Our last cruise on Azura travelled to Iceland with stops in Belfast, the Shetland Islands, Orkney Islands and Outer Hebrides. Despite the cold, wet weather, the scenery at each port was fantastic and I was particularly fascinated by the Shetland landscape. Vast, treeless peat laden hills with glistening lochs and carless roads, stretched for miles. It was easy to envisage the characters in the Ann Cleeves Shetland novels, which has been televised by the BBC.
Iceland boasts breath-taking scenery, which differed drastically in each of the three Icelandic ports we visited. Our first stop was an overnight in Iceland’s capital Reykjavik. Famed for its ‘Mars-esque’ landscape I decided to escort a five hour tour called Ring of Fire, organised by the ship. In the past I’ve been on the popular Golden Circle excursion, but I was very impressed with this shorter alternative. Our tour took in a geothermal power station, the tectonic plates at Thingvellir National Park and various other sights along the way. I was particularly impressed with the delicious snack stop, which turned out to be a full buffet lunch. We got to sample hot spring baked bread with local cheese and butter.
Other popular highlights outside of Reykjavik include the Blue Lagoon, geyser Strokkur and Gullfoss waterfall, all of which are worth seeing. The Blue Lagoon excursion often sells out and it is very expensive to do independently. If you get the opportunity (and don’t mind spending a bit of money), the best way to explore is by 4×4. You will also find independent excursions and City Sightseeing buses outside the terminal building. For those who want to brave the Icelandic roads on their own, the cost of hire cars is quite reasonable and there is a hire car company close to the ship.
Reykjavik city is quaint with timber clad buildings and cobbled streets. A shuttle bus takes passengers in to the centre and the main shops are a ten minute walk from the bus. Prices for food and drink are around the same as Norway at the moment and a coffee will set you back around £3.50.
Located to the west of Iceland, the fjords surrounding Ísafjörđur are sparsely populated and isolated but extremely beautiful. Excursions from this little town tend to explore the wildlife that the region is famed for (puffins and arctic foxes are a popular sight). Others show visitors just how traditional and old-fashioned life in this area can be. The Maritime Museum offers a great insight in to the history of fishing in Ísafjörđur, one of the town’s main industries. Some excursions travel to the nearby islands of Vigur and Hesteyri. The latter features an abandoned village, which is now a nature reserve.
It is worth venturing outside of the town to see some of the scenery, but don’t expect too much in terms of attractions. Tours here generally run for three hours as a maximum duration.
The town of Ísafjörđur is very pleasant and it is worth having a stroll ashore (this is generally a tender port). As well as souvenir shops, there are a few cafés and restaurants where you can sit and relax with a coffee. You will also find fabulous views of your surroundings from the port area. The town centre has great examples of traditional Icelandic houses, which you do not always see in the larger cities.
This port is my favourite in terms of landscape and I always urge people to jump on an excursion (either organised by the ship or ashore) to see the beauty of this magnificent area. The most popular sights include the Godafoss waterfall and the Dimmuborgir lava formations, which are located outside of the city. Whilst Reykjavik offers barren, isolated scenery, Akureyri offers lush green snow-capped mountains with crystal clear waterfalls and roaming livestock. Its beauty must have impressed the creators of the HBO Game of Thrones series, as part of series three was filmed in the area.
The city of Akureyri is a short stroll from the ship. You will find two main streets speckled with cosy cafés and souvenir shops, leading up towards the impressive church. Circa 1940, Akureyri Church is perched on a hilltop and towers over the city below. Nearby, visitors can explore the botanical gardens, which boast 2000 species of local and foreign flowers.
So that concludes our time in Iceland. We’ll be heading back to Ventura shortly, after a few weeks at home. We have an exciting summer itinerary ahead, which includes stopping at the ports of Naples, Sardinia and Ibiza. I’ll keep you posted on our next stops over the coming weeks.
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