The 12 Best Coastal Cities for Whale-Watching
In the waters surrounding these bustling seaside settlements, you'll find some of the world's best whale-watching opportunities.
Equipped with massive lungs, and a haunting song that carries miles through the ocean, whales have captured the hearts of philosophers and pop stars alike throughout history. Though many species were driven to the brink of extinction in recent years, nations across the globe have worked in close cooperation to protect these gentle giants from further harm—and in the modern era, there’s a wealth of charming coastal settlements that offer ample opportunity to view them in the wild.
Europe’s Bay of Biscay is renowned for its high concentration of whales and dolphins, with the Basque capital of Bilbao serving as one of its most suitable bases for whale watching. Though there’s potential to spot blue, fin, and sperm whales on a tour with Ver Ballenas, the company finds the most success with smaller cetaceans. Pilot whales and common dolphins are a near guarantee for patrons, while the Bay of Biscay is an incredible destination for multiple sightings of the Cuvier’s beaked whale, a curious species that spends the bulk of its time hunting deep underwater.
In addition to world-class universities, top-tier breweries, and fascinating historic landmarks, New England’s largest city is also rife with opportunities for cetacean spotting. The secret to its success? The iconic Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, a nearby oceanic preserve that’s home to a treasure trove of aquatic species. One of the best ways to get acquainted with Boston’s biodiversity is on a Boston Harbor City Cruise, an expedition that’s operated in tandem with the New England Aquarium, offering potential views of humpbacks, minkes, fins, and even the ultra-endangered North Atlantic right whale.
WHERE: South Africa
South Africa’s interior is home to world-class safari destinations like Tswalu Kalahari Reserve and Kruger National Park, but when it comes to marine mammals, it’s tough to find a more suitable city than Cape Town. Bryde’s whales are a year-round attraction beyond the shores of False Bay, while humpbacks and Southern right whales can be found from June to November, with Simon’s Town Boat Company serving as a local favorite for expeditions. Keeping with the marine animal theme, serious thrill seekers can come face-to-jaw with an entirely different type of creature—the great white shark, with Apex Shark Expeditions offering cage diving experiences just off the coast of Simon’s Town.
The heart of Brazil is home to jaguars, giant anteaters, and a wealth of other iconic land mammals, while the country’s lengthy coast is a goldmine for a wide variety of cetaceans. One destination in particular—the southern city of Florianópolis—has earned widespread acclaim for its wildlife offerings, and also comes with pristine beaches and gorgeous architecture to boot. From July to September, the beloved Southern right whale graces the surrounding area with its presence, arriving in droves to give birth in the balmy waters of Santa Catarina. Though whale watching by boat is prohibited in the state, there’s no need to worry—the species can be spotted from shore in Florianópolis, Praia do Rosa, and a wealth of other coastal towns.
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Though small in stature, the British territory of Bermuda has king-sized potential when it comes to the world of whale watching. Humpbacks are the star attraction around here, with roughly 10,000 of the iconic animals gracing the surrounding waters around March and April. To kickstart your expedition, pay a visit to the heart of Hamilton to find Island Tour Centre, a local company that excels at crafting wildlife expeditions ranging from kayaking eco-tours to snorkeling tours. Once booked, guests can expect to experience stellar humpback views—and maybe a glimpse of a sperm whale for the truly fortunate.
Though Juneau stands out as the sole capital city in the United States that’s inaccessible by highway, the incredible potential for whale watching makes this coastal city well worth the flight in. The sprawling cityside Gastineau Channel is a well-trod path by migrating humpbacks from April to September, providing visitors with potential views of the creatures during a tour with Juneau Whale Watch. As an added bonus, the iconic bald eagle is a common sight around the area, with the raptors gathering in abundance throughout the region to dine on carrion and steal catches from other species.
Planning a lengthy train trip across Japan? Don’t leave the archipelago without stopping in Kōchi, the capital city of the coastal Kōchi Prefecture. After paying a visit to the iconic Kōchi Castle, new arrivals can head west to find USAWW Whale Watching, a company that offers ample insight into the marine creatures that call Shikoku home—including one creature that’s rarely found outside the region. Known as the Bryde’s whale, this mid-sized cetacean is particularly suited to the waters of southern Japan, making it a top attraction in the area. Beyond the Bryde’s, visitors can also expect cameos from common dolphins, false killer whales, and a wealth of native seabirds as well.
Sailing, surfing, and sea safaris are a way of life in Monterey, an abundantly-charming city on the coast of Central California. The region’s incredible array of oceanic mammals—including ample amounts of adorable sea otters—has made it a hub for marine biology, with the Monterey Bay Aquarium serving as one of the nation’s most prestigious institutions. If you’re hoping to see cetaceans in the wild, it’s tough to beat Princess Monterey Whale Watching. While spinner dolphins and Dall’s porpoises are a common sight on a tour, those in search of the elusive blue whale should be sure to book a trip between August and October.
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In terms of Middle Eastern tourist destinations, Muscat tends to get overshadowed by cities like Dubai and Doha, but this historic Omani capital city is a must-visit for serious whale aficionados. Just past city borders, the surrounding waters are teeming with spinner and common dolphins—though they’re far from the only variety of mammals that the Gulf of Oman is home to. On a voyage with Muscat Sea Tours, guests can spot a massive array of sea life mingling in the current, with Risso’s dolphins, false killer whales, and even the rare orca pod surging through the surf.
Equipped with over 1,500 miles of Caribbean and Pacific shoreline, the Central American nation of Panama is home to a massive array of native wildlife—and whales are no exception. For visitors to the national capital, the nearby Pearl Islands are an essential day trip whale spotting destination, with local company EcoCircuitos Panama launching customizable excursions from July to October. During a tour, visitors will have the opportunity to encounter migrating humpbacks and—as an added bonus—spend a couple of hours snorkeling through the pristine waters surrounding Contadora Island.
Those who choose to venture to the ultra-isolated Australian city of Perth will be rewarded with gorgeous beaches, fine wine, and ample opportunity for whale spotting. A variety of whale, dolphin, and porpoise species can be found all throughout the year, but for best results, plan a trip with Whale Watch Western Australia during the Australian spring or summer. From September to December, the region’s native humpbacks embark on their long journey back to the waters of Antarctica, with mature adults and bright-eyed calves alike passing right by the city. While these humpbacks are certainly a highlight, visitors can also find blue whales, Southern right whales, and even orcas throughout the year as well.
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Iceland’s staggering volcanic landscapes have vaulted the nation to worldwide stardom, and the country’s surrounding waters are no stranger to natural beauty either. Minkes and humpbacks are a common sight across the region, while summer ushers in an increased chance of spotting a blue or fin whale spouting in the distance. For newcomers to the Icelandic capital, Katla Whale Watching is a top-tier choice, offering both whale watching excursions and trips in search of the puffin, a famous seabird that’s renowned for its colorful—and adorable—appearance.