Iceland is home to some of the most beautiful and varied birdlife in the world, and puffins are one of the most popular species. These adorable little birds with their rainbow-like beaks and waddling gait are a delight to see, and there are many opportunities to go puffin watching in Iceland.
When to See Puffins in Iceland
The best time to see puffins in Iceland is during the summer. Puffins spend much of their life at sea and are actually only in Iceland for a relatively short time to breed and nest. They tend to arrive in Iceland beginning in April (usually later in the month, just before May) and generally begin to leave in August. The puffins are usually gone by September. The height of breeding- and nesting-season is from June through August. However, some tours also operate in the spring and fall, so you may be able to see puffins during these months as well.
Where to See Puffins in Iceland
There are an estimated 8 million adult Atlantic puffins, with a majority of the world’s puffing population, around 60%, nesting in Iceland. Besides Iceland, puffins can also be found nesting in Ireland, the UK, Norway, Russia, the Faroe Islands, and Greenland.
There are several places to see puffins in Iceland, but some of the best spots include:
- Látrabjarg Cliffs: These cliffs in the Westfjords are home to one of the largest puffin colonies in Iceland. You can see thousands of puffins nesting on the cliffs, and you may even be able to see them feeding their young.
- Westman Islands: The Westman Islands are a group of volcanic islands off the coast of Iceland. They are home to a large puffin population, and you can see puffins nesting on the cliffs and beaches.
- Vík: In the summer, puffins can often be seen around the sides of Reynisfjall, where they nest. Reynisfjall is the large mountain by Vík, from where the famous rock formations Reynisdrangar stick up from the ocean a short distance away.
- Grímsey: For the bird watcher looking for a real adventure, this island near the arctic circle is famous for its bird colonies. Accessible by both plane and ferry, it’s possible to visit for just a day trip or to stay overnight. A real bird watcher’s paradise!
How to See Puffins in Iceland
There are a few different ways to see puffins in Iceland:
- Boat tours: Boat tours are a popular way to see puffins in Iceland. The boats will take you to a puffin colony, where you can see the birds up close. You may even be able to see them feeding their young.
- Hiking tours: There are also hiking tours that take you to puffin colonies. These tours are a great way to see puffins in their natural habitat.
- Self-guided tours: If you’re looking for a more independent experience, you can also go on a self-guided tour to see puffins. There are several places where you can see puffins from land, and you can also rent a kayak or boat to get closer to the birds.
Top Puffin Tours in Iceland
One of the most popular puffin tours in Iceland is the Puffin Express tour, which departs from Reykjavik. The tour lasts one hour and takes you to the small islands of Akurey and Lundey (Puffin Island), located just a short boat ride from the city. Here, you can observe puffins in their natural habitat, as well as other seabirds like gulls, northern fulmars, arctic terns and black guillemots. The Puffin Express tour is available from 1 May until 20 August.
Reykjavík Classic Puffin Watching has a duration of 1 to 1.5 hours and takes you to either Engey, Akurey or Lundey, all islands known for their birdlife. The boat gets as close to the islands as possible without disturbing the nesting birds. You may also see other bird species like eider ducks, arctic terns, guillemots and cormorants. In favourable weather, the engines may be switched off so that you can listen to the bird’s calls. Reykjavík Classic Puffin Watching is available from 1 May until 15 August.
The Reykjavík Premium Puffin Tour is operated on custom made RIB boats departing from the Old Harbour. Your guide and captain will tell you interesting facts about the puffins and surroundings.
The Prime: Westman Islands (Private tour) shows the highlights of Westman Islands, including a puffin nesting area, beautiful mountains, Eldfell volcano and the village. The scenic walking tour to the cape Stórhöfði takes you through the puffin nesting area.
The Wonder World of Látrabjarg is a hiking tour on the edges of Látrabjarg cliff with local guides. Látrabjarg is among the most beautiful natural wonders of Iceland, the largest seabird colony in the Northern Atlantic and the western-most point of Europe. The cliff is a habitat of millions of seabirds which can be seen on the walk along the edge of the cliff, including puffins, guillemots, fulmars and razorbills. The bird season is from early April to late July. Some say Látrabjarg is the best place in the world to photograph puffins because of how close you can get to them. The tour begins with a bus from Patreksfjörður driving for 1-1.5 hours to Bjargtangar at Látrabjarg cliff. The hiking itself takes 5-6 hours to cover a distance of 14 km.
Ingólfshöfði Puffin Tour explores the historical nature reserve of cape Ingólfshöfði, which is home to thousands of nesting seabirds, such as puffins and great skuas. To get to Ingólfshöfði, you need to cross 7 km of waters, marshes and sands in a tractor-drawn hay cart. The drive takes around 30 minutes each way and the hike around the cape takes 1.5 hours.
No matter which puffin tour you choose, you’re sure to be enchanted by these delightful birds and the stunning landscapes that surround them. Puffin tours are typically offered from May to August, when puffins are in their breeding season. During this time, the puffins can be seen nesting in large numbers on cliffs, ledges, and islands along the Icelandic coast.
Puffin tours typically last for one hour up to a few hours and are led by experienced guides who are passionate about Iceland’s wildlife and natural beauty. Most tours include transportation from Reykjavik and all necessary equipment, such as binoculars and warm clothing.
In addition to observing puffins, many tours also offer the opportunity to see other Icelandic wildlife, such as whales, seals, and seabirds. Some tours even include a stop at a local farm or fishing village, where you can learn about Iceland’s rural way of life and enjoy some delicious local cuisine.
A National Symbol
Unlike many other cliff-dwelling seabirds, Atlantic puffins will actually dig little holes to build their nests in. Puffins monogamously mate for life, and generally just produce one egg each breeding season. Male puffins tend to spend more time at home with the chick and organising the nest, while female puffins tend to be more involved with feeding the young. Raising their young takes around 40 days. Until recently, it was actually unknown where, exactly, Atlantic puffins spent the rest of the year. But with modern tracking technologies, these little birds have been found to range as far south as the Mediterranean during the winter season. When puffins leave the nest, they will head off on their own without their parents, finding their own feeding and winter grounds. Over their lives, they will remember and repeat their lonely journey. They don’t always head to warmer climates in the winter, however. Icelandic puffins have been found to winter in Newfoundland and in the open sea south of Greenland. Over time, these birds have become a national symbol of Iceland, and we don’t think any trip to Iceland is complete without getting a chance to see these beautiful animals.
No matter how you choose to see puffins in Iceland, you’re sure to have a memorable experience. These birds are a delight to see, and they’re a reminder of the beauty of Iceland’s natural environment.
Here are some tips for planning your puffin tour:
- Book your tour in advance: Puffin tours are popular, so it’s best to book your tour in advance, especially as they are only available in the tourism peak season.
- Choose a tour that fits your interests: There are many different types of puffin tours available, so choose one that fits your interests and budget.
- Dress for the weather: The weather in Iceland can be unpredictable, so be sure to dress for the weather, especially if you’re going on a boat tour or hike.