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Lava, whales & sheep jam: 5 weird bucket list experiences in Reykjavik

Iceland cruise holidays are famous for Northern Lights sightings and the fascinating Icelandic capital of Reykjavik – but what are the lesser-known things you can do at this port of call?

Iceland cruises from the UK with Ambassador Cruise Line stop at the Orkney Isles, the Faroe Islands and Scotland as well as Reykjavik. But, with an overnight in the latter, there’s no denying the Icelandic capital is the belle of the ball on this itinerary.

By staying in Reykjavik onboard Ambassador ship Ambience until the morning you can truly make the most of the opportunity to soak up the majesty of the northern lights – a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many (providing the weather and atmospheric conditions play their part!).

The breathtaking light show from mother nature isn’t the only appeal on cruises to Iceland, though; there are also a number of other weird and wonderful sights you can tick off while on an Iceland cruise.

We’ve rounded up just five unique things to see, do and eat while cruising Iceland.

ice cream

FrozenEat ice cream

Ice cream is for hot weather, right? Not so in Iceland which really puts the ice in its nation’s name thanks to locals’ penchant for the frozen sweet stuff no matter what the weather.

Yup, even when it’s freezing Icelanders head to the city’s popular ice cream parlours to savour a couple o’ scoops of freshly made, tasty ice cream. No sticky toffee pudding here when temperatures plummet – ice cream is considered comfort food even in winter!

Ísbúð Vesturbæjar (or Vesturbær Ice Cream Shop) and Brynja Ice cream are two of the oldest and best-known ice cream shops in Reykjavik. The former is the only place in Reykjavík that still sells milk-based ”gamli” (old) ice cream (rather than the newer cream-based treat).

Valdís gets plenty of visitors, too, thanks to innovative flavours such as carrot cake, tyrkisk peber (salted liquorice) and vanilla Oreo flavour.

For quality handmade ice cream created from scratch on your Iceland cruise with Ambassador, head to Skúbb. If it’s gelato you’re after, check out Gaeta Gelato, Reykjavik’s first-ever gelato parlour.

Animal PlanetGet really, really close to whales

There are a whopping 23 species of whales living in Iceland’s seas and there’s a place in Reykjavik where you can get up close and personal with all of them.

A blue whale, sperm whale, humpback whale, fin whale, minke whale, orca and dolphin and more are all within touching distance at the Whales of Iceland exhibition. OK, yes they’re only models but they’re both life-size and impressive.

Each one was modelled after an actual whale in the wild complete with personal markings and characteristics – only these ones are soft and fun to touch! Plus there’s lots to learn about these amazing cetaceans at the largest whale museum in Europe.

There’s cool tech too, such as an interactive station where you can track whales’ movements in real-time, an audio guide tour and plenty of soothing whale sounds (you’ll sleep well that night!).

Want to see the real thing? There are countless whale-watching tours to enjoy around Iceland, including ones organised by the Whales of Iceland. Maybe don’t try to touch those ones, though.

whale iceland
iceland geothermal swimming

The Full MontyGo to an outdoor swimming pool

Come summer in the UK, the nation flocks to the nearest lido or bathing pond to cool off and soak up the sun – but Icelanders don’t need warm weather to enjoy a dip.

Reykjavik boasts 17 geothermal swimming pools and they play a major role in the cultural way of life here. Swing by on Iceland cruises and you might find older folks discussing the news and the weather in the morning, families coming to play in the afternoon and even couples on dates later in the day.

Laugardalslaug is the capital’s largest and most popular, complete with two 50-meter pools, seven hot tubs ranging in heat, a steam bath, a cold tub and a large water slide. Bet your local council pool doesn’t offer all that! Meanwhile, Sundhöllin is Reykjavik’s oldest pool and has great facilities.

Word of warning to body-shy Brits on Ambassador cruises here – it’s customary to shower naked, and you might be reminded by a local if you try washing in your swimmers (the rule concerns maintaining the quality of the water and minimising the use of chlorine rather than exhibitionism). So, put that prudishness to one side!

Some Like it HotAdmire a lava show

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that if a volcanic eruption is happening anywhere near you it’s ripe cause to panic.

However, on an Iceland cruise to Reykjavik you can experience a lava flow without any of the danger, horror, burning, death etc, huzzah!

The city hosts the only live lava show in the world, called, wait for it, LAVA SHOW. Doing what it says on the tin, the spectacle recreates a volcanic eruption by superheating real lava and pouring it into a showroom where attendees can ooh and aah accordingly, no panic required.

The show has received multiple awards for entertainment and innovation so you’re bound to be impressed as you feel the heat emanating from the real molten lava flowing before you.

lava Iceland
sheep's head

Silence of the LambsTuck into sheep’s head

Italy has pizza, France has croissants, Greece has moussaka…Iceland has, brace yourselves, smoked sheep’s head and sheep’s head jam. Yummy, yum, yum.

Svið, or smoked sheep’s head, is a traditional dish that is exactly what it sounds like. The good news is the head is cut in half, singed to remove to the fur and boiled to remove the fur. Phew, much more palatable… It does get served with mash though so that’s something.

Meanwhile, sviðasulta or sheep’s head jam (who needs raspberry!) is made from chopped-up cooked sheep’s head which has been moulded and cooled. It’s often eaten as topping on bread but suddenly marmite seems a heck of a lot tastier…

In days of yore Icelanders used to eat sour ram’s testicles (or Súrir Hrútspungar) so count yourself lucky you don’t have to tackle that on your dinner menu.

All of these can be washed down with a shot of Brennivín (“burned wine”), Iceland’s signature distilled beverage, if that makes them any more appealing to you.

No? Yeah, us neither. Let’s go get an ice cream instead.

Set Sail

Iceland’s Land of the Northern Lights with Ambassador Cruise Line

When: March 23, 2023

Duration: 11 nights

Where: London Tilbury, UK | Kirkwall, Orkney Isles, UK | Torshavn, Faroe Islands | Reykjavik, Iceland | Invergordon, UK | London Tilbury, UK

Ship: Ambience

Price: From £749 pp

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Published 28.12.22