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Ultimate Guide to Puffins in Iceland


Puffins in Iceland

With a distinctive red and orange-colored beak contrasting against its black and white body, the iconic puffin is one of the world’s favorite and most recognizable birds. These iconic seabirds favor coastal cliffs and offshore islands, so it’s no wonder many of the world’s puffins call the remote island nation of Iceland home.

Bordered by the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans, Iceland is actually home to over 60% of the world’s population of Atlantic puffins! You’ll find several puffin breeding colonies on Iceland, perfect for keen birdwatchers. Let’s learn all about puffins in Iceland, including everything you need to know to spot these magnificent creatures for yourself.

How to See Puffins in Iceland

Seeing puffins in Iceland is a yearly tradition for the Icelandic people and draws many people from all over the world to this remote country close to the Arctic. There are many guided puffin tours in Iceland you can choose from if you’d like an expert guide on-hand, or you can choose to go on a self-guided exploration. Check the end of the article for a list of our recommended tours to see puffins in Iceland!

It’s important to choose the right time and location for seeing puffins in Iceland, as the puffins arrive in Iceland in spring and leave at the end of summer. Thankfully, you’ll have a choice of locations, from cliffs in the Westfjords, to nature reserves in the north west of Iceland and even islands just a few minutes’ sailing from the capital of Reykjavik

We’ll go through timings and locations in more detail throughout this guide to equip you with all the knowledge you’ll need for a fantastic puffin watching trip in Iceland!

Puffins in Iceland

Fun Facts About Puffins in Iceland

How much do you already know about puffins? Let’s get started by sharpening your knowledge ready for a puffin spotting trip in Iceland. Here are some of our favorite facts about puffins in Iceland:

  • Puffin watching is one of the most popular summer activities – Both locals and tourists alike love to watch these ‘clowns of the skies’ in their natural habitat around Iceland. Scientists and keen bird watchers from all over the world come to Iceland to watch puffins, too.
  • 8 to 10 million puffins live on Iceland – If you’re wondering ‘how many puffins are in Iceland?’, we bet you didn’t guess that many! With over half of the world’s population of Atlantic puffins, Iceland is a definite puffin hotspot of the world.
  • Atlantic puffins spend most of their lives at sea – Atlantic puffins fly, swim or float on the ocean surface for most of their lives, only coming into land during the breeding season in spring and summer.
  • Puffins love to eat fish – These carnivorous seabirds eat many small fish, such as herring, cod and hake. They also love sand eels! Puffins usually feed far offshore for most of the year.
  • Atlantic puffins are a vulnerable species – The Atlantic puffin is classified as a vulnerable bird, meaning the population is decreasing and they are likely to go extinct if this decline is allowed to continue unchecked. Habitat protection and avoiding marine pollution will help the puffins survive.
  • Iceland is the only country in the world where it’s legal to hunt puffins – Authorities in Iceland grant hunters the right to hunt puffins a few days of the year. If you’re thinking ‘can you eat puffins in Iceland?’, the answer is yes and it’s actually an Icelandic tradition to eat puffin on certain festival days of the year.
  • The Icelandic word for puffin is ‘lundi’ – Now you can impress the locals with your knowledge of both puffins and the Icelandic language!

Where to See Puffins in Iceland

If you’re wondering where the best place to see puffins in Iceland is, this guide to the best Iceland puffin viewing locations will be your best friend!

Westman Islands

The largest puffin colony in Iceland lives on the Westman Islands, which are a collection of islands off the south coast of Iceland. Around 10 kilometers from the mainland, this archipelago is the nesting place of about a fifth of the world’s total puffin population, making this the largest single colony on Earth!

Heimaey, or ‘Home Island’, is the largest of the Westman Islands and is an amazing place to spot puffins in Iceland. Here, on the only inhabited island in the archipelago, puffins and humans live in very close proximity.

There’s even an annual tradition where the island’s youngsters rescue baby puffins that end up on asphalt, gardens or any other dangerous place. These baby birds are then sent back into the wild away from the city lights.

To get to the Westman Islands, you can take a flight from Reykjavik, or a ferry from the south coast at a place called Landeyjahofn. You’ll find many guided puffin watching tours to the Westman Islands during the summer months – definitely an unmissable experience during your Iceland vacation!

Puffin Spotting Near Reykjavik: Akurey and Lundey Islands

Staying in the Icelandic capital and fancy a quick puffin watching trip? You can hop on a boat to one of the nearby islands of either Akurey or Lundey, which are only a few minutes away from Reykajvik by sea.

These small, uninhabited islands are home to a large puffin colony, as well as a whole range of other seabirds, including Arctic tern, cormorants and kittiwakes. During the summer, there are multiple departures to Akurey and Lundey each day from Reykjavik.

Dyrholaey in South Iceland

The gigantic stone arch of Dyrholaey is a must-see on your visit to Iceland, especially if you want to spot some puffins during your time in this magical country. A popular nesting area for the puffins, Dyrholaey is sometimes fenced off for the privacy and comfort of the puffins, but you can still get within a few meters of the birds to watch them.

Located around 2.5 hours from Reykjavik by car, Dyrholaey is right next to the picturesque village of Vik and the famous, striking black sand beach of Reynisfjara. This area of Iceland is definitely worth a visit during your vacation.South coast of Iceland for puffins

Ingolfshofdi Nature Reserve

Also located along the southern coast, the impressive Ingolfshofdi Nature Reserve contains isolated cliffs that are home to a puffin colony. Just south of the mighty Vatnajokull Glacier, this natural area is surrounded by black dunes, rivers and the ocean, making it the perfect isolated nesting area for the puffins.

Visiting Ingolfshofdi is one for the most avid birdwatchers, as you’ll need a special vehicle to cross the dunes, so a guided tour is necessary for this spot. One of the less-frequented puffin watching locations, Ingolfshofdi is free from crowds and is one of the best places in Iceland to watch puffins in their natural habitat.

You can get to Ingolfshofdi by taking the Ring Road (Route 1) to the east from Dyrholaey for about 1.5 hours. While you’re around this area, we also recommend taking a trip to the awe-inspiring Jokulsarlon Ice Lagoon, which lies only a further 30-minute drive up the road.

Ingolfshofdi, Iceland

Borgarfjordur Eystri in East Iceland

Situated on the eastern coast of Iceland on the opposite side of the island to the capital, the birdwatching area of Borgarfjordur Eystri is around 8.5 hours drive from Reykjavik. With shelters and wooden platforms that allow you to safely approach the puffins, this is one of the best places in Iceland to watch puffins up close.

Around 20,000 puffins nest in the fjord of Borgarfjordur Eystri each year. One of the most sparsely populated areas in Iceland, the little villages around Borgarfjordur Eystri house just over 100 residents. This amazing area of untouched natural beauty is a wonderful place to visit for a tranquil puffin watching experience.

Borgarfjordur Eystri, Iceland

Papey Island

The tiny, uninhabited island of Papey is located off the east coast of Iceland and is home to Iceland’s oldest wooden church, as well as a whole host of seabirds, including puffins. There are daily boat tours to Papey Island from the nearby village of Djupivogur.papey island

Tjornes Peninsula in North Iceland

The rocky Tjornes Peninsula in the north of Iceland is home to a large puffin colony, which nests atop the 60-meter-high cliffs. You’ll find puffin colonies on both the outermost tip of Tjornes called Voladalstorfa and on the eastern side of Tjornes at a place called Hringsbjarg.

Just a 15-minute drive away from Husavik, this town makes a great base for traveling to Tjornes Peninsula.

Tjornes peninsula

Grimsey Island

Around a million birds nest at Grimsey Island every summer, which lies around 40 kilometers off the north coast of Iceland. This island is home to around 100 inhabitants and sits within the Arctic Circle.

Many species of seabird can be observed at Grimsey Island, including the famous Atlantic puffin. You can experience these birds swooping around the unspoilt nature at Grimsey by taking either a ferry or flight to reach the island. There’s also a Grimsey Island in the Westfjords, so make sure not to get mixed up between the two!Grimsey, Iceland

Hornstrandir Nature Reserve in West Iceland

Located in the north of the Westfjords, the spectacular Hornstrandir Nature Reserve sees many nesting puffins each year. This extremely well-preserved area of natural beauty is inaccessible by all motor vehicles, meaning you’ll need to take a boat and walk to reach this unique location.

Well worth the trip for avid birdwatchers, the wilderness of Hornstrandir Nature Reserve is an amazing place to spot puffins and soak in the breathtaking landscape. The enormous cliff of Hornbjarg at the very north of the nature reserve is a popular puffin nesting place.

Hornstrandir, Iceland

Latrabjarg Cliffs in the Westfjords

Home to millions of birds, the Latrabjarg Cliffs are one of the largest bird cliffs in Iceland and remain the most popular tourist attraction in the Westfjords. As Iceland’s largest sea cliff, Latrabjarg stretches 441 meters high and runs for 14 kilometers along the coast.

Here, you’ll find all manner of seabirds, including the famous Atlantic puffins, razorbills, snow buntings, gannets and many more species. Safely away from Arctic foxes, the birds fly freely here in vast numbers, making the Latrabjarg Cliffs an ideal location for nature photography.

The Latrabjarg Cliffs are around 6 hours from Reykjavik by car. Note that this location in the remote Westfjords is usually not accessible in winter due to snow-covered roads. It’s essential to stay away from the fragile edges of the cliffs at Latrabjarg, as the ground can be rocky, hollow and unstable.

What’s the Best time to See Puffins in Iceland?

Planning your perfect puffin spotting trip will, of course, involve researching when to see puffins in Iceland. Learn all about the best time to see puffins in Iceland here.

Puffins in Iceland in Summer

If you’re keen to spot puffins in Iceland, you’ll want to plan your vacation for late spring or summer, as puffins arrive in Iceland around late April and May, before leaving at the end of August.

Puffins come to nest on the coastal cliffs around Iceland during the summertime. They lay their eggs and remain on the cliffs throughout the summer season as the chicks grow strong enough to support themselves.


Summer is the perfect time to spot puffins in Iceland; you’ll have a brilliant chance of seeing puffins in Iceland in July and August, especially if you take a guided tour to one of the best puffin watching locations.

Can You See Puffins in Iceland During Winter?

No, you can’t usually see puffins in Iceland during winter, we're afraid. Seeing puffins in Iceland in winter is only possible if you’re far out to sea or visit puffins in captivity, as puffins in the wild fly out and spread across the ocean during winter.

when to see puffins in iceland

Spotting Puffins in Iceland During Shoulder Season

The shoulder seasons of early spring (April and May) and early autumn (September and October) can be a great time to visit Iceland. With less crowds and cheaper prices than summer, yet milder weather than winter, shoulder season can be appealing to those who are able to travel during these months.

In late April and throughout May, you have a good chance of spotting puffins in Iceland, making this a brilliant time for your Iceland vacation if you’re keen on visiting the puffins while you’re here.

If you’re contemplating a trip to Iceland during autumn and you’re wondering ‘can you see puffins in Iceland in September?’, the answer is probably not. Unfortunately, the puffins tend to leave Iceland at the end of August, so, if you’d like to see them on your Iceland vacation, we recommend arriving before August ends.

Puffins in winter

Tours to See Puffins in Iceland

As the puffin watching capital of the world, Iceland has a whole range of fantastic tours you can take to see these magnificent birds for yourself. Here are some of our favorite puffin watching Iceland tours to explore:

  • Reykjavik Classic Puffin Watching – This easy tour departs from Reykjavik Old Harbor, lasts for 1 hour and will take you to either Engey, Akurey or Lundey Island, just a few minutes away from the mainland. You might even be able to hear the bird calls if the captain is able to turn off the engine.
  • Reykjavik Whales and Puffins Tour – Combine two spectacular wildlife watching experiences in one with this fantastic whale and puffin tour from Reykjavik. This 5 hour tour experience combines two separate tours: one on a smaller boat to spot puffins on the nearby islands and one on a larger boat that goes further into the bay to spot the whales.
  • Westman Islands Boat Tour to Heimaey – Visit the largest puffin colony at Heimaey on this 1.5 hour boat tour. As well as spotting puffins and other seabirds, you’ll learn all about the history and geology of the islands, as well as potentially spotting seals and whales, too!
  • Ingolfshofdi Puffin Tour – This 2.5 hour, family-run tour takes you to this historical nature reserve by crossing waters, marshes and sands in a tractor-drawn hay cart. On the 2-3 kilometer hiking route around the cape, you’ll get up close to puffin colonies and many other seabirds.
  • Puffins of Borgarfjordur Eystri: Guided Visit to Hafnarholmi – You’ll be accompanied by a local guide on this 2.5 hour tour to the Hadnarholmi area, which is renowned as one of the best puffin watching areas in the world. Here, there is a viewing platform and stairs to help you get the best view of the puffins.

  • Puffin and Elves Private Tour in Borgarfjordur Eystri – Fancy something a little bit different? This private tour is for groups of 1 to 4 passengers and takes you to the puffin viewing platform at Borgarfjordur Eystri, before making a trip round town, accompanied by stories of the locals and folklore.
  • Puffin Rescue Centre and Aquarium – If you’re visiting out of puffin season, or just want to see Iceland's puffin hospital, you can visit the Puffin Rescue Centre on Heimaey Island.

Puffin watching tours

How to Watch Puffins in Iceland Responsibly

When watching puffins in Iceland, it’s important to be as responsible as possible to avoid disturbing these magnificent seabirds. Here are some of our top tips for watching puffins in Iceland responsibly that will keep both you and the birds happy!

  • Be as quiet and still as possible – When puffin watching, the best thing you can do is take on the role of the observer, wherein you simply watch the puffin without interfering in any way. You can sit or stand without moving too much and remain quiet as you observe the puffins in their natural environment.
  • Don’t pet the puffins – Did you know that petting a puffin actually destroys its water-resistant coat? Make sure to avoid petting puffins when out and about in Iceland, as they are wild animals, not pets.
  • Bring binoculars to watch from a safe distance – Minimize disturbance to the puffins by watching from a comfortable distance. Birdwatching binoculars are perfect for allowing you to get a great view of the puffins without disturbing them.
  • Don’t get too close to the cliffs – It’s really important to never approach too close to puffin burrows on the cliff edges. These are dangerous areas, as the burrows make the ground loose and hollow. There are often tunnels where the puffins leave their eggs, which means the ground will easily collapse if you walk on it.
  • Respect the birds and their homes – Puffins often return to the same burrow each year, which means they have their own home in the cliffs that they’ve used for years or even decades! Take care not to destroy any puffin homes by staying away from the cliffs.

Go Puffin Watching in Iceland for Yourself!

Who’s feeling inspired to go puffin watching in Iceland? We definitely are! If you’re ready to start planning your dream Iceland vacation, get a head start by finding your car rental in Reykjavik, ready for the adventure of a lifetime.

Once you’ve found your accommodation and flights, all that’s left to do is hop in your car and take to the Ring Road, exploring all the best puffin watching locations along the way. Sounds like a dream? You can make it a reality by booking your Iceland adventure and planning your perfect itinerary now. What are you waiting for?