Viking Ocean – Trade Routes of the Middle Ages

The Viking Ocean Cruise line is a world-leader in luxury voyages focusing on cultural enrichment and authentic experiences. The Trade Routes of the Middle Ages itinerary traces medieval commercial trade routes and includes overnight stays in some of Europe’s most picturesque cities

Viking Ocean Trade Routes of the Middle Ages
Trade Routes of the Middle Ages

In 2018, the 15-day cruise, from Apr 14 – Apr 28, starts in Barcelona and ends in Bergen. En-route there are visits to Cartagena, Malaga, Porto, Paris, Falmouth, Portsmouth, Zeebrugge and Amsterdam.

Viking Ocean Cruise to Barcelona
Barcelona

An overnight stay in Barcelona allows time to discover this vibrant city; stroll down Las Ramblas boulevard, admire the architecture of Antoni Gaudí, watch a performance of flamenco, dine late over delicious traditional tapas.

Next, visit the historical city of Cartagena, rich with remarkable architecture spanning the ages. Highlights include the Roman Theatre and Roman Forum. Further afield there are trips to Murcia’s stunning Mar Menor, an inland sea formed by an accumulation of coastal sediment.

Viking Cruise Alhambra Palace
Alhambra Palace

In Andalusia, the stunning city of Granada is the birthplace of Pablo Picasso, and easily reached from Malaga. The Alhambra Palace is a renowned example of Moorish architecture and one of Spain’s most significant historical sights.

Viking Ocean Aquavit Infinity Pool
Aquavit Infinity Pool

A day on the Atlantic Ocean, sailing through the famed Strait of Gibraltar into the Alboran Sea, is a scenic treat. It’s also a chance to sample the many onboard facilities, like the fabulous infinity pool.

Viking Ocean Porto
Porto

Porto, famous for exquisite wine, also has a beautiful historic quarter to explore.

Viking Ocean Snow Grotto
Snow Grotto

The second sea day gives invaluable time to relax. The Spa, Sauna and Snow Grotto are unique aspects of the Scandinavian Viking Cruise experience.

Viking Ocean HMS Victory
HMS Victory

Port calls in England include Falmouth, gateway to the dramatic county of Cornwall and famous as a backdrop of many films. Henry VIII built his Pendennis Castle here to defend his country from France and the Holy Roman Empire. Portsmouth is equally picturesque. Enjoy sailing between Napoleonic forts in the Solent Strait and passing stunning citadels at the harbor’s entrance. Then discover the city’s prestigious maritime past. This historic naval port houses such historic vessels as Henry VIII’s Tudor battleship Mary Rose and Lord Nelson’s HMS Victory.

Paris
Paris

Le Havre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the starting point for excursions to Paris. After a scenic drive through the Normandy countryside, the sights of the French capital await, whether that be a trip up the Eiffel Tower or a tour of Notre Dame Cathedral. If you already know Paris well, you might choose to visit the D-Day beaches or the pretty artists’ town of Honfleur instead.

Viking Ocean Cruise Amsterdam
Amsterdam

Visit the medieval city of Bruge. Walk the cobblestone streets, climb the towering belfry in the Market Square to see the guild houses and tree-shaded squares, and shop for lace and chocolate. Then onto Amsterdam, the celebrated city of canals and great works of art. You can see Rembrandt’s The Night Watch, in the excellent Rijksmuseum.

Viking Star Wintergarden
Wintergarden

Cruising the North Sea gives the chance to sit for a while in the lovely Wintergarden.

Viking Ocean Cruise Bergen
Bergen

Bergen, with its beautiful 18th-century wooden houses, is a delightful final destination. Visit the Hanseatic Museum or Troldhaugen, the home of Norway’s famous composer, Edvard Grieg.  For a great view over the city, take the funicular railway to the top of Mt. Ulriken.

Blue Lagoon
Blue Lagoon

‘Pre’ and ‘post’ cruise extensions are certainly worth considering, allowing you to gain a deeper insight into either Barcelona or Bergen, as well as Iceland. The latter choice offers four days in this fascinating country after docking in Bergen. Visit the capital city, Reykjavík, the hot springs and waterfalls of Thingvellir National Park and the legendary Blue Lagoon, a natural geothermal spa. All hotels, breakfasts and transfers are included.

Viking Star Atrium
Atrium

Viking Star is a 930 guest, all-veranda, adult-only ship. The all-inclusive experience includes shore excursions, wi-fi, all onboard meals as well as beer and wine with lunch and dinner, speciality restaurants, complimentary self-service laundry and 24-hour room service.

Viking Ocean Lanai
Lanai

Photos courtesy of www.vikingcruises.co.uk

Cool Places: Iceland

Iceland Cruise Skogarfoss
Skogarfoss

The Land of Fire and Ice is a place of legends and seemingly on everyone’s bucket list at the moment … and it’s easy to understand why.

Iceland Cruise Horses
Icelandic Horses

The landscape is a stunning combination of midnight sun, glaciers, active volcanos, geysers, fjords and thermal waters. In summer the island is green and fertile, bathed in near eternal daylight – winter brings ice and snow, and the phenomenal Northern Lights. Photo opportunities are endless and ‘out-of-this-world’.

Iceland Cruise Reykjavik
Reykjavik

The Icelandic people are a friendly bunch, enjoying the high profile their beautiful country is gaining on the world stage, happy to welcome visitors and show them the island at its best. There’s an obvious pride belonging to Iceland, not just for the pristine environment and mystical history but also for the modern and lively society – Reykjavik is a vibrant and bustling city with great culture and an exciting night scene.

Iceland Cruise Blue Lagoon
Blue Lagoon

Iceland’s unique location on the North Atantic Ridge fault line reaches beyond the Arctic Circle, sitting between the Eurasian and American tectonic plates. The area is seismically very active as these plates pull gradually apart, hence there are geological wonders around every corner. The Blue Lagoon is one of the most popular places to visit. Located just outside Reykjavik, the mineral-rich geothermal waters are crowded and expensive but relaxing in the milky-blue waters is an ethereal and unmissable experience.

Iceland Cruise Thingvellir
Snorkelling at Thingvellir

Also, on the famous Golden Circle tourist route, is Thingvellir National Park. This is the best place to view the fault line – there are even diving and snorkelling opportunities for those wanting to float between continents in the crystal clear water … and brave the cold.

Geyser Iceland Cruise
Icelandic Geyser

Gullfoss, a dramatic series of waterfalls reached by a steep pathway, is one of Iceland’s most photographed spots, as is ‘Geysir’, where 10,000 year old hot springs entertain the crowds with regular spouting every few minutes.

Iceland Cruise Whale Watching
Humpback Whale

Iceland is a true wilderness and consequently home to a vast range of wildlife. Famous as Europe’s best whale watching destination, trips depart from Husavik seeking encounters with humpbacks, minkes, bottlenose and blues which accumulate in large number to plunder the fish-rich North Atlantic and Arctic waters – prime viewing time is between April and October.

Iceland Cruise joekulsarlon glacier lagoon
Joekulsarlon

There are many surreal experience in Iceland, appealing to the adventurous and curious traveller. Not least the volcanic black sands of Joekulsarlon where the shore is scattered with glassy icebergs, abandoned by the fierce surf to glint in the light like glacier mints. The sulphur-scented air is a constant reminder that Iceland is a bubbling and grumbling seismic hothouse; with regular earthquakes and imminent volcanic eruptions. The eerie landscape has attracted film crews for decades; Game of Thrones filmed many key scenes here as well as Star Wars: The Force Awakens,  Interstellar, Noah and Prometheus.

Iceland Cruise National Geographic Explorer
National Geographic Explorer

An Icelandic cruise is usually part of a wider voyage, perhaps including Norway, Britain and Greenland in some form, and often circumnavigates the rugged coast. 1.8 million tourists are expected in 2017 and the cruise industry is keeping pace with this demand as new companies venture to Iceland and more far-reaching itineraries are offered by well-seasoned cruise lines familiar with the territory. Exploration cruises are growing in popularity with smaller vessels able to access Iceland’s more remote ports and thereby avoid the inevitable crowds. With the population of Iceland standing at around 300,000 there’s understandable concern that such a massive increase in visitors to the country may cause undesirable pressures on the locality. Cruise ships are well-positioned to offer less invasive visits as tourists stay on the ship at night, thereby alleviating local property issues, and the cruise line takes full responsibility for recycling and waste produced. Cruise passengers can visit Iceland in the knowledge their impact is controlled, yet still immerse themselves in the culture and environment.

Iceland Cruise Northern Lights
Northern Lights

Photos courtesy of Guide to Iceland and The Official Guide to Iceland

Best Cruises: Iceland

Following on from our feature on Iceland we pick our top cruises to the Land of Fire and Ice.

Windstar: Around Iceland Reykjavik to Reykjavik

Windstar Iceland Cruise
Iceland with Windstar

Windstar, the niche provider of yacht-style ultra-luxurious cruises, takes the graceful Star Legend to Iceland on a circumnavigational tour of this magical place. With the cruise line’s ethos firmly rooted in traditional sailing Windstar offer a unique perspective on Iceland; finding secluded bays and rarely seen wildlife, able to stay longer in special places, giving guests an authentic experience and real sense of the true Iceland. Although the Star Legend is a motorised vessel, with no masts or sails, it still has the intimacy of the original Windstar brand, offering a small-scale private-yacht experience. Equalling any exploration cruise in terms of accessing remote places, the Star Legend also carries passengers in total style and comfort.

Iceland Cruise Godafoss Waterfall
Godafoss

The trip, starting and finishing in Reykjavik, visits many geological wonders as well as the iconic Icelandic waterfalls, thermal waters and national parks. Highlights include Surtsey Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which rose from the sea in the 1960s making it one of the world’s youngest places and the Viking Sushi Experience where pristine seafood is caught and instantly prepared for guests onboard a small local fishing trawler as whales and sea-eagles glide and soar nearby. Departures in July and August 2017. www.windstarcruises.com

Lindblad Expeditions: A Circumnavigation of Iceland

Hurtigruten Iceland Cruise
Jokulsarlon glacier

This professional and well-rounded itinerary truly captures the drama, intrigue and history of Iceland as it takes guests on a ten-day voyage around the whole island. Visits to Reykjavik and the established (and busy) tourist sites on the famous Golden Circle tick obvious boxes but Lindblad, in keeping with their strong expedition focus, then seeks out the rugged western frontier and remote north-east coastline.

Lindblad Iceland Cruise
Blue Lagoon

Sailing on either the National Geographic Orion or the National Geographic Explorer, the curious and adventurous traveller experiences world-class field geology, expert-led hiking and kayaking, Zodiac tours of hidden places and surreal scenery. Iceland is a first-rate photography destination after all. Of course itineraries can change, sometimes due to the weather, but with Lindblad this is more often to take advantage of rare wildlife sightings or to linger over exceptional light. Expeditions are scheduled for July 2017 and June/July 2018. www.expeditions.com

Azamara: Fjords and Iceland Voyage

Azamara Iceland cruise
The Colours of Iceland

Azamara Journey embarks on a summer voyage to Iceland with stops in Denmark, Norway, The Faroe Islands, Scotland and England – it’s common for an Iceland cruise to incorporate visits to other Northern European destinations.  Three days are spent in Iceland, out of a total of twelve, with two of these docked in the lively and cosmopolitan capital, Reykjavik. This vibrant city is an excellent base to explore the waterfalls, geysers, lava fields and thermal waters of The Golden Circle; Iceland’s famous tourist trail.

Azamara Iceland cruise Akureyri
Akureyri

A further day is spent in Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest city, where the unexpected botanical gardens are located. Two thousand species of native and foreign plants grow here, surprisingly without greenhouse cover despite the Arctic location. Departure date is July 2017. www.azamaraclubcruises.co.uk

Hurtigruten: The Elves, Sagas and Volcanoes of Iceland

Hurtigruten Cruise Iceland
Heimaey

With a heritage dating back to 1893 and widely regarded as a leader in Arctic exploration cruises, Hurtigruten is a popular choice for an Icelandic cruise. The Grand Arctic Traverse is a stunning nineteen-day voyage starting in the picturesque Lofoten Islands then travelling to the isolated island of Jan Mayen, followed by Iceland and finishing in Greenland. However, with only three days spent in Iceland, the alternative Elves, Sagas and Volcanoes of Iceland circumnavigates the island and is ideal for travellers seeking a comprehensive and exciting Icelandic experience.

Hurtigruten Iceland Cruise
Hornbjerg Cliff

MS Spitsbergen, a polar-class vessel, takes a full twelve days to sail around the coast. Itineraries are suggested only, with the final journey being determined en-route according to weather and opportunities – this is a true expedition cruise. As well as visits to the established thermal bathing sites and waterfalls, the captain usually stops at remote islands such as Siglufjörður and Grimsby, where guests can access wildlife and geological sites by Polarcirkel boats, and the Westman Islands which are famous for their volcanic activity and whale-spotting. Exploration cruises sail in June and July 2017. www.hurtigruten.co.uk

Images courtesy of Windstar, Lindblad, Azamara, Hurtigruten