There are all kinds of reasons to visit Iceland, which is probably why it seems to be one of the trendier destinations in the world of late. From physical activities like cave spelunking to relaxing in Blue Lagoon, to simply enjoying a beautiful, unique country, the appeal is never-ending. In this article, however, I’ll cover something that doesn’t always come up even on Iceland-specific travel guides: whale watching.

Somewhat surprisingly, Iceland has been referred to as the perfect location for whale watching. This is because the cold waters serve as an effective breeding ground for a variety of marine life, and particularly large marine mammals. Thus, there is not only a thriving population of whales by comparison to much of the world, but there’s also a fascinating variety of whales that can be observed in certain areas on a lucky day. Here are a few words on the most well known types of whales you might encounter on an Icelandic adventure.

whale watching in iceland

Orca – The Orca, or “Killer Whale,” is perhaps the most famous and majestic species of this incredible aquatic animal. It’s been made legendary in large part thanks to half a century’s worth of performances at some of the world’s biggest aquariums, and has also come to represent the traditional image of a whale in games, cartoons and the likes. There is even a whale-themed online game that’s been called something of a classic because it’s been around so long. And sure enough, the image of the game (which revolves around a slot reel and several marine creatures and symbols) is an animated Orca. This is simply the kind of whale most of us think of when we think of whales at all.

Minke – The Minke is perhaps less well known than the Orca, and almost resembles an enlarged dolphin more than its fellow whales. It’s characterized by a relatively small size but quick speed. Minkes are actually sometimes eaten by Orcas, but there are enough of them in these seas that you may see some gliding by in peace.

Blue Whale – Blue Whales have unfortunately become attached to an awful social phenomenon of late – a monstrous online challenge that aims to persuade kids to take their own lives. This is almost too horrible to believe, and sadly when you search “Blue Whale” these days, information about this so-called game comes up. But it mustn’t distract from the majesty of these creatures, which you can see on a whale watching adventure in Iceland. The Blue Whale is a sensational and majestic creature, larger by far than the Orca and in fact thought to be the largest animal in existence.

Humpback – The Humpback Whale sometimes seems like the friendliest of the bunch, largely because of its tendency to “breach” (which is to say, come up to breathe) with regularity. That, coupled with its unusually long fins, can almost make it seem as if it’s popping up to wave hello! Of course this isn’t the case, but it does make Humpback Whale sightings among the more enjoyable that you may experience.
whale watching in iceland

As with any sort of animal observation in the wild, there are no guarantees about seeing all or any of these species. But the variety and the potential speak to Iceland’s general appeal as a whale-watching destination. As for the logistics, it’s generally best to go during the warmer months of the year (May-September), with the height of summer being best for blue whales in particular. Excursions go out primarily from Reykjavik’s Old Harbor, but also from Husavik.

Each excursion is different, but you’ll be able to inquire on site about the boats you’ll be on, the waters you’ll explore, and what you can hope or expect to see. For the most part, these are calm and picturesque seas where you’ll enjoy an experience that’s probably a little bit more intimate than you expect. It’s a wonderful activity to include in a visit to Iceland, and one more reason to visit this lovely country.