My friends and I have a habit of throwing in last-minute day trips on our adventures, and in Iceland, this meant going whale watching in Reykjavik on our last full day in the city.
While it turned out awesome, there are definitely some things that I’d wish I’d know before leaving for the day! Here are ten things you should know before you go whale watching in Reykjavik, plus a few other Iceland travel resources to make your trip easier!
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10 Things to Know Before Going Whale Watching in Reykjavik
In no particular order…
1. What kind of whales are near Reykjavik?
During our boat trip, we saw two Blue Whales. They played near our boat for quite a while. It was awesome!
Reykjavik’s whale watching tours head out into Faxaflói Bay, which is the bay that the city sits on. Other kinds of whales that you might see in Faxaflói Bay include Humpback Whales, Minke Whales, White Beaked Dolphins, Harbor Porpoises and sometimes Orcas.
2. What kind of traditional whale watching tours are available?
You can find options for two and three-hour tours that leave from Reykjavik. These tours are on traditional, larger boats (better if you tend to get seasick). These boats also include a place to go inside if you get cold.
Strangely, whether you choose a two hour or a three-hour tour depends on how long you have, but the price is the same. The three-hour tours also have much better reviews (because they have a better chance of seeing whales).
If you’re a bit more adventurous, you can choose to go whale watching on a RIB speedboat. You’ll get closer to wildlife and feel much more like you’re “a part of the action.” If you want to see whales and a bit of adventure, then I would pick this tour.
3. What kind of special whale watching tours are available?
If you want to do something extra special, you can book either a combination whale watching tour or a tour that goes out during a special time of day. Here’s what’s available in Reykjavik:
Whale Watching and the Golden Circle
The Golden Circle & Whale Watching Combined tour lets you do traditional Golden Circle tour of Gullfoss, Geysir, and Thingvellir with a whale watching the tour. Great if you only have one day to do a day trip from Reykjavik. We went on these as two separate trips, but if you only have one day instead of two then this is a great way to make sure you get to do both amazing Reykjavik activities.
Whale Watching and Seeing Puffins!
I have missed seeing puffins in both Iceland and in Ireland. It’s been really frustrating, but I know I’ll get to see them one day! If you’ll be in Iceland during puffin season, you can book this Half–Day Whales and Puffins Combo Tour which lasts about five hours (though they let you split the days if you want to do them separately).
Whale Watching and Seeing the Midnight Sun
Only available from June through the middle of August, the Midnight Sun Premium Whale Watching is a thrilling way to enjoy that extra bit of daylight you get being this far north! Book this one early, as they only have twelve people per speedboat, and this unique tour sells out fast.
Whale Watching and Seeing the Northern Lights
The best time to see the Northern Lights in Iceland started in September, and you can take advantage of this by combining a Whales and Northern Lights Boat Tour. During the day, you’ll go out on the boat to see whales, and then return at night to chase the Northern Lights in the bay.
4. How early should I book my tour?
Early! Things tend to sell out during the high tourist season in Iceland (May through September). We went in October, and the boat was still crowded. I’m not sure it was sold out, but it definitely was a popular activity. In Iceland, the earlier you can get your accommodations and activities booked, the easier your trip will be. You want to be able to just relax once you get here!
5. Where do the whale watching tours in Reykjavik leave from?
Most tours leave from the Old Harbor (near Harpa). But not all do! You need to carefully check your ticket information for your leaving point and how early you need to be there. The boat will leave without you!
6. What do I need to wear on my tour?
Dress for it to feel much colder than it does on the shore! If you follow my Iceland packing list, you’ll know that I suggest packing “winter clothes” for October through April. However, prepare for the boat to feel cold due to the wind regardless of the time of year.
I wasn’t prepared for how cold it would feel on the boat, and I had to go inside about halfway before the end of the tour. I still got to see the whales through the windows, but I simply couldn’t take the wind in my face anymore!
My friend didn’t have the right clothes, and they gave her an outfit to wear. So if you end up on a tour with absolutely nothing to help keep you warm, you might luck out get to borrow a jacket. But don’t count on it (and they didn’t have anything in my size).
Wear layers to keep warm. For Iceland in the fall, winter, and spring, you want to pack layers like leggings that are lined with fleece, a good coat like this North Face parka, and warm layers like this ultra lightweight down layer that you can put under dresses and shirts. Basically, you want to be able to double and triple up on warmth (and then take it off when it’s unnecessary).
For this tour, that’s especially true! Add one layer to whatever you’ve been wearing around the city. And remember, shopping in Iceland is expensive, so if you don’t bring it with you it will cost double once you’re here.
7. What else do I need to bring with me?
- Your ticket information! Either print out or available on your phone (if allowed).
- Tech-friendly gloves like these and warm wool socks to keep your fingers and toes toasty. It can get super windy out on the water (read: cold) and you’ll want to have the ability to keep your hands warm while still being able to use your camera and phone for pictures.
- A Camera to capture pics of the whales. I used a mix of my Nikon D810 and my Samsung8 smartphone. When I took these pics, I didn’t have a great zoom lens. A good zoom would have been nice for getting better shots of the whales, but it didn’t take away from the experience.
- Sunscreen since you’ll be outside most of the tour.
- A Backup Charging Bank so you can keep your cell phone charged and make sure you don’t miss a picture opp.
- Seabands if you get motion sickness. The boats can get choppy depending on the weather and size of the boat.
- Snacks and something to drink so you can avoid buying things at tourist prices. Tourist prices in Iceland will shock you if you haven’t been there before.
- The Lonely Planet Iceland guidebook or the Rick Steves Iceland guidebook for your trip. It can be kind of a pain to find the major guidebooks once you land, or you’ll find them overpriced. I always like to pick mine up ahead of time.
8. What happens if my tour gets canceled?
Many companies will give you a ticket for another tour or give you a refund. You need to ask each company what their specific policy is since there’s no single standard across tour companies in the city. If you have a travel insurance policy, these will typically cover you in these instances.
Check travel insurance rates for your trip.
9. What happens if we don’t see whales?
Typically, companies will give you a complimentary ticket to another boat outing. This is dependent, of course, on whether you’ll be able to use the ticket. Check the individual tour company for their policies in this situation.
10. I only have three days in Reykjavik. Is this the one Reykjavik day trip you would choose?
There are three big day trips people take from Reykjavik:
- Golden Circle
- South Coast
- Whale Watching
Honestly, my favorite day trip from Reykjavik was the south coast tour because of the amazing waterfalls and beaches. However, you can easily combine the Golden Circle and whale watching, so if you only have one day to leave Reykjavik then this is what I would do. We did all three tours on separate days, which was wonderful, but we had eight days in the city so we had the luxury of time.
Check the availability and reviews for the Golden Circle & Whale Watching Combined Tour.
Reykjavik Whale Watching Tours
Here are all the tours listed in this post:
- 3 Hour Whale Watching Excursion
- Express Whale Watching Tour by RIB
- Golden Circle & Whale Watching Combined Tour
- Half–Day Whales and Puffins Combo Tour
- Midnight Sun Premium Whale Watching
- Whales and Northern Lights Boat Tour
Where to Stay in Reykjavik
There are a lot of options for accommodations in Reykjavik, but it is definitely not a traditional budget destination! I’m including a recommendation for Reykjavik hotels and hostels for each of the following budget categories:
- Budget: A room in a hostel, usually $35-50 USD per night for a dorm bed.
- Mid-range: Around $75-100 USD per night
- Luxury: Around $150 per night or more
Budget: Iceland is no budget destination, but the hostel dorms at Reykjavik Downtown HI Hostel are affordable and in a great location. You can stay in the mixed dormitory or women can book a room in the female-only dorm. Includes free wifi and the option to add breakfast. Check the pricing, reviews, and availability here.
Mid-Range: For our trip to Reykjavik, we stayed at the self-catering Stay Apartments Einholt. We loved having a self-catering room since we actually cooked half of our dinners and all of our breakfasts in our apartment to save money on the trip overall. We also loved the location. It’s close to downtown within easy walking distance to the main sites. The price was right in our budget for two people, too. Check the pricing, reviews, and availability here.
Luxury: For a real luxury experience in Reykjavik, stay at the four-star Exeter Hotel by Keahotels which is located right near the city’s most important sites. Rooms are super modern and beautifully done, with a cozy take on industrial chic. You can come back and relax in the hotel’s sauna and enjoy the on-site restaurant. Check the pricing, reviews, and availability here.
Headed to Iceland? Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Never travel without a valid travel insurance policy, because accidents happen on the road. I pay for World Nomads, and I happily recommend them. It’s especially important to get travel insurance when you’ll be doing any outdoor activities (like…ahem…whale watching) since accidents happen.
I have been a paying customer of World Nomads for travel insurance for three years, and I happily recommend them. It’s especially important to get travel insurance when participating in outdoor activities or driving in foreign countries. Even in the cities, though, you’ll be happy when you’re able to replace your stuff if it’s lost or stolen.
More Iceland Travel Resources
Here are my resources to help you plan your trip. Start with my Iceland packing list so you know what to bring with you year-round.
Next, check out my guide to Icelandic souvenirs, which also includes more awesome Reykjavik shopping tips.
If you’re looking to get inspired before your trip, check out my post on beautiful quotes about Iceland and 30 Reykjavik Pictures that Prove It’s Time to Visit Iceland.