Whale Watching in Iceland
The seas around Iceland's shores might be too chilly for humans, but for many other species, they offer a wonderful habitat. One animal in particular appears to thrive in Icelandic waters — the majestic whale. Get the lowdown on this supersized mammal with our Iceland whale-watching guide.
Cold waters are favored by whales and many other marine creatures, which journey here to feed during the long summer between March and September. The orca (although technically a member of the dolphin family), humpback, minke, and the largest of all, the blue whale, populate these seas.
Located between the warmer Atlantic and cold Arctic waters, the area off the coast of Iceland is a prolific breeding ground for small fish and other marine life that whales relish as a food source. While it’s possible to see these marine mammals in the colder months, the best time to witness them in their natural habitat is during the long, bright summers.
Where can I go for Iceland whale watching?
In recent years, Iceland has become the number-one European destination for whale watching. The stunning scenery, accessibility, and excellent probability of spotting the creatures make these waters ideal for enthusiasts and tourists alike. The bay of Faxaflói is just outside of Reykjavik, and its shallow waters are populated with minke whales and dolphins. Seeing other species, such as white-beaked dolphins and humpback whales, is possible, but it's the minke whale that dominates Faxaflói.
If you want to behold the beautiful black-and-white orca, a trip to Grundarfjörður is a must. Also known as killer whales, orcas live near the coastline during winter. In summer, they explore further out to sea, so those wanting to see these monochromatic marvels in warmer weather will have to venture a little further from the coast.
The remote and unspoiled Westfjords is a new spot for keen whale watchers in Iceland. Trips to the waters around this beautiful but largely uninhabited northeastern region have recently become popular. The humpback whale, commonly found here, is known as the most acrobatic and playful of all whales. Despite many tour operators advertising pictures of the humpback on Reykjavik excursions, you're unlikely to see them further south, and your best chance is a visit to the Westfjords.
How to maximize your chances of seeing whales
Despite less favorable odds of seeing one of these beautiful animals in winter, it's certainly not impossible, and you get the added bonus of snow-capped mountains, crisp weather, and maybe even a chance to see the northern lights. More than twenty different species live around or visit Iceland’s shores, and no single spot is considered the best to see them. Most operators will offer you a free excursion or refund if you don't see any whales on your trip, so it's important to look at the details before booking to make sure that this clause is included.
Whether you are seeing these wonderful creatures in summer or watching them in winter, witnessing whales in person is a sight to behold and one of the biggest draws for tourists to Iceland.