The Best Whale Watching In Húsavík
One of the best places to watch for whales is off of the coast of Iceland. Humpback whales, Minke whales, and many others return to Iceland each year for the rich feeding grounds.
And Húsavik is considered the whale watching capital of Iceland!
So if you are in Iceland and want to take a life changing detour, come to Húsavik for an almost guaranteed whale sighting.
A Little About Húsavik
Húsavík is a captivating destination located in Iceland that holds the title of the whale watching capital of the country. Nestled on the northeastern coast of Iceland, Húsavík is a charming town known for its stunning natural beauty and abundant marine life.
Situated in the Skjálfandi Bay, this picturesque coastal town has gained international fame for its incredible whale watching opportunities. Each year, Húsavík becomes a gathering place for awe-inspiring creatures like humpback whales, Minke whales, and many others.
These magnificent marine giants are drawn to the rich feeding grounds found in the waters surrounding Húsavík. As a result, the town has become a hub for marine enthusiasts, adventure seekers, and nature lovers who long for an extraordinary experience with these majestic creatures.
Northern Iceland’s Whale Population
Iceland is a common migration destination for several whale species. Of course, the presence of whales can vary depending on the season, migration path, and the food availability. But here are some of the whales that have been sighted in northern Icelandic waters:
- Humpback Whale: Humpback whales are one of the most common whale species seen in northern Iceland. They are known for their distinctive appearance, with long pectoral fins and the ability to breach out of the water. Humpbacks are known for their acrobatic displays and hauntingly beautiful songs.
- Minke Whale: Minke whales are another frequent visitor to northern Icelandic waters. These smaller baleen whales are known for their agility and can often be seen swimming near the surface. Minke whales are curious creatures and may approach boats, providing an up-close encounter for lucky whale watchers.
- Fin Whale: Fin whales, the second-largest whale species after the blue whale, can also be spotted in northern Iceland. These magnificent creatures are known for their streamlined bodies and impressive size. They often display a distinctive dorsal fin and are known for their unique feeding technique called “lunge feeding.”
- Orcas (Killer Whales): Orcas, or killer whales, are occasionally sighted in northern Icelandic waters. These highly intelligent and social creatures are known for their striking black and white coloration. Seeing orcas in the wild is a thrilling experience, as they exhibit coordinated hunting behaviors and have a complex social structure.
- Blue Whale: While relatively rare, there have been sightings of the majestic blue whale in northern Icelandic waters. The blue whale is the largest animal on Earth, and encountering these gentle giants is a truly awe-inspiring experience. Their massive size and distinct bluish-gray coloration make them easily recognizable.
- Sei Whale: Sei whales, though less common than some other species, have been observed in northern Icelandic waters. These baleen whales have a streamlined body and are known for their speed and agility. Sei whales are known to travel long distances during their migrations.
- Sperm Whale: Sperm whales, the largest toothed whales, have been spotted in northern Icelandic waters on occasion. These deep-diving whales have a unique square-shaped head and are known for their ability to dive to great depths in search of their preferred prey, squid.
- Sowerby’s Beaked Whale: Sowerby’s beaked whales have been sighted in the waters around Iceland, including the northern region. These elusive whales have a distinct beak and are known for their deep-diving capabilities.
- Pilot Whale: Pilot whales, specifically the long-finned pilot whale, have been observed in northern Icelandic waters. These social whales travel in tight-knit pods and can often be seen swimming close together.
- Beluga Whale: While not as common as other species, beluga whales have been occasionally spotted in the northern waters of Iceland. Belugas are known for their distinctive white coloration and their ability to vocalize a range of sounds.Northern Bottlenose Whale: Northern bottlenose whales have been known to visit the waters off northern Iceland. These whales have a distinct beak and are often curious, approaching boats and displaying their playful behavior.
- Risso’s Dolphin: Risso’s dolphins have been sighted in the vicinity of northern Iceland. These dolphins have a unique appearance, with a robust body and numerous scars caused by interactions with other dolphins or squid.
These are just some of the whales that have been observed in northern Iceland, and each sighting offers a special opportunity to witness these incredible marine creatures in their natural habitat.
Húsavik’s Whale Watching Tour Options
There are four whale watching tour companies to choose from in Húsavik . That’s quite a few considering how small the town is.
But being the whale capital and all, Húsavik has to be able to handle all of the tourists that visit.
They each offer something unique, so there is no wrong choice.
The four companies are Gentle Giants, Húsavik Adventures, North Sailing, and Salka Whale Watching.
None of these companies nor captain nor crew want to harm their cetacean visitors.
And it’s not just for economical reasons. They genuinely want to educate and share a remarkable experience with as many as possible, without disturbing the whales too much.
How to Choose The Best Tour Company
So what separates them were the kinds of boats they had. Gentle Giants Whale Watching tours offer you the choice of a small 8 person Zodiac boat, an 18 person RIB boat, or a rebuilt fishing boat. (For more details see their website Gentle Giants Húsavik.)
Húsavik Adventures offers a smaller 12 passenger RIB boat.
Salka Whale Watching are a newer tour provider and, like North Sailing, have have restored 2 Icelandic oak fishing vessels.
North Sailing has the option of 10 different fully restored traditional oak fishing boats. Three of their boats have been converted into sailing schooners. The craftsmanship (or is it ship craftsman?) is remarkable.
As a carpenter and a woodworker I don’t think there is anything more beautiful than restored wood. Character can’t be built or bought. It can only be earned. And these boats have earned their patina only to be enhanced to the original elegance.
Ultimately we chose North Sailing. After all, they were the original whale watching tour guides in Húsavik and put their town on the map as the whale watching capital of Iceland.
Why We Chose North Sailing
Realisitically it came down to the boats they offered. We decided we didn’t wanto to take a RIB boat or a Zodiac.
The idea is cool, they move much faster and can get to the whales quicker.
And even though they abide by the strict guidelines of the Ice Whales Code of Conduct, I questioned whether or not they would disturb the animals.
Besides that was the physics of spotting whales from such a low angle. The taller fishing boats offered a higher angle with less people between our camera and the whales.
All other things being equal, we chose North Sailing because of their track record and the amount of boats they had gave us more flexibility to schedule a tour.
Which Icelandic Whale Watching Boat Should You Choose?
Option 1: Zodiac Boat
Pros The smallest vessel means the least competition for a good view of the breaching whales.
Cons Being so low to the water makes it a little harder to scan the water, especially with other boats nearby.
Option 2: Rib Boat
Pros Like the Zodiac, smaller and faster to move toward a breaching whale.
Cons Also has the same limitation of visibility as the Zodiac boat, but with more people in the way it’s even harder to view the animals.
Option 3: Restored Fishing Boat
Pros The higher vantage point allows you to find whales from a greater distance, even with other boats in the water. And the boats have a rich history that you get to be a part of, even if only for a day.
Cons Slower to move when a whale breach is spotted.
Humpback Whales Sighted in Skjálfandi Bay
We were there in September, which was late for whale watching in Iceland. So most of the whales had taken off for warmer waters for the season.
But two Humpbacks had waited around just to give us a show for a little while.
We couldn’t help but smile as we watched these enormous creatures gently breach, exhale, and dive for up to 10 minutes.
Our captain explained you always know when they are diving and will be away for a while. The whale may swim on the surface for a few minutes catching its breathe.
But when it dives the fluke comes up. It’s as if they are giving a little wave. But I took it as when a person holds up a finger as if to say “I’ll be right back.”
Then it becomes a game of hide and seek. You know they will come back up, but where and when is anyone’s guess.
We followed them around the bay for an hour and learned more about the habits and culture of the humpback whales.
When Is The Best Time To Look for Whales In Húsavik?
Whales spend half of the year in Iceland. They are migratory and spend from spring to fall feasting on the rich plankton in and around the island. So anytime between April and October is the best time for whale watching in Húsavik!
As we mentioned, by September they start to make their way back to the Gulf of Mexico. One of the longest migrations in the animal kingdom, they have a long trip ahead of them.
But with the summer months come more tourists, more bugs, and more sun. That means the summertime is more crowded, more annoying, and no chance of seeing the other natural wonder of Iceland, the Northern Lights.
Granted, Húsavik is far to the north and away from the majority of the visitors in Southern Iceland.
Whale Watching in September in Northern Iceland
For us the best time of year is the fall. Most crowds dwindle, the bugs die off, and the weather is cooler but more stable than the springtime. And the fall colors pop in the Birch forests in the east of Iceland.
So we love to travel to Iceland between September and October. You still get to see the whales without sacrificing the other pleasantries of Iceland.
This time we went in September and would recommend a whale watching tour in September in Húsavik as the best time to go.
North Sailing Review And Prices
We loved North Sailing. They thought of every detail. From warm jumpsuits before you head out to the care they take around the whales, we were comfortable during the whole tour.
And they do their best to educate about the marine life around Iceland. It was as much a field trip as it was a fun excursion.
We can’t recommend them enugh.
Their prices are 11,300 ISK (around $82 at the time of this writing) per person for a whale watching tour.
They also offer puffin watching and other sailing excursions, in Húsavik and other parts of Iceland.
All in all, we can’t give a higher recommendation for North Sailing for the best whale watching in Húsavik.
A Note on Responsible Whale Watching
Whale watching is an incredible experience that allows us to observe these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat. However, it is crucial to approach this activity with responsibility and respect for the well-being of the whales. In Húsavík, as well as in other whale-watching destinations, there are strict guidelines in place to ensure the safety of the whales and promote responsible tourism.
One of the most important guidelines is to maintain a safe distance from the whales. It’s essential to give them space and not disrupt their natural behaviors. Approaching too closely can cause stress or even harm to the whales. The recommended distance is typically around 100 meters, allowing them to swim and feed without disturbance.
Additionally, it’s vital to follow ethical guidelines during whale watching. This includes refraining from making loud noises or sudden movements that may startle the whales. Boat engines should be kept at a moderate speed to minimize noise and prevent unnecessary disturbances. Moreover, it is prohibited to touch or feed the whales, as this can disrupt their natural behavior and feeding patterns.
Responsible whale watching also involves choosing tour operators who prioritize the well-being of the whales. Look for companies that adhere to responsible whale-watching practices, employ knowledgeable guides, and provide educational information about marine life. By supporting responsible operators, you contribute to the conservation efforts and sustainability of whale watching in the area.
Remember, whale watching is not just about our enjoyment but also about protecting these magnificent creatures and their habitats. By following guidelines and practicing responsible tourism, we can ensure that future generations will continue to have the opportunity to witness the beauty and wonder of whales in their natural environment.
Other Wildlife to Watch For
Húsavík is not only renowned for its whale population but also for its rich marine ecosystem teeming with a variety of wildlife. During your whale watching adventure, you may have the opportunity to encounter other fascinating marine creatures that call these waters home.
One notable wildlife species often spotted in Húsavík is the harbor seal. These adorable marine mammals can be seen lounging on rocks or swimming gracefully through the water. Keep an eye out for their sleek bodies and curious faces popping up from the surface.
Dolphins are another charismatic species that frequently make appearances during whale watching tours in Húsavík. The most common species encountered are white-beaked dolphins. These playful and energetic creatures are known for their acrobatic displays, leaping and riding the bow waves created by boats. If you’re lucky, you might witness their incredible agility and perhaps even catch a glimpse of them surfing alongside the whales.
Húsavík is also a haven for seabirds, adding to the vibrant wildlife tapestry of the region. Keep your eyes peeled for the graceful flight of Northern fulmars, the striking black and white plumage of common guillemots, and the comical antics of Atlantic puffins. These seabirds nest in the cliffs and dive into the water to catch fish, creating a spectacle of avian activity that complements the whale sightings.
Exploring the diverse marine life of Húsavík is not just about the whales; it’s about appreciating the interconnectedness and beauty of the entire ecosystem. Each encounter with seals, dolphins, and seabirds adds depth and excitement to your whale watching experience, showcasing the incredible biodiversity that thrives in these Icelandic waters.
While You’re There…Things to Do Around Town
While whale watching is undoubtedly the main draw in Húsavík, there are other activities and attractions that await visitors in this charming town. Here are some additional experiences you can enjoy during your stay:
- Puffin Watching: Take a boat tour to the nearby Puffin Island, where you can observe these adorable seabirds up close in their natural habitat.
- Húsavík Whale Museum: Dive deeper into the world of whales at the Húsavík Whale Museum, which features fascinating exhibits on marine life, whale biology, and the history of whaling.
- Exploration of Húsavík Cape: Take a leisurely stroll along Húsavík Cape, a scenic coastal area with breathtaking views of the ocean, surrounding mountains, and charming lighthouses.
- Húsavíkurkirkja Church: Visit the iconic Húsavíkurkirkja Church, a picturesque wooden structure that has become a symbol of Húsavík, offering a glimpse into the town’s cultural and architectural heritage.
- GeoSea Geothermal Sea Baths: Indulge in relaxation at the GeoSea Geothermal Sea Baths, where you can soak in hot seawater while enjoying panoramic views of the coastline and the Arctic Circle.
- Tjörnes Peninsula: Explore the nearby Tjörnes Peninsula, known for its fossil-rich cliffs, scenic hiking trails, and the possibility of spotting seals and seabirds.
These activities and attractions add depth to your visit, allowing you to immerse yourself in the natural beauty, history, and culture of Húsavík beyond the awe-inspiring whale watching experiences.
Where to Stay Near Húsavik?
Here are a few places to stay in or around Husavik. We camped at 66.12 North, where they also have a hostel. (More about that below)
- Hotel Húsavík: A comfortable hotel located in the heart of the town, offering well-appointed rooms, friendly service, and convenient access to the harbor and attractions.
- Húsavík Cape Hotel: Situated near Húsavík Cape, this hotel provides scenic views and a tranquil atmosphere, with cozy rooms and excellent amenities.
- Guesthouse Arbol: A charming guesthouse with a cozy ambiance, offering affordable rooms and a warm, welcoming atmosphere.
- Húsavík Hostel: A budget-friendly option for backpackers and solo travelers, providing clean and comfortable dormitory-style accommodation with shared facilities.
- Húsavík Campground: If you prefer camping, the Húsavík Campground is an excellent choice, equipped with facilities such as showers, kitchen areas, and electricity hook-ups for campers.
We stayed just up the road at Camping 66.12 North. It was far enough out of town to be away from the lights, but close enough to make an easy drive for our whale watching appointment.
Follow the link above to read a little more about it and find it on our Iceland camping map.
Everyone asks us where we can find a good car rental in Iceland. We have rented everything from a small 4-door Renault, a diesel SUV, and this fall we are going back in a Campervan.
However you get around Iceland, you can book your rental right here. See what is available for your trip!
Not only is Iceland an incredible place to road trip and camp, but it is also one of the best places to spot whales and other sea life.
I’m sure we are not the only ones enamored with these beautiful creatures. But seeing a humpback live is one of our favorite things we have done.
We want to incorporate more whale watching in all of our travels. So stay tuned for more updates on our whale watching journey!
In the meantime, be sure to check out our packing checklist for camping in Iceland. It’s based on our camping trip in 2019 including what we brought and what we would recommend in the future.
And don’t miss our rating of the best campsites we stayed in Iceland. Including a trip into the interior accessible only by crossing the river in a Land Cruiser. Those snorkels aren’t just for looks!