The world’s largest, loudest and hungriest mammal, whales are the undisputed champion of the animal kingdom when it comes to superlatives. However, despite being found in each and every ocean, this giant of the seas is notoriously shy. This is where Iceland steps in. On whale watching cruises – and even lucky coastal walks – it ranks as one of the best places to spot everything from grand humpbacks and 120 tonne blue whales to sleek orcas and playful harbour porpoises. Over the course of this post, we’ll map out the launches and anchorages that all but guarantee sightings. And the best time to visit Iceland for whales? Like us, they are at their most active in the summer months with sightings most common from April through to September.
Often termed Europe’s whale-watching capital, Iceland’s north coast is one of the world’s premiere destinations for catching glimpses of heaving flips and silky dashes. For the best conditions, head to Húsavík, a sleepy fishing village of just over 2,000 inhabitants. From here, tours head out into deeper waters, favoured by larger minke, blue and fin whales. Local operators are so sure of making sightings that they’ll often offer a second trip free of charge. However, with between 95 and 99 out of a 100 tours spotting whales in season, it’s unlikely that you’ll need it. Perhaps extend your boat trip to Lundey. Literally translating as ‘Puffin Island’, it’s home to an impressive colony of these brightly coloured favourites. In true Nordic fashion, it’s even possible to commandeer a traditional oak sailing ship.
Husavik's harbourfront makes for a truly beautiful starting point for a whale watching holiday in Iceland
For the time poor not looking to travel far, the Icelandic capital is the ideal watery gateway into whale watching; tours even launch from the Old Harbour, conveniently located in the city centre. Trips take you out past hardy seabirds – think gannets and more pretty puffins – to frolicking humpbacks and fin whales, the second largest species. While the latter are particularly rare, the lively humpback is known for its acrobatics, regularly seen breaching the water in colossal dives. If you’re lucky, you might also spot a white-beaked dolphin playing in your boat’s wake. And, after your trip you can relax in the famous Blue Lagoon where, in spite its all-natural geothermal source, you’ll find alien mists playing over impossibly hued waters.
The country’s western peninsular jut is perhaps best known for its stunning geography. Its jagged coastline backs countless island crags while providing the sawtooth front to highland glaciers, lava tubes and picturesque national parks. And, in terms of whale watching, it’s ideal for those looking to escape the crowds. While you’ll be able to spot a similar range of species as around Reykjavík to the south, Iceland’s west coast is also considered one of the best places to see orcas. Travelling up to speeds of 50 km/hour, these majestic beasts are as graceful as they are dangerous. And, when it comes to orcas Iceland has some pedigree as the birthplace of Keiko, the star of Free Willy.
Orca whales make for magnificent watching and, if you're lucky, you might just see a pod of them (and yes, that is the collective noun for a group of whales!)
Interested in an Iceland whale watching holiday?
If you'd like to go in search of puffins, whales or even the kraken, contact one of our travel specialists today to begin your plans.
N.B. we can't promise you'll see the kraken