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. 

New Fees at Jökulsárlón Could Generate Up To ISK 40 Million

jökulsárlón parking fee

Park rangers for Vatnajökull have stated that the necessary infrastructure will soon be in place to introduce fees at Jökulsárlón, one of Iceland’s most popular tourist destinations.

The new fees would be introduced this June, and could potentially generate some ISK 40 million [$285,000; €266,000].

Read More: 72% of Icelanders Support Tourism Fee

According to rangers for South Iceland, new cameras will be set up in April of this year and will be tested for two months, before becoming fully operational this June.

Future visitors to Jökulsárlón in private passenger vehicles can expect to pay ISK 1,000 [$7.10; €6,70] for parking, though visitors who also visit Skaftafell will receive a 50% discount. Camping fees will not be included in this amount.

The introduction of a parking fee at Jökulsárlón has been discussed as a possibility for some time. Initial proposals first came in 2017, when the Icelandic state acquired all of the land surrounding the popular glacial lagoon. According to RÚV, nearly 1 million tourists visit the area annually. This volume of visitors means that the area is expensive to maintain.

In Focus: Privately Owned Tourist Sites

Although by Icelandic law, all land is open to the public, increasing numbers of visitors to Iceland have raised concerns in recent years about the sustainability of the tourism industry. Notably, these laws, known traditionally in English as “the right to wander,” do not cover services, such as parking and bathrooms.

 

Most Travel Vouchers Redeemed in Capital Area

blue lagoon Iceland

Nearly 140,000 people have now downloaded their ISK 5,000 [$36; €33] summer travel voucher, over half of which (85,132) have been spent, in part or in full, around the capital area, RÚV reports. The vouchers, available to all adult residents of Iceland, are “first and foremost symbolic,” as Minister of Tourism Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir has noted, and are intended to encourage domestic travel this summer.

See Also: All Icelanders to Receive Gift Certificate for Domestic Tourism

According to information released by the Ministry of Industry and Innovation, 85,132 vouchers have been used thus far, amounting to ISK 369,517,444 [$2.7 million; €2.3 million] in spending within the local tourism industry. Around ISK 92 million [$676,421; €570,978] in vouchers have been redeemed in and around Reykjavík. By comparison, ISK 56 million [$411,704; €347,600] has been spent in South Iceland, ISK 48 million [$352,889; €297,942] in Northeast Iceland, ISK 35 million [$257277; €217,217] in East Iceland, and ISK 30 million [$220,539; €186,229] in West Iceland. Roughly ISK 71 million [$521,905; €440,742] has been spent with companies that have a nationwide presence.

From flight simulators to nature baths

One of the most popular things for people to spend their travel voucher on is hotel stays, with ISK 124 million [$911,429; €769,807] spent on in this sector. Close to 7,000 travel vouchers have been spent at the Íslandshótel chain operated by Icelandair.

Businesses classified as ‘recreation and entertainment’ have received a total of ISK 111 million [$815,996; €689,023]. The most popular choice in this sector has been Flyover Iceland, a flight simulator that takes visitors on a full-sensory flight over Iceland. Three thousand four hundred vouchers have been redeemed with the company, for a total of ISK 17 million [$124,917; €105,520]. The Blue Lagoon has been another popular choice, with 2,800 travel vouchers redeemed there. Further afield, the Vök Baths in East Iceland have gotten a lot of local visitors this summer (1,400 vouchers redeemed), as has the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon (1,200 vouchers redeemed).

Pizza still popular

Restaurants have also benefited from the travel voucher scheme, with ISK 102 million [$749,284; €633,111] invested in this industry. Five million krónur [$36,735; $31,037] has been spent on pizza alone; 1,000 vouchers have been spent at Dominos.

Iceland’s Glaciers Shrunk by 800 Square Kilometres in 20 Years

In the past 20 years, the surface area of Iceland’s glaciers has decreased by around 800km2, an area roughly the size of the Reykjanes peninsula. The data comes from a report by Iceland’s foremost glacier researchers that presents an overview of the country’s glaciers at the end of 2019. The report shows that glaciers in Iceland have been retreating rapidly for 25 years, what its authors assert is “one of the most obvious consequences of a warming climate.”

Iceland’s glaciers reached their maximum area since the island’s settlement at the end of the 19th century. Since then, their surface area has decreased by almost 2,200km2 (849mi2). In recent years, the glaciers have been shrinking at a rate of 40km2 each year, equivalent to around 7,500 American football fields. When it comes to the retreat of their edges, Hagafellsjökull eystri in Langjökull ice cap and Síðujökull and Tungnárjökull in Vatnajökull ice cap hold the 2019 record, retreating by 150m (492ft) last year alone.

Glacier lagoons grow as glaciers retreat

Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, a popular tourist site, started to form in the mid-1930s because of the retreat of Vatnajökull glacier. The Breiðamerkurjökull outlet glacier retreats rapidly where it calves into the lagoon, as much as 150-400m (492-1,312ft) in 2019. On average, Jökulsárlón and Breiðárlón, as well as some smaller lagoons in the area, have grown by 0.5-1km2 (0.2-0.4mi2) annually in recent years.

The report was based on measurements done by The Institute of Earth Sciences, University of Iceland, the Icelandic Meteorological Office, the National Power Company of Iceland, the South East Iceland Nature Research Center, and the Iceland Glaciological Society.

The full report is available in Icelandic and English.