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7 Whale Watching Hotspots Around the World

Friday, 17th February 2023

Destination Specialist

humpback whale breaching istk

Become a dedicated follower of flukes with our guide to some of the world’s best places to spot cetaceans. From short-haul breaks in Europe to witness the incredible winter feeding spectacle of orcas in Iceland to far-flung adventure voyages and coastal-themed self-drives in New Zealand and Canada, we’ve got the world’s whale watching hotspots covered.

Discover the World pioneered the first commercial whale watching trips in Iceland over three decades ago, and whale watching remains a key feature of many of our holidays around the world. Read on for our round-up of the top destinations.


iceland watching orcas off snaefellsnes peninsula rth

Over 20 species of whales have been recorded in the seas around Iceland, 12 of which are considered ‘regulars’. Add the fact that you can go whale watching in Iceland year-round and it’s hardly surprising that Iceland has become a magnet to cetacean spotters.

Husavik, in the north, is known as Europe’s whale watching capital. During summer (May-September) you can set out into Skjalfandi Bay in a beautifully restored fishing boat searching for minke and humpback whales, as well as white-beaked dolphins and harbour porpoises. You can choose to sail in silence aboard an electric-powered schooner and feel more in tune with the natural surroundings. During early summer, you might be lucky enough to spot a blue whale. Back on terra firma, there’s an excellent whale museum in Husavik.

Summer whale watching boat trips are also available from Akureyri and Reykjavik. Visit during mid-summer and you could combine whale watching with the midnight sun.

During late winter into spring (March-April) pods of orca are lured to the coast of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in West Iceland on the hunt for vast shoals of over-wintering herring. The feeding frenzy also attracts white-beaked dolphins and numerous gannets and other seabirds. Our Orcas and Aurora escorted tours aim to put you in the thick of the action, setting out on boat trips with expert guides and spending the nights in a prime spot for northern lights hunting.


Whale watching from Brier Island

Whale watching in Canada is hugely popular on both the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines – in fact, Canada is home to 33 species of whale! April to October is prime cetacean-spotting time, and there are plenty of options.

You can kayak with orcas in British Columbia’s Johnstone Strait or Puget Sound (May-September), spot grey whales migrating along the west coast of Vancouver Island (March-April) or search for the rare North Atlantic Right whale in Nova Scotia (summer). The St Lawrence River and Gulf is a prime spot for belugas, as well as fin, minke, humpback and blue whales. One of the world’s largest populations of humpbacks congregates off the shores of Newfoundland, while the cetacean-rich Bay of Fundy is an important feeding and nursery area for the rare northern right whale as well as other species.

The wilderness lodges scattered around the waterways of British Columbia, provide opportunities to encounter orcas and humpbacks as well as bears, in an immersive environment. The Great Bear Rainforest and Broughton Archipelago Marine Park offer rich-pickings for cetacean enthusiasts.


Humpback whale

Famous for its wildlife on land and on sea, Alaska’s waters are a summer feeding ground for humpback whales – spot them bubble-net feeding on a small-ship voyage along the Inside Passage. There are also opportunities to spot orcas, grey, minke, fin and even belugas in key locations like Glacier Bay and the Kenai Fjords. As well as whales, keep your eyes peeled for sea otters, Dall’s porpoise, Steller sea lions, bald eagles and puffins.

Summer is the best time for whale watching in Alaska, between May and September with orcas arriving early in the season and humpbacks usually frequenting the waters from June. Spectacular scenery provides a mesmerising backdrop from the iceberg-clad fjords of Glacier Bay National Park to the ancient coastal peaks of the Kenai Fjords.

New Zealand

new zealand kaikoura diving sperm whale istk

The clear coastal waters of New Zealand are home to a wide variety of whales and dolphins, almost wherever you choose to travel. There’s everything from the chance to swim with dolphins in the beautiful Bay of Islands in the north, to an eco-safari in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf.

Kaikoura, near Christchurch on the South Island is world-famous as New Zealand’s whale watching hub, for good reason. Pilot, humpback, southern right whales and orca can be seen depending on the season, but sperm whales are the main draw and can be spotted year-round. One of the largest whale species on the planet, these giants of the deep rest on the surface of the ocean in most obliging fashion before diving deep into the Kaikoura canyon with an iconic sweep of the tail. Daily boat trips and sight-seeing flights provide great photo opportunities.

Our Whale and Dolphin Explorer self-drive takes in recommended cetacean hotspots around the country in a stunning 3-week itinerary.


antarctica spyhopping whale and zodiac qe

The Antarctic oceans are home to an impressive list of whales including humpback, orca, fin, sei and minke whales. Late February/early March departures of are best for Antarctic whale watching.

The best option is to take a small ship expedition voyage through the ice-strewn waterways, where you can keep watch from deck. Choosing to sail aboard smaller vessels, i.e. those under 200 passengers, you’ll have more frequent opportunities to head out in zodiacs for close-up encounters with the marine life. Optional sea kayaking excursions are also possible.


canadian arctic wildlife arctic beluga aw

Up to 17 species of whale are known to frequent the nutrient-rich waters of the Arctic Ocean from orca, humpback, minke and grey whales to rarer species including beluga, narwhal and bowhead whales. All contribute to the abundance of life supported in this remote continent during the summer months.

Belugas are the most vocal whale species and true crowd-pleasers with their characteristic ghostly-white colouring and perpetually-friendly expression. Also highly distinctive, narwhal are nicknamed the ‘unicorns of the sea’ due to their long tusk.

Small-ship expedition cruises provide optimum chances of encountering these and other marine wildlife and a multitude of seabirds, while onshore musk ox and polar bears roam.


Humpback Whale - Norway

Like Iceland, northern Norway also hosts a winter gathering of whales, attracted by the prospect of a herring feast. Orcas and humpback whales move into fjords near Tromso, corralling the shoals into tight bait balls before gorging on the hapless herring. The timing and location makes it possible to combine daytime whale watching with searching for the northern lights at night.

From late May to September, sperm whales can be seen in the Arctic waters around the far north, particularly off the coast of Andenes in the Vesteralen Islands where they hunt squid in submarine canyons.

Plan your holiday

Browse our collection of whale watching holidays around the world or contact our team of Travel Specialists to start planning your trip.

Blog originally published in June 2019.