25 Years of Whale Watching in Iceland

Will Gray, our in-house Travel Writer

Head into the blue with the experts as Discover the World celebrates 25 years since it pioneered whale watching in Iceland.

The locals laughed at first. What were these three men thinking, spouting a notion to launch the first ever whale watching trips in Iceland? It would never work they said. That was back in 1989. Discover the World’s founder Clive Stacey – along with Mark Leaney, Mark Carwardine and local expert Tryggvi Árnason – went ahead, chartered a trawler and saw whales. Lots of them.

“This was whale watching in its infancy,” recalls Clive. “There was little or no data about what whales we might expect to see. All we had were the fisherman's tales of ‘big fish’. But we were convinced they were out there and all we had to do was sail out and we’d have a good chance of sightings… and so it proved to be the case.”

A few years later, in 1993, Discover the World chartered a fishing boat in Husavik and commercial whale watching in Iceland was born. North Sailing launched their first whale watching excursion in 1995 and we’ve been working with them ever since. Today, around 350,000 people go whale watching in Iceland every year, and it remains a highlight for many of our clients.

“There is no wildlife encounter quite like it,” explains Clive. “It’s impossible not to be moved by the experience.”

Clive vividly remembers the day he fell for the song of the whale: “It was 1973 and I was working as a deck-hand on a fishing boat off the north coast of Iceland. The sea was flat calm and we were fishing well. Suddenly, I heard a very strange sound which turned out to be the song of an enormous humpback whale. It swam right under our tiny boat. I’ve never felt more humbled in my life and I’ve been hooked by the giant creatures ever since!”

As well as Iceland, Discover the World now offers whale watching in Canada, Alaska, New Zealand, Australia and the polar regions. Read our Whale Watching Guide to the World

Summer Whale Watching in Iceland

Imagine watching humpback whales breaching in the golden light of the midnight sun, or minke whales lunging at fish while clouds of fulmars and Arctic terns swirl overhead.

Over 20 species of cetacean are found in the seas around Iceland. The varieties most commonly seen range from the diminutive harbour porpoise and white-beaked dolphin to orca, minke whale and gentle giants like the sperm, fin, humpback and blue whale.

Peak season for whale watching is April-September when you stand a good chance of witnessing the acrobatic antics of humpback whales. Blue whales are regular early-summer visitors, particularly off the coast of North Iceland. At Husavik, ‘Europe’s Whale Watching Capital’, you can set out in a sailing schooner or a beautifully restored oak fishing boat into Skjalfandi bay; Olafsvik offers voyages in search of orca and sperm whale with the stunning Snæfellsnes Peninsula as a backdrop, while Reykjavík’s Old Harbour is the departure point for whale watching cruises in Faxafloi bay.

Five of the Best Iceland Self-Drive Holidays for Whale Watching

Iceland Odyssey
Drive full-circle on Iceland’s Ring Road and into the West Fjords, experiencing an incredible range of natural wonders.
15nts, May-Sep

The Road Less Travelled
Drive via the Snaefellsnes Peninsula to the West Fjords for an in-depth exploration of this stunning and remote region.
14nts, May-Sep

Journey to the Centre of the Earth
Explore West and South Iceland, from the spectacular Snaefellsnes Peninsula to Skogafoss and Jokulsarlon lagoon.
7nts, year round

Northern Highlights
Soak up the sights and culture of the East Fjords before heading north to Lake Myvatn, Dettifoss waterfall and Husavik.
7nts, May-Sep

West Iceland Escape at Hotel Husafell
Based at a stylish countryside hotel, explore the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and other natural wonders of West Iceland.
3, 4 or 7nts, May-Sep

Winter Whale Watching in Iceland

Imagine watching a pod of orcas – twenty or thirty strong – rounding up vast shoals of herring on a winter feeding frenzy. Imagine the moment a humpback dives, its scalloped flukes trailing droplets of water that shine like liquid gold in the low winter sun… or being surrounded by white-beaked dolphins – dozens of them racing through the whitecaps, converging on your whale watching boat like playful torpedoes.

Between February and April, orcas prowl the western coast of Iceland, hunting herring against the mountainous backdrop of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. We pioneered trips to witness this amazing spectacle, combining whale watching with a chance to witness some of Iceland’s other natural wonders, including the northern lights.

Discover the World guides Cathy Harlow and Alexa Kershaw (both highly commended in Wanderlust magazine’s World Guide Awards) lead our whale watching trips in Iceland, sharing their knowledge of cetaceans and the northern lights and helping you capture incredible photographs both day and night.

Our trips are based in the fishing village of Grundafjordur where you have quick access to the whale grounds and can often spot orcas from shore. The skippers of the whale watching boats are not only hugely experienced, with intimate knowledge of the seas and where to find the whales, but they also adhere strictly to a responsible whale watching code, ensuring both you and the whales remain safe. To complement the three- or four-hour boat trips, our holidays include land-based aurora hunting excursions and a programme of fascinating talks by our experts.

Winter Whale Watching Holidays in Iceland

Orcas and Aurora
Based in Grundafjordur on Iceland’s stunning Snaefellsnes Peninsula, take boat trips in search of orca and keep watch for the northern lights, far from light pollution
4nts, Feb-Mar

Orcas, Aurora & Icebergs
Our extended classic includes time to explore Iceland’s south coast, with a visit to Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon
7nts, Feb-Mar

You might also be interested in:


Feeling inspired?

To plan your own whale watching adventure, contact our team of Travel Specialists today on 1-844-584-0668 or send an enquiry

Popular blog posts

25 Years of Whale Watching in Iceland

Head into the blue with the experts as Discover the World celebrates 25 years since it pioneered whale watching in Iceland

Introducing Svalbard: NEW holidays for summer 2018

From stays in converted coal miners' cabins and luxury lodges to electric fat-bikes, schooner safaris and dog sleds on wheels: find our what's new in Svalbard for 2018...

A Namibian Honeymoon Fit for Royalty

27 March 2018

As news breaks that Harry and Meghan will be honeymooning in Namibia this May, travelling between a number of luxury lodges, here’s our take on the perfect Namibian honeymoon for those looking to travel in their footsteps.…