Puffins in Reykjavík

May 2, 2022

Where to see puffins in Reykjavík 

The summer months are finally upon us in Iceland, with the First Day of Summer having been celebrated on the 21st of April. Although you may feel that the weather and the temperature on this near-barren island in the North Atlantic Ocean do not reflect this season, it still means significant changes for the life on this island. Wildlife is returning to Iceland, with the famous beloved Atlantic Puffin being the one that many people are interested in meeting during their stay in Iceland. 

This cute, little penguin-like fellow is in fact no penguin at all, but a member of the auk family, a family of seabirds who are better swimmers and divers than flyers. They can fly, but prefer to spend most of their lives out at sea, where they in fact spend the entirety of the winter months. But now they are back on land for their breeding season, and we don’t have to travel far to see them! 

You may have heard that the best place to see puffins in Iceland is in the countryside, such as on the Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar), in the West- and in the Eastfjords. This is because they prefer to breed on high cliffs or small islands, where they are safe from predators such as the Arctic fox, the mink, and our pet dogs. So yes, it is true that these are the best places to see puffins from land. 

However, a fact that even very few Icelanders are aware of is that you can find puffins right outside the harbour of Reykjavík! There are a few small islands close to the shore, near the capital and most populated place in Iceland, that host puffins every year. The names of some of these islands are Akurey, Engey, and Lundey – the latter literally translating to “puffin island.” From mid-April to mid-August, these seabirds return to the burrows that they have dug into the earth all over these islands. As monogamous birds, they find their same mate again by the same burrow that they built together in the beginning, and each pair lays one egg that they hatch together into a cute little puffin chick, called puffling, which they raise and feed with fish until it can leave the burrow in mid-August.  

A group of puffins seen on our Puffin Express tour from Reykjavik

The puffin parents do not spend too much time in their burrows and in fact mostly fly in and out to sea to hunt for fish, especially once the puffling is born and they have to start taking turns feeding it. The little islands are also cut off from the mainland and are protected areas, thus we are not allowed to walk on them – we would have a hard time finding a stable way in between all these burrows anyway! That means, our best chance to see puffins from Reykjavík is by boat, for example on our 1-hour long Puffin Express Tour 

Our boat Skúlaskeið or Rósin will take you as close as possible to one of the small islands, either Akurey or Lundey, depending on the tide, to enable you to observe these adorable little seabirds as they sit on the water surface or fly all around us. You can also watch them sit in front of their burrows on the island, with the help of one of our binoculars. Our expert guide will then also tell you all about these seabirds and their adorable antics. So, even if you’ve seen puffins in other parts of the country, this tour may still be a great way to spend your time should you want to experience and learn more about Icelandic nature even while staying in the urban capital! Just a heads-up though – you will only get to see adult puffins, as the pufflings stay hidden inside the burrows until the very end of Summer, when they are grown enough to leave the burrow on their own. 

The Puffin Tours leave the harbour several times a day, from May until the 20th of August. Check out this link for details! Although the puffins may arrive a bit earlier than May, we start the tours only once we are certain that we can show you the most abundant numbers of puffins on the islands.  

If you are in Iceland just before May, you can still join one of our Whale Watching tours and see puffins out at sea. You will most likely encounter them even during our Whale Watching Classic tours, so join one of them for a chance to see both whales AND puffins! Our RIB (the speed boat) that starts going out in mid-April will make a stop at one of the puffin islands as well just before heading out further to sea to find the whales, so you will also get a closer look at the burrows and puffins sitting on land. 

To summarize, puffins do live very close to Reykjavík in the summer, but since these are seabirds that are clumsy at flying, they prefer to stay out at sea and only land on small islands a little off the shore of the capital. Thus, your best chance to see them while staying in Reykjavík or its near surroundings is during a trip on any of our three main tours: Puffin Watching, Whale Watching Reykjavík and RIB Express! 

Written by Sophie Kass