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Greenland and Iceland

A fabulous adventure by land and sea, featuring Polar Bear, birding, cetaceans, geology and much more!

This is a unique and genuinely outstanding experience, beginning with a land journey across Iceland focusing on birding and geology, and developing into a major adventure as we voyage north by comfortable ship to Scoresby Sound in Eastern Greenland, where Polar Bear, Muskoxen and whales are our targets. Birds, mammals, geology and cultural life are all aspects of this unforgettable holiday. On this tour, wildlife can be sparse, but when it happens .... can be stunning!

This is a relaxed tour, scheduled after the avian breeding season, where on Iceland we hope to see Gyrfalcon, Barrow's Goldeneye, Harlequin Duck, Ptarmigan and Merlin, all within easy reach of our vehicle. Migrating geese, Slavonian Grebe and a range of passerines including Snow Bunting are also possible, and shearwaters, petrels and Humpback Whale can be seen from land or from our ferry as we enjoy a visit to the southerly Westman Islands. 

Later we board our superbly fitted vessel, MV Hondius, for an exciting cruise northwards to Greenland. The area of Scoresby Sound is one of the most extensive fjord systems in the world, and although most breeding birds have left their cliffs, we should see individuals on the sea or on passage. We hope to find Polar Bear near the mouth of the Sound, and cetaceans and seals as we travel. Narwhal, Walrus and Beluga are possible, though certainly not guaranteed. Muskoxen and Arctic Hare can be reasonably expected, and while birdlife is sparse, we should see Glaucous Gull, Common Eider and Long-tailed Duck.

Exciting though the wildlife is, on this tour we also expect the natural phenomena and geology to be of considerable interest. In Iceland, the roaring waters of Gullfoss waterfall are unforgettable, and we approach another spectacular waterfall and a glacier at very close quarters, experience the aftermath of recent volcanic action especially on the southern island of Heimaey in the Westman Islands group, and also visit the hot springs at Geysir. Further north we hope for spectacular views of the aurora borealis, and early dawn light can be magical in Greenland. Human interest is also high on the agenda, as we learn about the history of both Iceland and Greenland, and visit Ittoqqortoormiit, one of the most remote settlements on Earth.

A truly unique and highly memorable prospect!

Our Leader Andy Jones is perhaps better known as 'The Iceland Naturalist', and has been a Heatherlea Leader here for nearly 20 years. We have travelled very happily on MV Hondius before, and know it to be ideal for our clients. In September 2022 Andy conducted a recce to Greenland on the vessel to check all the detail, ready for our 2023 departure. Be warned though, if you read his comprehensive and highly motivating Trip Report you will want to be on the next voyage!

Andy's Report says:

'The chance to make a journey to NE Greenland must be high on the list of any naturalist and when Heatherlea got in touch with me to investigate the possibilities I jumped at the chance. This was the first time I travelled so far north along the country’s eastern coast as far north as the semi-mystical Inuit town of Ittoqqortoormiit.

The journey was magical and I’ve run out of superlatives to describe the majesty and grandeur of the landscape; a wonderful blend of ice, rock and tundra. Wildlife encounters were sparse but when they happened were intense and dramatic. I recorded 15 Polar Bears, Narwhal on two occasions, a Beluga mother and calf, Harp, Ringed and Bearded Seal, Walrus, Muskox and Arctic Hare. The birding highlight was undoubtedly an all white Gyrfalcon but Snow Bunting, Ptarmigan, Glaucous Gull, Pink-footed Goose, Long-tailed Duck and the many seabirds we saw en-route all played their part in making the birding aspect so enjoyable. Couple this with whale watching in Icelandic waters where we saw Bottlenose Whale, White-beaked Dolphin, Humpback Whale, Minke Whale, Pilot Whale and Harbour Porpoise, and a very satisfying list of cetaceans was recorded. The aurora borealis, which we saw several times, was the icing on the Greenlandic cake!'

Read Andy's trip report here



Some of the hoped-for highlights!

  • Good chances of Polar Bear.
  • Species of rorqual whale, perhaps including Humpback and/or Bottle-nosed Whale. White-beaked Dolphin, Pilot Whale plus outside chance of Beluga (seen on our September 2022 recce - see Trip Report!).
  • Outside possibility of seeing Narwhal and Walrus, both very rare, though both seen on our Sept 2002 recce.
  • Muskoxen, Arctic Fox, Arctic Hare, Ringed, Harp and Bearded Seal.
  • Gyrfalcon, Harlequin and Barrow's Goldeneye, perhaps a late Brunnich's Guillemot.
  • Icelandic/Greenland residents and migrants including Ptarmigan, Snow Bunting, Glaucous Gull, Common Eider, Long-tailed Duck, Purple Sandpiper, Raven.
  • Autumn migration of geese, waders, perhaps Sooty and Manx Shearwater, Storm and Leach's Petrel.
  • Amazing geology including volcanoes, glaciers, hot springs and thermal eruptions, waterfalls in Iceland, and fabulous landscapes with icebergs in Greenland.
  • Aurora Borealis, perhaps on several occasions.
  • Ittoqqortoormiit, one of the most remote settlements on Earth.
  • Remains of an ancient Inuit settlement.
  • Fascinating botany including Yellow Saxifrage, Snow Saxifrage, Mountain Avens, Scottish Asphodel, Cassiope, Roseroot, Crowberry, Bilberry and Bearberry.

Fully inclusive of cruise, international flights to and from Iceland, and our office and guiding services. Please note the single supplement advertised only applies to the land based section of the tour. 

All quoted per person in shared cabins:

Quad Porthole £6495
Twin Porthole £7595
Twin Window £7995
Twin De Luxe £8225
Superior £9995
Junior Suite £10295
Grand Suite £10595

Singles - please consider sharing with people of the same gender, this works very well in comfortable accommodation on this voyage. Single occupancy of a Twin Porthole cabin is priced at £10795 for full tour.

Friendly and experienced Heatherlea Guides and vessel crew will be excited to share their knowledge and enthusiasm, and we will be flexible in our itinerary, paying close attention to weather and ice, changing course and using inflatable zodiacs amongst the ice-floes, and spending as much time ashore as possible. Expect a friendly, intimate atmosphere in a cosy and comfortable onboard environment.

OUR VESSEL                               M/V Hondius

The 80-cabin M/V Hondius is ideal. Meeting the latest and highest Lloyd’s Register standards for ice-strengthened cruise ships, and surpassing the requirements of the Polar Code adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), M/V Hondius represents the most flexible, advanced, innovative touring vessel in the polar regions, thoroughly optimized for exploratory voyages that provide you the utmost first-hand contact with the Arctic.

All cabins have either window or porthole, private shower and toilet, desk and chair, flat screen TV, telephone and internet connection, hair dryer and ample storage space. Click here for full ship information, and after consulting the deck plan, contact us to reserve the specific cabin of your choice!

Enjoy your complimentary pre-flight overnight hotel before your holiday begins. Full details from our office! Read more about our Pre-flight Service here! 

Day 1: Tues 2 September 2025        Arrival in Iceland
We arrive at Keflavík Airport in the south-west of Iceland and our trip begins with visits to some birding locations on the Reykjanes peninsula. We should find Harlequin Duck along the shore and further out to sea there's a reasonable chance of cetaceans. We should have time to explore the coast of south Iceland, and see the new lava eruptions of 2023/24. The large Eider flocks on the coast need to be checked for the chance of a King Eider and we should also look out for migrating Pink-footed Geese. There's also a chance of White-tailed Eagle in the area. Driving inland, we settle into modern and comfortable hotel in south Iceland, where we stay for two nights.

Day 2: Wed 3 September  Sólheimajökull and Westman Islands             
In the morning, we visit geological sites in southern Iceland, including Sólheimajökull, a huge glacier which we can approach and even touch. Another key site is the impressive waterfall of  Seljalandsfoss, which you can stand behind to take pictures through the waterfall, quite an experience! The tumbled moraines at the edges of these features provide much of interest for botanists and geologists. We also enjoy views across to the active volcano of Hekla, and see the volcano of Eyjafjallajökull which caused so much disruption when it last erupted in 2010.

In the afternoon, we take the ferry to Heimaey, largest of the Westman Islands, watching out on the way for Manx Shearwater and Storm and Leach's Petrel, with chances of Humpback Whale. On arrival we walk around the town to visit the volcanic remnants of the 1973 eruption, with the chance of Puffin and other auks on the sea as they disperse into open waters. We also look across to the new island of Surtsey, which emerged from the ocean in the volcanic eruption of 1963.

Day 3: Thurs 4 September     Þingvellir, Gullfoss, Geysir and Reykjavík
A journey across the wonderful scenery of the national park at Þingvellir, home to the old Viking Parliament, and we’ll learn more about the history of this special place. We also visit the hot springs and the famous geysers at Geysir and the dramatic glacial river falls of Gullfoss. We arrive in Reykjavík late afternoon. We'll walk near the lake and hope to see Great Northern and Red-throated Diver, and as we travel keep a sharp look out for Barrow's Goldeneye too. The botany in this area is also very interesting and whilst most of the flowers will have gone over the autumnal colours are very special.

Day 4: Fri 5 September     Travel north to Akureyri and board ship
The whole group will meet up in the morning for a day’s journey northwards to Akureyri. There may be a chance for some birding stops on the way and we’ll look out for both Iceland and Glaucous Gulls. In the afternoon we’ll reach Akureyri perhaps with the chance to explore the city and make any last minute purchases before embarking our ship for the next phase of our exciting journey, departing on an early evening sailing northwards across the Denmark Strait towards eastern Greenland. As we leave Iceland’s waters we have a very good chance of seeing Humpback Whales and White-beaked Dolphins.

Day 5: Sat 6 September                at sea, sailing to East Greenland
While sailing north we are likely to see Fulmar, Kittiwake, Gannet, and Common Guillemot. We cross the Arctic Circle, possibly spotting whales. By evening, the first icebergs flash into sight as we approach the east Greenland coast, near Brewster.

Day 6: Sun 7 September           Inuit neighbourhood of yesteryear
Today we reach Scoresby Sound, sailing along the glaciated Volquart Boon Kyst. We may enjoy a Zodiac cruise past one of the glacier fronts, along with a visit to the basalt columns and ice formations of Vikingebugt. The afternoon goal is to visit Danmark Island, where we find the remains of an Inuit settlement abandoned around 200 years ago. The circular stone tent rings indicate the summer houses, while the winter houses can be seen closer to a small cape. The sites are well preserved, with easy identifiable entrances, bear-proof meat caches, and grave sites. In the evening we continue sailing the berg-crowded fjords to the west. On this and every evening we’ll remain alert for the possibility of an auroral display.

Day 7: Mon 8 September                                        Colours of the cape
We hope to land on Røde Ø, one of the world’s most cherished iceberg attractions: The austere blue-white of the icebergs sets sharp against the brooding red backdrop of the sediment slopes. The afternoon plan is to sail through the northern parts of Røde Fjord, with the chance to see Muskoxen and warm autumnal foliage.

Day 8: Tues 9 September      Enormous bergs and Arctic hares         
In the morning we encounter colossal icebergs, some over 100 metres high and more than a kilometre long. Most of them are grounded, as the fjord is only about 400 metres deep. We then land near Sydkap, with fine views of Hall Bredning and a good chance of seeing Arctic Hare and perhaps Gyrfalcon in the area.

Day 9: Wed 10 September                Settlement at Scoresby Sound
Today we make a tundra landing on Liverpool Land, in Hurry Inlet. We’ll walk across the tundra looking for Ptarmigan and their main predator — Gyrfalcon. We should also see some migrant passerines —Snow Bunting and Northern Wheatear perhaps — on the moraines and outwash of this heavily glaciated landscape.

Our  afternoon stop is at Ittoqqortoormiit, the only settlement in Scoresbysund with about four hundred inhabitants. At the post office we can buy stamps for postcards, or just stroll around to see sled dogs and drying skins of seals and musk oxen. This is one of the most remote human settlements in the world, and the town has an eerie 'end of the world ' feeling! Later we sail south, passing the picturesque landscapes of the Blosseville Coast. We have good chances of Polar Bear in this area.

Day 10: Thurs 11 September              Remote shores
Turner Sound and Rømer Fjord grant us the opportunity to sail far inland, as they have no glacier front at the head and are not clogged with ice. In this location, we may spot Narwhal and there is a very good chance of encountering Polar Bear, too. If conditions permit we’ll land near Strathclyde Point and take our last walk on Greenland’s tundra. We’ll watch for Harp Seals and maybe even Walrus as we walk along the shore.

Day 11: Fri 12 September           Sea life under the northern lights
A sea day grants the opportunity to see whales and seabirds. We’ll look out for Humpback, Minke and perhaps Pilot Whale as we approach the Icelandic coast and re-familiarise ourselves with Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Gannets and Gulls. Tonight we have yet another chance of seeing the magical northern lights.

Day 12: Sat 13 September       
Return to Akureyri, transfer to Reykjavík

We disembark in Akureyri, making our way back to Reykjavík, with free time to enjoy Iceland's capital.

Day 13:  Sun 14 September      Departure   
Today we transfer to catch our flight back to the UK via Flybus, the airport transfer service. If the flight is in the afternoon, there might be some more free time in Iceland's capital Reykjavík before travelling to Keflavík Airport.

Please note: all itineraries are given as a guide only. Actual holiday content may vary according to the judgement of your guide, and elements beyond our control (eg weather).

What's included in your holiday price:

  • Full-board accommodation (as specified) during voyage. Includes breakfast, lunch, dinner and all excursions, talks and reports provided by Expedition Leaders.
  • Scheduled flight from London - Keflavik, airport taxes, baggage and hand luggage up to airline-included limit. Flights from other UK airports may be possible, please ask.
  • Airport transfer in Iceland, coach travel in Iceland, ground transportation during the cruise as specified.
  • The services of your Leader(s).
  • A 'Heatherlea Beanie'! The first item on the menu of international fashion, this little article of headgear will come in very handy. Wear your beanie with pride!

What's not included in your holiday price:

  • Travel to embarkation point in UK, meals prior to boarding your international flight.
  • Holiday insurance, optional tips to ship's crew/other staff, drinks, and other personal expenses.

More holiday information

Accommodation: In Iceland is in comfortable, modern hotels, all rooms en-suite. On board MV Hondius we stay in comfortable, very well appointed cabins with en-suite facilities. See full details of cabins here.
Food: In Iceland is international in style, and of good quality throughout. Food aboard Hondius is very good European cuisine, with a choice for all courses. Breakfast and lunch are usually an extensive buffet. Diets including vegetarian, vegan, lactose-free, gluten-free and other are catered for. There is a well stocked bar run by the crew's Hotel staff, who are efficient, courteous and very helpful.
Mobility/Walking: is generally light/moderate, and an average level of fitness is required. Optional daily walks and hikes are offered as part of the daily schedule and are graded from easy to advanced. There are no lifts aboard MV Hondius, though if you are mobile enough to manage stairs, you should be able to enjoy all aspects of this holiday. Staff are patient and courteous, and assistance is provided at both ends of zodiac voyages, all of which are optional. Land conditions can be wet and slippery, with uphill and downhill gradients, though an option to engage in very little walking when ashore is usually available. When on land all participants will be under the management of the Expedition Leader and their team, and must take note of instructions which are there for your safety and benefit.
Weather: Summer at this latitude features generally settled weather, with light winds and perhaps a little rain. Temperatures should be between minus and plus 5 degrees Celsius. We spend two days entirely at sea as we travel north, though sea conditions are unlikely to be adverse. Days are long, and you can expect wildlife to appear at any hour. You will need waterproof boots, gaiters and wellies (full kit list provided nearer the time), and can expect maximum walking distances of around three miles, over moderate terrain (though of course most of the holiday is spent on the vessel).
Insects: biting insects are not expected, though there may be flies on the boggy landscape. Little other insect life is expected.
Group size: The Icelandic element is restricted to no more than 45 clients plus Heatherlea Leader(s). We travel throughout by comfortable executive coach. Aboard Hondius, you will part of a ship's complement of up to 160 clients. There is no restriction as to how many of these might be Heatherlea guests.
Photography: Opportunities are good to excellent, particularly for bears, muskoxen, some birds and above all scenery. Due to the light, the dramatic landscape, and the quality and quantity of wildlife, this is an ideal location for photography.
Your leader: Andy Jones will be our Leader in 2025 joined by the experienced crew on board. 

Essential Information

OUR VESSEL  -  Specifications

Passengers:           170 in 80 cabins
Staff & crew:          72
Length:                   107.6 meters
Breadth:                 17.6 meters
Draft:                       5.30 meters
Ice class:                 Polar Class 6 (equivalent 1A-Super)
Displacement:       5,590 tonnes
Propulsion:            2 x ABC main engines; total 4,200 kW
Speed:                    15 knots

Hondius is the first-registered Polar Class 6 vessel in the world, meeting the latest and highest Lloyd’s Register standards for ice-strengthened cruise ships. Surpassing the requirements of the Polar Code adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), Hondius represents the most flexible, advanced, innovative touring vessel in the polar regions, thoroughly optimized for exploratory voyages that provide you the utmost first-hand contact with the Arctic.

MV Hondius

Not only will the numerous amenities and on-board entertainments help make your voyage truly memorable, this ship also gives you the peace of mind that comes with choosing one of the most environmentally friendly vessels on the polar seas. Hondius uses LED lighting, steam heating, bio-degradable paints and lubricants, and state-of-the-art power management systems that keep fuel consumption and CO2 levels minimal. This means that when you sail aboard Hondius, you get to enjoy the exotic landscapes and wildlife as much as possible while impacting them as little as possible.

Hotel comfort, expedition class

Hondius offers high-quality accommodation for 170 passengers in six grand suites with balconies (27 square meters, 291 square feet), eight junior suites (19 to 20 square meters, 205 to 215 square feet), eight superior cabins (20 to 21 square meters, 215 to 226 square feet), 11 twin deluxe cabins, (19 to 21 square meters, 205 to 226 square feet), 14 twin window cabins (12 to 14 square meters, 129 to 151 square feet) as well as 27 twin porthole cabins, two triple porthole cabins, and four quadruple porthole cabins that vary in size from 12 to 18 square meters, or 129 to 194 square feet. Please be aware that a small number of cabins may have a partially obstructed view due to the size of the windows and the design requirements of the ship. For example, some windows may be partly obstructed in the lower half by a gangway. The best view is always on the outer deck or the bridge.

One deck consists of a large observation lounge and separate lecture room, which are reserved for a wide variety of interactive workshops, exhibitions, and performances particular to Hondius. Though elegantly designed in stylish mid-century modern décor, this vessel offers a distinctive cozy and informal atmosphere.

Swift & safe ship-to-shore operations

It is our philosophy to keep sea time short so that we can focus instead on fast, effective access to shore and near-shore activities. To give you the maximum contact with the nature and wildlife you traveled so far to see, we employ a tough fleet of rigid-hull inflatable Zodiac boats that guarantee swift and safe landing operations for the passengers. Hondius has two separate gangways and a sheltered indoor Zodiac embarkation platform that can also be used for special outdoor activities, such as kayaking.

Your Leaders

Andy Jones
A native of Wales though resident for many years in Iceland, Andy is perhaps better known to many as 'The Iceland Naturalist'. A leader of wildlife trips in Iceland for more than thirty years, Andy is an expert on birdlife, cetaceans, flora and geology, the perfect choice as Leader for this tour! He says 'Basalt rocks, formed by volcanoes in the recent geological past, underpin the ecology. The landscapes are agonisingly beautiful and provide a wonderful backdrop for a wildlife trip.’

Andy continued, ‘My favourites? Well, we see lots of cetaceans but for me it’s always the birds that steal the show. In Iceland I’ve so many — Great Northern Divers, Harlequins and Barrow’s Goldeneyes but my heart invariably misses a beat when a Gyrfalcon appears!’ Andy conducted our recce trip aboard MV Hondius in September 2022 and lead the tour for us in 2023, and saw several Polar Bear, Muskoxon, several whale species including Narwhal, Walrus and Beluga, Harp, Bearded and Ringed Seal and much more. His conclusion? 'A great trip!' Please read his report!

The itinerary is given as a guide only. Actual holiday content may vary according to the judgement of our captain and crew, and elements beyond our control, especially weather.

A quick note about Polar Bears

Polar Bears roam in Greenland, and our voyage gives us excellent chances of seeing them. Bears need frozen sea ice to hunt seals, and are great travellers. Our best chances of Bear on this holiday lie around the mouth of Scoresbysund. Nothing is guaranteed of course, although chances are good!


Other birding and wildlife holidays in Arctic

Other birding and wildlife holidays in Iceland

Why choose Heatherlea for your birding and wildlife holiday?

Our overseas holidays are planned with care to offer great birding and wildlife, led by capable Leaders who really look after you. Every holiday is run the 'Heatherlea Way', and we hope our Overseas Adventures remind you of the quality and care so many of you enjoy in Scotland. That means rewarding and exciting days in the field, and good quality accommodation and meals, with a real flavour of the country we are visiting. Heatherlea always seek to include the personal touches that make all the difference.

Heatherlea holidays are not ‘dawn to dusk’ expeditions. Our less-intensive approach is ideal for those who want to relax whilst experiencing the best wildlife watching, and wherever possible we organise early or late activity on an optional basis. We also take sensible breaks when in very hot places and regular comfort breaks on every holiday whenever possible. All itineraries are planned carefully around the best wildlife opportunities, and you won’t miss out on memorable wildlife, whilst enjoying relaxed, informal days that are great fun.

The really important part of any wildlife holiday is the experience for you, our valued customer. Heatherlea invest in many things to offer you the best possible service;

  • We have been organising birding and wildlife holidays for over 30 seasons, and have a highly experienced and capable office team. We also offer a telephone and email service outside normal office hours.
  • Heatherlea overseas holidays have a maximum of 12 clients per trip, putting the emphasis on personal service, and helping you get the best possible experience.
  • Our holidays often include things which others might invite you to pay yourself, for instance Departure Taxes and tips to hotels.
  • All elements of our holidays are sold under our own licence, ATOL 6113. Under ‘Flight-Plus’ legislation it is a legal requirement of any tour operator to hold an ATOL licence for the supply of any overseas holiday where a flight is involved, if that holiday includes either overseas accommodation and/or car hire. It can be a criminal offence for an operator to book flights as part of a package without an ATOL licence. Heatherlea also hold full Tour Operator Insurance for your added protection.
  • Heatherlea is your complete wildlife holiday provider. Our ‘Back Office’ team can organise all your pre-flight and other travel needs. Our specialists will help you book the right services, at the best price. Book holiday extensions through us, and your ATOL protection is extended further. We don’t charge extra for this service.
  • Heatherlea is a limited company, registered in Scotland, and registered to pay VAT (applies to all holidays within the European Union).

Trip Reports

About Heatherlea Holidays

Contact Information

The Mountview Hotel, Nethybridge,
PH25 3EB Scotland

T: +44(0)1479 821248