Iceland offers some of the best whale-watching and bird-watching opportunities in the world’s northern reaches. But there’s more to the island’s wildlife than just the star attractions—seals and reindeer are also worth seeking out.

Whales

Whale-watching near Húsavík. Photo © Filip Fuxa/123rf.

Whale-watching near Húsavík. Photo © Filip Fuxa/123rf.

Several whale-watching tour companies operate around the island. Some head out year-round, while others are restricted to the summer. The main whale-watching destinations are in the south (Reykjavík), west (Grundarfjörður), and north (Dalvík and Húsavík).

  • Reykjavík: Operating from Reykjavík’s harbor, whale-watching tours give you the chance to see minke, blue, and fin whales as well as dolphins and porpoises (year-round).
  • Grundarfjörður: This western town is the best shot you have to catch a glimpse of orcas (it’s possible to see orcas year-round, but your best bet is during the winter months).
  • Dalvík: It’s possible to see humpback whales, minke whales, blue whales, harbor porpoises, and dolphins on tours leaving from the harbor of this small northern fishing town (year-round).
  • Húsavík: The unofficial whale-watching capital on the island has seen several species from its shores, including minke, humpback, pilot, northern bottlenose, sperm, sei, fin, orca, and blue whales (mid-May to late October).

Puffins

From April to August, it’s possible to see puffins in several parts of the country.

A puffin in North Iceland. Photo © Bjorn Ludviksson/Dreamstime.

A puffin in North Iceland. Photo © Bjorn Ludviksson/Dreamstime.

  • Heimaey: Thousands of visitors flock to this island off the south coast to walk along the sea cliffs and spend time with its puffin population (June to August).
  • Látrabjarg: In West Iceland, trails allow you to access the colossal Látrabjarg cliffs, where puffins gather to nest in intricate crevices (May to August).
  • Borgarfjörður Eystri: Get a close view of puffins at this fjord in East Iceland, with a great observation platform connected to a small islet that the birds love (mid-April to mid-August).
  • Flatey: This western island is a good place to spot migrating puffins in the summer (June to August).

Seals

Six species of seal have been spotted off the coasts of Iceland. The most common sightings are of gray seals and harbor seals. The remaining four species (hooded, harp, bearded, and ringed seals) are hit or miss. In the summer, you have a good chance of spotting gray seals and harbor seals around the Vatnsnes Peninsula in the north. The peninsula is also home to the Icelandic Seal Center, which offers wonderful exhibits about these creatures. The center’s staff has information on the best sites for seal-watching opportunities.

Reindeer

Iceland’s reindeer herds live only in East Iceland. The best places to view them during the summer are the areas around Mount Snæfell.

Reindeer in Egilsstaðir, East Iceland. Photo © Dientiti/Dreamstime.

Reindeer in Egilsstaðir, East Iceland. Photo © Dientiti/Dreamstime.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Iceland.