Experience the Contrasts of Fire and Ice on a Far-Ranging Arctic Adventure
Days 1 & 2: Fly to Keflavik, Iceland / Reykjavik
Fly overnight to Reykjavik, the world’s northernmost capital, arriving at Keflavik International Airport about 45 minutes outside the city center. On Day 2, your first day in Iceland, choose between two excursions. The first option is a visit to the Blue Lagoon to soak in the famous thermal baths—and perhaps indulge in the signature spa treatment, a floating massage. Or, tour a geothermal power plant to learn how Iceland's prolific hot springs and volcanic activity provide abundant cheap energy, then enjoy a show featuring native Icelandic horses at Eldhestar Farm and Riding Center.
Day 3: Exploring Around Reykjavik
Today offers a choice of several active options. Go hiking across the rolling, raw lava landscape just outside the city, ride a traditional Icelandic horse through the Hafnarfjordur lava field, or join a cooking class at Salt Kitchen. Tonight, a special treat is in store as we take a ferry ride to scenic Videy Island, where we'll savor a private of fresh Icelandic fare crafted by the professional chef who is our host, followed by a musical performance by local artists.
Day 4: Reykjavik / Kangerlussuaq, Greenland—Embark Ship
Though we've had a chance to explore the environs around Reykjavik, this morning offers a closer look at the city itself: choose either a walking or biking tour of Iceland's compact capital before heading to the airport for our chartered flight to Greenland. Below, the world's second-largest ice cap sprawls as far as the eye can see, covering 660,000 square miles—about 80 percent of Greenland's land mass. We land in Kangerlussuaq, the gateway to western Greenland. This small town sits on an alluvial plain at the head of a 118-mile fjord of the same name, just below the edge of the Greenland ice sheet. Our ship awaits, and we board the National Geographic Explorer
on arrival. Once we are settled in, the Explorer
gets underway, sailing down the length of Kangerlussuaq Fjord into Baffin Bay.
Day 5: Cruising Greenland’s West Coast / Sisimiut
Dozens of deep fjords carve Greenland’s west coast, fed by glaciers that pour from the vast ice cap that crowns the country. Our ship traces the ragged coastline as we stand on deck to search for humpback, minke and fin whales. The Explorer
calls at Sisimiut, a former whaling port on the Davis Strait that is now Greenland's second-largest town. The site has been inhabited for 4,500 years, and most of the current population is descended from the most recent Inuit culture, the Thule people. Modern Greenlanders in Sisimiut are a mix of Inuit and Danish cultures, with the Danes arriving in the area in the 1720s. Like many settlements in Greenland, Sisimiut is a jumble of colorful wooden houses in bright primary colors that hug the hills above the harbor.
In town, we pass under a large arch made of bowhead whale bones to visit the historic district and museum housed in old colonial buildings from the 18th century. In addition to Sisimiut's trade and shipping history, the collection showcases its layered cultural heritage, with archaeological finds from the Saqqaq culture and more recent dog sleds, umiaqs (skin boats) and hunting tools. We'll meet local residents who demonstrate the tradition of creating Greenlandic national costumes, constructed with skins, fur and intricate beadwork.
Day 6: Disko Bay / Jakobshavn Glacier / Ilulissat Icefjord
We sail into Disko Bay this morning, famous for its monumental icebergs and whales. When the Vikings, under Erik the Red, established a settlement on the more hospitable west coast of Greenland in 985 AD, they discovered Disko Bay while sailing up the coast during the summer thaw. Rich in animal resources, including whales, walruses for ivory and seals for their pelts, the region provided abundant products for early Norse settlers to trade with Iceland, the British Isles and mainland Europe. Inuit people eventually moved into the region, and their traditional villages dot the coast today.
We set out in Zodiacs among towering icebergs to examine the face of Jakobshavn Glacier—Sermeq Kujalleq in Greenlandic—a tongue of the Greenland ice sheet that ends at the head of Ilulissat Icefjord, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This outlet glacier drains 6.5 percent of the ice sheet and is one of the most active and fast-moving in the world, producing about 10 percent of all icebergs in Greenland: some 35 billion tons of ice calve off every year. Some are so huge—more than a half-mile high—that they lie stuck on the bottom until they are broken up by the force of other icebergs that float down the fjord to collide with them. If we're lucky, we may witness the spectacle of calving ice. This area is one of the most important places in the world for climate change research, and our naturalist guides share what scientists are learning from the glacier's activity. We'll also explore the archaeological site at Sermermiut, whose Inuit history dates back thousands of years.
Day 7: Exploring the Fjordlands of Western Greenland
On our last day cruising the scenic fjords of Greenland's crennelated coast, board Zodiacs or kayaks for a closer look at the whimsically shaped blue icebergs, keeping watch for marine life that we encounter at eye level, and stepping ashore to hike across the ice-scoured terrain and tundra. At every turn we are astounded by the magnitude of this dynamic wilderness, a raw and beautiful land shaped by the potent forces of ice, wind and waves. Once darkness falls, bundle up and head out on deck in search of the aurora borealis. Though we can never predict their presence, the ethereal northern lights may appear as shimmering curtains of color, dancing on the northern horizon.
Day 8: Kangerlussuaq / Disembark / Reykjavik
Heading southward again to complete our return voyage, we disembark in Kangerlussuaq and transfer to the airport. Fly once more by chartered plane over the Greenland ice sheet, looking down with a newfound sense of the scope and power of this massive ice cap blanketing the world's largest island. Arriving in Reykjavik, we transfer to our hotel for the final night of our northern adventure.
Day 9: Reykjavik / Keflavik / Depart
On our last morning in Iceland, choose among several activities to round out your experience of this small island nation on the edge of the Arctic Circle. Tour the Reykjanes Peninsula and discover why UNESCO has named it a Global Geopark, recognizing its extensive volcanic and geothermal activity. The peninsula is the only place in the world where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is visible above sea level, a mostly underwater geological feature marking the contingent boundary of the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. You'll also learn firsthand about Iceland's innovative approach to geothermal energy, which heats all the homes and buildings in the country. Or, if you haven't yet experienced the Blue Lagoon, now’s your chance! Relax in the soothing, milky-blue waters before transferring to Keflavik airport for flights home.