Whale watching in Norway: when, where and how

Whale-watching is one of highlights of any trip to Norway, and at the right time of year you’ve got a 95 percent chance of seeing one of the magnificent creatures if you go on a whale safari.

Whale-watching is a highlight of any trip to Norway
Pic: Art Tower (CC)

Indeed some operators are so confident that you’ll see whales that they’ll refund your ticket price if the sea mammals don’t appear.

So, where and when is the best place to go whale-watching in Norway? Which species can you see and which are the best companies to go with?

Read our guide and find out! Or head to the bottom of the page to see our round-up of the best whale watching trips in Norway.

When is the best time to go on a whale safari in Norway?

The official whale-watching season runs from the end of October to mid-January, and during these months you are pretty much guaranteed a sighting.

There are numerous guided trips at this time of year, including this ‘silent’ whale watching trip from Tromsø.

However, humpbacks are usually present off the coast of Norway until the end of March, so there’s a reasonable chance of seeing them then too, especially in the more sheltered waters around the fjords.

From the end of May to September, orcas (killer whales) and porpoises can be seen around the coast and inlets of the Lofoten islands.

Find out all you need to know about whale safaris in Norway
Pic: Art Tower

Where is the best place to go whale-watching in Norway?

Andenes on the island of Andøya is well-known for its whale safaris. These trips explore the waters of the Vesterålen islands and offer a high probability of seeing whales in the wild.

Sperm whales are the most common type of whale around these waters, but other species such as orcas, pilot whales, humpbacks and fin whales can also be seen at certain times of the year.

The whale-watching season here is long with boats heading out for the summer season from the end of May to mid-September. The winter whale-watching season running from early December to late March.

The frequency of the whale safaris depends on the time of year, with fewer boats running at the beginning and end of the seasons (sometimes only 2 a week), up to about four trips a day in peak summer.

What should you expect on a whale-watching trip in Norway?

Hvalsafari As is one of the most respected and long-established whale boat operators, and has been running whale safaris out of Andenes for more than 30 years.

Andenes is one of the best places to go on whale safari in Norweay

Trips here begin with a 45-minute visit to its museum to learn about marine mammal ecology, the different species of whale and their environment. Most of its informative guides have a marine biology background and are multi-lingual.

The boats take around 40 minute to reach the whales, though obviously this can be shorter or longer, as whales move quickly and do not stay in the same place.

The overall length of the safari varies from two to four and a half hours, depending on how far out to sea the whales are and how long it takes to find them.

Norway is one of the best places in Europe to go on a whale safari
Pic: Art Tower

All safari boats have an indoor lounge, but it can incredibly cold out on the water, especially in winter, so you’re advised to always wear warm clothing. Also, bear in mind that the boats can’t go out in all weathers.

If seas are rough and conditions poor the boats won’t be able to go out.

If you’re coming specifically to do a whale safari in winter, make sure you build a few days’ leeway into your trip, in case the weather is poor and the safari has to be postponed or cancelled.

Are whale safaris ethical?

This very much depends on the operator you go with. A reputable operator will follow the guidelines recommended by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society and the IWC (International Whaling Commission).

When lots of boats approach the whales and follow them, it can disturb the animals, while noise from the boats can interfere with the whales’ hearing and communication.

DO your research and pick an ethical whale safari in Norway
Pic: Anup Shah

Getting too near or going in the middle of the pod also upsets the animals. And, of course, any form of boat travel contributes to marine pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

On the plus side, whale tourism provides a financial motivation for protecting the whales and ensuring their welfare.

This is particularly important in Norway, since it’s one of only two countries in the world (along with Japan) where commercial whaling is still legal and practised.

So, if you want to go on a whale safari, chose your operator carefully – ask how many boats approach the whales, how close they get and what the operator’s attitude is to conservation and animal welfare.

Check that the boats always approach the whales from behind, keep an appropriate distance and reduce their speed as they near the animals.

Humpback, orcas, sperm whales, pilots and fin whales can be seen in the waters off Norway
Pic: Pcb21

Recommended whale watching trips

There are loads of different options when it comes to whale watching in Norway, with trips running from various places along the Norwegian coast, such as Andenes, Tromsø, Svolvær and Alta.

Whichever operator you choose, make sure you ask the right questions about your safari beforehand to ensure it’s an ethical tour. Here are some recommended options:

Whale safari on an eco-friendly hybrid catamaran

One of the more ethical options, this hybrid catamaran running out of Tromsø switches to a silent electric engine as it approaches the whales, so that they are not disturbed.

It also has an underwater drone and hydrophone that can detect where the whales are and send pictures and sounds back up to the boats, without disturbing the animals. You can get prices

Polar whale and sea bird safari

This full-day safari leaves from Tromsø and heads north to Skjervøy in search of orcas and humpback whales. En route, you can also look out flying wildlife such as sea eagles, gulls, cormorants and eider ducks.

Whale-watching in Norway
Pic: Hans Bernhard

Whale safari and Rib tour

This five-hour tour from Alta explores the Altafjord on a high-speed Rib. In winter the whales come to feed in the fjord, so there’s a good chance of seeing them – and if not, the stunning scenery of the fjord is reason enough to come.

See also:

Ten of the best fjords in Norway

Nine amazing islands in northern Norway

Norway’s best national parks

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