Grímsey Island Iceland: The Best Day Trip to See Puffins

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If you are looking for something unique to do in Iceland that is not touristy and so rewarding, look no further. 

A day trip to Grímsey Island gives you a unique chance to cross the Arctic Circle, experience stunning natural landscapes, witness abundant birdlife, and explore a remote Icelandic island with a small, welcoming community.

This day trip was a highlight of my 10 days in Iceland and I would absolutely go again. In this post, I’ll share how I planned my summer day trip to Grímsey Island and give you additional information for planning a longer stay.

A Brief Overview of Grímsey Island

Grímsey Island is a small island situated about 40 kilometers (25 miles) off the north coast of Iceland in the Arctic Ocean. It straddles the Arctic Circle, making it the only part of Iceland located north of this imaginary line. The island is only 3 miles long and 2 sq mi in total area. 

The island’s close-knit community lives in Sandvík, the island’s only settlement. 

There are about 60 inhabitants on the island, but many of them do not live on Grímsey year round. Our island greeter told us only about 8 would live through the harsh arctic winters on the island while the others retreat to the mainland to wait out the bitter cold. 

Despite its small size, the town has a school, market, thermal swimming pool, airport and small port. There are a few guesthouses and a campsite for tourists who want to stay overnight.

There are no buses, taxis, or public transportation on the island, but if you are lucky, you might be able to catch a ride on a local’s tractor.

Besides its small community, the island is known for its rich birdlife, particularly puffins. The cliffs and surroundings provide excellent nesting grounds for seabirds, making it a haven for birdwatchers. During the summer months, visitors can witness thousands of puffins, as well as other bird species such as guillemots and razorbills.

Due to its high latitude, Grímsey experiences the midnight sun, the natural phenomenon during summer when the sun remains visible for 24 hours near polar regions. In winter, the island experiences polar nights, with prolonged periods of darkness. 

Planning a Day Trip to Grímsey Island

The island makes a great day trip from Akureyri in northern Iceland but it is possible to stay longer for those seeking a remote and pristine escape in a less touristy setting.

My day trip to the island was booked at the last minute, the day before we departed. I had never heard of Grímsey Island but wanted to see puffins up close and discovered Grimsey Island while in Akureyri searching for, “How to see Puffins in Iceland.”

The day trip to Grímsey was amazing! We only got to spend two hours on the island, but that is all you need to see the puffins, walk to the Arctic Circle, and enjoy some stunning scenery.

Puffins only come to shore in the summer to nest and give birth. They spend the winters in the open ocean, so in order to see the puffins of Grímsey Island, you have to visit during the summer (June-August).

There are other things to see on the island if you want to plan a longer stay, but reservations will need to be made well in advance as there are only two guest houses on the island. 

There are tours offered to Grímsey Island, but you do not need to spend extra on a Grímsey Island Iceland Tour, you can book transportation yourself and walk around the island with no problems.

How to Get to Grímsey Island

You can reach the island by airplane or ferry. Both transportation methods operate year round, but departure times vary throughout the year. During summer, there are 5 trips a week via ferry and flights at least two days a week, with the opportunity to charter a plane outside the pre-scheduled flight times. Check the ferry and flight websites for updated departure times and days of travel.

Cost and time are the biggest differences between taking the ferry or flying. My group flew because we needed to get back to Akureyri for plans later in the evening, and two of my group members did not want to risk getting seasick on the ferry. 

I love the aerial views you get from flying so low. We even saw whales swimming during take off, which was so cool. Despite the extra cost, flying was the right option for our group.

Flying From Akureyri (AEY) to Grimsey

Flights can be booked on Norlandair for a small prop plane that accommodates around 8 people. The total flight time is about 30 minutes.

I believe Norlandair and Icelandair merged, and the name was changed to Air Iceland, but there is no website for Air Iceland, and you can not book a flight from Akureyri to Grímsey on Icelandair.com. The trip went smoothly when booking on the Norlandair website.

The round-trip flight is about $150-$175 USD.

Grimsey Island Ferry

The ferry is called Sæfari, and it maintains a year-round schedule between Dalvík and Grímsey. Dalvík is about a 40-minute drive from Akureyri.

The ferry takes about three hours to arrive in Grímsey. 

During the summer months (June-August) the 108 person ferry stops at Grímsey Island for 2 to 4 hours before returning to Dalvik. This gives you 2-4 hours to see the island on a day trip.

The roundtrip ferry is about $60 USD per passenger. The ferry can also accommodate cars with advanced arrangements, but you won’t need a car on the island.

You can book a ferry ticket on the Iceland road website here.

These four photos were taken by photographer Craig Cauthen, who I met while dogsledding in Ely, Minnesota. He did a great job capturing these cuties in action! I just love the two lovebirds below-did you know, Puffins mate for life?

What To Do on a Day Trip to Grímsey Island

You will only have about 2 hours to walk around the island on a day trip to Grímsey, which does not sound like a lot, but it really was enough time to do what we came to do- watch the puffins!

After deplaning, a greeter welcomed us to the island and pointed out some landmarks like the lighthouse, the church, and the Orbis et Globus (a sphere art piece that marks the location of the Arctic Circle). 

Unfortunately, in September 2021, the beloved wooden church burnt to the ground, leaving only ashes; nothing could be saved. The community is now working to raise funds to rebuild the church that served as a powerful reminder of unity to the small community it served.

Everyone from the flight (all 8 of us) headed toward the sphere, stopping along the way to lie in the grass and watch the puffins on the cliffs. It is about a mile walk to the Orbis et Globus sphere, located on the island’s northern tip, from the runway.

If you asked me, the puffins are the stars of the show, but if you wanted to walk through the town of Sandvík, you could do that too. It’s about 15 mins from the airport, in the opposite direction of the Orbis et Globus.

The lighthouse is about 1.8 miles (3 km) or 40 mins walk from the airport, so you would be rushed if you wanted to walk there. 

The plane departs promptly, so ensure you are back to the airstrip in time to board.

Before boarding the flight back, the captain gave us each a certificate commemorating our trip to the Arctic Circle. It was totally unexpected but a lovely way to remember our trip to Grímsey Island. 

Staying the Night on Grímsey Island 

If you are looking for a longer retreat to the island you can stay overnight in one of the hotels or consider camping. There are some activities to keep you busy during your stay (listed in the next section of this post) but the main attraction is the island’s natural beauty and unspoiled atmosphere.

The island has two guest houses and one campsite. Google Maps indicates a third hotel, but I could only find booking information for the two guest houses. Midgardar Hotel may not be accepting bookings at this time. They do not have a website, and their linked Air B&B page is no longer working. 

Grímsey Island Hotels

  • Guesthouse Gullsól is a 6-room guest house with a shared bathroom, kitchen, and living room. They have an in-house cafe and free Wi-Fi in common areas. Rooms are around $55-$100 USD per night.
  • Guesthouse Básar sleeps 8 with a shared bathroom and living space. Dinner is offered if requested, and breakfast is complimentary. Wi-Fi is free in the common areas. Rooms here are slightly more expensive starting at $150 usd.

Camping on Grímsey Island

An official campground on the island is centrally located in town next to the swimming pool. Campers can use the pool facilities including hot showers & toilets, but you will need to bring your own camping supplies.

Things To Do on Grímsey Island

With an overnight stay on Grímsey Island, you’ll be able to see more of its scenic beauty and important landmarks, including the island’s lighthouse, Century Stones, and the Fiske Monument. Here is everything you can see and do on Grimsely Island besides puffins and the Arctic Circle.

  1. Festivals: Enjoy celebrating the longest day of the year and the movement of the Orbis et Globus at the Summer Solstice Festival around June 20th each year.
  2. Basalt columns: Stunning basalt columns can be found mainly along the island’s southwest corner.
  3. Century Stones: The three stones, at different locations on the island, are used to mark the Arctic Circle’s position during the summer solstices of 1717, 1817, and 1917.
  4. Golf: A small 3 hole golf course is located near the airport, golf clubs and balls can be rented at the Básar Guesthouse.
  5. Folf (frisbee golf): A 9-basket course can be found on Grímsey island.
  6. Bike Riding: Grímsey fits well for mountain biking as the landscape is soft, with a mixture of tracks, paths and roads. The company Arctic Bikes rents out mountain bikes and helmets to ferry-goers.
  7. The Fiske Monument: To honor Daniel Willard Fiske, an American librarian and scholar, who donated chess sets to every home after learning of the locals’ chess-loving lifestyle. He also contributed a substantial sum to support the community’s future endeavors.
  8. Lighthouse: Built in 1937, the 9.6-meter-high lighthouse in Grímsey stands on the island’s southeast corner and is a popular photography spot. It provides a vantage point for observing cliffs, birdlife, and the island’s eastern coast.
  9. Miðgarðar (area of the Island church): The church was built in 1867 from driftwood and was relocated in 1932 for fire safety, undergoing extensive renovations. Its 1878 altar painting, a local artist’s copy of a Leonardo da Vinci work, and historical significance led to its conservation status in 1990. Tragically, in 2021, an electrical fire left the community without this historical and cultural landmark. Efforts to rebuild the church are underway.

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Whether you spend a day or a week on beautiful Grímsey Island, you are sure to make some memories that will last a lifetime! Summer is the best time to visit Iceland and enjoy the stunning natural landscapes that are unique to the land of fire and ice.

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