Arctic puffins (Fratercula arctica) are one of the most characteristic sea birds in Norway, and seeing these birds in their natural habitat makes for a great nature experience. Many people mistake the puffins for penguins, but they are in fact not.
You can see breeding nests for puffins all along the coast of Norway, but the most accessible breeding colonies are in Lofoten and Vesterålen. You can go on puffin safaris in these places with a guarantee to get a good photo op for the cute birds in the breeding / summer season.
How to see wild puffins in Norway
Despite being an endangered species, seeing a puffin in the wild is not that difficult. These birds breed in specific locations year after year, and you can easily go there during the breeding season to observe them. The birds will return to the bird cliff where they were born to meet a mate and form a lifelong pair of their own, where they will spend their summers.
Keep in mind that it’s an endangered species, so you will have to see them using a telescope lens for a camera or by binoculars. It’s illegal to get very close to them when they are nesting unless they come to you close to the trail.
You can choose if you want to go on a puffin safari by yourself or with a guide. There are benefits to both options, so let’s take a closer look.
See the wild puffins by yourself
You can strike it lucky and see puffins all along the Norwegian west coast (from a bit north of Bergen and all the way until the Russian border), but you will want to go to a breeding colony if you want to be guaranteed to see these birds.
The most famous breeding colonies are Røst in Lofoten, Runde south of Molde, or Andenes in Vesterålen. These all have a puffin guarantee between May and August.
Sometime during the all season, the puffins all migrate out to the open Atlantic sea to feed on fish until they return to the breeding sites again in the spring.
Many puffin breeding sites are open to the public, but you need to stay on the trails and not disturb the birds. However, they all have great views towards the puffins!
It’s also worth mentioning that the puffins are pretty unafraid of humans, and they can occasionally fly and land pretty close to the trail. You are free to observe them closely if they do so, but don’t disturb them.
Many people recommend going to see the puffins between 18.00 and 21.00 in the evening. This is when they return from the daily hunt with fish in their beaks to give to their offspring. That said, one bird from each pair will be left behind at the bird cliff during the daytime to take care of the egg or young birds, so you will still see many birds during the daytime as well.
Keep in mind that this is also a brutal thing to watch when the puffins return with the food, since the white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) uses this opportunity to hunt the puffins. You will find that there are usually lots and lots of eagles at the bird cliffs.
Go on a guided puffin safari
There are some businesses that offer puffin guides, but they are nowhere near as popular as guided whale safaris or musk oxen safaris. Much of the reason is that the puffins are easy to reach yourself, but you can still opt to go on a guided puffin safari if you want to.
One of the biggest puffin safari operators in Norway are Puffin Safari, a safari tour that operates from Bleik in Vesterålen. They take you out to the small island called Bleiksøya (can be translated to Pale Island) where you can see a breeding colony of puffins from the boat.
The tour is about 90 minute long with a boat ride, a tour guide that speak English, and a guarantee to see the puffins and the white-tailed eagle. This is a great option if you don’t want to go on a long, crowded hike to see the puffins.
The price for a guided puffin safari is around 500 Norwegian kroner per adult.
Another option is Whale2Sea that operates from Andenes in Vesterålen. They also have a 90 minute sea bird tour using RIBs, and will show you a lot of different sea birds close to Andenes. Their price is 550 NOK per adult.
The 6 best places to see wild puffins in Norway
If you want to see puffins in the natural habitat, the island groups of Lofoten and Vesterålen are the best places to go. These areas have some of the world’s biggest breeding colonies for puffins and other sea birds, including the biggest at Røst in Lofoten.
1) Røst in Lofoten
Røst is a small town in Lofoten on the very southern part of the island group. The municipality Røst is actually around 100 smaller islands that are almost 100 km away from the mainland.
These islands are home to some of the biggest breeding colony of puffins, and there are actually six different bird cliffs on the island.
This is absolutely a great place to go if you want to see puffins in the wild, and you are guaranteed to see hundreds of even thousands of puffins on the island if you arrive in the summer months.
You will find lots of other breeding sea birds at Røst, and there even used to be penguins there for a few years in the 1930s! I really suggest reading up on the history of the penguins on Røst in Lofoten, because it’s a very cool piece of historical information about the area.
Røst is also an incredible place to explore. It’s home to around 500 people, but it’s just something special about the place in the summer. But be ready to book your accommodation in advance, because it’s very popular with tourists.
2) Runde, an island close to Ålesund
Runde is a small island on the western coast in Norway, a bit south of the city Molde and Ålesund. It’s most known for the famous Fuglefjellet (bird mountain) where you can see breeding colonies of both puffins and lots of other endangered sea birds.
There are between 100,000 and 150,000 sea birds at Fuglefjellet, and you can see many of them from the trail. Just like at most other breeding sites, you are allowed to walk on the trails, but it’s illegal to step outside of them.
Runde is a great place for seeing puffins in the wild, and it’s a great experience for anyone what is even remotely interested in the Norwegian wildlife. One of the major benefits to choosing this location is that it’s somewhat close to Bergen and the southern parts of Norway, so it’s much more accessible for most people.
3) Bleiksøya in Vesterålen
Bleiksøya is a 158 meter tall mountain island that is home to thousands of breeding pairs. It’s a great place to visit to see puffins, but you cannot actually enter the island itself duing the breeding season, so all observations must be done from boat.
This means that visiting Bleiksøya to see puffins is best done if you can rent a boat or attend a guided puffin safari.
The closest town to Bleiksøya is Andenes, where you can also get to other breeding sites for the puffin. So a visit to Andenes to see puffins might be well worth your time and effort to get there.
And let’s not forget that Bleiksøya is an incredible place to go on a whale safari, or just enjoy the long, sandy beaches.
Some people refer to Bleiksøya simply as Bleik, which makes sense since Bleiksøya literary means “Bleik island”. So don’t be confused if people talk about Bleik – it’s the same thing.
4) Lovund in Helgeland
There are many beautiful places along the Helgeland coast, but if you want to go on a puffin safari to see wild puffins in Norway, Lovund is the island to head towards.
You will find a big colony of breeding puffins at Lovund, and it’s an incredible place to go for a bike ride. Scientists have estimated it to be around 150,000 pairs of puffins on the island.
The island of Lovund itself is a bit difficult to reach, but there’s a ferry that leaves from Sandnessjøen either once or twice daily all year round. You can also get to the island by ferry from Bodø in the summer.
There’s even a hotel at the town on the island where you can spend the night to get an amazing experience.
5) Hornøya in Varanger
Want to see wild puffins in Norway while also going super far east and north? Then Hornøya it is!
Hornøya is located just east of the small city called Vardø, known for being the easternmost town in all of Norway.
You can get to Hornøya from Vardø during the summer, and there are roughly 10,000 breeding puffin pairs on the small island.
The island itself is not the best one for going on a puffin safari since there are far fewer breeding pairs compared to other islands, but it’s the very best puffin island this far north!
6) The western coast of Svalbard
Svalbard is a huge island way north of mainland Norway, but it’s technically still part of Norwegian territory.
We can’t really consider Svalbard to be a “puffin island”, and it’s not really a destination to go to if you want to see puffins per se. But if you are already on Svalbard, keep an eye out for puffins, because they tend to chill along the western coast during the spring, summer and fall.
So, if you’re visiting Svalbard to see polar bears, explore the amazing arctic or just enjoy a truly unique experience, keep an eye out for puffins along the coast.
Other species of bird you can encounter on a puffin safari
When visiting the bird cliffs where the puffins breed, you will also see plenty of other sea bird species. This is because these bird cliffs are popular for lots of different bird species, and you are likely to see all of them if you spend time at a breeding site.
Some of the other species of bird you can expect to see when going on a puffin safari are:
- Common murres.
- Black guillemots.
- White-tailed eagles.
Few of these are as cool-looking as the puffins though, but they still make for great photos and are interesting to watch.
When to see puffins in Norway
The main puffin season is between mid-April and late July. The exact dates vary from place to place, but all the famous breeding sites mentioned in this article will have a huge number of puffins in both April, June and July. They will also have many puffins in May and August as well, but fewer than in the main season.
So if you want to be on the safe side of seeing a puffin in Norway, aim to see the puffins either in April, June or July.
Nicklas is the owner and editor of The Norway Guide, and is responsible for most of the content on the website.
He lives in Skien, Norway with his wife and two children. Nicklas is specialized in Norwegian ecology (including Norway’s geology, wildlife and flora) from his degree in Ecology And Nature Management at University of South-Eastern Norway, but has a particular interest in tourism and content creation.
His biggest hobbies are fishkeeping, going on hikes with his dog, and rooting for the local football team.