Whale Watching in Iceland - Where to Go and What to See

You should indulge in what whale watching Iceland has on offer knowing that you might spot both the largest and smallest whale species in the world, on the same tour! Iceland regularly gets visited by 12 different species of whale, and occasionally up to another 11. Truly a whale watcher’s paradise.


What whale watching Iceland has to offer is world-class stuff. However, knowing exactly what to expect and even which species of whale you could come across is just as important as knowing where you’re going. In this article, we have gathered all information you will need to make the best of your whale-watching holiday.


Whale watching in Iceland's waters

Iceland Whale Museum


Right off the bat, we can say that there is an option to go on a boat. Maybe you’re not a fan of boats or oceans, or maybe you have small kids with you that you can’t take on a boat. Instead of braving the ocean, you can simply take a stroll in Reykjavik and visit whales on dry land. The Whales of Iceland Museum features life-size models of these wonderful creatures, as well as a wealth of information.


With that said, let’s dive into the options you have on the waves.


Best Time to See Whales in Iceland


Whales can be spotted all year round in Iceland, so you can always take advantage of the whale watching Iceland has. However, the number of whales and how often they visit varies. Just remember that if you happen to be visiting when these fascinating cetaceans are not in the area, Iceland offers many other adventurous activities available all year round.


Summer


The summer is largely regarded as the best time of the year to go whale watching in Iceland, as it is the time when many species have migrated north to feed and breed. It is also the time of the year when the weather is the warmest and calmest, so you are less likely to be cold when you’re standing on the ship.


In addition to the nice weather, summer is also the time of year when you will spot the puffins diving for their food in various places around Iceland. June, July, and August are the months that make up the best whale season Iceland has, in both comfort and number of whales.


Whale watching in Iceland in summer


Winter


Even though the days are shorter, and the weather is colder, you will still be able to enjoy the whale watching Iceland has on offer in the winter. Some whales migrate south to warmer seas for the winter and only come back in the spring to calf and frolic once again in the rich waters. Some stay behind, like the orcas, narwhals, bowheads, and belugas.


The best time of day for whale watching is much shorter, but that only means you can stay longer at sea to get an amazing look at the Northern lights.


Spring/Fall


Spring and fall are both decent times to enjoy the whale watching Iceland has. You will have better luck at getting good prices since it’s off-season, but your chances of spotting some whales are going to be slimmer than in the summer. In early fall or late spring, you might be able to comfortably enjoy some Icelandic fishing if you want to spend more time around the water.


Types of Whales in Iceland


You can come across up to 12 different species of Iceland whales. There are an additional 11 species that have been sighted in the waters, but that have been singular events or extremely rare sightings. It is worth mentioning here that dolphins count as whales, just like narwhals and belugas.


Iceland lies in the middle of the North Atlantic and the Arctic Ocean, making it a perfect hotspot for whales. The Gulf Stream from the south brings in some warmer waters, while the polar ice pushes out cold, nutrient-rich waters. This clash of currents combined with the long days of summer sun creates a perfect “soup” that is rich in plankton and krill (very small shrimp). This offers up a feast to these gentle giants, and voilà! Whale paradise.


The most well-known and impressive whales are listed below.


Blue Whale


The largest animal to have ever lived, weighing in on up to 200 tons and 30m. Sightings of the blue whale Iceland are rare, and they are usually only seen one or two at a time.


Blue whale in Iceland


Humpback Whale


This is the photogenic acrobat that loves to jump for the camera. The humpback whale weighs in on up to 40 tons and 17m and is spotted more frequently than many other species. They are also often spotted one or two at a time and are generally curious and often get close to the boats.


humpback whale in Iceland


Minke Whale


The shy, but most sighted of the big whales is the minke whale. It weighs in on up to 10 tons and 10m and is unique since it is one of the few species that grew in population during the whaling era. It’s relatively small for a whale, but still humongous to us small humans.


Whale watching in Iceland: Minke whale


Sperm Whale


This “Moby Dick” whale loves to eat uncooked calamari (squid). The sperm whale weighs in on up to 50 tons and 18m and has a chubby stature. It isn’t spotted as often and can dive down to 3,000m to graze on the bottom of the ocean floor.



Whale watching Iceland: Sperm Whale

Orca


Best known for the movie “Free Willy”, the star of the movie (Keiko) is one of the many killer whales Iceland has brought up in its waters. The orca weighs in on up to 10 tons and 10m and often travels and hunts in pods (groups) of up to 40 individuals.


Orca whale in Iceland


Pilot Whale


Unfortunately, mostly known for being hunted around the Faroe Islands, the pilot whale can be seen regularly around Iceland too. They weigh up to 5 tons and reach up to 8m in length and are spotted somewhat regularly.


Pilot whale in Iceland

Harbor Porpoise


This little fellow is about the same size and weight as a human at roughly 60kg and 1,5m. The harbor porpoise is the world’s smallest whale creature, and is very cautious and shy, why it is hard to spot. It lives close to shore, though, so you might be able to spot it from land.


Whale watching in Iceland

White-Beaked Dolphin


The white-beaked dolphin little whale is a very playful and social mammal. Weighing up to 275kg and reaching up to 3m in length, schools of white-beaked dolphins can be seen in groups of between 5 and several hundred individuals. They can be seen in cold waters, and don’t shy away from riding along with boats and ice-cold waves.


Dolphin watching in Iceland

Honourable mentions


What you might find in the waters around Iceland is the Greenland shark that Icelanders ferment and eat as Hákarl. It is a large fish that you might mistake for a small whale, but we promise you it isn’t. Some other whales that have been and can be seen around Iceland are listed below:

  • Fin whale

  • Sei whale

  • Bottlenose whale

  • White-sided dolphin

  • Beluga

  • Bottlenose dolphin

  • Gray whale

  • North-Atlantic right whale

  • Bowhead whale

  • Narwhal

Best Places to Spot Whales in Iceland


The whale watching Iceland offers is not limited to specific places. You can basically see whales on any part of the coast if you’re there at the right moment. Many argue that the best place to whale watch in Iceland is in Húsavik due to their reputation, but Reykjavik and Akureyri are both good in their own way.


Húsavik


Widely regarded as the whale watching capital of Iceland and (to some) in Europe, Húsavik is your best bet for this kind of adventure. Visit Askja is a great choice of a tour company in this area and get the best whale watching northern Iceland has to offer.

Right outside of this little town, you can spot some of the smaller whales, but the best whale watching in Húsavik is going to be further north. The further north you go, the bigger the chances are that you manage to be a part of a narwhal watching tour.


Husavik whale watching

Akureyri


Largely seen as the second-best location to enjoy the whale watching Iceland can offer, Akureyri has a lot of other activities to do when you’re not on the boat. However, the whale watching Iceland, Akureyri, can offer is not to be scoffed at.


Reykjavik


If you’re not keen on going up to the north, Reykjavik whale watching is still a viable option. From here, you will most likely move to the Faxaflói Bay to watch the feeding frenzy of the whales, dolphins, and puffin birds. Elding is a tour company that might offer the best whale watching tour in Iceland.


Whale Watching


If whale watching is on your bucket list, hop over to Iceland. Grab yourself a rental car in Iceland and drive to the north, where you’re likely to see some gentle ocean giants. The country is connected by a handy ring road, Route 1, that circulates the whole coastline. Or, if you’re sticking to Reykjavík, the boats will be waiting for you at the Old Harbour.


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