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Sailing in Iceland - Summer meadows, Wildlife & Wilderness walks on the edge of the Arctic

Iceland - Land of Ice and Fire. Much of the land 'North of the Wall' in Game of Thrones TV series was filmed in Iceland, but in summer this is less of an icy wasteland, with flower meadows, fresh water off the glaciers creating huge waterfalls, hot water geysers and geothermal natural pools to bathe in. The population of Iceland is very small and there are few roads, so almost everywhere is off the beaten track.  

 

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Why we love this sailing ground

Iceland is a 'Hot' Travel Destination

Iceland has has been winning 'Best Country to Visit' top ten lists for travel awards for several years. So if Iceland is a 'hot' destination for outdoor enthusiasts, what makes it a great mid summer sailing ground?

Firstly it is not as cold as the name suggests. You can find patches of snow and glaciers, but there are also waterfalls, wild flower meadows with gambolling arctic fox cubs. Norse vikings thought it was paradise when their longboat prows first touched the black sands. Many settled here including Erik the Red. The photographs from Tecla's first few years expeditions around Iceland show you how crystal clear and sunny it can be. Like Scotland the weather can be fickle but the wildlife or scenery never disappoints.

Walking in Iceland with Tecla's skipper
Walking in Iceland with Tecla's skipper. Photo by Maria Cerrudo

Top Choice for Bird Watchers & Wildlife Enthusiasts

Iceland is a bird watchers paradise and the NW fjords have sea cliffs, puffins and seabird colonies that make St Kilda look rather tiny. Offshore and in the deep fjords keep your eyes peeled for the spout of a whale, or the tail flukes as they dive their favourite feeding waters. The coasts of Iceland are rich in fish so don't miss a chance to tow a fishing line.

"Greenland has awesome mountains and is great if you want to see icebergs.....but if I had to choose between Iceland and Greenland, I would chose Iceland for the decent sailing and prolific wildlife." Debbie Purser, Classic Sailing Director

Iceland for Birdwatchers. Red necked Phalarope.
Iceland for Birdwatchers. Red necked Phalarope.

Wilderness on Europe's Doorstep

Iceland sits on the mid Atlantic Ridge and is still an active volcanic area with occasional lava and rocky bombs spewing skywards. 'God's building site' is still being made and recent upheavals and lava flows create both stark and beautiful landscapes. Vast areas of black sand outwash plains contrast with blue ice glaciers. The snow or icecap topped mountains hide softer scenes of lush wild flower meadows and isolated farmsteads. Iceland has some of the biggest waterfalls in the world and the gorges they carve down through are epic in size and make the terrain even harder to traverse....unless you can sail around to the next fjord and valley by sailing ship of course....The population of Iceland is very small and there are few roads, so almost everywhere is off the beaten track. 

There is a ring road around the Island which was only completed in 1974, but it doesn't reach the North West Fjords and you will only find the most intrepid tourists here. Tecla crew has fallen in love with the North West fjords and all her voyages feature the chance to experience the Hornstrandir National Park.

Tecla in NW fjords in Iceland by Maria Cerrudo
Tecla in NW fjords in Iceland. Photo by guest crew Maria Cerrudo

The cost of living in Iceland is high but the flights here from Europe and North America are surprisingly cheap. If you join 'live aboard' ships like Tecla, Blue Clipper and Lord Nelson you can enjoy all the big open space and wilderness with all your food and activities included in the voyage price.

Iceland for Whale Watching

Iceland is one of the most reliable locations in Northern Europe to spot cetaceans close to the coast. Around Reykjavik, the most commonly spotted animals are minke whales, whale beaked dolphins and harbour porpoises, but the chances of seeing the mighty humpbacks and even blue whales are much higher along North Iceland. Skaljfandi Bay is one of the hotspots but around Akureyri is good too. 

The most prolific time for whale watching in Iceland is during the summer months, from April through September which happily conicides with our sailing season in Iceland. Overr 20 species of Cetacean, including Orca, Minke, Humpback, and Blue Whale can be seen in the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans on either side of the island.

Our sailing partner North Sailing does excellent whale watching 3 hour sails from Husavik, but think how your spotting chances increase when you are spending 7-10 days on a sailing boat along this prolific coastline.

Read more about whale watching in Iceland.

Icelandic schooner Hildur dwarfed by two blue whales - biggest mammals on the planet
Icelandic schooner Hildur dwarfed by two blue whales - biggest mammals on the planet

Land of Myth and Viking Legend

Icelandic is Europe's oldest language, so what you hear ashore is closer to the old Norse that Vikings spoke than modern Norwegian. The population today has a very modern, chic outlook in Reykjavik but in the rural hinterland and coast they endure pitch dark winters and enjoy the summer burst of energy created by living in the land of midnight sun. It shapes their character and links them with their past. Icelandic sagas tell the tale of Viking's arriving here and making Iceland their home. After centuries of warring the Vikings created a huge amount of early literature and written stories so you can really connect with the lives of sailors and first settlers that lived around 870 BC

Modern day sailor on Viking longship Draken
Modern day sailor on Viking longship Draken

Iceland as a Stepping Stone to the High Arctic

If you sail just off the North Coast of Iceland you only need to cross the 68th parallel of latitude and you are in the Arctic Circle.  Ships that have sailed in the Arctic Circle are entitled to paint their nose (bowsprit cap) blue.

Only about 180 miles across the Denmark Strait from NW Fjords of Iceland is the East Greenland coast. Don't be deceived that this is a quick hop. It is a full blown sailing expedition offered by Tecla. If you want to experience icebergs, search for narwals and beluga and look for leads through the sea ice into one of only two inhabited fjord systems on the whole East Coast then these 3 week voyages from Isafjordur to Scorseby Sound and back will gain you your Arctic sailing badge.

If you don't have that much time or bravado then you can fly into East Greenland from Reykjavik. Meet your sailing ship Opal, Donna Wood or Hildur anchored off the end of the runway in Hurry Inlet, Scorseby Sound and enjoy 7 days exploring Greenland in the flat waters of this 380km long fjord system.

Blue Clipper is sailing to Jan Mayen and Svalbard from Iceland, which is even closer to the North Pole and polar bear territory.

iceland as a stepping stone to greenland
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Tall Ship Tecla - The First to Pioneer 6-10 day Coastal Voyages in Iceland

Gaff ketch Tecla spent her whole summer exploring Iceland in 2016. The guest crews had such an amazing time she returned again in 2017 and will spend the summer there in 2018. Tecla also now uses NW Iceland as a stepping stone for her incredible 3 week expeditions to East Greenland.

The coastline of Iceland is vast, so whilst the crew have already visited key ports along the coast, there will always be new anchorages to try in the vast land. Whilst tall ship Tecla is only a summer visitor to Iceland, she has built up a real expertise in the West and North Coast, sailing remote areas that even our Icelandic vessel owners have not opened up to tourism.

The ships crew have avidly researched the history of this part of Iceland from the first Viking settlers to the present day. Skippers Gijs and Jet have also found some of the best walks ashore and have learned a lot from some of the wildlife guides they employed in the early days. Gijs has worked in Antarctica with wildlife specialists that work in the Arctic too, so he is really getting into the Arctic as a sailing ground.

Tecla exploring the wild coast of Iceland

Blue Clipper - Another Experienced Arctic Skipper

Three masted schooner Blue Clipper is making a name for herself as an adventure charter ship with bold worldwide programmes. Iceland is only the beginning of her summer Arctic adventures. In 2018 she will be offering a few 5 day voyages  that start and finish in Reykjavik and explore the West Coast of Iceland. Skipper Chris Rose has devised the Blue Clipper  programme, having spent many years exploring the High Arctic on his previous ship 'Prolific.'

The Snaefellsnes peninsula in the West of Iceland is fittingly considered a miniature version for the whole country.  In addition to its distinctive Snaefellsjokull glacier, we will see black and even white – pretty unusual up here – sandy beaches, bird cliffs, photogenic mountains and volcanic craters, incredibly rich trout lakes and salmon rivers, lush valleys and unique harbours in charming fishing villages.

Blue Clipper will sail North from Iceland to Jan Meyen Island and the an exciting ocean passage to Svalbard and the land of the Polar Bear. Blue Clipper plans to spend winters in hot destinations and summers in the Arctic each year.

Blue Clipper from the bowsprit
Blue Clipper from the bowsprit
Destination Vessels
North, South, East or West?

The majority of this sparsely populated island live in Reykjavik in the SW. The South of Iceland is mostly black outwash plains and very few harbours.

The West Coast has the Reykjanes Peninsula to sail around and then the snowy Snaefellsnes Peninsula with its distinctive icecap. Beyond it is the Breidafjordur. This vast bay has many islands and fjords facing in all directions - an attraction that would not have been missed by the captains of Viking longships. 

The other arm of the bay is the start of the North West fjords  - a mountainous region and giant nature reserve that even the Icelanders call remote. Tecla crews use Isafjordur as their departure point for East Greenland, and all their Iceland voyages spend some time in the NW Fjords and ashore in the Hornstandir Nature Reserve.

The North Coast, has fishing ports with dramatic rocky entrances and the whole coast and bays are prime whale watching territory. 

 

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