While you can tour Iceland on a land-based trip, seeing the island of fire and ice by ship offers a special perspective, giving passengers front-row seats to the fjord-cut coastline and snow-capped mountain peaks.
Located just below the Arctic Circle, Iceland abounds with stark beauty and dramatic landscapes that have appeared in numerous films and TV shows, including Game of Thrones, Tomb Raider, and Star Wars.
Adventurous travelers will be awed by Iceland’s steaming volcanoes, rocky beaches, spouting geysers, and bubbling hot springs. You’ll find lava fields and fumaroles coexisting with massive glaciers, steep cliffs, deep fjords, and sweeping expanses of tundra dotted with grazing sheep.
Starting and ending in capital Reykjavík, the 1,000-nautical-mile (give or take) Iceland loop typically takes cruise ships 7 to 12 days, depending on how many stops are made for natural attractions and picturesque harbor towns along the way.
A reasonable degree of fitness is required to enjoy the country’s active outdoor excursions, of which there’s a multitude of rewarding possibilities:
Hike on barren fields of orange and black lava rocks spotted with moss and lichen. Hop on a snowcat to reach the glacier-capped volcano known as Snæfellsjökull. Marvel at gushing waterfalls in the Skaftatell wilderness area of Vatnajökull National Park. Paddle a kayak past playful seals and floating icebergs in the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon (pictured above).
There are blue and humpback whales to spot from a Zodiac boat in Skjálfandi Bay, stocky Icelandic horses to ride, and birds like Atlantic puffins, kittiwakes, gannets, and cormorants to watch. And you definitely don’t want to miss taking a soak in one of Iceland’s many natural hot springs and thermally heated public swimming pools.
(A puffin in Iceland | Credit: Simon Dannhauer / Shutterstock)
Seeing Iceland by Cruise Ship: What to Expect
Summer is the prime season for cruising Iceland. Temperatures are mostly in the 40s and 50s Fahrenheit (4–10 Celsius).
There are usually naturalists aboard smaller ships to guide excursions and help you understand what you’re seeing.
The longer 9- to 12-night round-trip circumnavigations of Iceland from Reykjavík will offer a more in-depth experience than the one-week loops or the cruises to the region that combine a few calls in Iceland with ports in Greenland, the Svalbard islands, or the mainland of Norway.
Of the numerous options available, here are 11 Iceland-bound cruise lines to consider.
(Ponant's Le Bellot ship in Iceland | Credit: Mystic Stock Photography / Shutterstock)
Small Ships Carrying 132 to 196 Passengers
ProCruises specializes in small-ship cruises to Iceland and Greenland. The 164-passenger Seaventure is a classic small ocean liner that offers a full season of 9-night circumnavigations, plus some longer itineraries as well.
Known for high-quality expedition staff and a focus on learning, Lindblad runs several 9- and 10-night Iceland circumnavigations each summer as well as longer routes on ships including the 138-passenger National Geographic Endurance and 148-passenger National Geographic Explorer.
The elegant 184-passenger Le Bellot offers mostly 7-night loops around Iceland from Reykjavík. The new ship boasts two restaurants, balconies with all cabins, and an ocean-view sauna.
Atlas Ocean Voyages
This line offers 8- to 11-night Iceland cruises, including a few circumnavigations, aboard the 2-year-old 196-passenger World Navigator and newer sister ship, World Traveller.
The 132-passenger expedition ship Sylvia Earle does a 10-night circumnavigation of Iceland in 2024, plus a few itineraries doing the full Arctic experience with Greenland and Svalbard.
(Panorama suite on Silversea's Silver Spirit | Credit: Silversea)
Ships Carrying 312 to 930 Passengers
Windstar does a couple of 7-night Iceland cruises round-trip from Reykjavík aboard the 312-passenger Star Pride and Star Legend, mini cruise ships with multiple dining and entertainment options.
This renowned Norwegian company offers 8- and 10-night circles around Iceland round-trip from Reykjavík aboard the 570-passenger Maud and 318-passenger Fram. There are also a few itineraries between Reykjavík and other points in Europe.
The elegant 684-passenger Sirena offers several 10-night circumnavigations plus longer itineraries that include calls to Iceland along with other areas of the Arctic and Europe.
All-inclusive Silversea offers numerous 9- to 14-night Iceland circumnavigation cruises round-trip from Reykjavík and also operates routes between Reykjavík and Southampton, England. The luxury all-suite ships plying these itineraries include the 608-passenger Silver Spirit and 596-passenger Silver Moon.
Viking is doing 7-night circumnavigations in 2024 round-trip from Reykjavík aboard the 930-passenger Viking Mars, an all-veranda ship with several restaurants including Manfredi’s, an Italian venue.
Seabourn offers a handful of luxury all-inclusive cruises around Iceland, either round-trip from Reykjavík, or to/from ports like Copenhagen, Denmark; Oslo, Norway; and Dover, England. Sailings last from 7 nights to much longer, on refined all-suite ships including the 600-passenger Ovation and 450-passenger Sojourn.
In addition to the small ships listed above, vessels carrying thousands of passengers on mainstream cruise lines—Celebrity, Holland America, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Cunard, and others—call on Iceland in the course of transatlantic crossings, repositioning cruises between Europe and North America, or on itineraries focused mostly on the British Isles or Scandinavia.
Heidi Sarna is a veteran travel journalist and the cofounder of QuirkyCruise.com, a top source for news, reviews, and information about small ship cruises and unconventional vessels.