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Experience Iceland

16th November, 2020

We caught up with Simon Giles, Senior Purchasing and Operations Executive for Shore Excursions, to find out what it is about Iceland that makes it truly unforgettable.

Iceland… a land of thundering waterfalls, dramatic volcanic landscapes, fascinating wildlife and tales of turbulent Viking history.

Having had the opportunity to visit recently, I can say that it is all of this and so much more. Unique is a word that is often used to describe travel destinations, but Iceland is truly an experience like no other.

For me, the ideal way to experience Iceland is on a cruise. While the capital of Reykjavik is a fantastic city to enjoy a short break, a cruise opens up the possibility of visiting many other towns and villages scattered along the coastline of this fascinating country.

My summer exploration began in the compact capital of Reykjavik, nestled in south-west Iceland. From here I headed off to explore the famous Golden Circle, a trio of Iceland’s most popular natural wonders.

First up was Thingvellir National Park, a site of remarkable volcanic landscapes where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. I was aware of its geological importance; however, it was fascinating to learn about Thingvellir’s historical and cultural significance as the founding site of Iceland’s parliament, in the year AD 930.

The tour continued to Gullfoss Falls, which translates to the ‘Golden Falls’ and is a breath-taking sight. Viewing platforms take you up close to the falls where you can really feel the power and ferocity of the water. So close in fact, that a raincoat would have come in handy!

The final stop on our Golden Circle tour was the Strokkur Geyser, surrounded by bubbling mud and steaming geothermal pools. The geyser spectacularly erupts every five to 10 minutes but be warned that it requires some patience when trying to capture the moment on camera!

The small fishing town of Grundarfjordur is an absolutely wonderful addition to a cruise around Iceland. The town sits on the north coast of the Snæfellsnes peninsula, an area famous for being the gateway to the centre of the earth in Jules Verne’s classic science fiction novel.

I was very lucky to arrive into Grundarfjordur on a glorious sunny day. T-shirt weather was certainly not something I was expecting in Iceland, but I was told it is actually very common during the height of summer. Prior to my visit, I had seen many stunning photos of pointy Kirkjufell Mountain with a beautiful waterfall of the same name cascading in the foreground, so it was top of my list to experience this view first-hand. A gentle walk alongside the coast took me straight to the falls and the sight was as incredible as I had hoped it would be.

Grundarfjordur is also well known for its puffins, who head to the nearby Melrakkaey Island to nest during the summer months. I headed out to the island onboard ‘Láki’, a traditional oak fishing boat, to take in the incredible sight of thousands of the colourful-beaked birds.

For a real taste of Icelandic culture and traditions, the town of Isafjordur is the perfect destination. The fishing industry is extremely important to this area and a visit to the West Fjords Heritage Museum offers an insight into how this has developed over the years and the harsh conditions that are often found here.

A boat trip to the deserted village of Hesteyri is an experience I can highly recommend here. Surrounded by incredible scenery of steep cliffs and beautiful snow-capped mountains, the area is now recognised as a nature reserve and is a haven for arctic foxes, seals and many nesting birds.

Nicknamed the ‘Capital of North Iceland’, Akureyri is a delightfully welcoming small city. In fact, even the traffic lights here will put a smile on your face… The red stop lights here are heart-shaped!

If a spot of whale watching is on your must-do list during your time in Iceland, then you will find some of the best opportunities in the north. Many species are regularly spotted, including Blue-fin, Humpback and Minke whales, and the summer months provide the best opportunity for sightings.

Iceland is home to some of the world’s most spectacular waterfalls and none more so that Godafoss, the waterfall of the gods. Its mighty nickname is more than justified because the horseshoe-shaped falls are a spectacular sight.

The East-Coast town of Seydisfjordur is certainly one of those destinations that fall into the hidden gem category. Nestled at the end of a fjord and surrounded by towering mountains, the town has less than 700 inhabitants and feels quite remote. The town is perfect for a leisurely stroll and is home to many vibrant painted buildings, none more impressive than the quaint blue church, approached via a charming rainbow pathway.

Seydisfjordur also has plenty of hiking routes that head up into the surrounding mountains. As I stood on deck and the ship sailed along the fjord into Seydisdfjordur, I got into conversation with one of my fellow cruisers, a gentleman named John. We were discussing our plans for our time here when at that moment I noticed a stunning waterfall tumbling down the mountains and into the fjord below with a winding pathway leading up towards it.

I said to John that I fancied following that route to get up close to the waterfall and he asked if I would mind if he joined me. The gentle hike was certainly worth the effort, taking us close enough to the waterfall to feel its spray and providing the most incredible views of our ship and the town below. An Icelandic moment to treasure and a fitting end to my time in this beautiful and truly unique country.

Plan your Icelandic adventure

Discover all that this wonderful country has to offer on a Saga Cruise to Iceland.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.