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Five Reasons to Visit Iceland by Expedition Ship

Experience Iceland in a uniquely thrilling way—on a small ship expedition cruise! Uncover hidden gems, enjoy peaceful moments in seldom-visited locations, witness breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, and encounter incredible wildlife. Learn more about why exploring by small ship is the best way to experience the land of fire and ice.
Iceland coastline landscape

Nowhere has become quite so buzzy and trendy as Iceland has over the past decade. Tourism has boomed in this tiny country at the edge of the Arctic Circle. As remote and wild places like Iceland become easier to access, how can you ensure a unique and stand-out experience? Circumnavigating Iceland by sea!

Luckily, Iceland sits in the collective imagination as somewhere special; you’ll never hear a bad word about it. Safe, memorable, and iconic, the land of fire and ice offers an experience guaranteed to delight and surprise all who venture here.

Ocean Endeavour Iceland birds

© Liz Carlson

With a population of less than 400,000 on a good day, the growth in tourism over the past decade means that Iceland is not quite as quiet as it used to be. Consider travelling by sea instead of plodding along on the well-worn tourist trail. There are so many reasons why visiting Iceland by sea offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience. From following in the wake of the Vikings who arrived long ago to accessing remote spots, Iceland by sea expedition style guarantees an adventure unlike any other.

1. You can access hard-to-reach places

Iceland community

© Liz Carlson

Siglufjörður, the northernmost town in Iceland

Many visitors to Iceland travel by car around the ring road. But some of Iceland’s most beautiful and stunning spots are way off the beaten tourist trail. Some are even islands and places you have to access by ferries and small-plane flights. Travelling by sea via expedition ship means we get to call into places that tourists often skip because of the sheer difficulty in getting there. Circumnavigating Iceland by sea brings you by so many hidden gems that get overlooked.

Gunna Lára Pálmadóttir Volcanologist Heimaey

© Liz Carlson

Volcanologist Gunna Lára Pálmadóttir in Heimaey on an Iceland Circumnavigation in 2023

We call regularly into places like Heimaey, Grímsey, and Siglufjörður in Iceland, many spots that can go unnoticed by travellers but are beloved by passengers at sea. Heimaey, for example, is one of the most popular places we visit. Hidden away in the Westman Islands, the Eldfell Volcano erupted unexpectedly here in the 1970s, transforming the landscape. Everyone survived, though half of the town was buried. Today, you can see houses emerging in the lava field, and the views from the top of the volcano are outstanding, overlooking the mainland glaciers and bright blue seas.

2. It’s less busy and you get places all to yourself

Seyðisfjörður, Iceland

© Liz Carlson

Seyðisfjörður, a picturesque town of about 700 people

One of the most obvious reasons to choose to explore Iceland from the water is that you get places all to yourself. Having a flexible schedule with expedition travel means that we can visit places when they are less busy, like early in the morning. Iceland is a popular place to visit these days because of its beauty. But there is something truly special about arriving at an incredible waterfall by the sea, cruising into shore in a Zodiac surrounded by wildlife, before landing and exploring for yourself. Those are memories that can last forever.

3. Sunrise and sunset views

whale in the sunset iceland

© Liz Carlson

Despite its nickname, the "land of the midnight sun," it does actually experience twilight during the peak of summertime, though never getting fully dark at night. This period is flanked by long sunrises and sunsets on either side, creating a unique and extended period of varying light levels.

And on either side of the few hours of darker skies brings long sunrises and sunsets. Stunning and unforgettable, being at sea when the skies turn red, pink, and orange makes for their own unique experiences. Everyone rushes out on deck to take in the colourful skies and keep an eye out for wildlife, especially whales.

Guest on a hill Iceland

© Liz Carlson

Photographers rejoice with the softer and more colourful light, making for even more photos that pop. We were even lucky enough to cruise by the newly erupting volcano on the Reykjanes Peninsula last summer, watching the orange lava spray sky-high against a twilight backdrop, while safely at sea.

4. Wildlife and whales

kayakers in iceland

© Liz Carlson

Two of Iceland’s greatest wildlife attractions are best taken in at sea: seabirds and whales. Summertime is the best season of the year for both. Whale watching is best done from boats, and as we circumnavigate Iceland by ship, there are endless opportunities to get out on deck or head up to the bridge for wildlife spotting, especially with the longer daylight hours.

puffins iceland

© Liz Carlson

The most common whales you might come across in Iceland are minke, humpback, and fin whales. However you may also spot other cetaceans like white-beaked dolphins and harbour porpoises. Seals can be seen regularly too.

Puffins attract many visitors, but other seabirds spend time in Iceland too, like shearwaters, petrels, fulmars, shags, and gannets. With many nesting on high sea cliffs, the best way to take them is below by boat. And always keep an eye on the edges of colonies where Arctic foxes are known to prowl in search of a quick meal.

5. Visit Grímsey in the Arctic Circle

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Grímsey lighthouse

Did you know that the only place in Iceland that technically sits within the Arctic Circle is the tiny island of Grímsey, off the northern coast? 66° N is an iconic number in Iceland—It's the name of their biggest outdoor retailer, but also the location of Grímsey.

Home to far more seabirds than humans, it’s the place to go to explore huge puffin and Arctic tern colonies. And it’s not a particularly easy island to get to as an independent traveller. Arriving by expedition ship makes it far more accessible. You can also wander out to the iconic Orbis et Globus, a three-metre concrete sphere that is moved to align with the fluctuating position of the Arctic Circle.

About the Author

Liz Carlson

Liz Carlson

Expedition Team

Liz runs one of the biggest travel blogs in the world, Young Adventuress. She is American but has been based in the mountains of Wānaka, New Zealand for the past decade. She is a writer and photographer, focusing on solo female travel, wildlife, and our connection to nature.