The puffin is an iconic bird in Iceland and one of the wildlife encounters that many people hope to have during their Iceland road trip. During their summer visit from May to early August it is possible to see them in a number of places close to the ring road as well as a little further off the beaten track.
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Iceland is home to about 60% of the world’s Atlantic puffin population with over 6 million puffins making the country their summer home.
They return to the same burrows each year and will nest in colonies with other puffins. This can lead to lots of antics and interactions between the puffins as they squabble and rub alongside their neighbours.
In Icelandic, the puffin is called ‘lundi’ and variations of this word are used in the name of some of the islands where puffins are found.
Listen to how to say puffin in Icelandic
When can I see puffins in Iceland?
The best time to see puffins in Iceland is from late April until early August. They come onto land to breed, lay their eggs and raise their young.
Once the pufflings fledge the adults leave and the colony becomes silent for the winter. This happens overnight although the adults start to leave over a few days.
There are no puffins in Iceland once September arrives unless you head to the rescue centre on the Westman Islands.
Want to know more about puffins in Iceland?
Mini-guide to Icelandic Puffins
This ebook includes information about the puffin colonies, where to find them and how to visit responsibly. With 20 pages of information, maps and beautiful photographs it will help you see the puffins on your next summer adventure in Iceland
Best places to see puffins in Iceland from Land or a short boat trip
There are a lot of puffin locations in Iceland although some colonies are more difficult to get to than others. Many can be visited without needing a boat and as they nest in the same place each year it is fairly easy to know where they will be each summer.
The most accessible places to see puffins in Iceland are
- Lundey and Akurey, Reykjavík
- Dyrhólaey, South Coast
- Westman Islands, South Iceland
- Hafnarhólmi at Borgarfjörður Eystri, Eastfjords
- Tjörnes Peninsula, North Iceland
- Látrabjarg Bird Cliffs, Westfjords
Lundey Island and Akurey Island, reykjavík
Located just 4km from central Reykavík, finding puffins couldn’t be easier. Lundey Island is also known as ‘Puffin Island’ and has an amazing amount of bird life.
The island is small, just 400 metres by 150 metres and rises only 14 metres above the high water mark. The rocky shoreline is full of birds including fulmars, arctic terns and guillemots.
The island is reached by a boat tour from the main harbour in Reykjavík and crosses Faxaflói Bay where you may be lucky and see whales and dolphins as well as puffins.
As the boat approaches the island you will be surrounded by birds circling in the air as well as on the surface of the water. While you may be visiting for a puffin encounter, it is also an experience for the sheer number of birds that make the island their home.
Dyrhólaey, South Coast
Dyrhólaey is a peninsula at one end of the well-known Reynisfjara black-sand beach close to Vík í Myrdal just off the Ring Road.
On the cliff overlooking a large sea arch is Dyrhólaey Lighthouse which looks out across both Reynisfjara to the east and the Endless Black Beach to the west.
Below the lighthouse is a second area with a small visitors centre looking out over Renisfjara and it is here that you will see the puffins in Vík. Follow the path along the cliffs and you will start to see these little characters dotted in the grass on the cliffs.
This is one of the easiest places to see puffins as there are no boats needed and it is just a few minutes off the ring road.
The Westman Islands are a short ferry ride from the south coast of Iceland close to Skógar. The ferry takes you into the sheltered harbour on the main island of Heimaey.
On the southern side of the island are the cliffs where you will find the Vestmannaeyjar puffin colony. There are even more puffins on the offshore island of Bjarnarey which can be reached by boat from Heimaey. This is one of the largest puffin colonies in Iceland and is home to about 830000 pairs of puffins.
There is a small hide at the Heimaey colony that will protect you from the worst of the weather in this exposed spot, but on a good day the hide isn’t needed and you can see puffins from the path as you approach.
In the town, there is the Sea Life Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary where puffins are treated and rehabilitated alongside the stunning beluga whales. In the summer months, puffins become disorientated by the lights from the town and many are found on the streets. These are released back onto the cliffs by the residents of the islands.
Hafnarhólmi at Borgarfjörður Eystri, Eastfjords
Borgarfjörður Eystri is a very small little village in the East fjords, reached along a rough road from Egilsstaðir. Beyond the village at the end of the road is a small island adjacent to a harbour. The island is called Hafnarhólmi and is home to a small puffin colony.
As you walk from the parking area to the harbour you will be able to see the puffins circling in the air around the island. There are also a large number of kittiwakes on the island that prefer the rocky ledges below the puffins that nest in the grassy top of the island.
There is a boardwalk that snakes across the island and the puffins will be less than a metre from the path. It is possible to watch the puffins coming into their burrows, arguing with their neighbours and living their everyday lives.
On one side of the island is a small hide that will bring you alongside the puffins at eye level. Given how close they are to the path, the hide is really just a nice addition rather than essential.
Tjörnes Peninsula, Húsavík, North Iceland
The Tjörnes Peninsula is a secluded area to the north of Húsavík on the Arctic Coast Way. As well as the puffins it is possible to find rock ptarmigan all year round on the cliffs on the peninsula.
The most remote spot on the peninsula is Voladalstorfa and a trail will take you out along the cliffs to the puffin colony. There are other paths that will take you along the bird cliffs and down to the secluded bays along the coast.
As with other areas in the north of Iceland, this is a prime whale-watching country so keep your eyes out to sea as you look for the puffins.
Látrabjarg Bird Cliffs, Westfjords
In the Westfjords, Látrabjarg Bird Cliffs are the most westerly point in Europe. They are wild and exposed, rising 400 metres above the sea. Extending for over 14km they are the longest bird cliffs in Europe.
The bird cliffs are like a high-rise bird city. Kittiwakes, fulmars, and skuas as well as puffins nest on the cliffs and soar on the thermals that rise up the cliffs.
At the main parking area for the cliffs is Bjargtangar lighthouse, a simple lighthouse looking out over the Atlantic. From the parking area, the path rises steeply up the edge of the cliff before flattening out onto an undulating cliff top.
This is exposed and wild and the wind howls even on clear days. Common sense is needed when hiking on sheer-edged cliffs.
How to Watch puffins in Iceland responsibly
While the puffins in Iceland do not appear to be bothered by the presence of humans they are still wild animals and deserve our respect.
To make sure that you do not disturb the individual puffin or the colony as a whole follow these simple guidelines.
- Approach slowly and quietly
- Do not touch the puffins. If they approach you, sit quietly and let them move around you
- If a puffin lands with sand eels and looks confused it may be because you are close to the entrance to their burrow. Move away from the puffin and see if this gives it the room it needs
- Stay away from the edge of the cliffs and look out for burrow entrances. The puffins burrow into the soft soil on the top of the cliffs and it is very easy to step on a burrow and cause it to collapse. The puffins lay just one egg each year so a burrow collapse would be the end of the puffling for the year.
- Do not be tempted to try puffin meat when eating out. Puffins are endangered and there is absolutely no need to try them when there are so many other foods on offer in Iceland.
Can I take a tour to see the puffins in Iceland?
There are a number of tours that will take you to see puffins in Iceland. These can be from towns close to the colonies or as part of a longer tour from Reykjavík.
Puffin watching in REykjavík or Húsavík
While visiting Iceland it may be easier to go puffin watching with a group tour. Two places where this is possible are Húsavík in the north and Reykjavík in the south. Both areas can combine puffin and whale watching!
Where to spot the Puffins in Iceland
There are so many places to see puffins in Iceland beyond these land-based locations that this is just a taster. Many of the islands and inaccessible areas around the coast have puffin colonies that see far fewer visitors during the nesting season. If you are only visiting for a short while it is possible to see puffins in Iceland in Reykjavík.