Iceland and Greenland with Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines

A cruise is surely the ultimate antidote to stress. Of course, you can get cruises that are all action with new destinations every day and adventurous forays on to dry land. Or you can, as I am in this case, have days at sea where the gentle movement of the ship lulls you into a state of tranquillity.

Boudicca - Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines My current cruise is on board Fred Olsen’s Boudicca and I’m on my way to Iceland and then Greenland. So, leaving from Dover, it takes us three sea days to get there and we’re due to arrive in Reykjavik early tomorrow morning. In the meantime, it is tempting to do what I never have time to do at home – lie around in the sunshine and read a book! In fact, I did this all of yesterday afternoon but otherwise, it’s been busy.

Fred Olsen doesn’t want anyone getting bored on sea days so there is quite a timetable scheduled. We start (I’m travelling with the Major who doesn’t like to be too idle for too long) with walking a mile (five times round Deck 7). I do a yoga class while the Major hits the gym and then I do a tap-dancing class with one of the dancers from the entertainment crew. This would be difficult enough for those of us with zero experience and the wrong shoes but today (just to make matters a little more interesting) the sea has developed quite a swell so there are probably a few more steps than there should be.

Pool deck, Boudicca There are lectures – about the destinations, the wildlife, the culture and, most interestingly, the KGB given by a former British diplomat. There is a choir, an art class, crafts, cards and concerts, quizzes, cocktail parties and games, dancing and shows. There’s a spa, a pool where you can swim against a current (seven times more strenuous than exercising on the land, they say) and, of course, the gym and lots of exercise classes. In theory, you should go back fitter than when you embarked. The truth is, though, an average cruise sees an average weight gain of seven pounds and that’s because there is so much food.

Aside from normal meals, there’s morning coffee and afternoon tea (and we’re not just talking hot drinks here) and just in case that’s not enough you can have a formal high tea, a cheese and wine evening, a martini tasting (seven of those to sample) and there’s a late-night supper club featuring a special every time – German sausages, anyone?

Boudicca cabin However, it is rather pleasant to stand and stare – or at least sit and stare out to sea in my favourite spot on the ship, the Observatory Lounge on the top deck. We haven’t seen any land for a couple of days now, we’ve travelled over 1000 miles and I’m approaching some kind of hypnotic trance watching waves and the sea birds skimming them. I’m sure this must be lowering my blood pressure.

But not for long. Tomorrow it’s Reykjavik and I seem to remember I’m hiking across a glacier…


After three days at sea, Fred Olsen’s Boudicca has arrived in Iceland and stepping off the ship is a bit like stepping into a geography textbook. Iceland has everything – glaciers, volcanoes, drifting tectonic plates, geysers, ice floes and a lot of thermal activity. It’s this thermal activity that supplies hot water direct to homes and swimming pools in Reykjavik. And one of its glaciers supplies the purest drinking water literally on tap all over the capital. It is this glacier that is the focus of my first day here.

Eyjafjallajökull ice cap, Iceland In 2010 when the Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted, it closed most of Europe’s skies. In Iceland, though, there was little disruption (their airport never closed!) but it did result in exposing the Langjokull glacier so that they could map it, work out where the dangerous crevasses were and then – and what an idea this was – make a tunnel that would reach 45m below the surface and create a cave of ice.

To get there, you need a vehicle equipped to drive over snow and ice, so we find ourselves in a giant 4×4 with tyres that reach almost to shoulder height. The tyres can be inflated and deflated at the touch of a button on the very complicated dashboard. We stop off just before hitting the ice to be equipped with overshoes and waterproofs – it “rains” we’re told once we’re inside the ice cave.

LVertical well-like shaft within Langjokull glacier - image by Ville Miettinen via Wikimedia Commons angjokull is the second biggest glacier in Europe and measures 70x25km. We drive over a white desert into white cloud, the two merging until you can’t discern where one ends and the other begins. Thank goodness the driver has a special glacier app to find his way! Suddenly, we’re outside a utilitarian looking tunnel that burrows down into the ice and introduced to our guide, Iris, who leads us into the heart of her gigantic ice cube.

This glacier is 3000 years old and the ice is 600m at its deepest though we’re only going 45m below the surface. Iris points out the dark line of volcanic ash that marks 2010 and a second lighter line, the result of a lesser eruption the following year. The two lines are around 3ft apart, representing the snowfall that falls in a year and gradually is compressed and turns into glacial ice. You can see the process happening around you with the ‘younger’ ice still with air bubbles that are gradually forced out as it becomes denser over time. There are ponds, rivulets, crevasses – and a chapel for weddings. There’s a special party place too – apparently Dolly Parton played here once (must have been a very small party).

Astride two continents The tour ends with the bad news – and this is the hard truth of global warming – this 3000-year-old glacier will disappear totally during the next century. Long before that it will have shrunk to the extent that Reykjavik will lose its water supply. The glacial water will melt into the sea and the fish, overwhelmed by the fresh water, will disappear, too.

Iceland is endlessly fascinating. There are black lava fields and geothermal lakes (100C). Grey mud pools bubble and splash in a lunar landscape dotted with volcanic cones. The earth hisses, rumbles, groans – our planet at its most primitive, explosive and violent. There are extraordinary sights: the geological fault known as Almannagja where the American and Eurasian continents are pulling apart from each other and you can stand with a foot in each (see the photo on the left of the Major astride the continents!); Geysir the original Geysir (after which all others are named) spouting into the sky surrounded by bubbling mud.

The next day we are in Isafjordur following this magical coastline of sparkling sea and the high green mountainsides that sweep smoothly down to its shores. It’s no surprise this is the land of saga – it is the stuff of legend itself. And extraordinary wildlife. We see Arctic terms, fulmars, puffins and eider. And in the fjord, three humpbacks appear. What more could we ask?


Greenland surely has some of the most serene views on the planet. It has taken around 24 hours since leaving Iceland to get here and we start in one of the country’s most beautiful spots, Prins Christiansund spending a whole day doing ‘scenic cruising’. Prins Christiansund This is a brilliant concept and one perfectly suited to this magnificent landscape. So, ours is a wonderfully slow and stately progress through breathtaking scenery – ice and rock, snow and glacier. There is an occasional iceberg, and in places, summer sun has melted the snow on the glaciers to reveal the blue ice beneath. It’s bare, elemental and beautiful. How anyone ever thought to live here is, though, another matter.

We don’t find that out for a while, though, as in this part of Greenland, it’s too inhospitable for anyone to live, let alone graze any animals, and it’s not till we get to Nanortalik on the comparatively habitable shores of southern Greenland that we see our first settlement.

Nanortalik harbour Nanortalik has a special spot in the Major’s heart. He was here in 1991 when he led an expedition to the ice cap where they lived in tents for five weeks. I take his picture outside the hut he stayed his first night – personally, I’m very glad to be on board the Boudicca. Little, he says, has changed in over 25 years. Nanortalik is a small settlement and its name means ‘the place where the polar bears go’ but that seems to be happening increasingly rarely – another result of global warming – and this year none have been seen.

We visit the open-air museum, listen to the choir singing in the wooden church and, most spectacularly, see the locals dressed traditionally in skins taking out their kayaks. This is, of course, where these boats originated and in Greenlandic they are ‘qajaqs’. There is also the larger umiaq, often described as the women’s boat, in which the families and their supplies and belongings would take longer journeys. Arctic roll technique One of the locals demonstrates the Arctic Roll. No, in this instance it’s not a frozen dessert, it’s a technique for staying with your boat in the treacherous local waters. The boatman tips himself sideways into the freezing water, rolls the kayak over him and pops up on the other side as buoyant as a cork.

The next day we are in Narsarsuaq, Erik the Red country. Erik (named red after the colour of his beard) was on the run for murder when he arrived in Greenland and laid claim in 982. He returned three years later with more settlers and a very successful sheep farming and fishing community was set up. The settlements in this part of Greenland became very wealthy, particularly with their trade in skins and walrus ivory that was used all over Europe to carve jewellery and trinkets. It was Erik’s son, Leif Eriksson, who was the first European to reach America.

Erik’s little village, Qagssiarsuk, has found remains of his original buildings and has recreated three of them. The tiny church has enough room for about three people to stand in – Erik’s wife introduced Christianity to Greenland, though Erik himself never converted. There is a grand long house with a turf roof and a tiny winter house, covered in turf and flowers where a family would overwinter for around five months. Replica longhouse and entrance to the winter house in Erik the-Red's village A tiny narrow tunnel is the entrance and the window – now glass – would have been a piece of seal membrane with a small hole so they could see if there was a seal in the water worth hunting.

It is a remarkably beautiful place and a wild one – eagles swoop low above our heads. As we head back across the fjord to the ship we pass hundreds of icebergs. Some of them have flipped over and are bright blue in the sunshine. One has sidled right up to the ship and is nudging the bow. Then, a huge tail flips just ahead of our mooring and an Orca makes his way back towards the sea.

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines 'Fjords of Greenland' cruise


Special Offer for Silver Travellers – Save up to 10%

Save up to 10% when you book any holiday with Fred.Olsen Cruise Lines – and that’s on top of any current offers.

To book, sign-in as a Silver Travel member to see the code to quote at the bottom of the Fred.Olsen Cruise Lines page, and guidance on how to find your Silver Travel membership number. Find out more.

Silver Travel Advisor recommends Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines.

393 people found this helpful

Share Article:

Anna Selby

Travel writer & author

Leave a comment


Sign up to our newsletter to receive the latest travel tips on top destinations.

Join the club

Become a member to receive exclusive benefits

Our community is the heart of Silver Travel Advisor, we love nothing more than sharing ideas, inspiration, hints and tips between us.

Most Recent Articles

Explore China with our guide tailored for travellers over 50. Discover ancient wonders, vibrant cities, culinary adventures, and landscapes…
Rich in exotic wildlife, tropical forests, white-sand beaches and lost civilisations, Belize really is a diverse pocket of overlooked beauty….

Come feel the love on a Princess cruise. You’ll enjoy the MedallionClass experience others simply can’t, and it’s exclusively for everyone. Visit incredible destinations and be involved in the best experiences around each one of them.

Experience more with Princess and connect effortlessly with the world around you, spend time away with loved ones, take a moment for yourself, and fall in love with your holiday of a lifetime, every time.

With over 20 years of experience, Wendy Wu Tours has mastered the art of creating exceptional, fully inclusive tours which showcase the very best of each destination.

Each tour is led by a world-class guide, who will highlight the very best of their homeland, and includes authentic cultural experiences so you are not just seeing the sights, but truly immersing yourself in local life.

Say hello to ease at sea. Ambassador’s purpose is simple: they want to inspire every guest to experience authentic cruising, effortlessly and sustainably. Passionate about protecting our oceans and destinations, their ships comply with the highest industry emission standards and there is no single-use plastic on board.

On your voyage, you will receive the warmest of welcomes from the Ambassador community as you sail upon the friendliest ships afloat.

This is a global co-operative co-owned by local partners using real local experts and guides, which supports local communities, environments and wildlife. It offers travellers quirky places to stay, activity holidays and learning experiences. Not In The Guidebooks gets travellers off the beaten track into local culture with day experiences and longer, immersive adventures.

From wild wellness breaks in Wales to painting in Portugal, sustainable adventures in Mauritius to food safaris in Brazil, this is immersive, exciting travel.

Seabourn’s five intimate ships carry guests to the heart of great cities, exclusive yacht harbours and secluded coves around the world, while two new purpose-built expedition ships will combine exhilarating adventures in remote destinations with the sophisticated amenities of the world’s finest resorts at sea.

From the luxury of all suite accommodations to complimentary fine wines and spirits, and a no tipping policy, Seabourn exemplifies the definition of travelling well.