Every year, from May to early September, the Icelandic nature gets a bit more adorable when it becomes home to 8-10 million Atlantic puffins. To put that number into further perspective, this is 60% of the World’s entire Atlantic puffin population! These small but charismatic visitors are a welcomed sight every summer as they return to their breeding grounds all over Iceland.
Puffins spend most of the year out at sea bobbing around on the waves only returning to land during the summer months for the breeding season. Iceland has the perfect spots for puffin breeding grounds as they prefer to nest on rocky cliff sides along the ocean, something of which Iceland has plenty of. Puffins not only return to the same breeding grounds year after year, they are also monogamous animals who have life long partners. And these are quite the equal partnerships with both parents taking care of the egg, which takes around 36-45 days to hatch into an adorable puffling. The parent puffins then spend the next 45 days taking care of feeding their puffling before it is time for all to head back out to sea.
Each year travelers make their way to Iceland in the hopes of seeing puffins up close. With their playful personality and distinct features of black and white coloring with a bright orange beak, it is easy to see why so many visitors travel to Iceland in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the Atlantic puffin.
If you have “see a puffin” on your Iceland bucket list this post is full of useful information for you! From tips on how to increase your chances of seeing a puffin while in Iceland, as well as a list of 8 of the best locations around Iceland to find puffins, this information will have you on your way to viewing the adorable puffins in their natural habitat.
Puffin Sightseeing Tips
A puffin sighting will be a highlight of your time in Iceland, but similar to the Northern Lights, a puffin sighting is not a guarantee. To help increase your chances of seeing a puffin here are a few tips, as well as pointers for how to keep both yourself and the puffins safe while you are visiting them.
Tip 1. Puffins can be seen in their breeding grounds as early as late April all the way to early September. To increase your chances of seeing the most activity at the puffin breeding ground we recommend visiting between May to mid August as this is the main puffin season in Iceland.
Tip 2. Puffins are most likely to be seen at the breeding grounds in the early mornings or evenings as this is the time they are most likely to be resting in their burrows. Other times of the day you might find many of the puffins have gone out to sea so the nesting area won’t be as busy.
Tip 3. When you get your first glimpse of a puffins bright orange beak your excitement may take over but try and resist the urge to take off running to get a closer look. Puffins typically like to hang out in locations that are usually on steep rocky cliff sides that can be dangerous to walk around if you are not careful. While walking around the area pay attention to the signs and marked pathways you may see at the different breeding ground locations. These are here for both the safety of you and the puffins and should be respected.
Tip 4. The best way to view puffins in their nests is to lay on your stomach and slowly crawl on the ground. You might feel silly doing it but this will keep you safe from slipping on any loose rocks on the cliffside, as well as keep the puffins calm. Just pretend you are a nature photographer in action and get your camera ready.
Tip 5. Lastly, we hope it goes without saying, but please remember to just look, and not touch or feed the puffins. They are friendly and curious animals, but they are still wild animals. Touching of the puffins feathers can remove the protectant oil they need to keep their feathers watertight while swimming. So even though they are adorable and cuddly keep from touching them and just enjoy the view.
Best Places to See Puffins in Iceland
Now time for the important information. Where do you go in Iceland to see these lovable birds? There are many locations around Iceland where you can go to see puffins, but the list below is a roundup of some of the best locations from all around Iceland. With this list you will be able to find a puffin location no matter what part of Iceland you are exploring!
Akurey and Lundey
Only have a few days to spend in Iceland? Planning on keeping close to the capital city, Reykjavik? You can still enjoy a puffin adventure without a far journey to reach them! Akurey and Lunday are two small uninhabited islands located in Faxafloi Bay that can be reached by a short boat ride from Reykjavik city center. These islands are known for there bustling birdlife and if you are lucky you may get to see some dolphins or even whales swimming about the surrounding waters. Fun fact, Lundey island is also known as “Puffin Island”! While the shores of these islands are quite rocky joining a tour with specially designed boats will help get you close enough that you can spot the puffins nesting amongst the rocks.
How to get here: To reach these islands you will need to take a boat tour from the Reykjavik harbor, located in the city center. This tour is a great option for those with just a few hours in the city that still want to get a puffin sighting in.
If you want to be in the midst of the most puffin action in Iceland then the island of Heimay in the Westman Islands is the location for you. Here you will find the largest puffin colony in Europe with almost 50% of all the puffins in Iceland located here. When on the island head to Stórhöfði puffin lookout to get a view over the puffin breeding grounds. You won’t be able to get too close to the puffins at this location but the number of puffins you can see here will make up for it.
If you find yourself visiting during mid-August to early September you might be lucky to see some baby puffins wandering about. It is a tradition that the children of the island will go out in the evening during this time period to collect any lost baby puffins whose parents have left them on their own. The baby puffins are then returned to a better location so they can begin their own journey out to sea. What an adorable way to spend those last few summer nights of the year!
How to get here: To reach the islands you will need to take a ferry from the mainland. During the summer months the ferry leaves from Landeyjahöfn, a harbor located along the south of Iceland and is an hour and 45-minute drive from Reykjavik. The ferry ride over is a little over 30 minutes one way.
Ingólfshöfði Nature Reserve
For those wanting to get off the beaten path and away from the spots that tend to be a bit more popular for puffin sightings Ingólfshöfði Nature Reserve is the location for you. You will need a tour to reach this area as it requires crossing some water and going onto private property, but the tours are run by the owners of the nearby farm so you know they will know all the good spots to look for puffins. Your visit will take you for a hike around Ingólfshöfði Cape where you will hopefully enjoy seeing puffins hanging out along the rocky cliffside.
How to get here: Located 30 minutes away from Skaftafell National Park in the south of Iceland, this area is great to add to your South Iceland itinerary.
If your dream is to see a puffin up close then Papey Island in the East of Iceland is where you want to be. This small island was inhabited until 1948, but nowadays its only residents are a busy birdlife population and the remains of the abandoned old houses, including the oldest wooden church in Iceland. This location is definitely one off the beaten path making it a great location for those who want to have a unique puffin sightseeing experience. The remoteness of the island makes it a real up close and personal visit with the puffins in their natural habitat.
How to get here: To reach Papey Island you will need to take a boat which is run daily from the town of Djúpivogur during the summer months. Djúpivogur is located in the fjords of East Iceland.
It may take some time to drive to this location, but with around 10,000 pairs of puffins nesting at Borgarfjörður Eystri each summer it is a drive well worth it. Located in the beautiful east fjords, Borgarfjörður Eystri is said to be one of the easiest and safest locations to view puffins in Iceland. Head to Hafnarhólmi marina and you will find shelters and wooden platforms from which you can safely view puffins up close, without having to risk being near a steep rocky cliffside. Like we said, a drive well worth it!
How to get here: Located in East Iceland around 70 km from the town of Egilsstaðir, Borgarfjörður Eystri is around an hour and a half drive off Route 1, the ring road around Iceland.
Known as one of the best geological sites in Iceland, at Tjörnes Peninsula you will find an area covered with fossils, some dating back 2 million years! And during the summer months, this peninsula becomes even more special when a large puffin colony settles in here.
Located in the north of Iceland, Tjörnes Peninsula has two locations that we recommend for puffin viewing, Voladalstorfa and Hringsbjarg. To reach Voladalstorfa you will need to make a short climb up to a bright orange lighthouse where you will find a small, not railed off, area to view the puffins. At Hringsbjarg there is a viewing platform making it a safe and comfortable spot to view the puffins, great for those traveling with a family full of curious little explorers.
How to get here: Tjörnes Peninsula is a 15-minute drive away from the town of Húsavík in North Iceland.
One of the main locations to go for puffing sightseeing in Iceland is the Látrabjarg cliffs in the Westfjords. Not only is this the westernmost point in Iceland, it is also the location of the largest sea-bird cliff in Europe! Along these cliffs you will find one of the larger puffin colonies in Iceland resting in their cozy rocky burrows. These puffins are typically quite calm around people and easy to photograph as they are used to a high number of visitors. The cliffs are easily accessible by car and there are clearly marked walking paths in the area. Just be sure to stick to the walking paths and use our tip about getting down on your stomach to view the puffins, these are some serious cliff sides that you do not want to fall down.
How to get here: Látrabjarg is located in the Westfjords, a little over an hour drive away from the town of Patreksfjörður. It does require a long drive down a bumpy gravel road, but the fjord views make the drive pass in no time.
The second biggest fjord in Iceland, Breiðafjörður has numerous small islands known for the active birdlife during the summer months. Taking a boat tour around this area will get you nice and close to the puffins nesting grounds making it a great location to go to for photographing the puffins. You may even get to see some dolphins swimming around the bay during your visit, two adorable animals in one trip!
How to get here: Boats run frequently to the islands in Breiðafjörður out of the town of Stykkishólmur located in the Snæfellsnes peninsula in West Iceland.
If you didn’t have 'see a puffin' on your Iceland list before you certainly will now! Learn more about these adorable animals and their charismatic personality in our article listing the top facts about puffins.