Whale Watching & Puffin Tours

Best Whale Watching & Puffin Tours in Iceland

Discover Iceland's largest selection of whale watching and puffin tours. Witness the majestic dance of whales and playful antics of puffins up close.
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Whales & puffins in Iceland

The seas surrounding Iceland are unusual in that there is a delicate blend of warm and cold water mixed in the jagged fjords of the coastline. Coupled with the abundant sunlight of summer, these conditions create an incredibly hospitable environment for krill and fish and subsequently, the various species of whale that feast on them.

There is no better way to see these intelligent and compelling creatures than in the wild, and it so happens that many tours offer you the exclusive chance to see one—and some tours even combine whale watching with puffin spotting. From the small harbour porpoise to majestic humpback whales, you can hope to see over twenty species of cetacean creatures off the shores of Iceland.

With a still operative whaling industry, Iceland’s relationship with its whales is complicated. Although whale meat is sold here, only 2% of whale meat hunted in Iceland is sold back to its public, while a substantial part of the population harbours a loving and sensitive attitude to these gentle giants. In fact, many old whaling vessels have now been repurposed towards whale-watching. Often, there is a choice of larger, educational boats and smaller, faster catamarans for more intimate groups.

On a whale watching tour from Reykjavík, the most common species you can hope to see are white-beaked dolphins, Minke whales and Humpback whales. Less common species are orcas (killer whales), fin whales and pilot whales. The largest of them all, the blue whale is sometimes spotted off Skjálfandi Bay by Húsavík. This is one of Iceland’s favourite regions to look for these massive mammals and a whale watching tour from Húsavík is guaranteed to leave memories to last a life time.Some tours offer sea-angling as part of your experience, and in some cases, you will get to sample the catch, with some tours even offering to prepare your fish to be eaten.

One of the most iconic animals and motifs of Iceland is the adorable puffin, and there are many tours which offer you the chance to see one for yourself. The Atlantic puffin is native to Icelandic coastlines and over half of Europe’s puffin population come here to nest in the summer months, making Iceland the perfect destination to spot this charismatic critter.

Adorning postcards and souvenirs abound, the puffin is a prominent symbol of Icelandic wildlife and attract many who want to see one. Their rotund characteristics and striking colours make them a favourite of nature-lovers everywhere.

Their cuteness should not have you fooled; the Atlantic Puffin is a hardy seabird used to spending many months at sea. They are proficient swimmers and are capable of beating their wings 400-times a minute. A recent scientific discovery only adds further wonder to this fascinating species in that it was observed that under UV light their beaks demonstrate bioluminescence leaving scientists baffled as to why. Research is currently underway so we may know more about these delightful creatures soon.

Although they can be seen on cliffsides, some tour companies offer special boat-rides where you can get a more stable platform to view the birds. If you do try to catch a glimpse of a puffin from a cliffside such as Látrabjarg in the Westfjords, do be wary of not getting too close to the edge; puffins and other seabirds burrow into the cliffs, often making them unstable and therefore dangerous. An excellent destination to spot the puffins by boat is around the Westman Islands coupled with astonishing views of the craggy archipelago under the guidance of a local expert.

Often boat tours will offer puffin-spotting as part of a whale-watching expedition and what better way to spend the day looking for these tiny seabirds coupled with the titans of the sea.

Puffin and Whale watching tours are suitable for all ages, at an average duration of about three hours. Available around the country, these tours are a surefire way to get close to Iceland’s vibrant and exciting wildlife.

Frequently asked questions

What are the top three whale watching tours in Iceland?

One of the best whale watching tours in Iceland is a three-hour whale-watching boat tour with a transfer from Reykjavik’s Old Harbour, rated an average of 4.4 out of 5 stars by 206 travelers. This tour costs around 109 USD.
Another top-rated whale watching tour in Iceland is a traditional whale-watching boat tour from Husavik, with an average of 4.4 stars by 138 travelers. This tour costs approximately 82 USD.
This is an affordable two-hour whale watching tour with a transfer from Reykjavik, rated an average of 4.1 out of 5 stars by 82 travelers. This experience costs about 94 USD.

Where is the best location in Iceland to see whales?

There are numerous places in Iceland from where you can take a whale watching tour, including Reykjavik, Akureyri, and Dalvik. The absolute best place to view whales in Iceland is in the 'whale watching capital of Europe' Husavik, located in North Iceland.

Do whale watching tours in Iceland offer hotel pick-up?

Whether the tour includes hotel pick-up or not will depend on which tour you choose, but most tours have an option for a pick-up. Hotel pick-up is especially useful if you are on a day tour that starts early in the morning. These pick-up points are usually conveniently located and easy to find from your accommodation.

When is puffin season in Iceland?

Puffins can be seen in Iceland from early April until September.

Is it certain that we will see whales on our whale watching tour in Iceland?

Because we are dealing with wild animals, seeing whales and dolphins can never be guaranteed. However, most larger crafts are fitted with the latest tracking systems and are in constant communication, thus heightening the odds greatly.

What happens if no whales are spotted during my whale watching tour in Iceland?

You can join the tour again for free by contacting the tour operator and rebooking for another time.

Under what circumstances are whale watching tours in Iceland cancelled?

Whale watching tours could get canceled if the weather is stormy and the seas are heavy. In the end, it is the captain of the boat who makes the final call.

How long do whale watching and puffin tours last?

Whale watching tours last for approximately 3 hours, while puffin tours are usually 1 hour long.

What should I wear and bring on a whale watching tour in Iceland?

Weather conditions in Iceland can change rapidly, so it is essential to dress appropriately for a whale watching tour. Wear warm, waterproof, and windproof clothing in layers, along with sturdy, non-slip footwear. Bring additional items such as gloves, a hat, a scarf and sunglasses if it's bright. A camera or binoculars can help you capture memorable moments and enhance your experience.

What other wildlife might I see on a whale watching tour in Iceland?

Aside from the whales and puffins, there is the possibility to see porpoises and many different types of seabird species, including northern gannets, shags, fulmars, and arctic tern.

Will I learn about the animals on my whale watching tour in Iceland?

Yes, most definitely. Wildlife tours are operated by experienced, knowledgeable and qualified nature guides who will eagerly share interesting information about Icelandic wildlife throughout the trip.

Are the boat tours dangerous?

Not at all! Passenger safety is of the highest concern. In the rare event that anything should happen, lifejackets and lifeboats are plentiful.

Can I smoke on the boat?

No, smoking is prohibited on board for the duration of the trips.

When is the best time to go whale watching in Iceland?

Whale watching is an available activity year-round in Iceland as there are always whales and marine life around the shores of Iceland. Between April and September is particularly good for whale watching as there is a possibility to see humpbacks, blue whales and orcas.

What types of whale can I see in Iceland?

Iceland's waters are home to a diverse range of whale species. The most commonly sighted species include minke whales, humpback whales, white-beaked dolphins, and harbor porpoises. Occasionally, visitors may also spot orcas, fin whales, sperm whales, or even blue whales.

How long does a typical whale watching tour in Iceland last?

A typical whale watching tour in Iceland lasts between 2 to 3 hours, depending on the tour operator and location. Some tours may also include additional sightseeing or activities, such as birdwatching, sea angling, or visiting nearby islands, which may extend the tour duration.

Are whale watching tours in Iceland suitable for children?

Yes, whale watching tours are generally suitable for children, and many tour operators offer family-friendly options. However, it is essential to ensure that children are dressed appropriately for the weather conditions and are supervised at all times.

Can I participate in a whale watching tour if I am prone to seasickness?

If you are prone to seasickness, it is recommended to take preventive measures before embarking on a whale watching tour. Over-the-counter medications, seasickness bands, or ginger products may help alleviate symptoms.
Additionally, choose a larger vessel, as they tend to be more stable, and opt for a seat in the center of the boat, where motion is minimized.

What type of vessel is used for whale watching tours in Iceland?

Tour operators use a variety of vessels for whale watching tours, ranging from small inflatable boats (RIB boats) to larger passenger boats. RIB boats offer a more intimate and adventurous experience, bringing you closer to the water and the whales. In contrast, larger boats provide more stability and comfort, including indoor seating areas, restrooms, and refreshments.
In Husavik, the so-called "Whale Watching Capital of Europe," you can go whale watching on a traditional oak boat, or you can even hop on a sailboat tour to spot whales.

Are food and drinks provided on whale watching tours in Iceland?

Some whale watching tour operators provide light refreshments, such as coffee, tea, and snacks, while others may even have a café or bar onboard. However, it is a good idea to bring your own snacks and water, especially on longer tours.

Can I take a whale watching tour from Reykjavik during a layover?

Yes, it is possible to take a whale watching tour during a layover in Reykjavik if you have enough time. The Old Harbor, where tours depart, is approximately a 50-minute drive from Keflavik International Airport. Make sure to allow ample time for transportation, potential delays, and security checks at the airport when planning your layover activities.
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