Hafnarhólmi to Begin Charging for Access Next Summer

Puffin Iceland

The municipal government of Borgarfjörður eystri, East Iceland, has stated its intention to make the entrance fee to Hafnarhólmi mandatory.

Hafnarhólmi is an islet and home to a puffin colony. The islet is popular and accessible for bird-watchers who want to see the iconic animal up close. Currently, the entrance fee is voluntary. Austurfrétt reports.

Could generate millions of ISK

The fee is expected to generate significant income for the municipality, as Hafnarhólmi is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Borgarfjörður eystri, and indeed all of East Iceland. The area is estimated to receive around 50,000 visitors annually.

Revenue is expected to be in the tens of millions of ISK, and a majority of the fee would be put towards conserving the popular area and enhancing the visitor experience with improved facilities.

The fee was originally introduced in 2023 with the condition that it would be optional for visitors.

Still optional this summer

Eyþór Stefánsson, chairperson of the local council, stated that although the current arrangement has brought in some revenue, a mandatory fee would be much more beneficial to the area.

Based on last year’s total of 50,000 visitors and a fee of 500 ISK [$3.62; €3.33], he estimates that some 25 million ISK [$180,000; €167,000] in additional revenue could be generated. This would represent a significant increase over the revenue generated by the current optional model.

“In my opinion, this is a better approach than the current arrangement,” Eyþór stated to Austurfrétt. “It will still be optional for visitors to pay this summer, but we believe it is reasonable that from the summer of 2025 onwards, there will be a mandatory fee for each visitor. The matter has not yet reached the stage of planning how this would be implemented, but I would be excited to have it similar to the system in Danish trains where there isn’t a direct ticket sale or attendant, but rather an unannounced check among guests.”

 

 

Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon Declared Nature Reserve

Fjaðrárgljúfur

The popular canyon Fjaðrárglúfur was declared a nature reserve by Minister for the Environment, Energy, and Climate Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson.

The popular canyon, located in Southeast Iceland near the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur, was already listed on the Nature Conservation Register, a list of protected areas in Iceland and other important natural monuments deemed worthy of protection or conservation.

The designation as a nature reserve will place the canyon among some 130 other sites in Iceland and impose stricter regulations for its conservation.

A popular site protected

The boundaries of the nature reserve now extend over the eastern part of the canyon and mark the area above the eastern cliffs. This area is owned by Hverabergs ehf., and will be operated in cooperation with the municipality of Skaftárhrepp.

Work on the designation began following a memorandum signed by Minister Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson and Hveraberg ehf. in January 2024. The memorandum outlined cooperation on protecting Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon and developing infrastructure in the area.

Increasing tourist interest in Fjaðrágljúfur canyon

The canyon Fjaðrárgljúfur (so named after the Fjaðrá river which runs through it) is some 100 m [328 ft] deep and 2 km [1.2 mi] long. Formed by glacial activity nearly 10,000 years ago, the canyon came to international popularity after the 2015 Justin Bieber music video “I’ll Show You.”

Since then, the canyon has seen ever-increasing numbers of tourists, causing the site to be closed to travellers several times. 

The land through which the canyon runs was bought by Hveraberg ehf. in 2022 for 280 million ISK [$2,000,000; €1,860,000].

Immensely popular destination

The increased popularity has also driven a need for a higher level of infrastructure in the area, both to conserve the site and ensure the safety of visitors.

At the ceremony, Minister of Environment, Energy, and Climate Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson stated: “Fjaðrárgljúfur is an immensely popular tourist destination, and everything indicates that the influx of tourists to the area will increase in the coming years. I’m satisfied to be able to cooperate with landowners and the Skaftárhrepp municipality to preserve the area and create the necessary environment for the protection of nature in the area and for the reception of tourists.”

Read more about privately owned tourist sites in Iceland.

Icelandic Nature Key Attraction for Foreign Visitors, Survey Finds

Kirkjufell mountain on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula

A recent survey by the Icelandic Tourism Board found that in 2023, nature was a key attraction for foreign tourists, influencing 97% of their decisions to visit. Popular destinations included the capital region and Southern Iceland, while recreational activities like natural baths and spa treatments were highly utilised by visitors.

Nature the primary attraction

A recent survey conducted by the Icelandic Tourism Board revealed, rather unsurprisingly, that foreign tourists primarily visited Iceland in 2023 for its nature, Morgunblaðið reports. Most visited the capital region and Southern Iceland, while 13% travelled to the Westfjords.

Furthermore, 97% of respondents said that nature had a significant or some influence on their decision to travel to the country. Interest in the Arctic influenced 84.6%, and nature-related activities influenced nearly 80% of respondents. Nearly 60% had received recommendations from friends or relatives to travel to the country.

Shorter stays than before

As noted by Morgunblaðið, tourists stayed an average of seven nights in the country, which is slightly shorter than the year before.

As far as the distribution of tourists in Iceland is concerned, 90% of respondents had visited the capital area, four out of five travelled around Southern Iceland, two out of three around the Reykjanes Peninsula, nearly half around the Western region, nearly a third around the Northern region, almost 30% around the Eastern region, and 13% in the Westfjords.

The survey also indicates that seven out of ten responded that their visit to Iceland exceeded their expectations. Foreign tourists appear eager to utilise a variety of recreational options. 56.2% visited natural baths, 40% used spa or wellness treatments, 34% visited museums, 33% took bus tours, and 21% went swimming.

When do puffins arrive in Iceland?

Puffin Iceland

The Atlantic puffin (in Icelandic, lundi), is something of a national symbol, with many tourists and Icelanders alike flocking to bird cliffs to catch a glimpse of these brightly-coloured seabirds.

Of course, if you’re planning your trip to Iceland around seeing these birds, then it helps to know when, exactly, they’re here!

When does the puffin arrive in Iceland?

Puffins spend much of their life at sea and are actually only in Iceland for a relatively short time to breed and nest. They tend to arrive in Iceland beginning in April (usually later in the month, just before May) and generally begin to leave in August. The puffins are usually gone by September. The height of breeding- and nesting-season is from June through August.

In 2024, some of the first puffins of the year were recorded on April 11, when small groups of the black and white seabird arrived on the island of Grímsey and in Borgarfjörður eystri, in East Iceland.

Although the puffin typically begins arriving in April, most puffin tours only begin in May, to guarantee better conditions for sighting the seabird.

More about the Atlantic puffin

Unlike many other cliff-dwelling seabirds, Atlantic puffins will actually dig little holes to build their nests in. Puffins monogamously mate for life, and generally just produce one egg each breeding season. Male puffins tend to spend more time at home with the chick and organising the nest, while female puffins tend to be more involved with feeding the young. Raising their young takes around 40 days.

Until recently, it was actually unknown where, exactly, Atlantic puffins spent the rest of the year. But with modern tracking technologies, these little birds have been found to range as far south as the Mediterranean during the winter season. When puffins leave the nest, they will head off on their own without their parents, finding their own feeding and winter grounds. Over their lives, they will remember and repeat their lonely journey. They don’t always head to warmer climates in the winter, however. Icelandic puffins have been found to winter in Newfoundland and in the open sea south of Greenland.

Puffins are relatively small seabirds, averaging about 47 to 63cm [18 to 25in] in wingspan and weighing generally between 300 and 500g [10 to 17oz].

There are an estimated 8 million adult Atlantic puffins, with a majority of the world’s puffing population, around 60%, nesting in Iceland. Besides Iceland, puffins can also be found nesting in Ireland, the UK, Norway, Russia, the Faroe islands, and Greenland.

The Westman islands, an archipelago off the South Coast of Iceland, has by far the largest puffin colony in Iceland, with around 800,000 breeding pairs. Second place goes to Breiðafjörður, with around 400,000 breeding pairs. A less populated, but stunningly beautiful, bird cliff is Látrabjarg, the western-most point of Iceland.

Read more about bird watching in Iceland.

Rainy Across Most of Iceland Today

rain iceland traffic

Today, April 11, will be rainy across much of the nation.

By evening, a low-pressure system will move over the southern parts of the country and then towards the east. The Met Office expects this will decrease winds and precipitation for most of the nation.

Rain and sleet for much of Iceland

Much of South Iceland, including the capital region and the South Coast, will be rainy today. The precipitation will change to sleet and snow in more northerly parts of the country, and higher elevation areas. Much of East and Northeast Iceland can expect snow today.

West Iceland, including the Snæfellsnes peninsula and the Westfjords, will be comparatively dry.

Temperatures mild around capital, colder in the North

Temperatures will range from around freezing to 8° C [46° F] throughout Iceland today. The mildest temperatures will be felt along the South Coast. The capital region is expected to be slightly cooler, around 5° C [41° F].

Temperatures will drop up north and in higher elevation areas, such as the highland. East and Northeast Iceland, in addition to the Westfjords, can all expect temperatures hovering around freezing today.

Wind sharper in the South

East and northeast Iceland will see moderate wind gusts, with sharper winds in the south. The Met Office predicts that winds will sharpen in the late morning, and it advises drivers in South Iceland to exercise caution.

As the day wears on, winds in Northwest Iceland are expected to pick up.

Useful resources for travellers

As always, travellers are advised to stay up to date with the latest weather conditions in Iceland.

Get the latest updates on weather at the Icelandic Met Office.

Live updates on road conditions in Iceland.

General safety tips at Safetravel.

Travellers in Iceland may also find our guides on driving in Iceland during the summer and winter helpful.

 

Deep North Episode 68: White Sahara

kerlingarfjöll highland base

Kerlingarfjöll is one of the gems of the Icelandic highland. Even in the summer, the rugged highland roads leading out to these mountains are difficult to navigate. And in the winter, it’s nearly inaccessible. We went on an exclusive winter expedition to this amazing area to learn more about it, and pick up some cross-country skiing as well.

Read the article here.

Watch our short documentary on Kerlingarfjöll here.

The Heath

seyðisfjörður jessica auer

Jessica Auer is a Canadian photographer and filmmaker. Through her work, she examines our social, political, and aesthetic attitudes towards places, including historical sites, tourist destinations, and small communities. Jessica received her MFA from Concordia University in Montréal, where she teaches part-time. While in Iceland, Jessica runs Ströndin Studio, an educational and experimental centre for […]

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Spotting the Northern Lights in Iceland

The auroras over Öxarárfoss Waterfall

The chance to see the Northern Lights, or the Aurora Borealis, is among the top reasons why travellers visit Iceland during the winter months. But what causes this incredible natural phenomena, and how can you maximise your chances of seeing them? Read more on the best tips and tricks for seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland.

There are few experiences in this world more memorable than seeing that most fantastical of cosmic light shows – the Aurora Borealis!  

Green northern lights above a lake in Iceland
Photo: Golli. The auroras can appear in many forms and colours

Unpredictable, otherworldly, sometimes fleeting – it is a happenstance as capable of surprising unsuspecting travellers as it is appearing exactly when forecasted. 

With that in mind, the Northern Lights should be considered a true force of nature; something that cannot be tamed, nor delivered at will. Regardless, their appearance in the night sky brings about a lasting gratitude to all those lucky who see them. 

So, before we offer any useful tips on how best to catch them, let’s first go into a brief explanation of just what these lights are. 

What are the Northern Lights? 

Northern Lights over a lake
Photo: Golli. Northern lights over lake Þingvallavatn

Aside from being a visual delight, the science behind why the Northern Lights appear is compelling. This phenomena happens when charged particles originating from the sun – known as a solar wind – make their way towards the Earth’s magnetic field. The majority of these particles are deflected back into space, but some manage to break through. 

The protons and electrons that make it inside collide with atmospheric gases made up from oxygen and nitrogen particles, resulting in something called ionisation. This collision strips the gas of its electrons, if only temporarily. 

 

As these ionised particles recoup their electrons, a cosmic dance of colour ensues. In fact, many observers are unaware that the exact shades on display can be traced back to which gases are regathering electrons; oxygen produces green and red light, and nitrogen produces pink, blue, and purple light. As to exactly what colours can be seen, and how intensely, largely depends on the strength of the solar wind, and the altitude at which the ionisation process occurs. 

The Aurora Borealis happens close to the planet’s magnetic poles – or polar regions – typically above a latitude of 60-75 degrees north and below 60-75 degrees south. With that knowledge, it stands to reason that the Northern Lights can be seen in Norway, Finland, Sweden, Canada, Alaska, Russia, and, of course, Iceland. 

So, as you might expect, there is such a thing as the Southern Lights, or Aurora Australis. For anyone planning a trip after Iceland, you can expect to see them in Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Argentina, and the Falkland Islands.

The Northern Lights in Norse Mythology

 


Of course, with the advent of modern scientific knowledge, our understanding of the Northern Lights and why they occur is better than ever. However, the earliest settlers to this country – those driven by their belief in the
mythologies of the Norse pantheon – had their own, beautiful interpretations. 

For example, some considered the lights to be a manifestation of the elemental forces that created the world, while others saw them more literally as the appearance of the rainbow bridge, Bifröst, connecting the realm of the Gods (Asgard) with that of men (Midgard.) 

Looking at the aurora borealis in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Travellers observing the Northern Lights in Iceland

There are even tales that the glimmering nature of the Northern Lights were the reflections of armour worn by slain warriors, now at rest in the halls of Valhalla. 

Some sightings were not quite so dramatic in their interpretation. According to some folklore, some ancient Icelanders considered the Northern Lights to be an ill-omen. According to one story, if they appeared during childbirth, it was claimed – somewhat comically – that the offspring would be born cross-eyed. 

Where can you see the Aurora Borealis in Iceland?

Northern Lights over a mountain in Iceland
Photo: Golli. The Northern Lights above an Icelandic mountain

The Northern Lights can be seen all across Iceland. There is not one particular spot they favour, so regardless of where you are in the country, make sure to keep your eyes skyward.

There is, however, one other thing to bear in mind regarding the best location to spot these colourful ribbons. If possible, avoid all forms of light pollution, as this can often diminish how vividly they appear. Just think that as much is true of seeing stars in the night sky.

This means that venturing into the countryside for a spot of Northern Lights hunting is far more preferable than attempting to seek them out in the city centre. That is not to say that the Northern Lights won’t appear, but chances are, they will be far more intense to the observer when they are not diluted by the glare of street lights or head lamps. 

How to predict where the Northern Lights will appear? 

Auroras above the trees
Photo: Golli. The auroras lighting up the trees!

The best months to see the Northern Lights in Iceland are between September and April. In reality, they are occurring above our heads at all times, but daylight shields them from view for most of the year. 

There can be no exact predicting when the Aurora Borealis will rear its kaleidoscopic head, but specialists are improving year after year. 

Professionals monitor solar wind activity with the aid of satellite technology, which also helps them to determine changes in the Earth’s magnetic field. A part of this process relies on watching out for solar spots and flares, which can be great indicators as to how intense solar winds might be. 

 

They also closely observe geomagnetic storms, caused when a solar wind meets the magnetosphere. Results are ranked as part of the KP index. Otherwise referred to as the geomagnetic activity index. It can provide very real insights into how intense geomagnetic storms are. 

The KP index is broken down into levels 1 – 9. The lower half shows little geomagnetic activity. The upper half the opposite, bringing with it a higher chance of the Northern Lights appearing, even at lower altitudes. 

Your best bet is to keep up to date with the latest Northern Lights forecast. There are a number of websites and mobile application that offer this, as seen below:

Aurora Reykjavik 

Vedur 

Aurora Forecast 

We would recommend downloading Aurora Forecast applications on your phone. It might remind you to check up on them throughout your visit. Forecasts can change quickly, so getting into the habit can only be in your best interests. 

Are there Northern Lights tours in Iceland? 

Northern Lights over an Icelandic church
Photo: Golli. Auroras above a church in Iceland

Why yes indeed, there are many Northern Lights tours available in Iceland – did you truly think otherwise? 

Operators will not only transport you to the most secluded, darkest spots in the country, but will offer you incredibly useful tips on how best to photograph this wonderful occurrence. Some will even offer you photography equipment to rent! 

Some tours will be single activity excursions, meaning hunting them will be your primary task that night. Others come bundled with other activities, such as caving, glacier hiking, or horse riding, adding a further layer of adventure to your Northern Lights experience. 

For those looking to take part in an organised excursion, consider this Northern Lights Small Group Tour with Hot Chocolate and Photos, which offers 4-hours of hunting the auroras in Iceland’s countryside. 

Auroras over a mountain in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Northern Lights above a mountain peak

For those hoping for something a little different, this Reykjavík Northern Lights Cruise offers the opportunity to experience the lights from atop the bobbing ocean waves surrounding the Icelandic capital. 

There can be no guarantee of seeing the Northern Lights on your tour. Operators will often offer you to come back the next night free-of-charge. To mitigate this risk, some tours will choose to bring a telescope, allowing you to appreciate the twinkling stars of the cosmos, regardless of whether the lights appear or not. 

And though it’s painful to say so, a word of warning. Understand that Northern Lights tours are, above all else, a business

Unfortunately, that does imply that some less ethically-motivated operators may exaggerate. Encouraging the likelihood of seeing auroras might secure your booking, after all. Hence why we stress that you check on the forecast yourself before taking a licensed tour. 

In Summary 

Auroras in Iceland
Photo Golli: The Northern Lights appear any time in Winter.

The Northern Lights is truly a bucket-list experience. Seeing them should be considered a priority when travelling to Iceland during winter. 

How you choose to hunt the auroras is up to you. Superjeep, minibus, ocean cruise, or as part of a private group. All methods promise a mystical experience that demonstrates the very best of what Iceland’s nature has to provide. 

So wherever you happen to find yourself in Iceland, make sure to keep your eyes firmly on the night sky. You never know just when the Aurora Borealis will make their forever-welcome appearance. 

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.

Deep North Episode 63: In Pursuit of Ptarmigan

ptarmigan hunting iceland

It’s 6:00 AM and the obsidian darkness lingers outside my windshield. I arrive in the Kársnes neighbourhood of Kópavogur, park my car, and hop into Kristján Andri Einarsson’s black Jimny. The hunter greets me with a boyish smirk, ready for today’s adventure. He is wearing a camouflage cap on his greying auburn hair. Until this day, I have never gone hunting, nor seen a real gun in my life. All that is about to change.

Read the full story here.