Puffin getting ready to land on Skomer Island in the UK

9 of the best places to see puffins in the UK

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Faraway Worlds

Staff writers

With their distinctive black backs, round white cheeks and orange legs, puffins are some of the UK’s most loved seabirds. There are four species of puffins on the planet but the Atlantic puffin is the one that migrates to the UK each year. There are an incredible 580,000 puffins settling on cliff tops to build their nests and care for their young.

In the spring, puffins migrate to the UK to breed, so the best chance of spotting these magnificent birds is by looking for a breeding colony. Here are some of the best places to see puffins around the UK.

An Atlantic puffin holding sand eels in its beak on the Farne Islands, UK

1. Farne Islands, Northumberland 

The Farne Islands is a National Nature Reserve home to a huge breeding colony of thousands of seabirds, including puffins. Due to the devastating impact of bird flu the island is currently closed in order to protect all of the wildlife living there.

Although the island is closed you can still tour the island by boat. Between May and July is the best time to visit when you'll be able to see many puffins up close as the island hosts around 37,000 pairs of puffins.

During a tour, you can enjoy seeing the puffins out at sea and nesting on land with the pufflings. It's also a perfect opportunity to try your hand at wildlife photography and capture some impressive photographs of the wildlife surrounding the island.

Lighthouse with Puffin Island in the background

2. Puffin Island, Anglesey

Puffin Island is a small uninhabited island off the coast of Anglesey. The island is a Special Protection Area for wildlife and is home to around 2000 pairs of Atlantic puffin. 

The puffin island trip run by Anglesey Boat Trips takes in all the island has to offer. Visiting Puffin Island with a cruise allows you to go to some of the best locations to see puffins along with other kinds of wildlife. Unfortunately, you're not allowed on to the island by foot, but the boat trip enables you to get some amazing photographs of the nesting puffins that live there.

Bempton Cliffs in North Yorkshire, UK

3. Bempton Cliff, North Yorkshire

On the spectacular Yorkshire coat, Bempton Cliffs are home to some of the UK's top wildlife spectacles. Around half a million seabirds gather there each year to make nests for their young. During the breeding season, thousands of puffins gather to lay eggs and incubate them. 

Travel to the cliff's around mid-July to see the adults returning from fishing at sea with sand eels hanging from their mouths to feed their babies. The cliffs are accessible by car or train and there are a variety of facilities around the area including a cafe and toilets. Bempton Cliffs are cared for by the RSPB, so a small fee is required upon arrival.

A puffin walking through daisies on Skomer Island in the UK

4. Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire

Just off the Pembrokeshire coast, the enchanting Skomer Island is a well-known place to spot puffins. The puffins on this island form the largest breeding colony in Southern Britain with an estimated 49,500 pairs of puffins. 

The best time to visit the island is between April and July when there will be opportunities to see newly-hatched pufflings nestling in their burrows. Pembrokeshire Island Boat Trips organises day trips taking around 5 hours to explore the unspoiled island and experience the variety of wildlife that lives there.

Sumburgh Head at the Shetlands Island in Scotland

5. Sumburgh Head, Shetland Islands

The Shetland Islands are a magnificent place for marine life and seabirds to live. The RSPB works hard at Sumburgh Head to preserve the landscape and monitor the puffins that are nesting there to reduce the risk of extinction. The 'puffincam' streamed live from the Shetlands is a famous way to see how these seabirds prepare for the breeding season and take care of their pufflings.

With steep cliffs and a historic lighthouse, Sumburgh Head is a prime location for puffins to nest and is one of Britain's most accessible locations for puffin colonies.

The visitors centre at Sumburgh Head is open from April - September and offers a host of day tours to explore the area. A small fee to support the work of the RSPB is required upon arrival. 

The coastline of St Mary's in the Isles of Scilly

6. Isles of Scilly

Puffins arrive in Scilly around April and nest in colonies on the uninhabited islands. Although over recent years it was believed that the number of puffins was in decline on the Isles of Scilly, recent records show that between 150-200 pairs still fly to the Isles every year to breed.

At the end of the breeding season in mid-July, the puffins return to the Atlantic until the next migration. Sea Quest organises day trips in a glass bottom boat for the ultimate wildlife safari. The trip travels around the Isles with spectacular scenery of seals, dolphins, and puffins.

Chalk cliffs at Flamborough

7. Flamborough Cliffs, East Yorkshire

Flamborough Head is one of the best places to see puffins from land. Every year the Yorkshire Puffin Festival showcases these amazing seabirds with fun activities and fact-finding games. The festival helps to raise awareness of the risk to puffin colonies and how you can help to protect them.

The nature reserve at Flamborough cliffs is free to enter with a number of facilities perfect for all visitors. With stunning sea views, the cliffs are an excellent vantage point to see puffins nesting along with many other seabirds and wildlife. 

A wild Atlantic puffin in the grass

8. Burhou Island, Channel Islands

Just off the coast of Alderney, a small island called Burhou is home to more than 100 pairs of puffins each year. The pairs often meet up after nine months out at sea to prepare their nest ready for mating season. Puffins usually live for sound 20 years and mate for life so this long-awaited reunion is quite touching to experience!

The Alderney Wildlife Trust works to monitor and protect the number of puffins on the Island and so landing on Burhou is prohibited during the months of May-July. However, visitors can enjoy watching these mesmerising birds from onboard a boat with a variety of trips available from the Visitors Information Centre.

A puffin on a large rock at Handa Island in the Scottish Highlands

9. Handa Island, Scottish Highlands

Handa Island is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest and hosts over 150 species of birds. The dramatic cliffs provide stunning panoramic views of the ocean to see marine wildlife and seabirds. Between Mid-May and July, over 200 pairs of puffin nest at Handa Island to take shelter and provide food for their young.

To reach Handa Island there is a pedestrian ferry service that runs from Tarbet on the mainland. A volunteer from the Scottish Wildlife Trust will meet you on the island to provide a short introductory talk about the reserve and answer any questions.

Planning a trip to the UK? Read our UK travel guide.

Puffins in the UK

Frequently asked questions

When is the best time to see puffins in the UK?

The best time to see puffins is during the spring and summer. Between April - Mid July puffins gather on the coast and North Atlantic Ocean to breed. Once the breeding season is over, puffins choose their own migration routes with some returning to Greenland or Iceland for the winter while others fly in the opposite direction towards the Mediterranean.

How many puffins are there in the UK?

There are around 580,000 pairs of Atlantic puffins living in the UK.

Can you see puffins in Scotland?

Yes! Sumburgh Head on the Shetland Islands and at Handa Island and the Caithness puffin colonies in the Highlands are locations where you can see puffins. 

Can you see puffins in Wales?

Yes! You can see puffins on Skomer Island in Pembrokeshire and Puffin Island in Anglesey, North Wales.

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Last Updated 9 October 2023

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