The best time for whale watching in Iceland is during the summer months of June - September. During these months, the ocean is full of whales, the star being the magical humpback whale. Minke whales are probably the most common whales on tours, with dolphins and porpoises almost always spotted. Whale watching in Iceland is one of the most popular activities with tourists in Iceland, and for good reasons, short sailing distance to the feeding grounds and breathtaking view all around are just two of them.
With colder weather in late August, most whales migrate to warmer oceans. However, in recent years, more and more whales are staying in Icelandic waters year-round, making winter whale watching an option more people choose every year. However, winter whale watching can be more complicated. The weather becomes unpredictable and unstable, and the sea can be rough. Even if it's perfectly safe sailing on rough seas, it becomes more difficult to spot whales in between waves. Also, sailing on rough seas on the Atlantic is not for everyone, even after dressing up in a snowsuit and remembering to take the seasickness tablets on time. Therefore, winter whale watching is very dependent on weather and sea conditions. Then, so often, especially in late winter (around Easter), it's all worth the risk. With calm weather, golden horizon from the low rising sun, and snow-white mountains in the background, whale watching becomes more.
"Seasonal whale watching," with different types of whales migrating around the island at different times of the year, is something to have in mind when choosing the best time to go whale watching.
What to see and when
If I simplify things for our benefit, we will have humpbacks and minke whales in numbers during summer (Mai through September). In late September, the numbers drop significantly, with a low chance of seeing minke whales again until April/May. The numbers of Humpback whales also fall, but we are seeing more of them staying the whole year in recent years. In calm weather during winter, it's now common to spot 1 or 2 Humpbacks during a trip. Dolphins and porpoises are always a common sight all year round. During late winter / early spring ( January throughout April), it is possible to see Orca's and Sperm whales, and then at the start of May, the queen here self, the Blue whale, shows up. Other rarer sightings are Beaked whales, Bottlenose, Sei and Fin whales, and Pilot whales.
Good to know
We can divide the whale watching companies into two groups. Big and smaller.
The smaller companies sail out on smaller traditional wooden boats previously used for fishing. The captains of these boats are experienced sailors and know every wave. The smaller companies specialize in close and personal service. Of course, far fewer people go whale watching on the smaller boats.
The big companies sail out on larger boats and offer more services. Included is the use of warm overalls and blankets to keep you warm, indoor seating areas, and live guidance in English for those who want.
All should have a "Whale guarantee" policy, which means that if no whales are seen on the trip, you are welcomed back any time for a free "try again" trip. Most, however, have an expiration date on the return ticket; two years is common. Note that the return ticket is not available if dolphins and porpoises are seen.
If tours are canceled due to weather, you will get a refund or rebook for the next available time that suits you. The big companies also offer seasickness tablets for free. If you think you need them, take them half an hour before departure. The large ships all have an inside cafe area with a bar on board. Then, of course, everyone gets life jackets to wear.
Always dress warmly
Remember, even though you decide to sail during summer with the sun shining, you sail out to the Atlantic Ocean. Dress in warm clothes! Have something around your neck, and bring gloves! You won't regret having too many clothes with you, but you will regret dressing too light.
The big companies also all offer RIB Speedboats trips. The RIB takes about 6 -12 people. They get closer to the whales, and they go fast! It costs twice as much and is twice as cold. But well worth it if you like some action.
For more details about the companies and the specific tours, and where you will find them, click on our Tour Info side