We’ve been whale watching already on this trip. Twice, actually. The first time was with North Sailing in Húsavík, and it was an incredible trip. We highly recommend getting to Húsavík if you can, and going with North. But, we realize that many people won’t be able to make it way up, um, north to North, and so we decided to try a whale watching trip from Reykjavik to compare.
We chose to go with Reykjavik Sailors, a company that just started offering boat tours last November. Here is how I chose them:
- Their ratings on Tripadvisor are better than Elding, the most popular whale watching company in Reykjavik. Reykjavik sailors has an average of 4.88 out of 5, while Elding has a 4.25. Now, both ratings are just fine. And it’s weird that Tripadvisor has Elding ranked higher than Reykjavik Sailors? Their algorithm must assign a lot of weight to popularity.
- They are much cheaper. Base prices are exactly the same. But Reykjavik Sailors offers a 15% discount if you prepay. Other companies make you pay up front anyway, I think?
And, Reykjavik Sailors gives you free admission to the Whales of Iceland Museum.
[Edit October 2017: Sadly, you no longer get the free admission to Whales of Iceland. At least the cheaper part still applies!]
So your 9900 krona adult ticket goes down to about 8500 if you prepay, and you get a Whales of Iceland admission, worth almost 2500 krona. That’s a significant savings.
But, is it as good as the established companies? Maybe not? But almost. Our boat was a little slower than the others, which meant that we got to the whales a few minutes later. I have a lot of pictures of a whale with the Elding boat in the frame:
But we got to see plenty of whales up close. Including this humpback, who was “lunge feeding.”
Yes, that’s a wide open mouth. So, the tour was very good. The guide was informative and seemed happy to help out with finding and identifying whales.
We saw humpbacks, minkes, and even a happy looking dolphin leaping out of the water repeatedly in the distance:
We were happy with Reykjavik Sailors, though I don’t think you will go wrong with any of the major tour operators. If you are ambitious, you could also try this Icelandic-only site, which is offering half price tickets for whale watching with Reykjavik Sailors. This is a site like Groupon. Note that I haven’t tried it; if you do, let me know how it works! Hopefully I won’t get in trouble for revealing this secret to tourists … [Edit October 2017: Looks like this offer is no longer active.]
But still try to get to Húsavík if you can.
Right next door to Reykjavik Sailors is Aurora Reykjavik, the Northern Lights Center. There is a gift shop you can peruse for free, or an exhibition that costs 1600 krona for adults, and 1000 krona for kids 6-18. So a family of 2 adults and 2 kids would cost just under $43. That’s more expensive than the Whales of Iceland museum down the road, at least if you book in advance. And it’s also more expensive than the National Museum of Iceland. And it’s only a little cheaper than the Saga Museum next door.
The exhibit is small, and I enjoyed it more than I expected to. The first section talks about how differently people in different countries thought about the northern lights. According to their exhibit, in Greenland, people thought the lights were from the spirits, and “the Eskimos would often whistle or clap their hands to cheer the spirits up.”
The second room lets you control both the altitude of the lights, as well as the amount of Nitrogen and Oxygen, to create different colors. The resulting color is displayed on those funky lights near the ceiling.
The third room is a very relaxing movie, showing scenes with the northern lights. There is no dialogue– only music, which makes it an almost meditative experience. Finally, you can practice taking pictures of the northern lights by adjusting the settings on your camera. And in the gift shop, you can use their virtual reality headsets if you’ve paid for admission to the exhibition.
So is it worth it? I think it’s too expensive– I would have come away with a much more positive impression if they offered a family discount. But my kids enjoyed it. I’d skip it and save the money for other museums, but this may make sense if you have a northern lights fan in your family. And in the winter, hopefully you can go outside and see the real thing!