It was exactly ten years since my first visit to Iceland when I returned last summer with Adventure Canada. And let me tell you, it couldn’t be more different. To visit Iceland by sea is an extraordinary and unique way to travel here.
Iceland was only beginning to boom on the tourism map a decade ago. It was still pretty chill. Instagram was still new, and Iceland had yet to dominate it. I went with girlfriends, including a friend from Iceland, and we did a loop road trip. It was so much fun. It was also one of my first jobs as a full-time travel blogger, so it meant so much to me.
This time around was completely different. Instead of flying in, we sailed over on their Scotland, The Faroe Islands, & Iceland: North Atlantic Saga trip, arriving by sea. All up, I spent about two weeks there with Adventure Canada on their Iceland Circumnavigation trip and then departing on their Iceland to Greenland: In the Wake of the Vikings trip.
Iceland was a bit of a hub. And it was so exciting to explore it in a completely different way.
There’s something special about visiting a place the old-fashioned way, the way it was originally settled. It’s thought that the Vikings settled in Iceland in the 9th century, but it might have been earlier.
Making their way across the North Atlantic, likely searching for arable land, the Norse came in their thousands, settling all over Iceland within a few decades. What’s interesting to learn that a lot of the genetic evidence includes Irish and Scottish ancestry in addition to Scandinavia, particularly, women. Most people believe they came as slaves.
Following in the wake of the Vikings over a millennia later by ship is a spectacularly cool way to arrive in Iceland.
Here’s a taste of what we go up to with 25 of my favorite photos from a couple of weeks exploring Iceland by sea – enjoy!
One of our first stops in Iceland was to a place I had never been to before – the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in western Iceland. Somewhat off the beaten path, it’s a stunning corner of Iceland worth exploring. Arnarstapi is a cute little fishing village that sits as the gateway to the Snæfellsjökull National Park.
I recognized where we were almost as soon as we stepped off the zodiacs in the harbor. With a cute white house perched on lava sea cliffs above turquoise water with a perfect volcano and glacier behind it, this was a view I had definitely seen before. It was on the cover of the only book I bought in Iceland (expensive).
Arnarstapi felt otherworldly immediately. It didn’t help that we had some of the wildest lenticular clouds I’ve ever seen, creating a moody ambiance that made it feel all the more magical. I spent my time wandering the sea cliffs, watching the bird colonies before meandering out to the lava fields. It definitely felt like you were on another planet.
From there, we made our way up along the coast into the Westfjords, an often overlooked place. One of the perks of traveling by ship is that you can often rock up to places that are much harder to reach by car.
Dynjandi is the largest waterfall in the Westfjords, clocking in at 100 meters tall, with five waterfalls below it dropping down into the sea. While it’s remote, it can still become really busy with tour buses trekking out to visit. We called in early in the morning and had the whole place to ourselves for hours.
My first Iceland waterfall since 2013, I was struck by how much work has gone into creating infrastructure. I don’t remember paths or signs or blockades anywhere when I was here last. If you were dumb enough to sit on the edge of a waterfall, it was on you. And I sat on a lot of waterfall edges.
The only place you can actually be within the Arctic Circle in Iceland is on the tiny island of Grímsey, off the northern coast. Sitting pretty at 66° N, Grímsey is pretty much ruled by birds.
If you want to get your (visual) fill of puffins, Grímsey is the place to go. Somewhat hard to get to independently; it was great to be able to arrive by boat instead. Just watch out for nesting Arctic terns – they’re my new bird enemy.
The northernmost town in Iceland is called Siglufjörður, and I had never heard of it. It ended up being one of my favorite spots in Iceland.
Going in with zero expectations, it was the sunniest, most beautiful weather when we arrived. The colorful, charming fishing town surrounded by mountains couldn’t have been more picturesque. Combined with a fascinating story and super friendly locals, Siglufjörður blew me away!
In the 1940s and 1950s, Siglufjörður was the herring capital of the North Atlantic; it was like a gold rush with fish. It’s since declined, but now there is one of the best museums I’ve ever been to, the Herring Era Museum, that shares the whole history. I know, a museum about fishing? But trust me, it’s fucking awesome, and it’s totally worth coming just for that.
To visit Iceland by sea means we can visit traditional port towns the old-fashioned way, like Akureyri.
A beautiful little city in northern Iceland, Akureyri is a great place to base yourself out of, even for a day. It’s close to so many of the great wonders of the north, and it’s super cute all on its own. A great place for whale watching; one of the perks of traveling around by ship with Adventure Canada is the opportunity to watch for whales while onboard. When we left Akureyri and sailed out of the fiord at sunset, we were accompanied by whales the whole time.
During the day, we explored outside the city, checking out Goðafoss, a super popular waterfall. I didn’t realize until we returned to the ship that I had been there before. We also spent some time exploring Dimmuborgir, home to some very cool lava fields, caves, and arches.
As we continued our Iceland circumnavigation, heading east, we landed in Seyðisfjörður, another off-the-beaten-track town. I’m not sure I would ever thought of coming here on my own, but it was just amazing. One of the earliest settled areas in Iceland, Seyðisfjörður is home to the little rainbow road that leads up to the church.
We had another day of perfect weather and spent the morning way out on the fiord in Skálanes. Skálanes is a nature and heritage reserve. Luckily, the Arctic terns were only nesting by the carpark, so you only had to avoid them for a little bit, haha!
The reserve at Skálanes is an area of great biodiversity and is a center for study and research worldwide. There are nearly 50 bird species here, including a ton of puffins. There are also tons of reindeer, arctic foxes, and more than 80 archaeological sites.
Fjallsárlón and Jökulsárlón
The most popular place we took in on our visit to Iceland by sea was out near the Vatnajökull National Park, home to the iconic Fjallsárlón and Jökulsárlón glacier lagoons.
We spent the morning on a boat tour around the lesser-known Fjallsárlón, taking in the beautiful icebergs and glaciers in the distance. It was another perfect bluebird day, not a cloud in sight.
We ended up having enough time that we also called in Jökulsárlón too. En route to the ship, we saw reindeer and arctic foxes, making it a perfect day.
Wow, another top contender for a new favorite spot in Iceland had to be Heimaey. I had never heard of this little spot in the Westman Islands; I’m not sure I would have thought to come out here on a traditional Iceland road trip. But it was so great we called in by ship as a way to visit Iceland by sea.
The zodiac cruise into the harbor was amazing, and we happened to time it when the prime minister was in town for the 50-year memorial of the ending of the Eldfell volcano eruption here. In the middle of the night in the summer of 1973, the local volcano erupted without warning. Luckily, bad weather had kept the boats in the harbor overnight, so everyone could escape. Eventually, half the town was buried, and locals fought the spreading lava by spraying it with seawater, saving parts of it, including the harbor.
Today, you can see parts of houses emerging in the lava field, and the views from the top of the volcano are amazing. Definitely worth the climb up.
I was so excited to return to Reykjavík. Wow, the city has changed a lot in the decade since my last visit. It was so modern, with so many new spots and a lot of development happening.
I spent a few hours while in port, wandering around and soaking it all in. I went back to my favorite cafe from the last time I was here, the Laundromat, as well as finally going to the infamous penis museum. As a long-time fan of the weird, gross, and morbid, even I was not into it.
Everywhere else was amazing, especially the waterfront. I definitely need to spend more time here soon. To visit Iceland by sea is an unforgettable way to take in this popular country.
Have you been to Iceland? Would you consider visiting by ship? Spill!