Seeing puffins in Iceland is a must-do! When we went on our 14-day trip to Iceland, my sister insisted that join her at the Western-most coast for a puffin viewing. Even though it was a bit out of our way, it was well worth it! Seeing puffins in person was the coolest thing we did in Iceland. Once you lay eyes on these cute, tiny birds with their bright, orange-red round beaks and darling eyes you will be thankful you made time for this awesome experience. But finding out how to see them was a bit tough. Which is why I thought I would share where, when, and how to see puffins in Iceland.
Other Iceland Travel Posts:
- An Overview of Snaefellnes National Park on the West Coast of Iceland
- Hiking in Landmannalaugar, A Remote Gem in Iceland
- Anastarpi to Hellnar, Iceland
- Hiking Reykjadalur Valley in Iceland and Bathing in its Geothermal Hot Spring River
Where to See Puffins in Iceland
There are many places to see puffins. Even from Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, there are two small islands only a half-mile’s boat ride away, and ferry tours leave from the city. In the Southern region are the Westman Islands which house one-fifth of all the world’s puffins. This location houses most of the puffins in Iceland, but it is 6 miles out from the southern tip of Iceland. It requires either a ferry ride from Landejahofn or Seljalansfoss. Alternatively, you can take a domestic flight to Westman Islands from Reykjavik. Out east, they say the un-inhabitated Papey Island also houses puffins, but as our journey did not take us east, that was unfortunately out of the question for us.
The last location, Latrabarg cliffs, was the one we ended up going to. It was my sister who planned the entire thing, but I think she made a great call. We wanted to see puffins in their natural habitats on our own time. We wanted to see them up close, not on a boat but on the ground, like explorers looking into their world from ours. The experience was more ideal as very few tourists venture out to Latrabarg cliffs. We even had the cliffs to ourselves higher up the hike, where we spent a few hours hiking and searching for diving birds.
The Latrabarg cliffs provide a peaceful way to see puffins in Iceland. These dramatic drops stretch for 8-miles and fall steeply into the water 1,447 feet below. No wonder the birds like these cliffs, as they dive in and out of their little burrows. There is a mild rope that spans the cliffs, but it is at ankle length and will not stop anyone from falling to their doom. It was a subtle reminder of safety, but I appreciated that it still allowed us to get up close and personal to the puffins sitting on the cliff’s edge.
Be forewarned that the cliff’s edges are not always made of dense earth. Birds like to make burrows there which mean that the grass you’re about to step on may be hollowed out and could fall under your weight. It is best to get on your stomach, hands and knees and crawl to the cliff’s edge if you want to really take that up-close photograph or look. Better yet to have someone on solid ground holding on to your feet, or avoid the risk altogether. Plus, you wouldn’t want to crush these bird’s homes!
This is definitely not the safest place for young children who like to run wild. But it IS an intimate place for adults to view puffins, so long as you don’t get too close to the edge. I highly recommend making the trek, as this was the coolest experience we did while in Iceland!
How to Get to Latrabarg Cliffs
There are two ways to get to Latrabarg Cliffs from Reykjavik. The first is to make the drive from Reykjavik. You can start westward on Ring Road and turn on the 60, heading towards the Westfjords. The entire drive takes 6 hours one-way. Hardly anyone makes the trip west of Ring Road, which is a shame as I found it to be a gorgeous place. It is especially great for introverts because it feels like having the country all to yourself.
On the west you’ll find Snaefellsnes National Park, voted the most romantic winter get-away spot in Europe. We spent a few days there, hiking Anastarpi to Hellnar, another cliff teeming with birds. But in order to see puffins, you need to go further North. You can take the HWY 54 to get to Snaefellsnes. Go to the small fishing village called Stykkisholmur, and there are ferries that take visitors across the Westfjords. This will cut your time to Latrabarg as you don’t have to drive around the fjord.
For those already staying at Snaefellsnes, Latrabarg can be considered a doable day trip to and from the national park. The ferries land somewhere around HWY 62, and it is another forty minute drive before reaching the destination. There is no cell service in the area, so definitely have a map with you, or at least the GPS saved on your phone.
Do note that getting there takes time, so reserving ample time for Latrabarg in your schedule is a MUST. It is not a simple day trip from Reykjavik and I would not recommend going all the way to Latrabarg to see puffins if that is all you wish to do. We were able to do it because we were already spending a few days in Snaefellsnes and planning to head north to see Hornstrandir Nature Reserve. A trip to Latrabarg definitely requires a day, even if you are already in the West fjords. If you need to, you can always stay at the Latrabarg Hotel.
When to See Puffins in Iceland
I loved watching these tiny birds jump off of the cliffs. And when they came back, their orange feet stick the landing in the cutest ways. They like to fly a circle around the cliffs edge, and you can usually trace the same puffin from them leaving the cliff to their return. Pretty cool!
The best time to see puffins are in the summer. They arrive in May and leave late August. We were there in the first two weeks of July. The puffins are most active in the evenings. Thanks to Iceland’s almost 24-hour sunlight, you can definitely plan to see them around midnight if you want to. Since we drove from Snaefellsnes National Park, we arrived closer to 10am. My sister was there a few hours before us. Thankfully, there were still plenty of puffins to see!
Fun Facts About Puffins
Now that you know exactly how to see puffins in Iceland, let’s get you excited about it!
There are four puffin species which are the Atlantic Puffin, the Tufted Puffin, the Horned Puffin and the Rhinoceros Auklet. Of all the species, the Atlantic Puffin is by far the cutest and the one that you will see in Iceland! Iceland hosts 60% of all Atlantic puffins, giving you plenty of opportunity to lay eyes on them (and maybe even take a selfie!).
Puffins spend most of their life at sea, but will make burrows and nest in the Spring and Summer seasons. They are excellent sea birds and use their wings to stroke water and catch fish. On top of that, they are also great flyers and can flap their wings up to 400 times in a minute. They fly as fast at 80 kilometers per hour.
Their beaks are actually grey in the winter, but blossom into a bright-orange color in the warmer months. Most likely, this is to attract a mate. They have cute orange feet that they stretch out in front of them while landing. And the pattern around their eyes really make them look sad and smiling at the same time. It’s quite adorable!
They are not intimidated by humans, but that does not mean they want contact. In fact, you should never try to touch a puffin. Doing so might transfer grease from your hands onto their feathers, which will greatly impede their flying and swimming abilities. Furthermore, it will alter their feather’s ability to deflect water while swimming. For these reasons, please be respectful of the birds and never touch or feed puffins.
If Iceland is not on your travel list, add it today. It is a gorgeous country, especially if you love the outdoors, nature, and good views. I would recommend visiting in the summer, although I heard that it holds a different kind of beauty in the winter months as well. We will certainly be back!
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