Read about the country’s wild animals and embark on wildlife watching tours in Iceland. Seek the arctic fox in Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, go whale watching in the North, and see puffins above the Arctic Circle, and more. Some tours combine wildlife watching with hiking, sea angling, hot spring hunting, and other activities.
Wildlife watching tours are a great way to get to know Icelandic nature and spend time with family and friends. All tours are child-friendly and can be done in summer and winter.
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Wildlife in Iceland
Before humans ever stepped on Iceland’s soil, the arctic fox was the only native land resident. Humans then brought with them domesticated mammals including sheep, Icelandic horse, cattle, and goats. Meanwhile, birds and sea animals were roaming the shores of the country in search of nesting sites and food. For such a tiny island in the north of the Atlantic Ocean, Iceland cradles hundreds of different species of wildlife.
Besides the most popular animals such as whales, Arctic foxes, and puffins, Iceland has an abundance of field mice, mink, rabbits, and reindeer. Polar bears occasionally turn up on the northern shores when traveling from Greenland. Random seal colonies dot the Vatnsnes and Snaefellsnes Peninsulas. The best way to spot wildlife is on a guided tour. Expert guides know where to look and how to behave around wildlife.
Puffins in Iceland
Iceland is home to 60% of the world’s total puffin population. It is without a doubt the puffing watching capital of the world.
Facts about puffins:
- Puffins are able to live on land as well as at sea. They are great swimmers and can dive up to 196 ft (60 m).
- They come to the land to nest between April and September.
- They can fly at a speed of 49 mi/h (80 km/h).
- Much like you, puffins love to change their wardrobe depending on the season. After the summer, their orange beak and white feathers turn grey.
- They are monogamous. They find a partner to breed with and stay together for up to 20 years!
Best time to see puffins:
From late April to mid-September. During the warmer seasons, puffins come to land to nest.
Best places to see puffins:
Puffins roam all over Iceland and can be spotted even in Reykjavik. There are a few places where huge colonies of puffins can be seen and approached up close. One such location is Vestmannaeyjar, or the Westmann Islands. Located just off the southern shore of Iceland, the island is home to one-fifth of the nesting puffin population. And if that’s not enough, over 30 other bird species nest there too. Vestmannaeyjar is truly a bird watching paradise.
Another great location for puffin watching is Grimsey Island. The island is located around 24 mi (40 km) off Iceland’s northern shore and the Arctic Circle pierces right through the middle of it. Grimsey Island is home to around a hundred people and over a million birds every summer. This is one of the only part of the Arctic Circle in the world that travelers can explore.
Puffin Tours in Iceland
As fascinating as Grimsey Island is, it is also very remote. To avoid the hassle of getting there, book our Arctic Circle boat tour to the island.
Whale Watching in Iceland
Just like many other polar regions, Iceland attracts all kinds of whales. Never-ending summer daylight and the warm and cold currents coming from Silfra Fissure bring an abundance of zooplankton, krill, and small fish — all whale food.
Here are a few of the most common species of whales found around Iceland:
- Humpback whales. The most frequent visitor.
- Blue whales. The biggest animal on Earth.
- Minke whales. The bravest of them all.
- White-beaked dolphins. Best playmates.
- Harbor porpoises. The tiniest of cetaceans.
Best time to see whales:
Summer months are perfect for whale watching in Iceland. June, July, and August have a 98% success rate! Winter months also have a pretty high chance of seeing whales, around 90%.
Best places to see whales:
The two best spots for whale watching in Iceland Reykjavik and Dalvik. Whale watching from Reykjavik takes place just off the shores of the Old Harbor in Faxaflói Bay. Minke whales, white-beaked dolphins, and porpoises frequent the bay during the winter and humpbacks roam around during the summer.
Another great location for whale watching all year round is Dalvik. Dalvik is a small fishing village with 1400 inhabitants. Nestled in the cradle of Eyjafjörður Fjord and surrounded by breathtaking views, the town is a perfect location to meet humpbacks, minke whales, white-beaked dolphins, and porpoises. Even the magnificent blue whale sometimes visits the bay.
Whale Watching Tours in Iceland:
Whale watching is only available on a guided tour. Join our whale watching tour from Dalvik and scout the northern shores of Iceland for these gentle giants. The tour also takes you sea angling.
If you think that whales are not enough, join our whale watching and puffin tour on a rib boat.
Iceland’s Native – Arctic Fox
Before Vikings settled in Iceland, the arctic fox was the only native resident. The animal, slightly bigger than a large cat, is famous for being very adaptive and friendly.
Facts about arctic fox:
- Their multi-layered fur protects the fox from freezing cold and serves as camouflage. This adaptable animal can withstand frigid temperatures of -70°C (-94 °F) by wrapping its fluffy tail around the body. ITs fur changes color based on the season to avoid predators. The fox’s fur turns white in winter and brown or blue in summer.
- The arctic fox is the only canine that has furry paws.
- If the temperature is too low, the fox digs a hole in the snow. The temperature in a snow cave is constant at 32°F (0°C).
- Iceland’s arctic foxes are very friendly. They’re used to people and can approach you up close.
Best time to see the arctic fox in Iceland:
Year-round. Unlike puffins, arctic foxes are not seasonal animals and live on the island throughout the year.
Best places to see arctic foxes:
Arctic foxes can be found all over Iceland but most of them live in the Westfjords, particularly Hornstrandir Nature Reserve. They feed mostly on birds, bird eggs, sea animals resting ashore, and field mice, which are in abundance in the Westfjords.
Always dreamed of spotting one of these creatures? Join our fox watching tour in Hornstrandir Nature Reserve and observe arctic foxes in their natural habitat.
Even though it’s not wild, the Icelandic horse is worth mentioning. Shipped in by the first settlers, the horse has since adapted to the harsh Icelandic weather and become one of the most persistent animal friends of the farm. It is iconic to Iceland and no visit to the country is complete without meeting one of these beauties.
Things NOT to do next o Icelandic horse:
- Do not pet it. The Icelandic horse is an independent animal and likes space. If you come close to the horse, resist petting it as it might bite or kick.
- Do not ride it. Regardless of how independent they are, they do have an owner. If you want to ride it, you should get permission from the owner or join a horseback riding tour.
- Do not feed it. Any additional treats besides their food provided by the owner might cause stomach illness or other sicknesses.
- Do not trespass on private property. Icelandic horses are domesticated and usually roam free on the land of their owners. Don’t trespass somebody’s private land in an attempt to meet the horse.
Best time to see the Icelandic horse:
All year round. The Icelandic horse is out and about throughout the year, helping its owners preserve and maintain the land.
Best place to see the Icelandic horse:
If you want to see or even ride the horse, you should visit one of many private farms that offer horseback riding, petting, or feeding services. Instead of searching for such farms yourself, join one of our horseback riding tours.
FAQs about Wildlife Tours
For such a tiny island in the north of the Atlantic Ocean, Iceland has an abundance of wildlife roaming its shores. Besides different kinds of whales, arctic foxes, puffins, and Icelandic horses, you can also see field mice, mink, rabbit, and reindeer. Iceland’s more popular domesticated animals include sheep, dogs, and cattle.
Iceland hosts around 60% of the world’s total puffin population, so you might be lucky and spot them almost anywhere. But there are two islands in particular filled with Puffins: Vestmannaeyjar and Grimsey Island.
The most popular whale watching locations in Iceland are the shores of Reykjavik and northern Dalvik.
Waterproof jacket and pants, layers of warm clothes, sturdy hiking boots, and a good mood!