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Complete Guide to Whale Watching in Iceland


whale watching Iceland

Iceland offers an incredible opportunity to spot a diverse range of whales, dolphins, orcas, and porpoises. These majestic creatures can be observed swimming in the fjords and along the country's stunning coastline. You can observe these magnificent mammals in their natural habitat on a guided whale watching tour in Iceland. These tours will let you get up close and personal to the beautiful whales.

Let’s dive into learning all about the Iceland whale watching season as well as the best whale watching Iceland spots. We'll also cover which whales you can expect to see on your whale watching tour in Iceland. We’ll also include a list of our top recommended whale watching tours from around the country, so you can take your pick!

All About Whales and Whale Watching in Iceland

Whales have been important throughout Icelandic history for many reasons. Whales have served multiple purposes in Iceland since the country's settlement in the 9th century. Apart from being a significant food source, stranded whales were also used as markers to determine land divisions.

When parts of the land were still unclaimed and a beached whale was found washed up on the shore, conflict often broke out over who owned the land and the whale itself. The whale was seen as an important food source that could sustain many people, so it was a significant resource to claim. 

Whale watching guide

Whales also feature in many historical Icelandic sagas and myths. They are often surrounded by supernatural occurrences. Some stories feature whales as friendly helpers, whereas others depict these massive sea creatures as monsters or enemies.

Along with fishing, whaling was also a common practice in Iceland for centuries. Today, whales are mostly seen as creatures to observe in their natural habitat and not disturb or hurt in any way. That’s why all whale watching Iceland tours adhere to strict guidelines to protect and respect the whales.

Which Whales Can You See in Iceland?

So, which whales can you expect to spot on your whale watching tour in Iceland? Take a look through our list of ten whale species found in Icelandic waters to learn more:

1. Humpback Whales

Humpback whales are known for their playful and acrobatic behavior. They are among the most frequently sighted whales on whale watching tours in Iceland. Unlike many other larger whale species, humpback whales can often be spotted closer to shore. That, luckily, requires less travel into open waters to observe them.

Humpback whale in Iceland

2. Minke Whales

Smaller than many of the other whale species, minke whales are usually found in colder waters. Similar to humpbacks, minke whales can often be spotted close to the shore and are the most common whale you’re likely to spot in Icelandic waters. Minke whales feed on krill, Icelandic cod and other fish. Although one of their main food sources, the sandeel, has been significantly dropping in number over recent years.

whale watching tour Iceland

3. Dolphins

Many species of dolphins can be spotted in Icelandic waters. Including white-beaked dolphins, striped dolphins and the common bottlenose dolphins. Of all the dolphin species, the white-beaked beauties are the most common you can spot around Iceland. You may even be lucky enough to witness the dolphins playing in the water!

Dolphins in Iceland

4. Orcas

Also known as killer whales, orcas are actually a species of the dolphin – the largest in the world, in fact! Orcas are most commonly found in waters where there is a large number of herring present, including off the coast of Iceland. Although over 5,000 orcas live near Iceland, it can prove difficult to spot these marine mammals. Sadly, they tend to stay further into the ocean and away from the coasts.

Iceland's orca whale

5. Pilot Whales

Another dolphin species, pilot whales, tend to spend most of their time in oceanic waters further from the coast. That makes spotting them on an Iceland whale watching tour difficult, but not impossible! The long-finned pilot whale feeds on squid and is a highly social animal, often remaining with their birth pod throughout their lives.

Pilot whale

6. Sperm Whales

An estimated 23,000 sperm whales live off the coast of Iceland and around the Faroe Islands. The largest toothed whales, sperm whales, are found in every ocean around the world. Spring and summer are the best times to spot sperm whales in Iceland, usually off the western coast of the country. Did you know that sperm whales can hold their breath for up to 2 hours? Phew!

Spem whales in Iceland

7. Harbor Porpoises

You’ll have a great chance of spotting a harbor porpoise on your Iceland whale watching tour, as these beautiful creatures spend lots of time in coastal waters. The smallest whale species in Icelandic waters, there are an estimated 27,000 harbor porpoises living around the country’s coast. These whales migrate for the winter season, arriving back in Icelandic waters in early spring.

Porpiose whales

8. Blue Whales

Did you know blue whales can live to at least 100 years? The largest animal on Earth, the mighty blue whale can regularly be seen off the coast of Iceland, especially off the north coast during the summer months. There are only around 1,000 blue whales living around Iceland due to extensive whaling in the past, which led to a dramatic decline in the blue whale population. Blue whales are now protected by law.

Blue whales

9. Fin Whales

As the second-largest animal on Earth behind the blue whale, fin whales are much more commonly spotted in Icelandic waters than blue whales. Fin whales were also heavily hunted in the 20th century and now an endangered species. There are currently believed to be around 50,000 to 90,000 individuals in the world’s oceans.

Fin whales

10. Narwhals

Although narwhals are not frequently spotted on whale watching tours in Iceland, these majestic sea creatures do swim in Icelandic waters and are occasionally spotted in the very north of the country. Looking like a cross between a whale and a unicorn, narwhals use their long tusk to hunt fish and swallow them whole!

These aren’t the only whales you can see swimming around the Icelandic waters. You may also be able to spot a few other whale species on your whale watching tour in Iceland. For a complete list of the 23 whale species in Iceland, including a breakdown of different species of dolphins, check out the guide linked above.

If you’d like to learn more about the different whales of Iceland, including whale anatomy and conservation, you can visit the Whales of Iceland Museum. The largest whale exhibition in Europe, this fascinating museum houses life-sized models of all the whale species you can see around Iceland.

Narwhal whales

Iceland Whale Watching Season: What’s the Best Time to See Whales in Iceland?

Next up, let’s explore all about the best time to see whales in Iceland. If you’re wondering ‘when is whale season in Iceland?’ or ‘what month is best for whale watching in Iceland?’, we’ve got the answer for you here.

Iceland’s whale watching season starts in April and ends around September to October. Between these months is generally regarded as the best time to see whales in Iceland. It comes with the highest chance of spotting these gentle giants at sea on a whale watching tour during this time.

The peak of the Iceland whale watching season occurs in the summer months of June, July and August. Whale watching tours in Iceland usually run from late spring through to early autumn. That'll give you plenty of opportunity to enjoy a boat trip out to sea during your Iceland vacation.

best whale watching Iceland

Although less frequent, you’ll also find some winter whale watching tours in Iceland, giving you the chance to spot the whales swimming underneath the glorious Northern Lights – wow!

Where to Whale Watch in Iceland

So now we know when to spot the whales, we also need to know where to go whale watching in Iceland. Here’s our rundown of the best whale watching Iceland spots. They'll give you the best opportunity to spot some of these biggest mammals in the world for yourself.

Whale Watching in Northern Iceland

The city of Akureyri and the town of Husavik are two of the most popular places for whale watching in Northern Iceland, and for good reason! Akureyri is home to one of the longest fjords in Iceland. The incredible Eyjafjord is where many whale species love to swim, including the famous ‘Eyjfafjord humpbacks’.

Known as the ‘whale capital of Iceland’, Husavik is another amazing place for whale watching in Iceland. In fact, this small fishing town is known as one of the best locations for whale watching in the world! With many species sighted here, your Husavik Iceland whale watching experience is sure to be one to remember.

Husavik whale watching

Whale Watching in Reykjavik

Taking a whale watching Iceland tour can easily fit into your vacation itinerary. Simply hop aboard one of many daily boats leaving from Reykjavik Harbor throughout the summer season. Many whale species are spotted in Icelandic waters off the coast of Reykjavik, giving you a great chance to see these gentle sea giants yourself.

A whale watching Reykjavík tour is one of the most popular tourist whale watching activities in Iceland. That's due to the convenient location and fantastic opportunity to spot whales here.

Whale Watching Tours and Sightseeing in Iceland

Taking a whale watching tour in Iceland will give you an amazing opportunity to spot these beautiful creatures in their natural environment out at sea. You’ll learn all about whales, the different species you can see around Iceland, and their importance throughout Icelandic history.

Here are a few of our favorite whale watching tours across different areas of Iceland for you to browse through.

whale watching northern Iceland

Whale Watching in Reykjavik Tours

  • Whale Watching Tour from Reykjavik – This conveniently located Iceland whale watching tour starts at Reykjavik Old Harbor and will take you on a 3 hour cruise, giving you a great chance to spot these gentle giants swimming in the water.
  • Whale and Puffin Tour Iceland from Reykjavik – You’ll need to set aside 6 hours to join this Iceland whale and puffin tour, which takes you on two separate boats: one to the nearby ‘puffin islands’ and the other to spot some whales in the water. You’ll have a break in the harbor between each boat tour to enjoy some refreshments.
  • Premium Whales and Midnight Sun Tour from Reykjavik – When visiting Reykjavik in the summer months, make sure to take this amazing 2 hour whale watching tour run by Whale Safari Iceland. You’ll be in a small group of 12 passengers on a custom-made boat to get close to the whales and may even be able to spot some puffins along the way!

whale watching reykjavik

Whale Watching Iceland Tours From Akureyri

  • Akureyri Classic Whale Watching Tour – If you want to go whale watching in Northern Iceland, the city of Akureyri is the place to be. This classic 3 hour whale watching tour from Akureyri takes you along Eyjafjord, one of the longest glacier fjords in Iceland, to search for the famous ‘Eyjafjord humpbacks’.
  • Express Whale Watching Tour from Akureyri – Boasting the highest sighting success rates in Iceland, Whale Watching Akureyri tours take you from the pier into the waters of the fjord to spot these amazing whales up close. This express tour lasts for 2 hours and you’ll be in a 12-seater RIB boat along with fellow passengers and expert guides.
  • Whales and Northern Lights Akureyri Tour – Why not combine two amazing experiences in one by joining this incredible whales and Northern Lights tour from Akureyri? Lasting 6 hours, this tour first takes you into the waters of the beautiful Eyjafjord, before setting off outside of Akureyri to watch the awe-inspiring Northern Lights dance across the sky away from the light pollution of the city.

whale watching Iceland Akureyri

Husavik Iceland Whale Watching Tours

  • Classic Whale Watching Tour from Husavik – Another amazing place for whale watching in Northern Iceland, the waters around Husavik are home to many whale species. This 3 hour tour takes you out on the bay on an oak boat to search for these magnificent sea dwellers.
  • Whales and Horses Tour from Husavik – What could be better than spotting the whales swimming around the Icelandic coast, then riding atop an Icelandic horse through the beautiful countryside? You can do just that on this 4.5 hour tour from Husavik.
  • Big Whale Safari and Puffins Tour from Husavik – On this 2.5 hour tour, you’ll head further out to sea, giving you the chance to spot some of the very big whales. Also included is a trip to Flatey Island, where thousands of puffins nest each year.

You may be wondering ‘how much is whale watching in Iceland?’ and the answer can vary depending on which tour you choose. If you choose a combined whale and puffin tour Iceland package, you can expect the cost to be a little higher, whereas a classic whale watching tour in Iceland can range from around $90 to $160 USD. To check exact Iceland whale watching tour prices, you can follow the links above to the tour operator websites.

Husavik iceland whale watching

Top Tips For Whale Watching in Iceland

To help you make the most of your whale watching Iceland experience, we’ve collected all our top tips in one place. Here are some things to remember before you jump on the boat to meet these gentle sea creatures:

  • Book ahead of time – First things first, you’re going to need to plan ahead to make sure you get a space on the whale watching Iceland tour that best suits your budget and itinerary. While there are usually several daily whale watching tours to choose from, spaces on these tend to book up very quickly, especially during the peak summer season. We tend to make plans in advance in Iceland, so we recommend you do the same with your whale watching tour tickets as we don’t want you to be disappointed!
  • Bring a warm jacket – Even in the summer, there can be very chilly winds in Iceland, especially when out at sea. Heading across the water away from the shore can cause temperatures to decrease quite dramatically, so you’ll be very glad you brought a warm layer or two! Some whale watching Iceland tours provide you with thermal jackets, but this isn’t guaranteed, so it’s best to bring your own to make sure you can stay cozy. You might also want to pack a scarf if you feel the cold easily.
  • Pack your best camera – This one goes without saying, but we thought we’d remind you just in case you forget your camera in all the excitement! Make sure to bring your best camera to capture the sight of the magnificent whales gliding through the water. Waterproof cameras are even better but, if you don’t have one, you can just bring a cover and make sure to keep your camera around your neck for extra security.
  • Learn all about the whales beforehand – This one is particularly for all the wildlife enthusiasts out there! Knowing which whale species you have a chance of spotting around the Icelandic coast can really enhance your Iceland whale watching experience. Just learning a few of the species can help you identify which whales you’re seeing and connect more deeply with these fascinating ocean creatures.

where to go whale watching in iceland

Head Out to Sea to Spot Iceland’s Whales For Yourself!

Now you’re fully clued up for your Iceland whale watching adventure, let’s prepare for the adventure of a lifetime! Get set with all you need for your ideal Iceland vacation by finding your accommodation and reserving your rental vehicle online.

We can help you out with our range of affordable rental cars in Iceland, ready to pick up from Reykjavik. Simply choose your favorite, reserve online, and we’ll have everything ready for when you arrive. Then it’s time to hit the road and head to your chosen whale watching destination in Iceland to make memories that will last a lifetime! Happy Iceland whale watching!