ActivitiesWhale WatchingUp Close with Giants: Whale Watching in Iceland
whale watching tours in iceland

Up Close with Giants: Whale Watching in Iceland

Imagine standing on the deck of a boat, feeling the crisp Icelandic breeze on your face, as you witness majestic whales breaching the surface of the water. This unforgettable experience can be yours when you embark on a whale watching adventure in Iceland, a unique destination home to over 20 different whale species and a rich marine ecosystem. Are you ready to explore the magic of whale watching in Iceland? Let’s dive into this ultimate guide!

Key Takeaways

  • Experience the magic of Icelandic Whale Watching and observe majestic whales in their natural habitat.
  • Encounter a variety of whale species, from humpback whales to orca dolphins.
  • Enjoy unforgettable memories with the right preparation and equipment for your dream whale watching adventure!

The Magic of Icelandic Whale Watching

A group of whale watchers on a boat tour in Iceland

Types of Whales to Encounter in Iceland

In Icelandic waters, you’ll have the chance to encounter a wide range of whale species, including:

  • Humpback whales
  • Minke whales
  • Orcas
  • Fin whales
  • Sperm whales
  • Blue whales

Each of these magnificent creatures has its unique characteristics and behaviors, making every whale watching tour a thrilling experience.

Here are some of the most commonly seen whale species in Iceland, including pilot whales.

Minke Whales

A variety of whale species swimming in Icelandic waters

Minke whales are the most frequently spotted species in Iceland, known for their friendly nature and presence throughout the year. With an impressive size of around 9 meters (30 feet), these gentle giants can often be seen from almost all whale-watching ports, including Reykjavik.

Despite their size, minke whales exhibit a gentle behavior, calmly swimming through Iceland’s waters and occasionally surfacing to take a breath. Their curious nature makes them a favorite among whale watchers, as they often approach boats to get a closer look at their human admirers.

Humpback Whales

Two humpback whales jumping in the ocean in Iceland

Humpback whales, including the humpback whale, are celebrated for their acrobatic displays and photogenic nature. These majestic creatures migrate to Iceland during the summer months, traveling from as far south as the South Pacific where they breed. Their presence in Icelandic waters is most common from April to October, particularly on tours from North Iceland.

During your whale watching tour, you may witness humpback whales breaching the surface, flicking their tails, and performing impressive acrobatics. These playful behaviors make humpback whales a beloved sight in Iceland and a favorite among whale watchers worldwide.

Orcas (Killer Whales)

Two orcas jumping in the ocean n Iceland, with montains in the background

Orcas, also known as killer whales, are the world’s largest and most majestic dolphin species. These striking black and white creatures can often be spotted in the East Fjords’ abundant herring grounds, around the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, and along the South Coast of Iceland.

In Iceland’s waters, orcas feast on a variety of marine life, including:

  • Herring
  • Capelin
  • Salmon
  • Turtles
  • Sharks
  • Dolphins
  • Seals
  • Porpoises

Witnessing these powerful predators in their natural habitat is an awe-inspiring experience that you won’t want to miss.

Top Whale Watching Destinations in Iceland

A boat tour departing from Reykjavík harbor for whale watching

Whether you’re visiting Reykjavik, North Iceland, or the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, each location offers unique opportunities to spot various whale species. Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital, is a prime departure point for whale watching tours, where you can encounter:

  • Minke whales
  • Humpbacks
  • Different species of dolphin
  • And more throughout the year.

North Iceland is another whale watching hotspot, with the towns of Akureyri and Husavik offering excellent success rates for spotting whales. Lastly, the Snaefellsnes Peninsula is a must-visit location, as its abundant herring grounds attract orcas, regardless of the season. No matter which destination you choose, you’re in for an unforgettable whale watching experience.

Seasonal Guide to Whale Watching in Iceland

While whale watching in Iceland is possible year-round, the best time to observe these majestic creatures depends on the species you wish to see and the weather conditions. Summer offers an abundance of whale species, calmer weather, and clearer skies, while winter provides a unique experience with fewer tourists and the chance to observe orcas and beluga whales.

We will examine the seasonal changes in whale watching in Iceland.

Summer Whale Watching

Summer is the prime time for whale watching in Iceland, with warmer weather, greater visibility, and a higher number of whale species present. During the summer months, you can expect to see:

  • Minke whales
  • Humpbacks
  • Blue whales
  • Fin whales
  • Sei whales

in Iceland’s waters.

Besides the plentiful whales, summer also introduces a broader range of marine life, encompassing various bird species, seals, and dolphins. With long daylight hours under the midnight sun, summer offers ample opportunities to witness these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.

Winter Whale Watching

Winter whale watching in Iceland offers a unique experience, with fewer tourists, different whale behavior patterns, and the opportunity to witness Iceland’s winter beauty. Although there are fewer whale species present during this time, white-beaked dolphins and harbor porpoises can often be seen.

One of the advantages of going on a whale watching tour in winter is the breathtaking scenery. Snowcapped mountains, gorgeous sunsets, and possibly even the magnificent Northern Lights will serve as the backdrop for your whale watching adventure. Bundle up, and get ready for an unforgettable winter whale watching experience.

Choosing the Perfect Whale Watching Tour

Choosing the right whale watching tour for your preferences is a significant part of planning your Icelandic adventure. Consider the locations you’ll be visiting in Iceland, as each destination offers unique opportunities to spot different whale species. Tour operators provide various vessel options, including traditional Icelandic oak boats and modern RIB speedboats, ensuring a whale watching experience tailored to your desires.

In addition to the type of vessel, consider the duration of the tour. Most whale watching tours in Iceland last between 2.5 to 3.5 hours, providing ample time to observe these majestic creatures in their natural habitat. Some tour operators even offer additional wildlife encounters, such as angling, puffin watching, or a visit to Reykjavik’s Whales of Iceland exhibition, for a truly immersive experience.

Additional Wildlife Encounters in Iceland

Iceland’s coasts offer more than just whale watching, with opportunities to see:

  • Puffins, with their distinct colorful beaks, can be spotted on tours from Akureyri and Husavik, often nesting on cliffs or small islands near the coast.
  • Seals
  • Dolphins
  • Various bird species

Some whale watching tours even offer puffin watching as an additional activity, allowing you to witness these adorable birds up close. The Westman Islands are home to the world’s first beluga whale sanctuary. It is located in Klettsvik Bay and offers visitors a unique opportunity to meet two female belugas: Little White and Little Grey. With so much diverse marine life, Iceland promises an unforgettable wildlife experience.

Tips for an Unforgettable Whale Watching Experience

A group of whale watchers enjoying an unforgettable whale watching experience

To maximize your whale watching adventure, come fully prepared. Dress warmly, with layers, hats, gloves, and a waterproof jacket with a hood to ensure a comfortable experience. As for photography, a DSLR camera with a zoom lens, such as a telephoto lens, is an excellent choice for capturing stunning images of whales.

When photographing whales, follow these tips:

  • Use a fast shutter speed to capture fast-moving subjects
  • Be patient, waiting for the ideal moment to take the shot
  • Use the right equipment and preparation

With these tips, you’ll be ready to create lasting memories of your whale watching experience in Iceland.

Booking Your Dream Whale Watching Adventure

A breathtaking image of a humpback whale breaching in the waters of Iceland during a whale watching in Iceland adventure.

When booking your dream whale watching adventure in Iceland, research and compare tour operators to find the best fit for your preferences and budget. Consider the availability of whale watching tours during your visit, as some tours may be more abundant during the summer months.

Before making a reservation, double-check that your credit card provider allows payments in CAD or USD and reach out to the tour operator’s customer care team if you encounter any issues.

With your whale watching tour booked, you’ll be one step closer to experiencing the magic of Icelandic whale watching.

Whale-Watching Road Trip Vehicle Types

Go Car Rental has so many fantastic Iceland rental cars for you to choose from. Let’s talk about the different types we offer.


Our small rental cars are a perfect ride for solo travelers. These vehicles can save you some money too since they are very fuel efficient. That means you can take a road trip on a budget while whale watching in Iceland.


Midsize vehicles are recommended for those who want a bit more space. The extra legroom is very comfortable when road-tripping in Iceland. .This type of car is perfect for medium-sized groups.


4x4 rental car in iceland from go car rental

If you want to drive through Iceland’s mountains a 4X4 vehicle is necessary. It is illegal to drive Iceland’s F-Roads without one! Our 4x4 SUV rental cars in Iceland are great for backcountry adventures.


If you are traveling with 7-9 people, rent a Minivan. These spacious vehicles are great for long road trips.

Embarking on a day trip to a whale-watching tour or a longer road trip? Our minivans provide a lot of space for all of your bags and luggage too.


Embarking on a whale watching adventure in Iceland promises an unforgettable experience, with diverse marine life, breathtaking scenery, and the chance to witness majestic whales in their natural habitat. From the bustling capital of Reykjavik to the serene waters of North Iceland, each destination offers unique opportunities to observe these magnificent creatures. Whether you’re exploring Iceland in the summer or winter, whale watching is an experience you won’t want to miss. So, pack your bags, grab your camera, and get ready to create lasting memories in the land of fire and ice!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best time to see whales in Iceland?

The best time to see whales in Iceland is from April to late September-early October, with the summer months of June, July and August recognized as peak whale watching season. During this period, a variety of cetaceans such as minke whales, humpbacks, fin, sei and even blue whales can be spotted in Icelandic waters. Don't miss out on the unique opportunity of observing them under the midnight sun!

Is it worth going whale watching in Iceland?

A whale-watching tour in Iceland can offer a memorable experience, with beautiful scenery and the chance to spot mesmerizing whales and dolphins. The town of Husavik is said to be the whale-watching capital of Europe, but there are plenty of other options too. It's definitely worth going whale watching in Iceland!

What's the likelihood of seeing whales in Iceland?

The chances of spotting whales in Iceland are extremely high - boasting an impressive success rate of 95-99% during the summer and 98% all year round. Don't miss the opportunity to observe orcas, white-beaked dolphins, and harbor porpoises in their natural habitat!

What types of whales can be seen in Icelandic waters?

You can spot various whale species in Icelandic waters, including humpback whales, minke whales, orcas, fin whales, sperm whales, and blue whales.

What should I wear for a whale watching tour in Iceland?

Dress warmly with layers, gloves, a hat, and a waterproof jacket for a comfortable and enjoyable whale watching experience in Iceland!

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