Iceland has become famous for its breathtaking nature and incredible natural phenomena like the Northern Lights and the Midnight Sun. But Iceland is also a paradise for all kinds of wildlife, from sea mammals like whales and seals to land animals like reindeer and foxes. Not to mention some of the largest bird populations in the world. Icelanders live in close harmony with nature and the elements, and that has created a unique bond with the animals of our Arctic island. There are few places in the world like Iceland, where you are able to easily view puffins, seals and foxes in the wild. Here’s our handy guide to how you can view the Icelandic wildlife in its natural setting. Remember to always treat Iceland’s fragile nature and wildlife carefully and with respect. After all, Iceland is their home as much as ours.
North Iceland – Whales and Seals
Husavik and Eyjafjordur were among the first places in Iceland to offer whale watching tours and are still some of the best places to see the gentle giants that swim around Iceland‘s coastline. The combination of favorable weather and sailing conditions and the number of whale species local to the area make for an unforgettable experience every time. Husavik also has an impressive whale museum where you can learn more about these magnificent creatures.
Between Blonduos and Hvammstangi lies the mystical Vatnsnes peninsula. Known for its varied wildlife, Vatnsnes is perhaps most famous for its seal watching opportunities. The area is home to the largest seal colonies in Iceland and at the Icelandic Seal Center in Hvammstangi you can learn all about these beautiful and charming mammals.
Westfjords – Foxes and Puffins
The remote and extraordinary Westfjords are a paradise for bird watching enthusiasts. Latrabjarg is one of Europe’s biggest bird colonies with thousands of birds taking advantage of the shelter from predators to lay their eggs and raise their young in complete freedom. The Westfjords‘ remote setting means birds have not experienced humans, so respectful nature photographers can come quite close to birds, which makes for unique photographic opportunities. Látrabjarg has a large number of puffins, making it a great destination for that perfect puffin Instagram image!
In Hornstrandir arctic foxes have enjoyed the same freedom as the birds in Latrabjarg. It is a special experience viewing these beautiful foxes playing together and roaming in the wild. The arctic fox is the only animal indigenous to Iceland and its thick fur is ideal for the cold climate near the arctic. You can learn more about the arctic fox and even see some young cubs in the summer at the Sudavik Fox Center. The Fox Center also offers guided tours that help visitors view foxes in the wild.
West Iceland – Horses
The Icelandic horse is world famous for its friendly disposition, sturdy nature and five gaits. While horses are not wild animals, you may see herds of them loose in the countryside. These horses belong to local farmers. Icelandic horses are not trained until they are five years old, so younger horses roam loose in herds during the summers. This experience helps them to grow up to be confident and friendly around humans and other horses.
The horse center in Borgartun in West Iceland is a great place to learn more about this unique and pure breed, as well as taking a riding tour through the beautiful area or even indoors if the weather isn’t agreeable. Icleanders have always had a special relationship with the Icelandic horse and they were used for everything from travel and farming to searching for and herding sheep. Nowadays horses are mostly used for recreational riding, competitions and the autumn sheep round-ups, but it is still a vital part of Icelandic life.
South Iceland – Puffins
Iceland is home to sixty percent of the world’s Atlantic Puffin population so there are plenty of places in the country where you can see these adorable little birds. The south coast is home to a number of puffin colonies, like Dyrholaey and Reynisfjall near Vik í Myrdal. See the birds in their natural habitat and experience the stunning nature of the south coast that showcases all the best Iceland has to offer.
East Iceland – Reindeer
Wild reindeer used to live all over Iceland but now they only live in the East. There are around 4800 reindeer roaming the highlands in East Iceland but they seek lower ground in the winter and can often be seen along the roads. The reindeer were originally imported from Norway for farming purposes but that practice was quickly given up and now they live wild in herds. Skjoldolfsstadir in Jokuldalur is a reindeer center and guesthouse right in the middle of reindeer country.
Reykjavik – A little bit of everything!
If you’re only in Iceland for a short time or don’t plan on leaving the city you can still experience the best of Icelandic wildlife right in Reykjavik! Due to Iceland’s distinctive geographical location you don’t have to go far from the capital to get in touch with wild nature. Whale watching tours are run from the Old Harbor in downtown Reykjavik where only have to sail out into the bay for about an hour to see minke whales, humpback wales and of course the unofficial national bird of Iceland, the puffin.
Several horse riding companies operate on the outskirts of the city so you can take a horseback ride into the lava fields and feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere without having to drive for hours. And the Reykjavik Family Park and Zoo has all the different animals you can find in Iceland from domestic animals like cows and sheep to wild ones like reindeer and arctic foxes. In Iceland you never have to look far for a touch of the wild.