Chasing the puffin party

The Atlantic puffin holds pride-of-place in Iceland, but especially in the Westfjords, that is able to boast of the largest sea bird cliffs and prettiest islands from where you can see them.

A word of caution though: just because they are confident in body language and far from shy, it does not mean that they are friendly or happy to be approached by humans. A respectful distance is always advisable, not only in their interests, but also those of your bird watching. Furthermore, feeding puffins is plain irresponsible as that could interfere with natural habits and the bird’s inherent instinct to fend for itself. Going too close to them along the edges of cliffs is risky to your safety, particularly since the grassy terrain hides a host of tunnels where the birds have dug protective burrows. And yes, these holes can easily collapse and throw you off balance.

Summer is the best time to see the puffins in Iceland. They live in Icelandic waters year round, but they come ashore in May and leave again in August. Colonies are usually most active in the evening.

With that bit of advice firmly in place, here are a few places in the Westfjords famous for hosting these sea birds during the few months they spend on land every year.

Latrabjarg bird-cliff

This one’s a no brainer. Pride of place goes to Latrabjarg for its outstanding bird life, including a myriad of winged visitors like the razorbill, guillemot and fulmar, apart from the puffins. The cliffs are literally resonant with the sounds of nesting birds. 441 metres in height and over 14 km in length, it is divided into four parts: Keflavíkurbjarg, Látrabjarg, Bæjarbjarg and Breiðavíkurbjarg cliffs. The puffins here are fairly used to people, but like we said before too much familiarity breeds contempt. So, no, don’t try to be friends with them. Instead invest your energies in the taking the photos of a lifetime-or a career. They might just fetch you the next award from National Geographic! And don’t miss a visit to the lighthouse.

Vigur Island

Vigur is the perfect place to catch up on the three Ps: peace, puffins and photography. A half-hour boat ride from Isafjordur, it’s a great place to take a walk, enjoy the serenity of the landscape interspersed with wind, waves, and bird calls: from the eider ducks to the puffins to the black guillemot and Arctic terns. The farmer’s family can be counted on for warm hospitality. Whilst here, be sure to visit the smallest post office in Europe. Between May and September is the best time to be here.

Those in wheelchairs or with heart problems might be better off avoiding this island due to the uneven terrain and the necessary walking.

Grimsey Island

The biggest island of the Strandir region, legend has it that Grimsey came into formation even as three trolls were trying to separate the Westfjords from Iceland. It’s a charming little tale that attempts to rationalise the remoteness and the toughness of the terrain by combining it with an element of the supernatural.

So, according to the story, even as these naughty trolls were busy flinging stones, lava and mud in all directions, Grimsey island came into being. This region was inhabited by both farmers and fishermen until the twentieth century but now it’s just the hundreds of thousands of birds flocking to the island.

At rough estimate about 80-90 thousand puffins live in the island as well as flocks of other species. Walk with a guide around the island and take in the rich history and bird life of the island.

Hornstrandir Nature Reserve

On the northernmost tongue of the Westfjords, here puffins nest in Hornbjarg and Hælavíkurbjarg cliffs, the eastern part of this gorgeous spot-amongst the most unique and remote reserves on the planet. There are no roads, the only way you get here is by boat. Perfect for hiking, photography and birdwatching, of course.


This lovely and rugged bay nestled between the Snæfellsnes peninsula and the Westfjords boasts abundant bird life during summer.

The islands of Þórishólmur and Steinaklettar are also known for their great puffin spotting opportunities. Boats run regularly to these islands from the town of Stykkishólmur on the Snæfellsnes peninsula.

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