If you’re planning a trip to Iceland, then some Husavik whale watching is a must!
Spend just 3 hours on a traditional Icelandic oak boat on the open waters of Husavik’s Skjalfandi Bay and it just might turn into one of your best days in Iceland…like it was for me!
Husavik: Iceland’s Whale Watching Capital
I planned a super spontaneous trip to Iceland in May. As I was creating my Iceland itinerary, I knew I wanted to do some whale watching. With some time and research, it was clear Husavik and its deep blue waters offered the best chances to spot a variety of different types of whales.
Where is Husavik Iceland?
Husavik is a town of just 2,300 people in the northeastern reaches of Iceland. It’s about 35 miles north of Myvatn. It’s situated along Iceland’s Diamond Circle, a 160-mile loop with some of the most stunning natural wonders like powerful waterfalls, steaming geothermal energy bubbling up from inside the Earth, and otherworldly lava rock formations.
Husavik is considered the whale watching capital of Iceland. If you go between April and October, your chances of seeing a whale are quite high…think almost 100% but just remember whales are wild animals who don’t appear on command. Like seeing the Northern Lights, you still need a bit of luck!
Husavik Whale Watching Tour
Before leaving for Iceland, I booked this whale watching tour.
Whale watching is quite a popular activity to do in northern Iceland. Tours sell out so it’s best to book ahead of time. This also lets you choose the day and time that match up with your Iceland itinerary. This is especially important if you’re doing an Iceland road trip and don’t want to backtrack.
You can also choose a combination whales and puffins tour. Puffin Island is located in Skjalfandi Bay, not far from Husavik’s harbor.
You can choose also to do a whale watching tour on a traditional wooden sailing ship or even a carbon-neutral oak boat if it works out with your Iceland travel itinerary.
How was my Husavik whale watching experience?
I arrived in Husavik in the afternoon with plenty of time to show my digital confirmation in the office and get my boarding pass. After walking along the main road to do a bit of sightseeing in town, I made my way down to the harbor docks.
Even in late spring and summer, the waters and winds off the coast of Husavik are cold. You’ll want to dress in warm layers, a weather-proof coat, and have a hat and gloves. This Iceland tips guide has more about what to pack for your trip to Iceland.
I wore a top and bottom base layer, a pair of water and wind-resistant hiking pants, and a zip-up fleece before adding my jacket over everything. On my feet, I had merino wool socks and my hiking boots. I also used a knit hat, gloves, and a neck gaiter.
The whale watching tour also provided everyone with a pair of warm, waterproof zip-up overalls. They are meant to be worn over your clothes.
With all of this, the cold air and occasional wave splash weren’t even a thought! It’s better to be prepared and take off a layer than to be cold out on the water.
The boat set off under partly cloudy skies. Within a few minutes, we were on the open waters sandwiched between Husavik Harbor and snow-capped mountains in the distance.
The tour guide was accompanied by a crew. While he talked about the bay and the types of whales we might see, they were up in the ship’s crow’s nest scanning the water for any telltale signs of a whale.
Within the first half-hour of the tour, the crew spotted something at 9 o’clock! (They use the numbers on a clock to explain where a potential whale might be.)
Everyone hurried to the left side of the ship and scanned the water. Suddenly, off in the distance, we spotted a dorsal fin. The guide informed us it was a Minke whale.
It disappeared for a few minutes and then resurfaced. It was too far in the distance to get a photo, even with my Sony 24-105mm lens.
I would have needed a telephoto lens like I rented for my safari trip to the Okavango Delta. If you’re hoping to capture whale photos, I recommend bringing one along for whale watching. Even if you get lucky and see a whale, it doesn’t mean it’ll be close enough to get a good shot.
We moved on from the Minke whale because a spout of water had been spotted at 3 o’clock. Everyone switched sides to peer out from the opposite side of the boat.
Again a spout of water, then a breach!
In one graceful motion, we saw a dorsal fin…
Then a rounded back…
Followed by a fluked tail that came up first before dipping down below the water.
It was a Humpback whale sighting and it was close enough to capture on camera!
You could feel the energy of everyone on board shift from a collective hope that we’d see a whale to a buzz of buoyancy that we were, in fact, lucky enough to see one of these gentle giants!
After breathing, Humpback whales dive down into the water. They can stay underwater for up to 45 minutes before needing to resurface for air. We waited for a bit and about 15 minutes later, the Humpback whale came up again, repeating the same nimble dive.
We stayed in the area for a bit longer and watched as the whale continually surfaced and dove before finally leaving it to go about its feeding in peace.
The lull following the excitement of having seen a whale was a great time to notice the birds! It was quite easy to see Puffins diving into the water, while the Icelandic Gulls swooped and glided all around us.
Not long after moving to another part of the bay did someone spot something at 1 o’clock. I crossed to the other side of the ship just in time to catch sight of another Humpback whale!
Our guide explained this whale was different because of the white markings on the underside of its tail, which you can see as the whale dives. The boat inched a bit closer careful to maintain a safe distance.
And once again, we were able to spend a chunk of time watching this Humpback whale each time it came to the surface to breathe. We were close enough to capture the moments. But not too close so as to disturb this beauty as it fed on Krill and other small fish.
If you’re like me, a traveler who savors the opportunity to see wildlife in its natural habitat, then the 3 hours spent on board a boat in the waters off Husavik in northern Iceland could be some of the best moments of your trip.
The boat turned towards the harbor and served everyone a celebratory cinnamon bun and hot cocoa. Way off in the distance, our guide spotted a couple of Harbour porpoises swimming together.
We watched them while enjoying our snack and delighting in the memories that had been made during our 3-hours of whale watching in Husavik. And in true Icelandic fashion, we even experienced some picturesque May snow flurries as we approached the harbor.
How to get to Husavik
If you’re coming from Myvatn, it’s a straightforward drive north on Routes 87 and 85. With no stops along the way, the drive along these paved roads will take roughly 45-50 minutes.
There’s a lot to do in this part of Iceland. You could easily spend the previous day in the Myvatn area exploring popular sights like Hverir, the Myvatn Nature Baths, Grjotagja cave, the Dimmuborgir Lava Fields, Lake Myvatn, and the Pseudocraters.
Then the next morning before whale watching, drive east from Myvatn along Route 1 (Ring Road) to visit the west sides of the Dettifoss and Selfoss waterfalls, 2 of the best Iceland waterfalls. Afterward, continue north on Route 862 (also a paved road) and drive along the Diamond Circle. Stop to admire and/or hike at Asbyrgi Canyon before continuing on Route 85 to Husavik.
One of the best things about visiting Iceland during the late spring and summer months is the length of the days. Even in May, I had 17 hours of daylight. The midnight sun in summer means it’s possible to do a whale watching tour later in the day or even early evening with plenty of light in the sky.
You could stay in town for the night when your Husavik whale watching tour is done. Or head back to Myvatn.
If you chose an early afternoon whale watching tour, you could spend some time in Husavik. Then, complete the Diamond Circle drive at Godafoss before settling into a hotel for the night in Akureyri.
More Things to Do in Husavik
Whale watching in Husavik is just the start of a visit to this Arctic Circle-facing town.
Along the harbor, you can visit the Husavik Whale Museum. It’s one of the only museums in the world devoted to these ocean giants. The exhibition rooms tell about whale biology and evolution. David Attenborough narrates a film about whale songs and sounds and how they’re used to hunt fish and communicate with other whales in the pod. You can even spend time admiring the 11 whale skeletons on display and get a true sense of how enormous and magnificent these animals are.
Along the main road through town, take a moment to visit Husavik Church. It’s a wooden church dating back to 1907 and *just might* be prettier than the famous black church on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.
Sit down for lunch or dinner at one of the restaurants along Husavik’s scenic harbor. It’s the perfect spot to watch the boats and the daily lives of the fishermen who work the harbor. Not to mention satisfy the appetite you worked up while whale watching!
Relax in the geothermal sea baths at Geosea. The geothermal pool is set high in the cliffs overlooking Skjalfandi Bay and points further north towards the Arctic Circle. While soaking, you can wave at the whale watching boats and just maybe catch a whale breaching the water!
Where to Stay in Husavik
If you did an evening whale watching tour or plan to spend the night in Husavik, there are affordable and comfortable Husavik hotels that offer free wifi and free parking. Many of these hotels also are within walking distance to the harbor where the whale watching boats depart.
This is a chain hotel you’ll see all over Iceland. It’s an upscale accommodation with spacious rooms and private bathrooms for individuals, couples, and families. There’s a restaurant on-site for meals and it’s just a short walk to Husavik harbor.
Check current prices. | Book now.
These individual units are mini-apartments complete with a kitchen, living area, and patio. They are located close to the wooden church in Husavik and just steps from the harbor. You’ll be surrounded by all Husavik has to offer and beautiful views of the mountains and ocean.
Check current prices. | Book now.
Another apartment-style accommodation within easy walking distance to Husavik harbor. The local bakery and the town’s restaurants are all within easy reach. At the end of the day, relax on the terrace as you reflect on another amazing day in Iceland!
Check current prices. | Book now.
Should your Iceland itinerary include whale watching in Husavik?
Yes! I’m biased, of course. The whale watching tour I booked was lucky enough to see 2 Humpback whales, a Minke whale, and Harbour porpoises.
Would it be disappointing to not see any whales? Absolutely.
But, if you’re hoping to see whales in Iceland, there’s no better place to go for it than in Husavik, the whale-watching capital of Iceland. My tour boasted a 98% chance of seeing whales! If you had a 98% chance of winning the lottery, wouldn’t you purchase that ticket? I know I would.
Plus, driving the Diamond Circle and visiting Husavik, are fantastic additions to any Iceland itinerary. It gives you the chance to explore Iceland’s gorgeous north!
Would you like to do some Husavik whale watching?
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