Where to see Puffins in Iceland?

By Michael Chapman

Known as “prófastur” (preacher) in Icelandic, Atlantic Puffins are Iceland’s most iconic birds.

Where to see Puffins in Iceland?

By Michael Chapman

Known as “prófastur” (preacher) in Icelandic, Atlantic Puffins are Iceland’s most iconic birds.

When most people think of Icelandic wildlife, their minds trail off to whales and porpoises, arctic foxes and countless species of seabird, of which there is no more famous than the colourfully-billed Atlantic Puffin.

Atlantic Puffins are a migratory species, meaning they can only be seen during the summer months in Iceland. Visitors between May and early September have several locations around the country at their disposal to watch these stunning creatures swoop, soar and nest in their natural habitat.

But first things first, we really should have, at least, a basic understanding of the creatures we’ve travelled so far to see. Without further ado, let’s look at the Atlantic Puffin in closer detail, and see just why it’s become such a beloved figurehead in this country.

What is a Puffin?

Atlantic Puffins are known for their colourful bills
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Emily Crawford)

Each part of the Auk family, there are three species of puffin found around the world, but it is only the Atlantic variety that finds itself in Iceland every year. This particular species can be recognised for its bright and colourful beak, as well as black and white feathers.

Atlantic Puffins are otherwise known as Common Puffins, and can also be found in such places as Greenland, Nova Scotia, Norway and the eastern UK, Sometimes, under-read travellers will confuse these birds for penguins—an animal that does not thrive, nor exist in Iceland—even when the Puffins take off in glorious flight.

where to see puffins in iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Wynand Van Poortvliet)

Atlantic Puffins are monogamous animals, meaning they will only ever breed with one mate during their lifetimes. After spending the winter alone and far out at sea, it is something of a wonder that breeding pairs manage to find one another out of the millions of lookalikes nesting around them.

The end result of all this flying, nesting and lovemaking is, of course, baby puffins, which are known as Pufflings. Only a single egg is laid per breeding pair, and the young chick will be fully fledged in little under six weeks. Now capable of flight, but still inexperienced in using its wings, Puffins swim out into the ocean under the cover of night. They do not return to land for several years.


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Top locations to see Puffins in Iceland

A Puffin soaring over a sultry Icelandic coastline
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Thomas Somme)

Considering the sheer breadth of the Icelandic landmass, some planning is necessary when hoping to spot Atlantic Puffins in the wild.

The best bet for most people is taking to the South Coast, a gorgeous and scenic stretch easily accessible from Reykjavik, with their mind set on reaching Dyrhólaey Promenade.

Dyrhólaey in South Iceland

(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Roberto Nickson)

Dyrhólaey is a former island, though receding sea levels have long kept it joined to mainland Iceland. Aside from the birdlife that nests amid its towering cliffsides, it is the epic rock arch and historic lighthouse that has drawn visitors to Dyrhólaey year after year.

Of course, wildlife enthusiasts come for the Puffins, of which there are thousands upon thousands to see. With their blue and orange bills and tuxedo-like feathering, these little birds are easy to spot as they waddle along the promenade’s rocky ledges, chirping back and forth to one another as though engaged in merry conversation.

The Westman Islands

An Atlantic Puffin about to take flight
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: D Tan)

Heimaey is both the largest of the Westman Islands, and the only one populated. Residents of this isolated, yet cheerful settlement share their summers with the largest Atlantic Puffin colony on earth, a breeding flock numbering over 2-million birds. Unfortunately, the size of the colony has been declining in recent years, leading the townsfolk to help stranded birds whenever they can.

It is possible to fly to Heimaey from Reykjavík domestic airport, though flights are frequently cancelled due to poor weather. A more secure and traditional way of reaching Heimaey is by boat; the Herjólfur ferry departs from Landeyjahöfn harbour twice daily during the summer and offers fantastic views on its three-hour journey.

Hornstrandir in the Westfjords

Two Puffins in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Joe Desousa)

The Westfjords is among Iceland’s least visited regions. It is an area of sweeping hillsides and table-top mountains, of untarnished meadows replete with long swaying grass and wide open skies. Only those travellers looking to move beyond the traditional tourist trails will ever venture this far north, but those that do are rewarded with sights and experiences that have no rival.

Famed for their grandeur and wild aesthetic, it is Látrabjarg bird cliffs particularly that offer birdwatchers the best views and numbers. Falling like great vertical slabs into the ocean, Látrabjarg’s cliffs also mark the most western point of not only Iceland, but the European continent, adding further reason to pay a visit to this most secluded and untouched natural paradise.

See Puffins From Reykjavík

A view overlooking the city of Reykjavík
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Tim Trad)

If you’re remaining within Reykjavík city boundaries throughout your trip, then I’m afraid it might be considered a little too hopeful to expect to see Puffins. While on rare occasions Puffins do fly into the city, they have normally taken a wrong turn and will quickly retreat back to wilder, wetter locations, far from the noise and bustling of any urban environment.

The best means of spotting Atlantic Puffins from Reykjavik is to partake in a whale watching tour on Faxafloi Bay, as these birds are known to frequent the same coastal waters as Iceland’s largest marine mammals. From aboard your vessel, you will look out from the deck to see tiny Puffins bobbing happily in the water, darting beneath the surface, every so often, on the hunt for fish.

There is a small spec of land amid the waters of Faxaflói Bay called Lundey, but colloquially known as ‘Puffin Island’. Boat trips can be purchased that will take you around the location, offering a more intimate experience on the waves alongside these delightful winged animals.

Other locations to see Puffins in Iceland

An Atlantic Puffin in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Poseidon)

Though we’ve mentioned the best known places to see Puffins in Iceland, there are many other peninsulas, beach-heads and cliff sides where they can also be observed. Travellers in the North, for instance, should ensure they take a birdwatching tour from the delightful town of Akureyri. As the biggest town in the region, a visit here transcends just wildlife, but also allows for a dose of history and culture to compliment your trip.

If you’re willing to travel further out, why not head to the stunning geological wonderland known as the Tjornes Peninsula? There, you’ll find a large puffin colony, settled in their burrows amongst the ancient lava rock. Further north than that—so north, in fact, that we cross over into the Arctic Circle—Grimsey Island is another well-known spot where Atlantic Puffins gather during summer.

To the east is Papey Island, which according to the ancient sagas, was once home to Irish hermit monks who quickly left their homes after the arrival of the first Norsemen. Papey was inhabited until 1966, but still attracts visitors with its Puffins. On the other side of the country, just off the Westfjords, the island of Vigur makes for a fantastic day out for the family with its scenic coastal views and abundance of birdlife.

A portrait shot of a Puffin mid flight
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Tamara Bitter)


Travelling to Iceland?

Check our overnight tours with a driver guide that includes a one night stay in a bubble.
See Guided Tours

*Starting from ISK 74.900 per person