A Guide to Glaciers in Iceland

A lake on top of Bárðarbunga on Vatnajökull glacier.

What are the names of Iceland’s best-known glaciers, and how do these epic natural formations come to be? Which glacial activities can you take part in during your vacation? Read further to uncover just why this nation is known as Iceland, and learn about the mighty glaciers found all across the country. 

Iceland is known to many as the land of fire and ice; a striking, antithetical blending of molten fire and crystal-blue ice. 

In fact, this relationship is closer than it may at first appear. Many of its ferocious volcanoes rest beneath enormous vistas of frozen water known as glaciers, shielding fiery giants from view when dormant, and creating powerful natural spectacles upon erupting. 

It is these enormous ice caps that dominate around 11% of the island’s landmass. Travelling down the picturesque South Coast, you will see glaciers like Mýrdalsjökull, Eyjafjallajökull, and Vatnajökull from Route 1 – or the Ring Road – which is the major thoroughfare that circles the entire island. 

The Glaciological Society's spring trip to Grímsvötn on Vatnajökull glacier.
Photo: The Glaciological Society’s spring trip to Grímsvötn on Vatnajökull glacier.

However, there are glaciers to be found in the far west, the Central Highlands, and in the North, meaning that wherever you are in the country, ice is never far away. In total, there are around 270 named glaciers in the country. 

Speaking of names, Icelandic ice caps are often christened with labels that, frankly, appear unpronounceable to those without a rudimentary knowledge of Iceland’s mother-tongue. With Icelandic being a fairly literal language, rest easy knowing that Jökull simply means glacier, which is always placed after a descriptor. You will find translations for each of Iceland’s best known glaciers below. 

As a semi-related sidenote, Jökull has remained a popular boy’s name for many years, continuing the tradition of naming local children after natural features. 

How do glaciers form?

Hiking a glacier is one of many great activities during winter in Iceland
Photo: Skaftafell 5-Hours Adventure Glacier Hike

You will only find glaciers atop land, in locations where snow persists long enough to transform into ice. As the decades go by, layer upon layer of pearlescent white snow compresses, changing its density. 

As this snow and ice tends to form along sheer mountainous slopes, glaciers are propelled by their own weight, thus moving little by little each year. The ice cap remains persistent because more snow falls atop the ice than slips away. Despite this, the glacier’s movement creates crevasses and moulins within the ice.

In Iceland, it is often the case that glaciers end with their own lagoon. This is where large chunks of ice break away from the main body, creating meltwater that forms its own waterbody. These glacial lakes are attractions in themselves, drawing visitors to look upon their gentle aesthetic and floating icebergs. 

What glaciers can be found in Iceland?

An aerial view of a glacier in Iceland
Photo: Volcanoes, Waterfalls and Glacier Landing – Helicopter Tour from Reykjavik

There are many glaciers in Iceland, and each of them are as gargantuan as they are fascinating to learn about. Before reading on further, be aware that many glaciers have what are known as glacier tongues, or outlet glaciers, which are parts of the original ice cap that have drifted separately down a valley. 

Vatnajökull (“Water Glacier”)

Covering a total of 7,900 sq km, Vatnajökull is the biggest, most voluminous glacier in Iceland. It just so happens to be the second-largest in Europe, exceeded only by the Severny Island ice cap off the northern reaches of Russia. Vatnajökull is, in fact, so humongous that it covers 10 different volcanoes and has over 30 outlet glaciers trailing from it.

Breiðamerkurjökull is one such outlet glacier, at the bottom of which sits the beloved Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. This tantalising water body is among Iceland’s star sites, ethereal as it is with buoyant icebergs and epic surrounding views. The lake is home to a wild seal population, and there are a variety of boat tours available that take you right up to where Breiðamerkurjökull breaks away into the lagoon.  

Eyjafjallajökull (“Island Mountain Glacier”)

A lady looks on Eyjafjallajökull
Photo: DT 03 Thorsmork and Eyjafjallajokull

Those who remember 2010 will remember Eyjafjallajökull from the countless news bulletins that covered its cataclysmic eruption. Given that many broadcasters had trouble even attempting to pronounce its name, the stratovolcano was designated an easier sobriquet – E15 – titled as such because of its fifteen letters. The 2010 eruptions caused significant disruptions to air-travel across Europe, wrecking vacation plans and stranding passengers across the globe. Somewhat ironically, one of the only airports that remained operational was Iceland’s Keflavík International Airport given the fact the ash plume was blowing in the other direction.

While this was the latest eruption, Eyjafjallajökull has exploded many times before, most notably in the years 920, 1612, 1821. Despite its unpredictable and explosive history, Eyjafjallajökull is actually one of Iceland’s smaller ice caps, covering only 80 sq km. It can be seen while travelling along the South Coast.  

Langjökull (“Long Glacier”)

Guests in the ice tunnel
Photo: Into The Glacier

Langjökull is the closest glacier to Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik, and the second largest in Iceland. It is named after its elongated shape, covering 950 sq km at an elevation of 1300 ft. Plus, it’s easily accessible from the Golden Circle sightseeing route, presenting guests with the opportunity to explore the glacier alongside other famed sites like Þingvellir National Park, Geysir geothermal area, and Gullfoss waterfall. 

It is possible to visit Iceland’s only artificially-made ice tunnel with Langjökull. As opposed to the naturally-formed ice caves beneath Vatnajökull or Mýrdalsjökull, these caverns and tunnels were created by huge drilling machines for the intended purpose of hosting the many visitors who arrive to Iceland each year. 

The tour is called Into The Glacier, and sees guests driven to the tunnel in large, specially-made treaded vehicles capable of travelling across smooth ice. Aside from experiencing the ice-tunnel, there are many other activities available atop Langjökull, including: snowmobiling, glacier hiking, and skiing.

Snæfellsjökull (“Snow Mountain Glacier”)

carbon neutral Iceland 2040
Photo: Golli. Travellers heading into Snæfellsjökull National Park

Like Vatnajökull to the east, the westerly-located Snæfellsjökull glacier is the centrepiece of its own national park. Its dense ice sheet shields a powerful stratovolcano that last erupted approximately 1800 years ago. 

On clear days, free of mists and clouds, the devil-horn peaks of Snæfellsjökull can sometimes be seen from Reykjavik. If the weather is fitting, be sure to look out for this 1446 m [4744 ft] landmark across the lapping blue waters of Faxaflói Bay. 

Those who have read Jules Verne’s classic science-fiction story, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, will know Snæfellsjökull as the entry-way to the molten core of our planet. The adventure begins when Professor Otto Liedenbrock discovers a secret note within the pages of an Icelandic saga. The note reads: 

Go down into the crater of Snaefellsjökull, which Scartaris’s shadow caresses just before the calends of July, O daring traveller, and you’ll make it to the centre of the earth.  

Open throughout the year, Snæfellsjökull National Park was established in 2001, joining the ranks of Þingvellir National Park and Vatnajökull National Park as recognised areas of supreme natural beauty. It covers 183 sq km of lava fields, glacier ice, black sand coastlines, and hardened craters. 

Mýrdalsjökull (“Bog Valley Glacier”)

Katla Ice Caves
Photo: Golli. Katla ice caves in South Iceland.

Mýrdalsjökull is found halfway along the South Coast, looming over the remote yet scenic coastal village of Vík í Mýrdal. Beneath its vast ice sheet sits Katla volcano, one of the more historically active volcanoes in the country. Since 930 AD, Katla has erupted twice each century, meaning an eruption is overdue. 

Mýrdalsjökull comes in fourth place when ranking Iceland’s biggest glaciers. It covers approximately 600 sq km, and thus comes hand in hand with many outlet glaciers. 

Famed for its ash-stricken ice, Sólheimajökull is one of the glacier tongues that trail off Mýrdalsjökull ice cap. It is one of the most popular spots for glacier hiking tours in the country, as well as conceals the Katla ice caves beneath. 

What tours are available on Iceland’s glaciers? 

 

There are many ways to discover Iceland’s glaciers other than seeing them when driving by. 

In fact, it is encouraged to actively explore these immense natural features by taking one or two tours that directly bring you to them. So, what activities do visitors get up to atop the ice? 

Glacier Hiking Tours 

Photo: Golli. Hiking towards the glacier’s edge

Equipped with walking poles and a pair of spiked crampons, locals and visitors alike have been hiking up Iceland’s glaciers for decades. Traversing these magnificent ice giants by foot allows for guests to experience the vistas up-close and personal, as well as get a healthy dose of physical activity during their holiday. 

From atop Iceland’s glaciers, guests are privy to incredible and majestic perspectives over the adjacent landscape and coastlines. Ultimately, they are the best viewpoints that money can buy. 

Regarding safety, it is important to know that you should NEVER attempt to hike up a glacier alone. 

These features are scarred with fissures and crevasses. Sometimes covered by thin ice. It is an environment that might pose a significant threat to anyone unaware of the best routes. Always book a glacier hiking tour with a certified operator. You remain safe during your trip, and your guide will offer you countless tidbits of information about how glaciers form, and how best to enjoy them.

Ice Caving Tours 

A man inside an Icelandic ice cave
Photo: Skaftafell Blue Ice Cave & Glacier Hike

While hikers experience Iceland’s glaciers from the surface, ice cavers discover the sapphire caverns beneath. Ice caving tours tend to be at a more gentle pace than glacier hiking, and some even have pre-built walkways to aid accessibility. Ice caving is at its most dramatic during the winter, and in the summer, many actually melt away, making them impossible to enter. 

Stepping inside these crystalline caverns allows guests to look upon curling walls of blue and white ice. Inside, you can appreciate the natural way they twist and turn beneath the surface. The reason why they are so blue is because the ice is ancient and extremely dense. This means that it has had time to absorb each and every colour of the spectrum – except for blue, leaving that as the only tone visible. Some ice caves in Iceland, such as those at Katla, are speckled with black ash, creating some truly abstract scenery. 

Before booking an ice caving tour, it is important to realise that ice caves and glacier caves are different things. Ice caves describe caves that have ice in them, while the latter are those specifically found as part of ice caps. However, for all intents and purposes, the term ice cave tends to be used for both. 

Ice Climbing Tours 

Skaftafell Ice Climbing
Photo: Skaftafell Ice Climbing & Glacier Hike

Finally, ice climbing tours present the chance to scale the wide, domineering walls of Iceland’s glaciers by way of spiked boots and double-sided ice axes. If you have a good fitness level and desire to conquer physical obstacles, ice climbing is the sport for you.

There are various routes available up the ice, some that are suited to beginners, and others that require more experience. Ice climbing takes discipline, so listen closely to how your guide instructs you on how to ascend. They will provide you with all of the necessary kit. But bring a waterproof jacket and trousers, as well as a hat and gloves. 

Snowmobiling Tours

A man rides a snowmobile across a glacier in Iceland
Photo: Unforgettable Golden Circle & snowmobiling – A Private Tour

Speed-freaks have only one true option when it comes to maximising their time atop Iceland’s ice caps – Snowmobiling

Given the amount of terrain that snowmobilers can cover in little time, this form of travel has become immensely popular. Through snowmobiling, guests can see far more of the ice cap than would otherwise be possible hiking. And, of course, they can have great fun doing so as they skid across the ice at heart-racing speeds. 

These adrenaline-fuelled tours are open to experienced and beginner riders. If you are over 18 years old and have a driving licence, you are free to operate a snowmobile yourself. If not, you can always ride as a passenger on the back seat. 

In Summary 

The Glaciological Society's spring trip to Grímsvötn on Vatnajökull glacier.
Photo: Golli. Grímsvötn

Exploring Iceland’s glaciers should be considered a must-do activity by anyone spending significant time in the country. Doing so allows guests to gain an appreciation of the wondrous geological forces that have shaped the island. Plus, it presents the chance for them to revel in otherworldly beauty – vast vistas of crystal ice and snow. 

Before you head off, make sure to check out these incredible glacier tours available across Iceland.

Discover Iceland’s Scenic South Coast 

Skógafoss waterfall on the South Coast in Iceland

The magnificent South Coast in Iceland makes for a diverse and exciting adventure for sightseers. But what are the best sites en route, and how long does it take to experience? Are there tours that will escort you along the South Coast, or is it better to drive yourself? Read on to learn more about this beautiful region.

There are several routes in Iceland that have become famed for their beauty, most notably the Golden Circle in West Iceland, and the Diamond Circle to the north. 

The South Coast is part of this pantheon, offering an esoteric mix of attractions that are sure to delight even the most seasoned of travellers. 

Why experience the South Coast in Iceland? 

South Coast travellers
Photo: Golli. The South is one of Iceland’s most stunning regions.

The South Coast is among Iceland’s most beloved sightseeing routes. Waterfalls, canyons, glacier lagoons, black sand beaches and desert – all lie in wait for those venturing along this pristine stretch of shoreline.

Thankfully, the South Coast happens to be incredibly accessible, strengthening its popularity amongst foreign guests. Travellers need only follow the Ring Road – or Route 1; the major tarmac road circling the island – east from the capital, Reykjavík. This route will pass by each of one of its major stops.

Frankly, the South Coast has something to offer everyone. Be you a landscape photographer seeking out picturesque vantage points. Or a road warrior looking to cover as much ground in Iceland in the limited time available to you. The South Coast provides. 

What major sites are on Iceland’s South Coast?

Travellers in Iceland's south
Photo: Golli. Behind Seljalandsfoss waterfall

As is the case with so much of Iceland, the South Coast in its entirety is a sight to behold. Driving between sites, you are just as likely to have your breath taken away by the passing visuals as you are at each of its famous attractions. 

With that said, there are places that are more worthy of discussion than others, be it because of their interesting geological makeup, importance to Icelandic culture, or stunning aesthetic.

Let’s learn more about each of the attractions you’ll pass when leaving from Reykjavík.

Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss Waterfalls 

Skógafoss in the mist
Photo: Golli. Skógafoss waterfall.

The famous waterfall alley of South Iceland. The first waterfall visitors will stumble upon is Seljalandsfoss, with Skógafoss being around half an hour’s drive east. Both of their waters originate from the mighty Eyjafjallajökull glacier, famous for its violent eruption in 2010. 

Seljalandsfoss allows guests to walk behind its narrow waterfall, offering truly fabulous photography opportunities for capturing the surrounding landscape through a natural filter of cascading water. This gorgeous natural landmark falls 60 m [200 feet] over an ancient sea cliff, making for unbelievable visuals when seen besides the enclosing meadows and nearby shoreline.

A twisting staircase leads up the side of Skógafoss. This presents visitors with the chance to see this feature from the top and bottom. This waterfall is just as high as Seljalandsfoss, but has a much greater width at 25 m [82 ft.] According to legends, treasures hide behind the waterfall, but we would not recommend venturing too close for fear you may be crushed. 

The hidden falls, Gljúfrabúi 

Gljúfrabúi hidden falls
Photo: Golli. Gljúfrabúi is the among Iceland’s hiddden falls

While Seljalandsfoss is one of the most well-known waterfalls on the South Coast, Gljúfrabúi (Canyon Dweller) is within easy walking distance, nestled away inside a diminutive gorge of its own. 

Gljúfrabúi remains something of an open secret in the area. Quite the feat given the many thousands who visit Seljalandsfoss each day.

The waterfall is 40 m [131 ft] tall, and trickles into the oceanbound stream, Gljúfurá. Those who want a closer look at this feature will have to hopscotch their way over the trickling water to the best vantage point. 

Kvernufoss 

 

Standing at 30 m [98 ft], observing Kvernufoss waterfall feels akin to discovering treasure given that it’s hidden inside a mossy gorge. 

Just like Seljalandsfoss, it is possible to traipse behind Kvernufoss by following its conveniently placed walking path. Given the great plumes of mist that erupt at the base of the falls, anyone hoping to look upon the waterfall from this inside angle should expect to get wet!

Vík í Mýrdal

Vík i Myrdal Church
Photo: Golli. Vík i Myrdal Church in Iceland

Better known simply as Vík, this pleasant coastal village is found 180 km [112 mi] from Reykjavík, making it the perfect place to stop, breathe, and grab a bite to eat during your trip along the South Coast. 

Home to little under 400 people, Vík has become something of an attraction in its own right on account that its isolated position and seafront architecture present a side of Icelandic life rarely seen in the capital. 

To many, Vík is defined by its amazing surrounding scenery. It lies at the base of Mýrdalsjökull glacier, which itself covers the once ominous Katla volcano. 

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach 

Reynisfjara black sand beach on the South Coast in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Reynisfjara black sand beach.

By now, much has been discussed about the inherent dangers of Reynisfjara, given the fact that its unpredictable wave patterns have cost lives, and created many incidences of panic among visitors. 

Despite this, Reynisfjara does remind one of the country’s most beautiful shorelines, and is well worthy of appreciation at a distance. 

This is not so much for its glassy black pebbles – a bonafide staple of many beaches in Iceland – but more so because it’s home to Reynisdrangar; impressive basalt sea stacks that loom over the adjacent coastal village of Vík í Mýrdal. 

Dyrhólaey peninsula

Dyrhólaey peninsula
Photo: Golli. The epic landscape of Dyrhólaey peninsula

Closeby to Reynisfjara, Dyrhólaey Peninsula (Door Hill Island) is a true geographical marvel thanks to its breathtaking, arch-shaped rock formation. 

The dramatic hole in the basalt rock is the result of wind and water erosion, reminding its observers of the natural forces that continue to shape Iceland to this day. The site is home to various bird species, including skuas, guillemots, and in summer, the iconic Atlantic Puffin.

This promontory offers panoramic views of the black sand coastline and adjoining ocean, making it a fabulous spot for landscape photographs. 

Katla Ice Caves  

Katla Ice Caves
Photo: Golli. Katla ice caves in South Iceland.

The Katla ice caves are a worthwhile stop for travellers interested to learn more about the underworld beneath Iceland’s glaciers. If ever there was a place to take your camera, this would be it! 

Katla’s ice caves lack the crystal blue ice that has made those beneath Vatnajökull world-famous. Instead, these caverns are better characterised as being white with snowfall, with black volcanic ash mixed in, creating an aesthetic all its own. 

During your caving tour at Katla, your certified guide will provide you with a pair of spiked crampons to help your feet grip the icy surface, as well as a pair of hiking poles for anyone seeking extra support. You will also wear a protective helmet so as to protect you should slips or stumbles occur. 

Solheimajökull Glacier

 

 

Solheimajökull is an outlet glacier originating from the larger Mýrdalsjökull ice cap – the very same that looms over Vík í Mýrdal. It is a popular spot for glacier hiking, an exciting activity which sees visitors walk across great ice plains in spiky crampons, taking in its dramatic moulins and crevasses. 

Solheimajökull is approximately 10 km long and 2 km wide, though it blends in with the Mýrdalsjökull ice in such a way as to appear much larger. Its exterior surface is a mixture of white ice and black volcanic ash, creating scenes reminiscent of a science fiction film. 

The DC Plane Wreck at Solheimasandur

The DC Plane Wreck at Solheimasandur
Photo: Golli. The abandoned wreckage

An artificial monument, of sorts. The metallic husk of a US Navy Douglas R4D-8 aircraft lays on the flattened dunes of Solheimasandur black sand desert. It has ever since it crashed there on November 21st 1973. Its degraded grey metal, twisted and hollow with time, stands separate to the emptiness of the surrounding landscape.

What could have been a catastrophe actually turned out to be an astounding stroke of luck for its crew. Not a single person died in the crash. The accident was caused by the pilot accidentally switching to the wrong fuel tank. What otherwise had been a routine flight as part of the US defence agreement with Iceland quickly devolved into an emergency landing. 

Interestingly enough, the DC plane wreck is not held in such high regard by the Icelanders as it with tourists. It is, actually, tourists who have taken it upon themselves to grant it a special spot among the South Coast’s attractions. Hence its inclusion in this article. 

Be aware that the wreckage cannot be seen from the Ring Road. And there are no clear signs. It is only advised to trek here in the company of those who are certain of its location, and never in the wintertime, given the copious amounts of snow that fall over Solheimasandur. 

Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon

 

 

With 100 m walls of rock rising on either side of the Fjaðrá river, the dark, dramatic Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon is a bewitching sight. It is found close to the Ring Road, nearby to the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur, and trails 2 km through across the landscape. 

It is believed the canyon is around 9000 years old, only enforcing the idea that better belongs in a fantastical, storybook setting. Its origins lie at Geirlandshraun mountain, which would have seeped vast amounts of glacier water across the landscape at the end of the last Ice Age.

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon & Diamond Beach 

Jökulsárlón lake
Photo: Golli. Jökulsárlón lagoon

Jökulsárlón lagoon sits at the base of Breiðamerkurjökull outlet glacier, a single tongue that slithers off Europe’s largest ice cap, Vatnajökull. 

This glistening, ice-berg filled water body is just one part of the UNESCO World Heritage site, Vatnajökull National Park, and is often considered the last stop people will make on the South Coast. 

Jökulsárlón is one the most photographed spots in the entire country. It is very popular among guests, many who add to the experience with an amphibious or zodiac boat tour. Others are content to stand at the water’s banks, appreciating the incredible ice formations as they float peacefully on their way out to the ocean. 

You can read more in our full article: Visit Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon in South East Iceland 

How long does driving the South Coast take? 

South Coast driving
Photo: Golli. Driving on the South Coast

In reality, this depends on how long you wish to spend enjoying this pristine route. Reaching what is considered to be the last stop on the South Coast, Jökulsárlón, will take you five hours when travelling directly along Route 1.  

So, if you are hoping to see everything the South Coast has to offer in a single day, you should expect to be driving for a minimum of twelve hours, taking into consideration that you will stop and appreciate many of its sites along the way. 

Is the South Coast free? 

A Reykjavik Excursions coach
Photo: Golli. There are many coach tours along the South Coast.

As with most things in Iceland, travelling the South Coast is not completely without cost. There is the price of fuel to consider, and any stops you make along the way for food and respite. Some sites may also incur parking fees, so it is most certainly wise to keep cash on hand. 

Naturally, tour operators can also transport you along this route, stopping from one site to the next. Prices vary greatly depending on the type of experience they offer. For example, private tours will require more payment. But they do allow for you and your family to enjoy Iceland’s southern region in a quieter, more personal way. 

For a lighter cost, but less freedom, you can opt for a coach tour. This means travelling with a larger group. In these circumstances, you are tied to the whims of the group-at-large, not to mention the coach driver. And you will have less wiggle room when it comes to scheduling.  

What towns and villages offer a place to eat on the South Coast? 

Friðheimar farm
Photo: Golden Circle — Platinum Tour | Small group. Visitors to Friðheimar farm.

The South Coast is an expensive area, covering 401 km in total. So where exactly you should stop to eat depends on your preference, and whether amenities can be found closeby. Taking that into consideration, let’s start by shining a light on a handful of the eateries on the western side of this southerly coastal route. 

Places to eat on the western side of the South Coast

Prized by travellers as a restaurant and boutique hotel, Varma is located in the geothermal town of Hveragerði. It offers delicious meals like slow-smoked salmon, langoustine soup, and sourdough steak sandwiches. The dining space is situated in an airy, greenhouse-style area. As such, it allows for beautiful views of the rural surroundings. 

Also in Hveragerði is Ölverk Pizza & Brugghús. Unsurprisingly, it specialises in wood-fired pizza and craft beer brewed on-site. Hveragerði is only 45 km east of Reykjavík, making it a great town to eat at the beginning or end of your journey. The same can be said of Selfoss, only fifteen minutes drive away. This lovely town also boasts such places as Kaffi Krús and Tryggvaskáli. The latter placing emphasis on locally-sourced ingredients. 

A delicious meal served on the Golden Circle route
Photo: The Elite Golden Circle with lunch at farm & luxury hot sea baths

Places to eat on eastern side of the South Coast

Further east, closeby to the famed waterfall that shares its name, visitors can stop to eat at Hótel Skógafoss Bistro and Bar. The restaurant offers a variety of breakfast, lunch, and dinner plates, both Icelandic and international dishes. 

In Vík í Mýrdal, there are a good number of places to chow down. How about the iconic Black Beach Restaurant (​Svarta Fjaran), or the great lunch spot, Suður? You could also stray towards American or European dishes at the old-fashioned Halldors Kaffi in a beautiful historic home. 

There are many other restaurants, snack bars, and cafes found further along the South Coast. The Glacier Lagoon Café is located beside Jökulsárlón and offers an array of delicious sandwiches and soups. At the far east of the South Coast in the town of Höfn, travellers can pay a visit to such places as Hali Country Hotel Restaurant, the lobster-mad Pakkhús Restaurant, or the harbour-side Íshúsið Pizzeria

In Summary 

Eyjafjöll - Undir Eyjafjöllum Kýr á beit
Photo: Páll Stefánsson. Cows at Eyjafjöll, South Iceland

What else is there to say? If you’re planning on taking a trip to Iceland for a week or more, the South Coast is highly recommended. 

Regardless of how you experience it, expect to be left in awe of Iceland’s beautiful natural scenery. Its quaint coastal towns. Its memorable activities.  

Make sure to browse our selection of South Coast tours before you go! 

Visit Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon in South East Iceland 

Jökulsárlón glacier lake in South Iceland

Whereabouts is Iceland’s famous Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, and why is it considered a staple stop during the classic Iceland vacation? How much time should you spend at this beloved lake of ice, and what stops can be seen en route? Read on to find out all there is to know about Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. 

Over the years, Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon has been bequeathed with a rather regal nickname –  the ‘Crown Jewel of Iceland.’ It’s not difficult to see why. As one of the star attractions within Vatnajökull National Park, this gorgeous lagoon sits at the base of Breiðamerkurjökull outlet glacier. 

 

A Glacier Lagoon Like No Other


Arriving from the Ring Road, travellers will find themselves in a place quite like no other. Behold a placid lake of aquamarine water, host to thousands of varieties of icebergs, each floating harmoniously with the majesty of their environment.

Often, writing about Iceland’s bewitching locales leans towards the flowery and hyperbolic, but in this case, Jökulsárlón truly is a slice of heaven. 

Despite its gorgeous surface-level appearance, Jökulsárlón is the deepest lake in Iceland. It stretches down to an amazing 248 m (814 feet). Overall, this sparkling water body covers 18 sq km (7 sq mi), making it four times larger than it was in the 1970s. 

An aerial views of icebergs at Jökulsárlón
Photo: The Elite Private South Coast & Glacier Lagoon. Icebergs at Jökulsárlón.

The reason for this growth is somewhat troubling. With climate change becoming an evermore tangible threat, Breiðamerkurjökull glacier tongue diminishes in size with each passing year, its meltwater feeding into the lagoon. Just over the last century, the outlet glacier has receded by 5.6 km (3.5 mi.)

In that sense, Jökulsárlón will continue to change in future. But that’s hardly a reason to stop international guests from enjoying it today. Jökulsárlón is not just one stop along Iceland’s spectacular South Coast – it is often the final destination; the very site that visitors are looking to arrive at, while making the most of other detours along the way. 

Unsurprisingly, Jökulsárlón has been an in-demand shooting location for Hollywood. Many blockbuster movies having filmed there. Such classics of celluloid include Thor: The Dark World, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Tomb Raider and James Bond: Die Another Day. Camera in hand, you too will, no doubt, feel the compulsion to capture this lake yourself. 

Where is Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon?

 

 

As mentioned previously, Jökulsárlón is located within the UNESCO World Heritage site, Vatnajökull National Park, in south east Iceland. 

Specifically, it is 380.2 km [380.2 mi] from Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital city, sitting between the towns of Vík í Mýrdal and Höfn. 

Nearby to Jökulsárlón is another, smaller lagoon named Fjallsárlón. Less famous, but no less beautiful than its nearby neighbour, Fjallsárlón is far less busy, allowing space for guests to nurture a more personal relationship with the site. 

How to get to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon? 

The bridge at Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon
Photo: Glacier Lagoon Private Tour

Jökulsárlón is approximately 5 hours drive from Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík. It is off the Ring Road – the one major route that circles the entire island. 

Jökulsárlón is about as far as one can go from Reykjavik and still make the return journey back to the city in a single day. For this reason, visitors often struggle with whether they should attempt this journey in one swoop. Another option is to split their time on the South Coast into a couple of days. 

Understand, this loop is not recommended for most people as it requires an entire day of driving, upwards of 11 hours. However, if you’re prepared to skip over some of the South Coast’s sites, or are quite content to spend plenty of time in the car, there should be no advising you otherwise. 

For those who are not interested in driving themselves, there are plenty of South Coast tours available that will take you from the city to the lagoon.

Countless buses and Super Jeeps make the journey each day, so long as the weather allows for it. Naturally, those wanting a more intimate and luxurious ride through the region can opt for a Private Tour

What season should I visit Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon? 

A mighty glacier in South East Iceland
Photo: Glacier Lagoon Private Tour

It is quite possible to visit Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon in both seasons. But, if one were to be pressed for a definitive answer – the wintertime!

It is during Iceland’s coldest months  – from November to March – where Jökulsárlón is at its most spectacular. This is for the simple reason that only then are its floating icebergs at their largest, and therefore, most dramatic.

The site is still incredibly beautiful in the summer, especially as the ice glints with the light of the Midnight Sun. Be aware, however, that Skua birds live in the area during this time, and are infamous for being extremely protective of the nests they build all around the lagoon. 

As such, it is a common sight seeing people run for cover as these proud, winged parents divebomb aggressively from above. You have been warned! 

How long should I spend at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon?


The amount of time one wants to spend at Jökulsárlón is very subjective, but there should at least be a couple of hours allocated to enjoying its ethereal ambience. 

Stop by Diamond Beach 

An iceberg washed ashore at Diamond Beach in South Iceland.
Photo: Golli. An iceberg at Diamond Beach.

Extending one’s time at Jökulsárlón is rather easy thanks to the close proximity of another, yet lesser known natural attraction – Diamond Beach. This stretch of black sand shoreline is famous specifically for the contracts created by icebergs beaching themselves against the black sand shoreline.

Unlike Reynisfjara, further west on the South Coast, Diamond Beach is a safe place to walk by the water, marvelling in the ambience. 

Just like Jökulsárlón, Diamond Beach is a brilliant spot for photographs, as well as nature lovers in general. Guests to the lagoon need only walk for five minutes to the coast to arrive at this graceful strip of ice-laden pebbles. 

What tours are available at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon? 

A boat tour on the glacier lagoon in South Iceland
Photo: Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon & Boat Tour

While it is quite lovely watching the ice from shore, some people can’t help but one to get closer. Hence why boat tours are the most popular option at Jökulsárlón. 

There are two types of boat tours available. The first, and most exciting, is the zodiac tour. This sees guests climb aboard a small, rigid, and inflatable vessel capable of picking up high speeds. By taking a passenger seat on one of these small crafts, visitors are able to get as close to the icebergs as safety allows. Zodiac boat tours are a particularly good option for families and small groups looking for a more personal experience. 

The second type available is boarding an amphibious craft. This type of boat is just as capable of traversing the land as it is the water. Amphibious crafts provide an added novelty to your adventure, but they do allow for more customers on board. 

Whichever boat tour you choose, the operator will provide you with an inflatable life vest and warm overalls to help keep you safe and comfortable atop the water. 

Conclusion 

Glacier ice breaks away into the lagoon
Photo: Glacier Lagoon Private Tour

For those with only a short amount of time in Iceland, the desire to see Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon might add some unnecessary stress to their vacation. This is especially true when so many other beautiful sites can be found further to the west. However, with one or two weeks in the country, this otherworldly lake should be considered an absolute must-see. 

The Icelandic Glacier Guide: Ice Caving, Snowmobiling and Glacier Hiking

A man rides a snowmobile across a glacier in Iceland

In Iceland, there are numerous glaciers all over the country, perhaps explaining the country’s descriptive name. There are approximately 269 glaciers in Iceland, which cover about 11% of the country’s surface.

The Icelandic glaciers are not solely a stunning work of art for the naked eye, but they also provide a glimpse into the effects of climate change and how it has shaped nature in Iceland. Like many glaciers worldwide, the glaciers in Iceland are receding rapidly, leading to changing landscapes and rising sea levels.

Despite this, the Icelandic glaciers have been a symbol of the country’s stunning nature, with visitors from around the world getting drawn to them. Glacier-related activities have, therefore, become a key part of visiting Iceland with activities such as glacier hiking, snowmobiling and ice caving. 

People hiking in Skaftafell glacier
Photo: Skaftafell Glacier Hike

 

Glacier Hiking in Iceland 

Hiking on a glacier in Iceland is truly an unforgettable experience, allowing visitors to explore the mesmerizing icy landscapes of the country’s glaciers up close. Several glacier hikes are available in Vatnajökull, Sólheimajökull and Skaftafell glaciers.

 

Sólheimajökull Glacier Hiking and Walking

Hikes and walks on Sólheimajökull glacier have become immensely popular attractions in Iceland. The experiences range from relaxed glacier walks to more strenuous hikes.

 

Sólheimajökull Glacier Hike

The Sólheimajökull Hike is moderately difficult, lasting for about 3 hours. The tour is comprehensive, and guides will lead you through the experience, explaining the natural wonder of the Icelandic glaciers. Sólheimajökull glacier is part of Mýrdalsjökull glacier, which is one of the largest in Europe. Once the ice is reached, hikers get to bask in the beautiful views, which might reach the famous Eyjafjallajökull glacier on a clear day. Participants can also gaze deep into the glacier moulin, a vertical ice cave which can lead all the way to the glacier’s bottom.

 

Sólheimajökull Glacier Discovery Tour

The Glacier Discovery Tour is an easy walk on Sólheimajökull glacier’s tongue. The walk is family-friendly, and everyone from the age of 10 can participate. The walk lasts for about 2.5 hours, with plenty of stops and photo opportunities on the way. The guides will educate the group on the glaciers and their ever-changing landscapes.

 

Glacier Hike, Waterfall and Black Sand Beach

The Glacier Hike, Waterfall and Black Sand Beach Tour is a whole-day trip that takes participants to see the top attractions on the south coast of Iceland. The main sights of the trip are the well-known Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls, Reynisfjara black sand beach and finally, a glacier hike at Sólheimajökull glacier. The hike offers the opportunity to gain an understanding of the glacier’s formation and its movements and changes, along with exploring glacial features.

 

South Coast and Glacier Hike

The full-day Small South Coast and Glacier Hike Tour takes a smaller group of a maximum of six people on an excursion of Iceland’s south coast, visiting two of the country’s most famous waterfalls, Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss and to Reynisfjara black sand beach. The tour then ends with a glacier hike on Sólheimajökull glacier. The tour is more intimate as it is meant for a small group.

People hiking on sólheimajökull Glacier
Photo: Golli – Sólheimajökull Glacier Hike

 

Vatnajökull Glacier Walk

Vatnajökull is one of Iceland’s most spectacular sights and a unique phenomenon to experience as it is not only Iceland’s largest glacier but also Europe’s largest glacier by volume. 

During the Vatnajökull Glacier Walk, participants explore a piece of Vatnajökull National Park, Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, which extends from Vatnajökull. During the walk, participants will explore the icy world of the glacier with sights such as small caves, waterfalls, tunnels, and other stunning ice-related matters.

 

Ice Climbing and Glacier Hikes

If only hiking on a glacier is not enough, various tours offer additional challenges, such as ice climbing. 

The Skaftafell Glacier Hike and Ice Climbing Tour and the Sólheimajökull Ice Climbing and Glacier Hike Tour take participants to another level. After hiking on the glacier, the guides will set up a climbing rope where the group will be taught how to ascend a vertical wall using ice axes and crampons. So, having the skill to flaunt ice axes isn’t just a cool party trick; it’s the secret to unlocking the frozen wonders of Iceland’s glaciers.

 

Zipline and Glacier Hike

To add even more adventure into a glacier hike, doing a Zipline and Glacier Hike Tour is possible, giving it a bit more zest. The tour takes participants on a hike on Vatnajökull glacier. Afterwards, tired hikers have the opportunity to slide across the glacier over a vertical ice cave and enjoy the breathtaking views as they swing across. The experience is quite unique as it is the first and only glacier zipline in the world. 

 

Ice Caving Tours in Iceland

Visiting ice caves in Iceland is a multisensory experience, truly immersing visitors in the raw beauty of the country’s nature. It is an experience that could be described as stepping into a giant, frozen disco ball where the beats come into existence with the echo of the footsteps. The adventure offers a glimpse into the unfiltered beauty of natural formations found countrywide in Iceland. 

 

Enter an Ice cave on Vatnajökull Glacier

The Vatnajökull Ice Cave Tour lets visitors enter an ice cave on Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull. The ice cave comprises the ice’s blue crystal colours, creating a fantastic opportunity to catch the perfect image. The glacier tour takes about three to four hours and is an unforgettable experience in nature’s icy disco ball. The ice caves are formed naturally, letting Mother Nature decide their shape and location.

 

Visit the South Coast and Enter a Volcano Ice Cave

The South Coast and Katla Ice Cave tour is an immensely special one as participants get to enter an ice cave located on one of Iceland’s largest volcanoes, Katla. 

After visiting the ice cave, the group will visit two of Iceland’s most beautiful waterfalls, Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss. The group will then drive and walk on a black sand beach where sand derives from the Katla volcano.

 

Visit the Golden Circle and an Ice Cave in a Monster Truck

The Golden Circle and Ice Cave Tour combines two enjoyable adventures in Iceland, the famous Golden Circle and a visit to an ice cave in Langjökull Glacier. The tour takes participants on a journey to Iceland’s most popular attractions, Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall and Geysir geothermal area. Afterwards, the journey leads to another world, inside an ice cave on Langiökull’s glacier. Not only that, but participants get to embark on this adventure in no other than a monster truck.

A man inside an Icelandic ice cave
Photo: Ice Caving and Glacier Hiking

 

Glacier Snowmobiling Tours in Iceland

Taking part in a snowmobiling adventure in Iceland is both an adrenaline-filled experience and an opportunity for participants to connect with the unique nature and, nonetheless, on top of a glacier.

 

Snowmobile Adventure on Mýrdalsjökull Glacier

The Mýrdalsjökull Glacier Snowmobile Tour is an adrenaline-fueled adventure on Mýrdalsjökull glacier on Katla volcano. The tour starts with a glacier truck taking participants up the mountain. Afterwards, the true fun begins roaming the glacier and rejoicing in the breathtaking scenery.

 

Hot Spring and Snowmobiling on Langjökull Glacier

The Hot Spring and Langjökull Snowmobiling Tour is a contrasted experience between hot and cold, tranquillity and thrill. The tour brings participants to Iceland’s second-largest glacier, Langjökull, for a fun adventure riding on the ever-changing landscape. After the snowmobiling, participants can relax and rejuvenate in the hot geothermal water of the Secret Lagoon.

 

Snowmobile Adventure on Europe’s Largest Glacier Vatnajökull 

The Vatnajökull Snowmobile Tour gives participants the opportunity to tell their loved ones back home that they have ridden a snowmobile on Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull. The journey starts with a jeep drive towards the glacier, and subsequently, the snowmobiling begins on the famous glacier.

Snowmobilers in Iceland pose in front of the Northern Lights
Photo: Snowmobiling adventure

 

Other Glacier Adventures in Iceland 

There exists an ocean of extraordinary glacier trips and tours in Iceland: hikes, climbs, helicopter tours, snowmobiling, jeep tours, ice caving and much more. These activities can be taken independently or combined with other classic Iceland tours. 

Iceland’s stunning glaciers offer calm, breathtaking and thrilling adventures, depending on what participants want, need and dare to. The Icelandic glaciers represent a complex interplay of nature, climate and human connection, making them a cornerstone of Icelandic tourism and identity. 

Here, you can see all available glacier adventures.

 

What to Wear on a Glacier in Iceland?

When glacier hiking, snowmobiling or ice caving in Iceland it is important to prepare well. With Iceland’s unpredictable weather, it is essential to dress in layers with long wool underwear, wool or fleece thermal mid layers and water- and windproof external layers. A warm hat or a balaclava, warm gloves and socks are also a must, where wool is a good option. 

It is also a must to wear proper winter shoes and quality hiking shoes for glacier hikes and walks. 

When needed, tours provide items such as crampons and helmets.

 

What is the Largest Glacier in Iceland?

Iceland’s largest glacier is Vatnajökull, located in the country’s southeast, covering over 8% of the country. The glacier is not only Iceland’s largest but also Europe’s largest glacier, with a size of 8,100 km². 

 

Is it Safe to Hike on a Glacier in Iceland?

All tours have specially trained guides who are well-educated and experienced in exploring and navigating these complex landscapes. Therefore glacier hiking, snowmobiling and ice caving in Iceland is a safe option when done with a guide. Nonetheless, participants should always remain cautious and alert, stay with the group and listen to instructions. 

Glacial Outburst Flood Has Begun in Grímsvötn

Vatnajökull Grímsfjall Grímsvötn Bárðarbunga Kverkfjöll Jöklar Jökull Vísindi

A glacial outburst flood has begun in Grímsvötn beneath Vatnajökull glacier, experts have confirmed. An M4.3 earthquake at Grímsfjall this morning alerted experts to increased activity at the site. While such floods are known to increase the likelihood of volcanic eruptions, there are no indications an eruption is imminent at the site.

In an interview with RÚV, Professor of Geophysics Magnús Tumi Guðmundsson confirmed the glacial outburst flood began several days ago in the highland region. Elevated water levels have already reached inhabited areas further south, but they are not significant. “There is more water in Gígjukvísl river,” Magnús Tumi stated. “However, this is not a big event, it just looks like the summer water levels. It’s not a lot and it’s equivalent to a small or medium-sized glacial outburst flood in Skaftá river.”

Strongest earthquake in a long time

The M4.3 earthquake that occurred just before 7:00 AM this morning is “noteworthy,” according to Magnús Tumi. He says it’s “the biggest one we know of there for a very long time.” The earthquake hasn’t been followed by others of a similar magnitude, however, and appears to be a one-off event.

What is a glacial outburst flood?

Grímsvötn is an active volcano located beneath Vatnajökull, Iceland’s largest glacier. It has the highest eruption frequency of all the volcanoes in Iceland, but is located far from any inhabited areas. The geothermal and volcanic activity at Grímsvötn causes regular glacial outburst floods, known as jökulhlaup. Such outbursts are triggered by geothermal heating beneath the glacier which causes ice to melt, and eventually be abruptly released from beneath the glacier, into the surrounding water systems.

Magnús Tumi says Grímsvötn is now in a period of increased activity, which typically lasts between 60-80 years. It last erupted in 2011.

A Wealth of Water

natural resource iceland

Close your eyes and picture Iceland. What comes to mind? A powerful waterfall streaming down a cliffside? Bluish icebergs floating in a glacier lagoon? A hulking jeep fording a highland river? Or maybe a steaming hot spring or a neighbourhood swimming pool? Whichever image is most evocative of Iceland for you, there’s one thing they […]

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4.4 Magnitude Earthquake in Mýrdalsjökull Glacier Last Night

Earthquakes in Mýrdalsjökull

A swarm of earthquakes struck South Iceland’s Mýrdalsjökull glacier last night. No evidence of volcanic activity has been found, a natural hazards expert with the Icelandic MET Office confirmed to Mbl.is this morning.

No evidence of volcanic activity

A swarm of earthquakes was registered in South Iceland’s Mýrdalsjökull glacier last night, with more than 70 earthquakes recorded since the initial tremor at 1.18 AM, Mbl.is reports. Bjarki Kaldalóns Friis, a natural hazards expert from the Icelandic MET office, anticipates ongoing seismic fluctuations in the region.

“The initial swarm lasted approximately 45 minutes, followed by a brief pause before resuming. Since 1 AM last night, approximately 70 earthquakes have been recorded. Among them, five registered above magnitude 3, with the largest measuring 4.4 magnitude at 2:45 AM. Notably, there is no evidence of volcanic activity or similar phenomena,” he added. Bjarki also mentioned that seismic activity was felt in populated regions, particularly in Þórsmörk.

“The swarm is related to a geothermal system situated beneath the Mýrdalsjökull glacier; we’re not expecting an eruption or anything like that,” Bjarki remarked, adding that there was nothing to indicate an increase in electrical conductivity or water level.

Bjarki also highlighted the possibility of geothermal water leakage occurring at the Markarfljót or Múlakvísl rivers due to the ongoing activity. Nevertheless, current measurements show no evidence of heightened electrical conductivity or of water level changes.

“This activity in Mýrdalsjökull has been ongoing for several weeks, representing a continuation of the same pattern possibly linked to the geothermal systems beneath the glacier,” Bjarki explained. “It’s not over, as seismic activity tends to fluctuate,” he added.

Scientists Document Glacier Melt in Real Time: ‘We Have to Make a Conscious, Informed Decision About Which Future We Choose’

New footage and photography compiled by a team of scientists at the University of Iceland shows three decades of glacial melt in just over three minutes. CNN reports that the team superimposes archival aerial photos on top of contemporary drone footage to show the dramatic effect that warming climates have had on glaciers in Southeast Iceland. Some of these glaciers are retreating at a rate of 150 metres [492 ft] a year. Since 2000, it’s estimated that Iceland’s glaciers have decreased by some 800 km2 [309 mi2].

The team is led by Þorvarður (Thorri) Árnason, director at the Hornafjörður Research Centre. “About 14 years ago, I started to do repeat photography at one of the glaciers here, Hoffellsjökull,” Þorvarður told CNN. “I went once a month for eight years. It’s like visiting an old friend, there’s a sense of familiarity.”

Iceland has twenty outlet glaciers that extend from the Vatnajökull ice cap. All of them, Þorvarður says, have receded in the time he has been observing them. Some experts say that if global warming conditions continue apace, Iceland’s glaciers are at risk of disappearing completely.

See Also: Snæfellsjökull Could Be Gone in Thirty Years

“We need to tell people what the reality is,” says Þorvarður. “On the other hand, we don’t want to frighten people, to immobilize them through anxiety.”

Having documented the present situation, Þorvarður and his team are now turning their attention toward the future. “We want to pre-visualize what our fastest retreating glacier, Breiðamerkurjökull, will look like 100 years from now. Based on worse-case, business as usual, and best case. There is always a range of potential futures that is open to us. There is still a chance for the wounds to heal and for the glaciers to recover, at least to some extent. We have to make a conscious, informed decision about which future we choose.”

See the full documentary short, in English, on CNN, here.

Ice in His Veins

the ash-streaked ice walls of the Sapphire Ice Cave.

Upon entering the cave, I become immediately wary of its integrity. It would be a rather foolish way to go. This apprehension endures for all of two minutes, however,
as the mind, seemingly bored by its own alarm, begins to wander. Few profound thoughts emerge, aside from the somewhat flaccid observation that being inside an ice cave is vaguely like standing inside an Iittala glass. After another two minutes, the unease has dissipated completely, and later, I find myself following our guide deeper and deeper into the darkness, utterly devoid of any reservations.

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Largest Earthquake in Mýrdalsjökull Glacier Since 2018

Mýrdalsjökull

Two earthquakes happened within a short time span this morning close to Mýrdalsjökull glacier. The first one happened at 7.40am and measured M2.8, and the later was only 40 seconds later and measured M3.4.

The two quakes were 6km (3.7mi) northwest of Austmannsbunga, a nunatak, or mountain ridge, protruding from the top of the glacier. They are the strongest earthquakes in the area since August 2, 2018, when a 3.7 magnitude earthquake occurred.

Another earthquake, M2.4, happened in a nearby area at 7.34am.

Mýrdalsjökull glacier is in South Iceland, near the town of Vík í Mýrdal. The glacier reaches a height of 1,493 metres (4,898 feet) in height, and sits above the active volcano Katla, which last erupted in 1918.