If you visit Iceland, whale watching is sure to be high on your to-do list, provided you visit at the right time of year.
when should we go
Where to see whales
How much does it cost
Is it ethical?
The best tours
Watching these magnificent creatures jump and smash is an unforgettable sight and the waters around Iceland are some of the best in Europe for whale watching in their natural environment.
More than 20 types of whales live or regularly visit the Icelandic coast, with white-beaked, white-beaked and humpback whales being the most common species.
In Iceland, whale watching tours are a fun way to see these marine mammals, with many boats claiming a 90% chance of being sighted during whale watching season.
And chances are you’ll also see killer whales, harbor porpoises and dolphins!
So which month is the best for whale watching in Iceland? And how much does that cost? Here’s everything you need to know about whale watching in Iceland, including recommendations for some of the best excursions.
What is the whale watching season in Iceland?
You can see whales all year round in the waters around Iceland, so there are trips that run throughout summer and winter.
However, summer is considered the real whale watching season as many migrating whales pass through Icelandic waters in the summer, so there is a greater variety of species and more whales around.
In addition, weather conditions are much calmer in summer, reducing the risk of trip cancellations or departures in rough seas and gusty winds.
So for the best chance of seeing a whale and the calmest weather conditions, the best months for whale watching in Iceland are from April to September.
Where to go whale watching in Iceland
If you’re really lucky you can sometimes see whales swimming in large pods from the shore, but in reality you have a much better chance of spotting them if you take a boat tour with an experienced guide.
There are three main ports from which whale watching tours depart: Reykjavik in the southwest of the island, and Akureyri and Husavik on the north coast of Iceland.
The old whaling center of Husavik is known as the whale watching capital of Iceland and is where you are most likely to see giant humpback whales.
Husavik offers the best selection of guided tours to see whales, but Reykjavik is generally more convenient for most visitors wishing to see whales in the wild.
Whale watching tours from Reykjavik also have the added bonus of offering great views of the conical volcanoes of the Reykjanes Peninsula, where the highly active volcano Fagradalsfjall looms.
How much does whale watching in Iceland cost?
There are many types of whale watching trips: from midnight sun whale watching cruises to whale watching on a luxury yacht or RIB.
But roughly speaking, a basic two to three hour trip from Reykjavik starts at around 10,000 ISK (£60 or $75) per person.
If you’re unlucky not to see any whales on your trip, a handful of operators offer a cash refund – but most will give you a free ticket to return on another day (not always possible if your flight is already booked ) .
Is whale watching in Iceland ethical?
Unlike some countries, there is no legal protection for whales or regulations regarding their welfare in Iceland, as far as tourism is concerned.
However, there is a voluntary code of conduct for responsible whale watching that several operators have adhered to.
It governs things like how far boats can travel from a whale and how to approach a whale and minimize the impact on the animals.
For more information on the Code of Conduct and information on the operators who have adhered to it, see the Icewhale website.
Is whale still eaten in Iceland?
Commercial whaling is being phased out in Iceland, but whale is still served in some (mainly tourist) restaurants.
However, a tiny percentage of Icelanders eat (or at least admit to eating) the whale. The saying these days is “Meet us, don’t eat us”.
There is an argument that by choosing ethical whale watching tours that respect these beautiful mammals, tourists offer locals a viable alternative to commercial whaling.
Our Pick: The Best Whale Watching Tours in Iceland
Boat trips depart regularly from the three main whale watching ports, Reykjavik, Akureyri and Husavik.
Until the end of October, you can also take whale-watching trips from the small north coast town of Dalvik which sometimes passes by the island of Grimsey in the Arctic Circle.
We’ve selected some of our favorite excursions to each of the three main whale watching ports.
Whale Watching in Akureyri, Iceland
Located at the bottom of Iceland’s longest glacial fjord, Akureyri is a great base for going on a whale watching boat trip.
This classic three-hour trip with an eco-friendly company takes you into the sheltered waters of the fjord in search of whales and dolphins.
Humpback whales are the most common whale species to frequent the fjord, so you have a good chance of spotting them.
Whale Watching in Husavik, Iceland
Boat trips from the former whaling center of Husavik cross Skjálfandi Bay in search of marine mammals and seabirds.
This carbon-neutral whaling trip takes you in a hybrid oak boat that runs on renewable energy rather than fossil fuels, which limits its impact on the environment. You also get a cup of cocoa and a cinnamon roll to keep you going on the trip!
And if you fancy combining puffin watching and whale watching, this high-energy RIB trip takes you to Puffin Island, where character birds nest from mid-April to mid-September, before go further out to sea to find whales.
Whale Watching in Reykjavik, Iceland
Reykjavik offers the widest variety of whale watching tours, with boats departing regularly throughout the day all year round.
This classic 3-hour trip aboard Iceland’s largest whale-watching boat takes you through Faxaflói Bay with knowledgeable guides to show you the marine life.
Alternatively, this high-adrenaline RIB ride takes you further out to sea faster, maximizing the time spent with the whales you find. Dress well and prepare to get wet!
An altogether calmer experience is this luxury yacht that cruises around the islands of Faxaflói Bay in search of whales.
And if you’re in Iceland between May and the end of August, you can take this Midnight Sun Whale Watching Tour that departs in the evening in search of marine mammals under the atmospheric light of the Midnight Sun.
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