Two of the most inspiring — and most frequently misunderstood — cruise destinations are without a doubt the northerly islands of Iceland and Greenland. And cruising here is becoming more popular with each passing year.
Contrary to what you might have been led to believe, it is Iceland that boasts lush rolling hills and geothermal energy power, and Greenland that is rugged, wild, and caked in ice for much of the year. But each of these vast island nations offers its own mystical allure and breathtaking scenery that is sure to leave a lasting impression on you.
The Icelandic capital of Reykjavik is one of the most popular cruise ports in the country, with visits in 2012 by more than 20 cruise lines including popular North American lines like Celebrity, Crystal, Holland America, Norwegian, Princess, and Royal Caribbean. You can explore the city itself, or head out into the countryside to visit the world-famous Blue Lagoon geothermal springs, or perhaps do some horseback riding in and among the valleys that make up the Icelandic landscape.
Another popular Icelandic port is the northerly town of Akureyri. In this pretty little locale of just 16,000, the northernmost botanical garden and northernmost golf course in the world can be visited. The botanical garden in particular is noteworthy due to its abundance of flower and plant life that manages to exist despite Akureyri’s close proximity to the Arctic Circle.
Iceland is also known for its stunning waterfalls like Gullfoss, one of the most-visited attractions in the country.
Greenland, on the other hand, is a country of contrasts. Dominated by rocky outcrops and fire-engine-red buildings, it is the least-densely populated country in the world, which makes a visit here all the more special. Complicated to access by air, a cruise here is the ideal way to experience this vast country, which is the world’s largest island by area.
Many voyages to Greenland will stop in the port of Kangerlussuaq, a port settlement in the southwestern part of the country. Home to the only airport in the country that can accommodate long-haul aircraft like Boeing 747s, chances are if your voyage begins or ends in Greenaland, you’ll find yourself transiting through Kangerlussuaq Airport. But the real draw here is Kangerlussuaq Fjord and the barren, otherworldly landscape that surrounds the town of just over 500 inhabitants.
Another popular scenic stop in Greenland is Prince Christian Sound. Rivalling the glaciers of Alaska, Prince Christian Sound is located near Nanortalik and is noteworthy for its towering glaciers and massive cliff walls. It’s not quite the Arctic, nor is it like Antarctica. Instead, it’s a worthy destination in its own right; one that should be on every cruiser’s “must-see” list.
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Voyages may also call on the capital of Nuuk. Brightly colored buildings lie nestled within the rocky landscape of Nuuk, framed by the stunning, snow-capped Sermitsiaq Mountain, or Saddle Mountain.
Both countries can be visited on transatlantic repositioning cruises that typically take place in August and September, as ships complete their Northern European seasons and head west toward North America for the winter months. Iceland and Greenland also are becoming popular cruise destinations in their own right, frequently worked into Northern European and British Isles sailings that depart from popular ports like Southampton, Copenhagen and Oslo.
Once you’ve been to this region, you’ll understand why people come back again and again. And the most majestic way to arrive in either country is, of course, by sea.