BlogGuidesWhale Watching in Iceland: A Complete Tourist Guide
A whale jumping in the ocean, in Iceland

Whale Watching in Iceland: A Complete Tourist Guide

Iceland is home to 23 different species of whales! These marine mammals call the surrounding Arctic waters their home. In fact, people travel from all over the world to experience whale watching in Iceland. So when is the best time to see these majestic sea creatures and where are the best places to go? This guide will tell you what types of whales you may see and the best way that you can see them! Here are our tips on whale watching in Iceland!

Why Do Whales Come to Iceland?

Basically, Whales want to eat and summer provides the best food resources. This is also why they leave the area during the winter months. Whales' primary food source is Krill, which is a small crustacean.

The cold waters in the Arctic make Krill shrink their bodies. This causes the Krill to go for long periods of time in starvation mode. This means the Whales are not going to get much feeding time on them during winter. Which is why they leave the area as soon as the water gets colder.

The other times you will see Whales migrate is when they are breeding. Humpback whales tend to travel to warmer waters for this. Iceland has warmer water than the Arctic, so whale watching is prime here in summer!

Whale Watching Season in Iceland

The best time for whale watching in Iceland is from April to October. Summer will provide the greatest chances of spotting different whale species. This is because migratory whales like to spend the summer close to the poles to make feeding easier.

It is important to note that in April the whales began to come back into the waters. So your chances of seeing them may be a bit less than late May through early September. When the weather becomes milder, more and more whales are seen.

Types of Whales Found in Iceland

Here are some of the most popular whale species you could see on your whale-watching trip in Iceland!

Minke Whales

A minke whale swimming in the ocean in Iceland

In Iceland's waters, Minke whales are the most frequently sighted species. They are known to be small in size when compared to other whales. But, Minke Whales can still reach lengths surpassing 30 feet or 9 meters.

They migrate to Iceland in the summer, with some staying well into the winter months. They are known to have shy personalities so spotting one is a real treat.

Common Porpoises

A Common Porpoise is in the ocean, his head out of the water

One of the cutest whales you will find in Iceland is the Common Porpoises. You can spot them throughout the year but due to their size, they can be hard to spot. They are known to be one of the smallest whale species in the world.

They also have a shy personality so don’t expect them to race up to you. However, you may see them splashing their tail on the surface of the water.

Humpback Whales

Two humpback whales jumping in the ocean in Iceland

One of the most sought-after whales to spot in Iceland is the Humpback Whale. Fortunately, they can be found in the country's waters during the summer months.

Humpbacks love to put on a show and they are known for their acrobatic behavior. It is said that they even enjoy the attention. So you may see one jump out of the water and do a trick just for your enjoyment. Humpback whale watching in Iceland is a popular activity to enjoy!


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

Infamously referred to as Killer Whales are Orcas. They are known for their massive size and are one of the most amazing whales to spot.

They eat over 750 pounds of food daily, so you may see them feeding. Thanks to their size and willingness to jump out of the water, they can be spotted on whale-watching trips.

The best place to whale watch for Orcas is in Iceland’s East Fjords and the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. These areas have a lot of herring which is one of the Orca's favorite meals.

Blue Whale

A blue whale swimming in the ocean in Iceland

The biggest whale in the entire world is the Blue Whale. They are 100 feet or 30 meters long!

You can see them in Iceland during the summer, thanks to their enormous size. But, they are very hard to find. If you are lucky enough you may see one feeding on krill in the distance.

Fin Whale

A fin whale swimming in the ocean in Iceland

The Fin Whale is the second largest whale, behind the Blue Whale. They are 65 feet or 20 meters long and are easier to spot in Iceland than the Blue Whale.

In fact, the North Atlantic Ocean has over 40,000 Fin Whales, so your chances of spotting them are pretty good.

Sperm Whales

A sperm whale is swimming in the ocean in Iceland

Many want to spot the infamous Sperm Whale on an Iceland whale-watching trip. While there is a population of over 20,000 in Iceland, they are hard to find.

This is because they hold their breath for hours at a time. Seeing them on the surface would be a treat!

They spend most of their time around Iceland’s Faroe Islands. Which is a great place to enjoy an Iceland whale-watching tour.

Beluga Whales

The head of a beluga in the water in Iceland

Beluga Whales are one of the most adorable and friendliest whales! They are known to be more around Greenland than in Iceland, however, a few do end up in the area.

The Westman Islands is home to the Beluga Whale Sanctuary which we will talk about soon!

Northern Bottlenose Whale

A Northern Bottlenose Whale is swimming in the ocean of Iceland

The Northern Bottlenose Whale is found in various regions of the North Atlantic Ocean. They are known for their unique appearance, which includes their bottle-shaped snout.

These whales will make an appearance above the surface for 10 minutes at a time. Blowing out of their spots in 40-second intervals.

Bottlenose Whales like to travel in small schools so you could see a bunch together during your whale-watching trip.


The best whale-watching in Iceland can be found at Husavik! This small town gained popularity with whale watching over the years, and today it attracts visitors from all over the world.

This charming fishing town is located next to Skjálfandi Bay, which is northeast of Akureyri. Husavik is known to be the oldest settlement in Iceland too.

When it comes to whales, Húsavík is the place to go to see them. With a nickname of the “Whale Watching Capital Of Europe”, you won’t be disappointed. Locals say that there is a 97% average success rate of sighting a whale within the last three decades.

Husavik is about a six-hour drive from Reykjavik. Making it a fun road trip to take in your Iceland rental car!

Iceland’s Whale Museums

If you are traveling outside of Iceland’s whale season and still want to learn about whales you can!

Here are a few of Iceland’s top Whale Museums that you can visit on your road trip.

Húsavík Whale Museum

Husavik is also home to the Húsavík Whale Museum. The company started in 1997 in Skjálfandi Bay.

It was first a very small exhibit located in the town's hotel. The exhibition was then moved into the new section of the baiting shed, which sat on the harbor.

The town's old slaughterhouse was later purchased and remodeled. It then officially opened in 2002. Today you can visit the museum which has 8 exhibition rooms.

This includes The Whale Walk, which has 11 whale skeletons on display. All of the whales in the museum passed away due to natural causes. The narwhal was the only one who didn’t, instead, it was a gift from Greenland.

The Húsavík Whale Museum is one of few museums in the world solely dedicated to whales.

Beluga Whale Sanctuary

Located in Vestmannaeyjabær is the Beluga Whale Sanctuary. The sanctuary provides a safe space for Beluga Whales and also Puffins! Getting to the sanctuary is half of the fun since you will take a 30-minute ferry ride from the famous Seljalandsfoss.

The Sanctuary’s first residents, Little White, and Little Grey, came all the way from the Shanghai Aquarium. They were transported on an airplane and were located in the bay in the Westerman Islands. You can learn all about them when visiting the museum.

It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn all about puffins and whale watching in Iceland at this special museum.

Whales of Iceland Museum

Located in Reykjavik is the Whales of Iceland Museum. Which has been one of the top activities to do in the city.

The museum has 23 life-sized models and multiple interactive exhibits. The models include the blue whale, a sperm whale, and the endangered North Atlantic right whale.

The Fin Whale Room is their newest exhibit, which showcases five major threats that whales face today. The exhibit will explain what we can do to help the whales!

Then watch the award-winning documentary Sonic Sea, which explains the effects of noise pollution on whales and marine life.

Enjoy the interactive information stands and videos during your stroll through the Museum. A remarkable place to educate yourself about whale watching in Reykjavik. The museum is a quick road trip away from the city!

Best Whale-Watching Tours in Iceland

There are so many tours offered in Iceland for whale-watching! We are going to highlight some of the top picks in the country, from the city of Reykjavik to Northern Iceland!


A boat full of tourist watching a whale in the Icelandic ocean

Elding Whale Watching

Take a Whale Watching Trip with Their Reykjavik whale-watching tour leaves right from Old Harbor. The crew will take you far into Faxaflói Bay. The marine biologist guide will teach you all about the wildlife and whales in the area.

The boat has outdoor viewing platforms and a heated indoor saloon with large viewing windows. There is even a cloakroom where you can borrow blankets and overalls for the duration of the tour.

It will be comfortable for you to sit outside to smell the crisp ocean air. If you are too cold, you can head inside and still take in the scenery. Your guide will provide live facts and commentary about the waters you are sailing through too!

You may view the white-beaked dolphins, humpback whales, minke whales, and harbor porpoises. Sometimes killer whales, fin whales, sei whales, and long-finned pilot whales make a rare appearance.

Enjoy the guided tour for only $87 or 12,490 ISK for Adults. You can visit any day of the week, as the tour departs daily at 9:00 AM or 1:00 PM.

Reykjavik Sailors

One of Reykaviks's youngest whale-watching tour companies was established in 2015, Reykjavik Sailors. They are popular for their affordable whale-watching in Iceland trips.

They are unique because they offer the northern lights and whale watching in Iceland tour! That means, you can experience two bucket list items in one trip.

This 3.5-hour whale-watching tour takes you out into Faxaflói Bay. Here you can spot Minke and Humpback whales, Dolphins, Harbour porpoises, and even a Killer Whale. Once you get back to shore, warm up and get ready for the second part of your excursion.

The Northern Lights part of the tour lasts about 3 hours as you head out to sea. You will have the rare opportunity to view the lights from the ocean. Bundle up in warm overalls while enjoying snacks from the board.

It only costs 20,980 ISK or $150 to do this combination tour!

Wake Up Reykjavik

This tour company is popular with tourists looking to get a real authentic Icelandic experience. Not only do they have fun tours, such as the Summer Solstice Yacht Party, but they also offer whale watching.

This 3-hour tour will leave from the old harbor in Reykjavik where you will board your vessel. You can enjoy the views of the city from the sea, while also enjoying the vast bird life.

Some of the whales you will have a chance to see are Minke Whales, Humpback whales, and Harbour Porpoises.

Enjoy talking to the friendly and knowledgeable team during your whale-watching trip! This tour is very affordable too, at only 12,490 ISK or $89!

Katla Whale Watching

Looking for a high-speed whale-watching experience in Iceland? Katla Whale Watching has got you covered! You can take a high-speed boat on their RIB boat to view the whales. These faster boats allow you to get up close and personal while still respecting the whale’s space.

The RIB Boats can fit twelve passengers so it's great for those wanting a smaller tour experience. You will also be able to view landmarks such as Harpa Concert Hall and the Sun Voyager right from the boat.

This tour is perfect for those with limited time since it only takes an hour and a half. The tour is only 21,490 ISK or $150, a small price to pay for a unique experience around Katla Whale Watching

Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Dolphin jumping in the Icelandic ocean at Snæfellsnes

Laki Tours

Get ready to explore the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, which is home to many whale species. The most common ones you may spot are Sperm Whales and even the rare Killer whales.

Your best time to spot them is in winter, spring, and even early summer. This is great for those traveling in the winter months that still want a chance to spot the whales. The three-hour tour runs from February 15th to September 30th.

This Whale watching tour is special because the Snæfellsnes Peninsula is said to be the best place to spot Orcas. The best time to see them is from March to July, perfect for Spring travelers visiting Iceland.

In late summer, you will have the opportunity to see Minke, humpback, and pilot whales. This tour is 11,500 ISk or $82.


Whale Watching Hauganes

Located in Northern Iceland is Whale Watching Hauganes. They have been in business for 25 years and counting! It is even said to be the oldest whale-watching business in Iceland, so you know you are in good hands.

Their fully guided tour will bring out into the serene Eyjafjörður Bay. This area is known for being a habitat of humpback whales, minke whales, dolphins, and more species.

Did we mention they also offer coffee and homemade pastries? A truly amazing whale-watching experience in Northern Iceland!


Gentle Giants

Of course, the whale-watching capital of Europe has a tour for you to enjoy! Gentle Giants is located in Husavik which is located in Northern Iceland. The company was founded in 2001 when an old oak boat was restored to bring visitors out on the Skjálfandi Bay for whale watching!

You can even take one of the traditional Icelandic oak boats for your tour. They also offer modern RIB speedboats and a fiberglass boat. The tour guides will provide warm clothing for you to enjoy. So you will be nice and cozy out on the water.

The tour will bring you out onto the bay where you can spot a variety of whales. The guides are more than educated on the variety of whales in the area. This means your chances of spotting them are great!

The duration of the tour is 3 hours and currently costs 10990 ISK or $79 per adult.

North Sailing

Also located in Husavik is the iconic North Sailing company. North Sailing was the first Icelandic whale-watching tour that was offered in Skjálfandi Bay back in 1995.

They have plenty of tours for you to try! The most popular one is the three-hour whale-watching trip which takes place on a traditional Icelandic oak boat.

North Sailing is also the only company in Iceland that offers whale-watching tours on electric boats. They are great for the environment too since they run purely on green electricity. These boats are very silent which means they do not scare the whales. So you will have a better chance of spotting them, while also leaving them in their peacefulness.

You can even take the Whale and Puffin tours which bring you around the isolated island of Lundey. Puffins love to nest here, so you truly get the best of both worlds.

A man taking a very close picture of a Whale in the Icelandic ocean


Keli Sea Tours

Located in the capital of the north is Keli Sea Tours. This Akureyri whale-watching tour company is built around three brothers and their boat. The boat was constructed by their father and his friends in 1975.

Then in 2015, they got the boat renovated after almost 40 years of sailing. Today you can sail on it while searching for Iceland’s whales.

The tour will bring you around Eyjafjörður, one of the most breathtaking fjords in Iceland. The most frequently spotted whales here are humpbacks, minke whales, harbor porpoises, and different types of dolphins.

It is 10,600 ISK or $76 to experience this once-in-a-lifetime tour. Get ready to board the historic boat and sail the waters of Eyjafjörður.

What To Wear When Whale Watching

After you book your ideal tour, get ready to hit the open sea! But how should you dress for a whale-watching tour in Iceland?

You will need to bundle up if winter whale watching is on your list. Make sure to bring a heavy jacket and a hat and gloves.

If you are visiting during the warmer months you will still want to bring a rain jacket with you. It can be very cold out on the water, especially when the winds are high. Bringing layers with you is the best advice we can give.

A T-shirt may be ideal if the sun is shining while a sweatshirt can provide extra warmth on chillier mornings.

Most tour companies will have jackets and blankets on board for you to enjoy. That way you can stay extra comfortable while waiting for the whales to visit!

Keiko the Killer Whale

An orca i sswimming in the ocean with montains in backgournd

Our guide to Whale Watching in Iceland would not be complete without the interesting story about Keiko The Killer Whale.

One of the biggest movies of the 90s was Free Willy and Keiko was the star. Keiko is a male orca who portrayed Willy in the film. The massive whale, who was at the time known as Siggi, was caught in East Iceland’s Reydarfjordur Fjord in 1979.

After his capture, he was bought and sold repeatedly between different aquariums and parks. He was so smart that he even learned to perform for large audiences who grew to love him. This resulted in him being casted by Warner Brothers Studio.

After filming in 1995, the Free Willy-Keiko Foundation was formed to help him find a better home. As a result, Keiko was flown on a C-130 US-Air Force plane from the United States back home to Iceland!

He spent his retirement along the coast of the Vestmannaeyjar Islands. Where he went through a process to retrain him for the sea. Finally, he was released back into the ocean, in hopes of him joining other killer whales.

Keio left Iceland with other killer whales and made his way to Norway. It was said that he was seeking human contact which unfortunately left him scared and stranded in the water.

As a result, he ended up passing away due to pneumonia and was found swimming alone in Norway. He was 27 years of age when he passed away on December 12th, 2003. It is a sad story but Keiko was able to share his big star personality with the world.

He had such a positive impact on the entire world, that whale-watching tours skyrocketed. It was also an important lesson that showed whales need their own space and safety. That way they do not depend on humans like Keiko did.


You may even hear the word Hvalreki when traveling to Iceland. This means there is a stroke of good luck happening. But many do not know that this word translates to “beached whale”.

In the medieval time era food was very scarce for Icelanders and starving was a risk. But sometimes a beached whale would wash up on shore. Which meant the Icelanders would have plenty of food for the winter season.

Icelanders viewed this as good luck since the whole town would be able to eat for the season.

Tales of Whales

There is also a lot of folklore tied to whales in Iceland. These stories came from Old Icelandic Sagas and highlighted the relationships between whales and humans.

Fishermen were astonished when they saw a whale out

on the water. They didn’t quite know what to think of these humongous marine mammals. So it is no wonder why some fishermen saw the whales as evil and others as good.

Evil whales were known to have swallowed fishermen and their boats out on the water. When this happened, it was said that the whales were so full that they would leave for a year.

Because of this, fishermen would try to scare the whales away so they would stay away from their boats. Some of the fear tactics included using fox testicles, ash, and even metal tools that would cause loud noises. Even though they wanted to spear the whale, the captain of the boat would not allow it.

Each whale had a different reputation. The Bull Whale was known for its loud noises that resembled a deafening roar of a bull. These whales were known to scare the cows at local farms due to how loud the sound was.

The RedComb Whales were said to be killers of humans and their boats. That is because their teeth were very large causing fear in the people.

Bottlenose Dolphins were known for their speed. They were loved because they were known to attack the whales scaring them away. Still, fishermen were afraid of them. So they would throw barrels in the water to distract them from the boats nearby.

The Blue Whale was the most loved out of all the whales. It was said that they were the protectors of fishing boats as they would scare away other whales.

Each whale has a unique story and you can learn all about them in detail at Iceland’s whale museums!

Whale-Watching Road Trip

You can take a whale-watching road trip if you want to take all of the tours listed above. You can also visit the two museums we talked about for a week-long Iceland Whale Watching road trip!

If you are lucky, you may even see some of these signs during your travels. If you see one make sure to stop. This indicates you may be able to spot whales right from the side of the road.

We recommend heading out of Reykjavik to Northern Iceland first. You could even do an entire trip along Ring Road while adding side trips to these hot spots.

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 JEEP Rubicon driving along the sea in Iceland

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is morning or afternoon better for whale watching?

It is said that morning is the best time to spot whales. That is also when most of the tours run. Sunset whale-watching tours are possible but not as common.

Do you tip on a whale watch?

Usually, it is not required to tip on a whale-watching tour. However, it is recommended! If your guide went above and beyond a tip for the crew is greatly appreciated.

How do you not get sick while whale watching?

If you are sensitive to seasickness you can take medicine before boarding. Dramamine is the most common medicine that helps with this. It is an antihistamine medication that prevents and treats motion sickness symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and dizziness.

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