Whale watching in Iceland? Best time & place to see them, tips + tours
Iceland is considered to be the best place for whale watching in Europe. Throughout the year you can see different types of dolphins and whales along the coast of the island, such as humpback whales, fin whales and killer whales. Boat trips for whale watching are therefore very popular among tourists. During the summer period, several boat trips depart from different ports every day.
Read more about whale watching here, which whales you spot best and buy your tickets online to be sure to get a spot.
Whale watching? Where to buy tickets and tours online
The best place to spot whales is in the capital of Husavik (also called the whale capital), which is north-east from the main capital Reykjavík. Tours vary in length and in the type of boat (metal boats, rubber boats or wooden boats) you are going with.
The smaller the port you depart from, usually the more authentic the experience. View all tours and prices online
Curious about which tours you can do and what it costs? Take a look at these options:
De most important places are: Reykjavik - Hauganes - Dalvik - Akureyri - Húsavík
Which whales are there to see?
In total, about 23 different cetaceans can be spotted along Iceland's coastline. Most of them show up in the summer months along the north coast, but there are different whales in all waters around the island all year round. The most common whales are the minke whale, the humpback whale, the white-beaked dolphin, the porpoise and the killer whale, but it is also possible to see other cetaceans such as sperm whales and even beluga whales appear around Iceland.
1.1. The minke whale
The minke whale is the most spotted whale in the waters surrounding Iceland. The animal can be seen all year round. There are always groups of minke whales around Iceland, while all other whales go to warmer waters in other places. Minke whales are quite small compared to other whales. Small in whale terms is still quite large, minke whales can reach nine meters in length. These animals are generally a bit shy, but since they often swim in large groups, they are rather easy to spot.
1.2. The humpback whale
Humpback whales come to the Icelandic waters around the summer period in search of food. Most leave for warmer waters in the fall and winter, but some humpback whales always hang around Iceland. Humpback whales, unlike minke whales, are very sociable animals and so they treat you to acrobatic jumps out of the water.
1.3. The white-beaked dolphin
The white-beaked dolphin swims right by the coast of Iceland all year round. It is the most spotted dolphin. They are very social and playful and are often seen around the water's surface while they are looking for food or when they are playing with other dolphins.
1.4. The harbor porpoise
The harbor porpoise, like the white-beaked dolphin, can be spotted all year round. The porpoise is one of the smallest whale species. They are very solitary and often live alone or in small groups. If they show themselves at the water surface, it is only for a short time. However, the harbor porpoise is often spotted as they spend all year around Iceland.
1.5. The orca
Orcas can be spotted around Iceland all year round, but during the summer months they are most likely to be spotted closer to the coast. This type of whale does not often stay in the same place, making it more difficult to find them on a whale watching tour. If you are lucky and can spot one, orcas occasionally show off their highly acrobatic behavior. Killer whales are most commonly seen around the eastern fjords, the south coast, and the Westman Islands since there is a lot of herring where they can eat from.
What are the best places to spot whales?
Whales can be found all around the waters surrounding Iceland, but most are spotted on the north coast. There are several harbors where you can set off to go on a whale tour. However, there are also other places where you can spot whales. Often you take to the water in an old, converted fishing boat, where there is room for about twenty people. Most whale watching trips take about three hours on the water.
The town of Húsavík, in the north of Iceland, is considered to be the whale watching capital of Europe. It is therefore the most popular place to spot whales in the summer period. In winter you are less likely to see whales, although minke whales are often spotted. Between April and November you will often find humpback whales, porpoises, blue whales and white-beaked dolphins. You can combine a whale watching trip from Húsavík with a visit to Lundey Island, where you can spot many puffins. Because Húsavík is the most popular place for whale watching, it is often very touristy.
Booking a whale safari from Husavik? Click here for an overview and tours.
Akureyri is located near Húsavík on the north coast of Iceland, which is why you see many humpback whales, minke whales, porpoises, blue whales and white-beaked dolphins, just like in Húsavík. Also killer whales are regularly spotted from Akureyri. In addition, it is more quiet in Akureyri than in Húsavík because the town is slightly less known than the whale capital Húsavík.
Booking a whale safari from Akureyri? Click here for an overview and tours.
Dalvik is located in the same bay as Akuyreyri, but is a bit smaller. Since you sail on the same waters as from Akuyreyri, you will also spot humpback whales, blue whales, minke whales, porpoises and white-beaked dolphins in the summer.
Booking a whale safari from Dalvik? Click here for an overview and tours.
Hauganes is located between Akureyri and Dalvik. This town is quite small, but there are nonetheless regular whale watching trips between April and December. In search of humpback whales, minke whales, porpoises, white-beaked dolphins, blue whales and killer whales.
Booking a whale safari from Hauganes? Click here for an overview and tours.
Ólafsvík is located on the west coast of Iceland, above Reykjavik. Just like in the north you can spot many humpbacks, porpoises, minke whales and white-beaked dolphins between April and October, but also killer whales.
All year around, whale watching trips also start from the capital Reykjavik. You can spot porpoises, minke and dolphins, but also humpback whales are often spotted in the water off Reykjavik.
Would you like to do a whale watching tour from the Reykjavik harbor? Go on a whale safari starting from € 79 per person.
What is the best time of the year?
In fact, you can see whales all year round. Both the summer and winter periods have their advantages.
3.1. Summer or winter?
In fact, most whales can be found in the summer from late April and early May to October. In that period, the water is more nutrient-rich. This is because Iceland beats many hours of sunshine in the summer and, moreover, the combination of the cold and warm sea currents ensures that there is extra abundance of krill and plankton around Iceland. Krill and plankton are an important part of the whale diet. Whales that eat fish and other whale species also benefit from the presence of extra krill and plankton because it attracts many fish.
Most whales eat their fill in the summer to swim to South Africa when it gets colder, where they mate in the warm waters and give birth to baby whales. Most whales need warm water to give birth to their children, because in the cold water most small whales would have a hard time surviving.
3.2. Perks of the summer
In the summer there are more whales to spot than in winter. The biggest chance to spot whales is usually in June. During this period you can spot up to 23 different whale species, such as killer whales, minke whales, humpback whales and dolphins, but also sperm whales and blue whales.
Another advantage of the summer is that during this period you have better weather and calmer winds, so that the boat trips are less likely to be canceled. Also, most tour offices are only open in the summer months. In addition, some airlines offer whale watching tours under the midnight sun.
3.3. Perks of the winter
In the winter period there are generally less whales to be spotted than in the summer. However, there are whale species that stay in the colder water. For example, killer whales find their food better in colder water than in warmer water, and therefore continue to swim in the waters around Iceland almost all year round. Minke whales also remain around Iceland. Most humpback whales and other whales seek out the warmer waters, yet there are always a few whales left in Iceland.
In winter, most tour offices offer another fun special whale watching tour. They combine the whale watching tour in the evening with a search for the Northern Lights.
Another advantage of the winter period is that it is quieter and you do not have to squeeze between the other tourists to see the whales.
TIP: book your ticket for a whale watching tour online to make sure to secure your spot!
Best moment of the day?
The best time of the day is often towards the end of the afternoon. When you take the first boat trip of the day, chances are that you don't always spot whales. In addition, whales spotted during the first trips will also be tracked so that people can see them again later in the day. However, if you take a trip in the morning and you don't see any whales, you do have the option to go on a tour again in the afternoon for a second chance.
Book whale watching tickets online
In order not to chase the whales away, a limited number of boats takes the water. As a result, the tours sell out quickly. It is therefore advisable to book a trip in time. You can book tickets quick and easy online at GetYourGuide (with guarantee to cancel up to 24 hours before departure).
The main places to see whales are:
Practical info for your whale watching tour
- There is never a guarantee that you will spot whales. However, some tourist agencies offer a free 2nd whale watching tour or a discount on a subsequent whale watching tour if you could not spot whales on the first trip. It is therefore recommended to pay attention to this when booking.
- It can get quite cold on the water, even in summer. So make sure you always have warm clothes. Don't forget your hat, scarf and gloves! With most tours you get an overall, which is water and windproof.
- Bring a camera or extra lens with which you can zoom in well. You don't always have the chance to see the whales up close.
- Do you quickly get seasick? The sea can sometimes be very wild and it is advisable to take a pill against seasickness in advance. (usually available at departure)
- Book your ticket for a whale trip online in advance, so you can be sure of your place, because in the summer the boats fill up quickly.
Video: The Icelandic whales
Would you like to see the whales that live in the waters around Iceland up close? Then watch this video and discover their beauty. Extraordinary footage that you really want to see!
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