Best whale watching in Iceland – Where is the best place to see whales in Iceland?

Best whale watching in Iceland – Where is the best place to see whales in Iceland?

Iceland is one of the best places in Europe for whale watching. Over the last couple of years, Iceland has become the whale watching the center of Europe, and whale watching tours are operated all around the island. More than 20 different species live in the waters surrounding Iceland, 8 of which can frequently be seen on whale watching tours. In this blog, I will point out and recommend the best whale watching spots in Iceland.

The main reason for a large number of whales around Iceland is that the surrounding waters are rich with their food. The ocean around Iceland is in the boundary area between the warm waters of the Atlantic and the cold Arctic waters. This, along with the lasting daylight during summer, and relatively shallow waters, makes the Icelandic ocean an extremely favorable feeding area for the whales.

Whales are beautiful creatures and a whale watching tour will always be an unforgettable experience. I, as a former whale watching guide, have tried the majority of whale watching tours available around Iceland. Pictured below, are a couple of the tours I have tried; Akureyri (picture 1), Reykjavik (picture 2), Húsavík (picture 3) Snæfellsnes (picture 4). The tours, in general, do not only differ in the diverse range of whales you will likely see, but also the variety of vessels, ranging from traditional oak boats to modern RIB boats.

Which type of tour to choose is a personal decision? Therefore, it is impossible to pinpoint the number-one-spot for whale watching in Iceland. Following is an overview of different whale watching options around Iceland. I hope this information is useful when choosing your ideal whale watching tour.

1. Whale watching from Reykjavík

Whale watching tours from Reykjavík are available all year round, but chances to see whales are higher during the summer months. Reykjavík is located right next to a huge bay called Faxaflói. The water there is rather shallow, and the most common whales to spot during summer are minke whales. Other species to be seen in the area are white beaked dolphins, humpback whales and harbor porpoises.

Most of the tour operators in Reykjavik advertise their tours with pictures and/or videos of jumping humpback whales. Honestly, this is a very rare sighting during whale watching tours from Reykjavík. As a former whale watching guide in Reykjavík, I have experienced many successful tours and wonderful sightings in this area, but please be prepared that the main species seen on these tours are minke whales and dolphins. With that in mind, you will know what to expect and probably enjoy your tour so much more. You can book a whale watching tour from Reykjavík here.

2. Grundarfjörður/Ólafsvík – Best place to see orcas in Iceland

Snæfellsnes (Grundarfjörður during winter and Ólafsvík during summer) is a very special place for whale watching. Nowhere else around Iceland will you find a better spot to see the orcas, also called killer whales. Chances to see those black and white beauties are especially good during winter and spring.

Another rare whale species that visit this area (mainly in June) are sperm whales. Sperm whales are the largest toothed whales, and one of the deepest diving whales. Other regular visitors in this area (mainly in summer) are minke whales, humpback whales, white-beaked dolphins, and harbor porpoises.

There is only one whale watching operator in Snæfellsnes. This guarantees a very unique whale watching experience. The tour operator uses two types of boats for the tours. During winter, the tour commonly takes place on a traditional oak boat. During summer, and when the whales are further from shore, the tour takes place on a modern passenger boat.

Places/seats are limited, and the tours are normally fully booked a few days in advance. We recommend securing your place on the boat well in advance. Please book your whale watching tour from Snæfellsnes here.

Here is a video from an unforgettable tour in March 2013. From my point of view, Snæfellsnes is definitely the best place to see whales in Iceland during the winter.

3. Whale Watching from Hólmavík in the Westfjords

The tour from Hólmavík in the Westfjords is definitely an insider tip. The tour operator just started operating this tour in June 2017. This tour takes place in a remote and unspoiled part of Iceland, and no other whale watching tour is available in this area. The most common whales to be seen on this tour are humpback whales. They are the most acrobatic of all the great whales. If you are lucky, you might see them breaching or tail slapping. Hólmavik would be my first choice for travelers going on a Full Circle Tour with the Westfjords included.

The tour takes approximately 2 hours. It is probably the most affordable whale watching tour in Iceland at the moment, and you can book the tour here.

4. Whale Watching from Dalvík

When taking part in a whale watching tour from Dalvík, sightings of the majestic humpback whales are not the only thing to look forward to. You can either join a tour in a traditional oak boat with sea angling included or you join an adventurous tour in a fast RIB boat.
I went on the RIB boat tour last year in October and it was super fun. I was impressed by how fast we found the whales. The oak boat that started at the same time than us from the harbor needed 40 minutes more than us to reach the same group of humpback whales we had a look at. We flew over the water and were able to cover a larger area in a shorter time frame. If you are interested in this tour, you find all the details about it here.
Another more “traditional” tour option is a whale watching tour in a traditional oak boat. This tour is also suitable for younger children since there is no age limit. The tour also includes approximately 15 minutes of sea angling, and afterwards, the tasting of the freshly caught cod, haddock, pollock and/or atlantic catfish. In the past few years, whales or dolphins have been seen/spotted in 99% of all tours. The tour takes approximately 3 hours. You can book this whale watching tour from Dalvík directly here:

5. Whale Watching from Akureyri

The whale watching tour from Akureyri I normally recommend to families with smaller children and persons who tend to get seasick. As in all other whale watching spots in northern Iceland, the main species to be seen on this tour are humpback whales. The tour starts from the docks in Akureyri, which is located at the end of Iceland’s longest fjord, Eyjafjörður. This means it is sheltered from the strongest winds and highest waves. The tour takes place on a modern boat with warm indoor cabins. This makes it very comfortable, even on a rainy day. So far the sighting success in 2017 is 100%! You can book your whale watching tour here.

Please have a look at this amazing video to get an idea what you can expect.

6. Whale Watching from Húsavík

The town of Húsavík is sometimes called Europe’s whale watching capital. A variety of companies offer whale watching tours in different vessels. As in other areas of the north, the humpback whale is the most common species in this area.

My personal favorite tour in Húsavík is a sailing tour on a traditional schooner. It is most definitely an unforgettable experience. You can book this tour here.

If you are looking for a more adventurous tour, I highly recommend the express whale watching tour on a RIB boat. This tour concentrates on the larger whales. The RIB boat can cover a larger area and takes you further from shore than a regular tour would. Lucky passengers might even get the chance to see blue and fin whales.

Some years ago I traveled all the way from Reykjavík to Húsavík only to try my luck to spot a blue whale. I was indeed very lucky and saw not just one, but two blue whales on the tour which I joined. The best time of year to see blue whales in Húsavík is from late May throughout the month of June. You can book a whale watching tour by RIB boat here.

During your stay in Húsavik, I also highly recommend visiting the whale museum in the center of town.

In Husavik kann ich auch wärmstens einen Besuch im Walmuseum empfehlen. Dieses befindet sich in unmittelbarer Nähe des Hafens im Stadtzentrum.

Summary about the best whale watching in Iceland

As you can see there is no actual NUMBER ONE best place for whale watching in Iceland, but there are several great options to choose from. In the end, it is of course also a matter of luck. Having the chance to see whales in their natural habitat, but not really knowing in advance what you will see, makes whale watching in Iceland a truly magical experience.

If you have any questions about the best whale watching in Iceland please do not hesitate to contact me.

Christina Degener
Posted in July 2017

Keyword search

Contact Us

Please send us a message and we will get back to you as soon as possible. Thank you.