Whale watching in Reykjavík, Iceland

Reykjavík is not only the northernmost capital of the world, it is also one of the best place to go for whale watching. Humpback whales, minke whales or white-beaked dolphins. But also harbour porpoises. Although Reykjavík is a town, there is still much nature to explore. Be it on land or at sea. I was in Iceland in one summer, and of course, I was looking for many wildlife experiences. In this blog entry I write more about whale watching in Reykjavík.

Humpback whales in Australia. Southern right whales and Bryde’s whales in South Africa. Or dolphins in Brazil, in the Azores, and Slovenia. I can count myself as very, very lucky. I have already seen so many beautiful whales and dolphins at different places. And I am still able to go on with my passion observing and photographing wildlife.

In one year I even had the chance to visit two different places which were perfect for whale watching.

In one spring I went to the Azores and in the following summer my travel plans took me to Iceland.

While I saw sperm whiles for the first time in the Azores (on the photograph), in Iceland, again, I saw new species.

sperm whales in the Azores

Information: Do you want to know more about my journey to the Azores? Please visit my previous blog post to learn more about common dolphins, sperm whales and more. I went to Pico Island where I observed various species of whales and dolphins.

A good and famous whale watching spot in Iceland is Húsavík.

Húsavík is a small town in the north of Iceland and a hotspot not only for whales, but also for whale watchers.

When the sea is calm and the weather good, a whale watching trip can be transformed into an unforgettable experience. And the snow-covered mountains in the Skjálfandi Bay may add to a spectacular whale watching trip.

whale watching in Húsavík

In Húsavík I went on two whale watching trips with North Sailing. The first trip was the “Húsavík Original Whale Watching” trip. On the second trip I decided for the “Whales, Sails and Science” trip.

Both trips were marvellous.

I participated in two whale watching trips in Húsavík, because you never know. On one trip no whale might show up – although chances to see a whale in the waters around Húsavík are very good – and on another trip one whale after the other might emerge at the water surface.

Luckily, I saw whales on both trips. However, the first trip was a little bit more successful with respect to the number of animals.

And the weather was incredible. On both days. We had sunny days and the evenings were beautiful.

whale watching in Húsavík

There are many more places in Iceland which are famous for whale watching.

Akureyri is also a place where whale watching companies reside to show visitors the whales and dolphins of the Icelandic North.

Ólafsvík and Hólmavík are two other good places for whale watching. Unfortunately, I have not been there so far, but I plan to go there in the near future to see orcas.

Although beluga whales are home in more northern Arctic waters, there are beluga whales in a sanctuary in the Westman Islands – another place I hope to write about on the blog in the future.

Iceland is great for whale watching and I am very happy to have had the chance to see whales and dolphins in Iceland at a second place – Reykjavík.

Please continue reading if you are interested in my whale watching experiences in the southwest of Iceland.

whale watching in Húsavík

Question: Have you seen whales or dolphins in Iceland? If yes, please let me know your experiences in the comments and tell me more about the places. Which species have you seen? And was it the first time for you to have ever seen a whale?

Whale watching in Reykjavík

Although Reykjavík is very beautiful, I have to admit, that I have not been in the town for many days. There is much to explore. Museums. Concerts. Or restaurants.

However, as I am most of the time in the mood of exploring wildlife, I try to escape from towns, including towns like Reykjavík, when there is not much wildlife to see. However, Reykjavík still had something for me I did not want to miss...

... whales!

As I have heard about the whale watching company Elding, which offers various tours from Reykjavík, I included whale watching in Reykjavík in my travel plans in Iceland. In the morning, I went to the museum Whales of Iceland, and in the afternoon I participated in a whale watching trip with Elding.

Elding in Reykjavík

There were several boats of Elding around the harbour. One of the boats was converted into a little museum and shop from where we entered the real whale watching boat.

Elding in Reykjavík

It was a cold day. It was raining now and again. At first, I thought that they would cancel the whale watching trip. It was still summer in July, but the temperature only reached 13°C in the afternoon on that day.

It felt much colder because of the rain!

Despite the bad weather, however, we were not the only whale watchers in Reykjavík.

whale watching in Reykjavík
whale watching in Reykjavík

Interestingly, I saw a sunny Húsavík and Akureyri, a bright Hornstrandir Nature Reserve. Even in Dalvík and on Grímsey the sun peeked out – at least for some moments. But Reykjavík, unfortunately, I didn't see on a beautiful sunny day.

However, luckily, the sky was clearing up a little bit the further away the whale watching boat drove away from Reykjavík.

Well, this is Iceland!

whale watching in Reykjavík

On the boat was a room where people could warm up. Elding even offered warm overalls for all whale watchers.

Although I was freezing a little bit, I neither took an overall (it was too hot in Húsavík and annoying when taking photographs and moving around quickly) nor did I go into the warm room of the boat.

I did not want to miss the whales!

At the beginning we saw several sea birds like puffins or northern fulmars.

birds in Reykjavík
birds in Reykjavík

Before I went whale watching in Reykjavík with Elding, I had checked the whale diary of the company every day. Therefore, I had known already that there were good chances to see minke whales, humpback whales and white-beaked dolphins.

In Húsavík I "just" saw humpback whales and white-beaked dolphins from very far away.

Would I be able to see my first minke whale in the waters around Reykjavík?

Well, I did!

white-beaked dolphins in Reykjavík

Information: There are two minke whale species. On the one hand, the common or northern minke whale, and on the other hand the Antarctic or southern minke whale. As the names already suggest, the common minke whale is a whale of the northern and the Antarctic minke whale a whale of the southern hemisphere. However, there might be subspecies of the northern minke whales occurring in the southern hemisphere.

My first encounter with a minke whale was only very short and the animal was very far away, but it was still special.

We were searching for the minke whale. Would it show up again? Or were there many more of them around in the bay?

In that moment we did not see the minke whale again.

In contrast, we spotted some dolphins!

White-beaked dolphins!

And that time they were much closer to the boat than in Húsavík!

white-beaked dolphins in Reykjavík

For that moment we left the minke whale behind and the boat headed slowly into the direction of the white-beaked dolphins.

There was another boat around and after a certain distance, the Elding boat stopped and did not move further in order to not disturb the animals.

white-beaked dolphins in Reykjavík

There was a young white-beaked dolphin swimming next to its mother. I could clearly see their white beaks.

I could also see their typical white and grey pattern at the side of their bodies.

white-beaked dolphins in Reykjavík

I was hoping to get some nice photographs of them.

However, the dolphins were just too fast and it was quite difficult to move on the boat. The boat was big, and thus, there was space for many whale watchers...

At the beginning of the whale watching trip I was the only one in the front. But after seeing the first minke whale, more people came to the front to observe the animals. It became, thus, more difficult to move around. I could move, but moving would have meant losing a good observation position to another whale watcher.

The mother and the young white-beaked dolphin moved away from the boat after some time.

white-beaked dolphins in Reykjavík

Luckily, there were some more dolphins showing up just next to us.

Unfortunately, as fast as they showed up, as fast they disappeared under the water again.

white-beaked dolphins in Reykjavík


I still had a good time!

This is wildlife watching!

I enjoyed every moment on that trip. Sometimes it was cold, but there was not time for me to go inside and warm up or dress one of the provided overalls offered by Elding. I did not want to miss any whale or dolphin.

And then there was again a mother and a young.

Were these the same dolphins we just had seen a few moments before?

white-beaked dolphins in Reykjavík

I did not know. Neither knew our guide.

There was a guide on the boat who told us more about all the wildlife – especially the whales and dolphins – in the Faxaflói bay.

She and another person from Elding were permanently searching for more whales and dolphins. But of course, they were also asking us visitors to look out for all animals we see in the water.

Some species were quite difficult to spot. In one moment, our guide saw some harbour porpoises on the left side of the boat. But I was at the other side! Should I leave my good observation spot and have a short glimpse onto the harbour porpoises?

I ventured it. Unfortunately, I did not see the harbour porpoises. I knew already from previous whale watching trips how difficult it is to observe harbour porpoises. I furthermore lost my good observation spot.

Such a bad luck, as another minke whale showed up in front.

But it disappeared again and it became quieter at the water surface again.

I spotted some common murres.

sea birds in Reykjavík
sea birds in Reykjavík

Some puffins were swimming in the water and a northern fulmar was circling around the boat.

sea birds in Reykjavík
sea birds in Reykjavík

Information: Are you interested in a good place to see puffins and other sea birds like Arctic terns or razorbills? Please visit my previous blog post about Grímsey in the north of Iceland where I wrote more about sea birds in Iceland.

After these quiet moments, we saw something exciting far away. Why were there so many birds?

It was exciting to see all these birds at one spot. There must be some special food!

Maybe there is also a whale around feeding on some fish?

whale watching in Reykjavík

I was looking to the right and to the left.

There must be a whale around!

Maybe another minke whale? Or a humpback whale?

And finally, a big mouth appeared at the water surface and almost all the other birds flew up!

whale watching in Reykjavík

I knew it!

I knew that a whale would show up at the water surface!

It was a minke whale which was feeding in that moment.

Although I kept my camera focused on the place with the birds, it was impossible for me to get a photograph of the open mouth of the feeding minke whale.

The minke whale was moving around. Swimming here and there.

whale watching in Reykjavík

After some moments, the minke whale vanished again and we were waiting for it to show up.

It did not take long and the minke whale appeared at the water surface again.

There was much action in the water. We had spectacular views with the whale in the centre and all the birds around.

whale watching in Reykjavík
whale watching in Reykjavík

Our guide was commenting on our observations telling us more about the feeding behaviour of minke whales and whales in general, respectively.

Most baleen whales feed on tiny crustaceans called krill. Even the largest animal on earth – the blue whale. However, while blue whales are known for feeding almost exclusively on krill, minke whales are also known for feeding on herring, capelins, or sand eels.

whale watching in Reykjavík

After some time, it became more and more quieter around the minke whale and the birds again, and the boat was slowly moving to another direction.

We had finally a last sight of the minke whale and the sea birds (on the right photograph are lesser black-backed gulls), and left the place to head to another direction.

whale watching in Reykjavík
whale watching in Reykjavík

Our guide told us that they just had seen another whale. Another minke whale? Or maybe another species?

I was already very excited. Be it another minke whale or any other whale or dolphin. I would have been happy with every cetacean species.

At the end, there was another minke whale on the one side of the boat, but on the other side was another whale species. A humpback whale!

The humpback whale was so close to the boat that we could see its two blowholes.

humpback whales in Reykjavík

Baleen whales like the humpback whale and the minke whale have two blow holes. They are also known as rorquals. All rorquals have longitudinal furrows which can be expanded when feeding.

The rorquals include three genera.

While the minke whale belongs to the genera Balaenoptera together with blue, fin, Bryde’s and other whales, humpback whales belong to a different genus – Megaptera. Humpback whales are, by the way, the only member of this genus.

That humpback whale, as well, apparently was feeding, as it was slowly moving at the water surface without having any direction.

humpback whales in Reykjavík

Like in Húsavík, in the waters around Reykjavík I could see the snow-covered mountains in the background.

whale watching in Reykjavík

A spectacular moment is always when a humpback whale shows its fluke before a dive.

Of course, we were lucky enough to see in several moments the fluke of that humpback whale.

However, interestingly, that whale did not vanish for a long time after showing us its fluke. Thus, that humpback whale probably hadn't vanished for a very deep dive after showing us its fluke, because that whale was apparently feeding.

whale watching in Reykjavík

Although the whales were impressive, I did not miss the birds that were flying around the boat.

Here and there were common murres and there were quite many northern fulmars flying around.

sea birds in Reykjavík
sea birds in Reykjavík

But then, that humpback whale vanished for some moments. We waited and enjoyed the tranquillity of the ocean.

While minke whales can reach a size of about 8 to 9 meters, humpback whales reach with 14 to 15 meters almost twice as much.

It is hard to guess the size of a whale in the vast ocean, but when a whale appears just next to the boat, it is impressive to feel its size.

whale watching in Reykjavík

The humpback whale was so close, that I even could see some white dots on its back.

whale watching in Reykjavík

Maybe it was too close for the whale. As fast as the whale showed up, as fast it disappeared under the water surface again after that short moment.

We had to wait again.

Some more puffins swam close to the boat. And a northern fulmar.

puffins in Reykjavík
birds in Reykjavík
birds in Reykjavík

A lesser black-backed gull was also close to the boat.

By the way, Elding offers, as well, puffin watching tours to Akurey, Engey or Lundey. On our whale watching trip we only saw a few puffins. As I have not participated in such a puffin tour, I cannot tell more about these islands and the birdlife you might encounter there. But I guess that birdlife is very rich on these islands and you might see many different species as we already did during the whale watching tour.

After waiting for some more time, the humpback whale appeared again at the water surface.

Almost next to the puffin!

whale watching in Reykjavík

The puffin did not seem to be afraid at all and continued swimming on the water surface.

The humpback whale was appearing and disappearing again and again without showing us much of its fluke. Probably because the whale was feeding.

I collect photographs of humpback whale flukes, as I support citizen science platforms like, for example, iNaturalist and Happywhale.

The first sign of seeing a fluke of a humpback whale is its curved back before a deeper dive.

whale watching in Reykjavík

Although we did not see many good flukes on that day of the humpback whale, that last fluke was very beautiful.

And I was at a good position to photograph it.

whale watching in Reykjavík

Of course, I had to contribute one of these photographs to Happywhale. I was curious to know if another person had already seen this whale in this area or anywhere else.

To identify an individual humpback whale, it is important to see the underside of its fluke, as the pattern is individual for every whale.

whale watching in Reykjavík

By the way, this individual humpback whale had already been seen further west of Iceland in March 2022 and again after my whale watching trip. I was in Reykjavík in a July and in the same year in August and September, the whale had been observed again by another person in the same area. So, that whale must have been around for some time in the waters of Reykjavík.

That whale was even seen close to Reykjavík in 2021, and thus, I am wondering how old this humpback whale might have been? Maybe next year whale watchers see this individual again in that area?

That is why I very like to share my photographs on citizen science platforms. Finding out more about individual whales or whales in general, respectively.

Question: Do you regularly participate in citizen science? If yes, please let me know more about your contributions in the comments.

Day trip from Reykjavik

Reykjavík is a good starting point for a whale watching trip. But it is also a good starting point for a day trip (or multiday trip). As I only had left one day in Reykjavík after my whale watching trip, I decided for participating in an organized day trip tour. As I had not rented a car in Iceland, for me this was the right option.

I started the day trip in Reykjavík at the Hallgrímskirkja. We did not visit the church. It was just the place where I was picked up.

Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavík
Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavík

Our first stop was at the Þingvellir National Park.

The Þingvellir National Park is not only a popular and well-visited (very well-visited!) tourist destination, the national park is also historically, culturally, and geologically important. For me it was quite impressive to be at a place that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. That means it is a place where the North American and the Eurasian tectonic plates end.

Historically important is the Þingvellir National Park, because the Islandic parliament was established there around 930.

Now, the Þingvellir National Park belongs to the UNESCO world heritage.

Þingvellir National Park
Þingvellir National Park
Þingvellir National Park
Þingvellir National Park
Þingvellir National Park

After the Þingvellir National Park we stopped at Laugarvatn.

Laugarvatn is a lake with several hot spots. For me it was very interesting to learn and see that people use these hot spots to bake bread. That was quite impressive! I would have loved to try some bread. Unfortunately, our stop was very, very short. We just had a look at the Laugarvatn and the place with the baking bread and shortly after we left again.

Our guide asked us to be very careful with the hot spots. So, we didn't touch anything there and kept away from the hot water and hot steams.


I was very excited to see a geyser for the very first time in Iceland.

Of course, I did. I could not leave Iceland without having seen a geyser.

Well, like probably many visitors of Iceland, I saw my first geyser in the Haukadalur valley - geothermal area. This valley lies to the north of Laugarvatn.

I very enjoyed this place despite the many people I encountered. Yes, it could be a little bit stressful there because of the number of people. But I focused on the landscapes around, the hot springs and mud pots... for me it was still special. I very liked this mysterious place.

We stayed in that area a little bit longer. Thus, I could observe the most active geyser Strokkur several times. Strokkur erupts every few minutes.

Haukadalur with Strokkur
Haukadalur with Strokkur
Haukadalur with Strokkur
Haukadalur with Strokkur
Haukadalur with Strokkur
Haukadalur with Strokkur

Our next stop was Gullfoss.

Gullfoss is a waterfall and belongs together with the Þingvellir National Park and the geysers of the Haukadalur valley to the Golden Circle. The Golden Circle is a popular tourist route in southern Iceland.

Of course, at the Gullfoss we met again many, many people. It was summer! The weather was beautiful and the waterfall was a natural wonder. I could understand why there were so many people...

I listened to the force of the water. I loved the green and blue colours of the landscape. And the clouds in the sky. Despite the amount of people, I could enjoy the trip.

Gullfoss waterfall
Gullfoss waterfall
Gullfoss waterfall
Gullfoss waterfall

Our last stop was at the volcanic crater lake Kerið.

Another natural Icelandic beauty!

A volcanic crater lake is - as the name already suggests - a lake in a crater. A volcanic crater can be described as a circular depression in the ground which is formed during a volcanic eruption.

There are several crater lakes in the area, and thus, the volcanic crater lake Kerið belongs to Iceland's Western Volcanic Zone.

At that stop we had enough time to hike around the crater lake above and down at the lake. It was an easy hike, and of course, I met quite many people again.

Kerid in Iceland
Kerid in Iceland
Kerid in Iceland

As I mentioned above, I did not spend much time in the town Reykjavík.

But of course, I was wandering around a little bit and looking for interesting places.

I passed the Harpa - a concert hall and conference centre.

Harpa in Reykjavík
Harpa in Reykjavík

As I was interested in seeing The Sun Voyager, I went for a longer walk to see this famous sculpture.

People describe The Sun Voyager apparently as an ode to the sun or dreamboat.

I had seen photographs of that sculptures before. I imagined a rather lonely place (except for the other visitors). Interestingly, however, The Sun Voyager was just next to a quite busy road.

The Sun Voyager

One place I was very curious to visit was the Þúfa - a small mound in the harbour area.

Unfortunately, I could not "climb" this about 8-meter-high, grass-grown mound. Apparently, the artist created this mound as a bridge between nature and city.

On photographs the mound looks much higher than it is in reality.

Thufa in Reykjavík

Practical information


In Reykjavík there are many different options for an accommodation. I was in a hostel and paid 45,50 Euros for each night in a shared dorm. The hostel was central and easy to reach from the bus station.

It was summer and Iceland is quite expensive. Therefore, I was fine with my choice, although my choice might not be the best choice for others. Therefore, I cannot recommend here any good accommodation.

How to get to Reykjavík

I travelled to the main airport Keflavík from Germany. The airline Play offers regularly flights between Germany and Iceland. From the Keflavík airport it was easy to find a shuttle bus to the center of Reykjavík. I got off the shuttle bus at the bus station in Reykjavík from where I could walk to my accommodation.

The bus station (BSÍ Bus Terminal Reykjavík) is located in the street Vatnsmýrarvegur 10, 101 Reykjavík and just next to the second and smaller airport in Reykjavík.

More information about whale watching in Reykjavík

The citizen science platform Happywhale

The whale watching company Elding in Reykjavík

Information platform about whale watching in Reykjavík and Iceland

whale watching in Reykjavík
whale watching in Reykjavík

Have you ever been whale watching in Reykjavík? Or have you been whale watching in other places in Iceland? Please let me know in the comments about your experiences.

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