Iceland is back on the map, with new flights and affordable cruises

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Smyril Line's ship Norröna at anchor in Iceland.
Smyril Line's ship Norröna at anchor in Iceland.
Nature galore in Iceland's wilderness. Photos © hidden europe.
Nature galore in Iceland’s wilderness. Photos © hidden europe.

Where has Iceland been of late? There has been hardly a mention here on EuroCheapo in 2009 of the island nation that has, over the last year, been through greater financial turmoil than any other country in Europe. The plummeting Icelandic króna has wrought havoc across Iceland, as businesses struggle to cope with mounting debt and the country faces unprecedented levels of unemployment.

But Iceland’s woe comes with a silver lining: travellers and visitors to Iceland now get twice as many krónur for their dollar or euro as they did this time last year. Who knows, perhaps 2010 really will be the year when the Iceland stopover – a mainstay of transatlantic travel in the 70s – comes back into fashion.

To Iceland by Plane

Icelandair is already gearing up for a mini-boom with new North American and European routes coming on line. Six weeks ago, the airline added Seattle to its list of US destinations, and next spring will up its frequency on that new route from the Pacific Northwest to Reyjavík. On August 27, Icelandair returned to Glasgow after a gap of many years, and in 2010 the airline will pull Brussels into its network for the first time.

Maritime Adventure: Our trip on the Norröna

But Europeans are not beholden to airlines to get them to Iceland, and some prefer to travel by ship. And a growing number of canny travellers from North America are realising that there is a smart way of getting to mainland Europe via Iceland which combines flying with a dash of maritime adventure.

The Norröna, a seductively comfortable vessel operated by Faroese shipping company Smyril Line, does a sterling job in transporting provisions from Denmark to the Faroe Islands and Iceland. On its southbound journey back to Denmark, the ship is full of fresh fish bound for the continent’s fish markets. But the Norröna is no grimy freighter, and passengers are very welcome aboard. The company operates from Easter to early October on the Iceland to Denmark route and year round on the link from the Faroe Islands to Denmark. One way fares from Iceland to mainland Europe start at €125.

A Cruise with a Difference

The Norröna is socially a very interesting ship. On our journey back from Iceland this week, our fellow passengers on the Norröna included a fair number of Faroese families returning from short visits to Iceland, off-road driving fiends from Italy, the Czech Republic, and Germany who had tested their 4WDs with the very worst that Icelandic roads could offer, students from Iceland and the Faroes travelling to Denmark for the start of the new college year, and a fair few folk who were just there for the ride.

The sort of Europeans who might normally never think of taking a cruise find in the Norröna something distinctly different – the chance to spend a week on a regular working ship, mixing with the locals in a way that never features on cruises. One never quite knows what diversions might occur on the Norröna. This week, as the ship cruised through the northernmost islands in the Faroes, the Norröna took part in a practice air-sea rescue exercise—a reminder that the vessel operates in lonely waters that are often as turbulent as the Icelandic economy has been this past year.

About the author

hiddeneurope

About the authors: Nicky and Susanne manage a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine.

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