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Iceland is packed with natural wonders, from thundering waterfalls and vast glaciers to spouting geysers and wildflowers sprinkled across black lava fields like confetti. Here are eight highlights from my recent ‘Iceland’s Natural Beauty’ round-trip cruise from Reykjavik which took in the country’s most famous sights plus a few delightful surprises in just one week.

1. Iceland is stunning, rain, hail or shine

In Iceland there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes. During our cruise, the sun shone brightly most days, and sunscreen was a must. Our only rainy day was a bonus rather than a disappointment as the scenery was moody and dramatic and waterfalls flowed down the cliffs as we drove from one scenic highlight to the next in our tour bus. While we had initially hoped for perfect weather, we discovered that any kind of day is a winner with scenery this good.

Godafoss Waterfall
Godafoss Waterfall on a rainy day

2. Access is easy on a cruise

Many of Iceland’s most famous highlights are close to the coast, making it an ideal country to explore by ship. Some of them, like the world’s largest puffin colony on Heimaey in The Westman Islands, are only accessible by sea. It’s a lot easier arriving on a cruise ship than navigating local ferry timetables and finding a hire car and suitable accommodation during peak puffin season which conveniently coincides with the country’s best time to cruise. Exploring Iceland on Viking Star was a breeze.  

3. The Golden Circle

This iconic day trip from Reykjavik was the perfect pre-cruise adventure on the day we were due to board the ship. After flying in the night before, we were up early to board a local’s tour bus for a day spent exploring some of Iceland’s most famous sights: the thundering Gullfoss Waterfall, Geysir Hot Spring Area and Thingvellir National Park where the North American and Eurasian continental plates towered above the surrounding landscape. At the end of the tour, our guide dropped us at the port and we were on the ship and settled into our stateroom in no time.

4. Wildflowers are everywhere

During summer, bright purple lupines imported from Alaska to hold the volcanic soil together with their strong root system create a stunning purple carpet across the landscape. Everywhere you look there are also colourful local wildflowers that aren’t just beautiful to look at, they also make for truly stunning photos.

5. Waterfalls

Godafoss and Gullfoss are two of the most famous waterfalls but you’ll also see plenty of others. In the port of ĺsafjördur we took an included Viking tour to a nearby waterfall for a sip of the ice cold water that’s believed to grant everyone who drinks it 10 years of good luck. On another afternoon, we watched a waterfall across from where the ship was docked grow bigger and bigger as the snow in the mountains melted under the summer sun and ice cold water tumbled down the cliff.

6. Iceberg adventure

It’s not a trip to Iceland without some ice so on the morning we docked in Djúpivogur, we set off early for a RIB boating adventure at the base of a glacier. Sheets of ice towered above us in the distance as we held our breath, waiting to see if a section of ice would break off and plunge into the water. Shimmering blue icebergs floated around us as our guide manoeuvred the boat to the best position so we could take photos of the jagged icy wall and marvel at one of Europe’s largest glaciers.

Fjallsarlon Ice Lagoon zodiac excursion
Fjallsarlon Ice Lagoon zodiac excursion

7. Wildlife galore

On a small ship like Viking Star, we were able to dock right in the heart of town and slip into small bays and coves along the way. Watching puffins nesting in the nearby cliffs and zooming past us from the comfort of our balcony was an unexpected trip highlight made possible by Iceland’s deep harbours and our captain’s skill. Just when we thought our trip couldn’t possibly get any better, a whale waved its tail in the air in front of the Explorer’s Lounge during the cocktail hour on the last night of our cruise, providing a grand finale for seven wildlife packed days.

8. You’ll discover more than just the sights

Local guides were waiting to show us around each port on Viking’s included tours and didn’t just show us the highlights, they also provided an insight into what it was like living in Iceland’s coastal towns. Tales of friends and family getting together for midnight picnics to watch the northern lights dancing across the sky in winter, why there were so many wonderful singers and musicians at every port we visited (affordable music lessons are made available to every child in Iceland) and why a tiny university with only 80 students is so popular for students studying marine science. The things I saw and did in Iceland were incredible, but it’s the country’s people that we’ll remember long after we return home.

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Dr Tiana Templeman is an award-winning food and travel journalist, travel author and media industry academic. She is the creator of The Travel Temple, writes for Australian and international media outlets and appears on radio talking about where to go, what to see and travel industry trends.