THEY may have infamously knocked England out of last year’s European football championships, but that is clearly no reason to take it out on Iceland by not visiting this impressive country.

In fact Iceland, who have since become the smallest nation in the world to qualify for a World Cup finals, certainly packs a great deal into a tiny space.

And if you are put off by the cost of visiting this welcoming island – it is currently ranked the fourth most expensive country in the world – then do what I did and embark on a cruise.

The 11-night Icelandic Explorer cruise with Fred.Olsen Cruise Lines saw us sail from the Port of Tyne, near Newcastle, on board the ‘small but beautiful’ ship, Balmoral.

Whatever first-time visitors such as myself were expecting, Iceland’s scenery is undoubtedly spectacular with glaciers, volcanoes, waterfalls and geothermal activity all combining to make it truly a land of ‘fire and ice’.

And with a population of just 340,000 people occupying Iceland’s 103,000 square kilometres there is never a feeling of being overcrowded, even in the delightful capital Reykjavik, which is one of the smallest capital cities in the world.

In fact, Reykjavik was the first port of call on our cruise, with the two-day stay giving us the opportunity both to explore the city and the surrounding landscape.

A full-day ‘Golden Circle’ tour enabled us to visit the Big Three of Reykjavik, namely the 30 metre high Gullfoss waterfall, the Thingvellir national park, where TV series Game of Thrones is often filmed, and the Geysir area where the scalding hot Strokkur geyser spouts every few minutes.

As well as the impressive scenery, Thingvellir is also steeped in history as the site of the world’s oldest parliament, the ‘Althing’, formed fter the first settlers arrived in Iceland from Norway during the Viking age of the 9th and 10th centuries.

Game of Thrones, which is also filmed on other parts of the island, has apparently helped increase tourism to Iceland – along with fans of Bjork hoping for a glimpse of the singer on the streets of her native Reykjavik.

It is a welcome boost to Iceland’s tourism after the combined setbacks of their banking crisis in 2008 and the eruption of the Eyjafjallajkokull volcano two years later which grounded hundreds of flights.

One of Reykjavik’s other attractions is the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa where the mineral rich water is around 100F. And that is another of Iceland’s secrets, with hot springs throughout the country heating around 90 per cent of the houses in Iceland as well as generating electricity.

Visitors will also be impressed by the numerous horses they will see which, like Iceland’s cattle, are descended from the original animals brought over from Norway – so much so that they are not allowed to breed with other species.

Over on the north-west coast of Iceland is the small town of Isafjordur, nestled in among picturesque mountains. Despite having just alighted from the Balmoral, I chose to go on another boat trip – albeit a much smaller speedboat – to the remote outpost of Hesteyri in Hornstrandir, in the midst of the glacier fjords.

Hesteyri is trapped in time, having been abandoned by the last of its hundred or so inhabitants more than 60 years ago. Access to this delightful, peaceful spot – where a dozen or so houses have been preserved – is either by boat or a hike taking about a week.

Another delightful stop on our cruise was Akureyri, the second biggest town in Iceland which boasts numerous cafes, restaurants and activities. A short distance from the town, described as the capital of the north, is another spectacular waterfall, called Godafoss, into which statues of Norse gods were said to have been thrown into after the country converted to Christianity.

Further inland, at Namafjall, is another high temperature geothermal area of boiling springs, mud pots, and hot steam vents, while close by is another Game of Thrones location – an area of ‘pseudo craters’ formed by steam explosions caused when burning lava encounters water.

Throughout the cruise we had the added bonus of seeing much of the outstanding scenery along Iceland’s coastline as we passed by many of the country’s fjords and bays. And there was a further bonus in store when the ship crossed the Arctic Circle as it sailed past tiny Grimsey Island.

Of course, our cruise had a lot more going for it than simply the destinations, and that was the splendid and wide range of facilities on board Balmoral.

Excellent bars and restaurants provide a wide choice of delicious food and drink, while passengers are also able to enjoy a professional entertainments programme that consists of the ship’s own company of singers and dancers, a number of special guest performers, and expert lecturers in subjects ranging from finance to whales and dolphins.

Other facilities on board Balmoral include swimming pools and Jacuzzis, a fitness centre and spa, various shops, gaming tables, and sports equipment.

By Tony Collins

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A similar cruise with Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines will be an 11-night ‘The Wonders of Iceland’ cruise (L1824) on board Balmoral, departing from Newcastle on 12th August 2018. Prices currently start from £1,499 per person, based on an interior twin-bedded room (subject to availability), and includes all food and entertainment on board, and port taxes.

Further information on the cruise can be found by visiting: For further information on Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, visit the website at or call Reservations on 0800 0355 242 (Monday – Friday, 8am – 8pm; Saturday, 9am – 5pm; Sunday, 10am – 4pm).