Icelandic goats, whales, sheep, cats, horses, reindeer, the list of animals to be found in and around Iceland is definitely not endless, but the country is home to some neat specimens. Would you like to see them during your trip? Then read this article with tips for animal-lovers visiting Iceland this winter.
Visit the Cat Café
If you like cats, you feel right at home in Reykjavík. It is estimated that there are around 20,000 cats in the Capital Area of Iceland. And you will not only find cats on the streets, you will also find them in Iceland’s first and only cat café, Kattakaffihúsið in downtown Reykjavík. The cats that live at the cat café are selected in collaboration with cat shelter Villikettir and are all up for adoption. Many cats already found a new home through the café. The cosy vegetarian and vegan café has delicious sandwiches, cakes and coffee on offer. It’s warm inside, and all orders come with a side of cat cuddles. It’s the perfect place to warm up with a cup of coffee on a cold winter’s day.
Go to the zoo
The Reykjavik Zoo and Family Park is probably not like any zoo you’ve seen before. You won’t see lions, alligators, giraffes, hippos or animals like that. Its focus lies on Icelandic farm animals and several native species. Seals, reindeer, sheep, and goats attract people of all ages, all year around! For children, there are several play areas, open all year.
Go whale watching
The bay north of Snæfellsnes is called Breiðafjörður bay and this is the place to be in winter if you want to see killer whales. To be more precise, the fishing town Grundarfjörður is where it’s all at. In wintertime, the bay is filled with herring feeding on phytoplankton. Now, seeing breaching herring is probably not the reason why you travelled to Iceland. However, this herring aggregation attracts all kinds of cetaceans, like dolphins, porpoises and most importantly, killer whales. Orcas can be seen all around Iceland (Free Willy’s orca Keiko was captured in Icelandic waters), but the chances are a lot higher in areas where there’s a high concentration of food. In wintertime, therefore, they stay close to Grundarfjörður. Can you think of anything more spectacular than seeing a pack of killer whales swim by?
Read more about whale watching in Iceland here.
Book a reindeer safari
In the 18th century, reindeer were brought to Iceland from Norway for farming, but the Norwegian (nomadic) style of reindeer herding was not appealing to Icelanders, and they never domesticated the animals. Reindeer seemed to fit in well in Iceland, and these days, you can still find about 3,000 of them in the eastern part of the country. It takes a bit of travelling to get there, but if you want to see them, travel to East Iceland and book this reindeer safari tour. The coastal areas and lowlands in East Iceland are where they graze in wintertime.
Go horseback riding
Icelandic horses tend to be around 140cm tall. Internationally, most horse breeds shorter than 147cm are dubbed “ponies” but there are also some other characteristics that make a horse a pony. The Icelandic horse is right on the limit. The Icelandic horse is known for its many gaits, of which especially the tölt is a particularly steady one. There are several riding tours to choose from in winter. Midwinter Warmth combines a one-hour horseback riding tour with a visit to a geothermal pool. After riding and warming up in the pool, an Icelandic lunch is included. During the Specialty of the Season tour, you will be on horseback for 1.5-2 hours and will enjoy a traditional Icelandic meal afterwards. From until December hangikjöt (smoked lamb) is served, and from January till April þorramatur (a selection of dishes served during the midwinter festival Þorrablót).
Look at the birds in the downtown pond
Every Icelander has fond memories of childhood trips to the downtown pond to feed ducks with breadcrumbs. Nowadays feeding the ducks is frowned upon (bread is the equivalent of junk food for birds), but you can still drop by and say hello! Though ducks are the popular draw, you’ll also see swans, geese and seagulls. When you start to get cold, you can step into the City Hall to check out the large topographical model of Iceland built to scale.