both in ports and in smaller, secluded places, we have access to pretty much the entire island. These are some of our favourite places:

  • Reykjavik is the world’s northernmost capital city. Settlers named the place “Smokey Bay” after the columns of steam rising from local hot springs.

  • Stykkishólmur features beautiful, well-preserved old houses and is surrounded by wonderful scenery and iconic sites on Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

  • Westfjords is known for stunning scenery, including spectacular fjords and charming settlements and offers great opportunities for hiking and kayaking.

  • Akureyri is a lively and energetic town and lies close to many of Iceland’s renowned natural treasures, like Lake Myvatn and Goðafoss waterfall.

  • Húsavik is renowned for its whale watching and has several interesting museums, including a whale museum.

  • Grimsey is a small and grassy island that has the legendary Arctic Circle crossing straight through it, and you can step across it when we are here.

  • Bakkagerdi is known for its natural beauty and as “the land of the elves.” Puffin colonies are everywhere in the fjord, making this a popular place for birdwatching.

  • Heimaey is located in a zone of volcanic activity, clearly visible because of its many steep ocean cliffs that provide a habitat for countless seabirds, including the charming puffin.

What to do on Iceland:

There is always plenty to do in Iceland. Not only are there a lot of included activities both on the ship and ashore, but there are also a wide variety of optional excursions and activities to join in on.

Included activities includes bird watching, lecture programme, photo programme, art activities, science activities, expedition boat cruising, nature landings, hiking, town tours and more.

Optional activities include kayaking, guided hikes, horseback riding, whale safari and more.

Wildlife in Iceland:

There is an abundance of wildlife on Iceland. These are some the species you might encounter.

Arctic Fox

The Arctic fox can be found throughout Iceland. It was the only mammal on the island before the Vikings settled here over 1000 years ago. The thick fur both protects and serve as camouflage, as it is white in snowy conditions during winter and brown and light grey in the summer.


On a Hurtigruten expedition cruise, guests may encounter whales while sitting on deck or even from a kayak for a really close encounter. For the most part they feed on krill, and they can eat constantly for four to six months to build up fat reserves for the breeding season. Species like humpback, killer minke, blue and fin whales are most common in the Icelandic waters.

Icelandic Horse

The Icelandic horse is developed and bred locally. It has few diseases and Icelandic law prohibits other horses to be imported to the country to keep the breed protected. The horse was developed from ponies and brought to Iceland by Viking settlers in the 9th and the 10th centuries.


In addition to the bird species native to Iceland, several species of migrating birds pass through Iceland due to its location in the North Atlantic between North America and Europe. This makes Iceland a great place for birdwatching. Although you might see species like Arctic Terns, Great Skuas, Harlequin ducks and Golden Plovers, the puffin is arguably Iceland’s most iconic. Approximately 60% of the world’s population (between 8 – 10 million) of Atlantic Puffins live here.

What to expect when visiting Iceland with Hurtigruten:

If you have never been to Iceland before, you are in for a real treat. The otherworldly scenery of volcanoes, geysers, lava fields and black beaches are sure to make an impression on you. But it is not just the strange and surreal that’s fascinating about Iceland. It is also the beautiful nature of stunning waterfalls, magnificent glaciers and beautiful fjords. When you go on a hike or go cruising in our small expedition boats in this raw and unspoilt landscape, you can’t help but falling in love with it all.

Explore, not only with your eyes and feet, but with all your senses. Talk to the friendly locals, try local delicacies in the restaurants, smell the sulphur from the geothermal baths. Join excursions and activities to discover as much as possible, as there is so much to discover. Iceland never disappoints. Just don’t expect to eat your meals on McDonald’s. There isn’t one.

Penguins perched on the ice of Cuverville Island, Antarctica. Credit: Espen Mills / HX Hurtigruten Expeditions

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