A Local’s Guide to Spotting Wildlife in Iceland

Iceland’s pristine environment is home to a variety of unique and beautiful animals, from breaching humpbacks to nesting puffins. Here’s how to see them in the wild.


Photo © iStock/RnDmS

Whale Watching

Iceland is one of the best countries in the world for whale watching – the water off the coast is a rich feeding ground for over 20 different types of whales, including blue whales and humpbacks. You can spot these gentle giants from April until September, especially in the north – Húsavík is the most popular port. If you’re short on time, tours also leave from Reykjavik.

Puffin Viewing

From early April until September, the toothy cliffs around the island act as breeding ground for the Atlantic puffin. Vestmannaeyjar off the south coast has the biggest puffin colony in Iceland and is accessed by a 35-minute ferry ride from Landeyjahöfn. For up-close views of the quirky birds, Látrabjarg in the Westfjords and Borgarfjörður Eystri in the east are remote spots with few crowds.

Puffins on the Latrabjarg cliffs. Photo credit: iStock


Alongside puffins, innumerable seabirds flock to Iceland during summer. Látrabjarg Cliffs in the Westfjords offer arguably the best birdwatching in all of Europe, attracting gannets, guillemots, and razorbills. Lake Mývatn in the north draws its own array of birds – but bring insect repellent, because summer also brings an unfathomable amount of buzzing midges.

Heading to Iceland?

Get our FREE Insider's Guide & discover why this tiny island is big on adventures!


To spot mirthful seals basking and playing, head to the Vatnsnes Peninsula. A dirt road loops around the area – off the coast is the biggest seal colony in Iceland. Stop in Hvammstangi at the bottom of the peninsula to visit the Seal Museum and learn more about them.

Arctic Fox

The beautiful and elusive arctic fox is Iceland’s only native land mammal. Sightings are rare but not impossible – your best bet is the protected Hornstrandir region in the Westfjords, which has the biggest population of arctic foxes. Accessed via a ferry from Ísafjörður, the region is best explored on a tour.

Arctic fox in its summer coat. Photo credit: iStock


A strictly-controlled population of around 3,000 wild reindeer exists in the east, brought to Iceland by Norwegians during settlement times. The reindeer roam towards the interior in warmer months, but during winter, you might see them near the main route, especially near Snaefell (northeast of Vatnajokull) – but plan your trip carefully, as it’s a very lonely part of Iceland.

Want to know more about Iceland? Check out our podcast. We chat about where to capture the best photos in Iceland, how to speak like a Viking (almost), and how a social policy got the country to the World Cup.

Related articles

Travel Insurance

Simple and flexible travel insurance

You can buy at home or while traveling, and claim online from anywhere in the world. With 150+ adventure activities covered and 24/7 emergency assistance.

Get a quote

1 Comment

  • Derek Dewitt said

    I've always wanted to visit Iceland and see the wildlife there, so thanks for sharing this. I like your point about how Lake Mývatn attracts a lot of different birds. I might need to plan a trip here one day so I can see that. http://greenmaya.mx/sunrise-bird-watching-muyil

Add a Comment

Latest articles