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. 

Iceland Weather: Storms, Road Closures, and Avalanche Risk

winter tires reykjavík

Iceland’s Ring Road (Route 1) is currently closed over Öxnadalsheiði heath, between Akureyri and Reykjavík, due to weather. Yellow weather warnings have also been issued across much of the country today due to strong winds. The Icelandic Met Office declared an “uncertainty phase” in the East Fjords this morning due to the risk of avalanches.

Seyðisfjörður alavanche risk

There was heavy precipitation in Seyðisfjörður last night, with continuing precipitation at higher elevations and a strong E-ENE wind in the mountains, according to a notice from the Icelandic Met Office. Precipitation should slow throughout the day, and the wind speed is expected to slow and change direction to a northerly. Experts are monitoring conditions closely.

Strong winds and blowing snow

Gale-force winds are expected today across much of Iceland, including the Westfjords, West, North, East, and Southeast. Wind speeds in these areas could reach speeds of 20 metres per second. Blowing snow is in the forecast for most of these regions as well. Poor driving conditions can be expected as a result of weather, as well as traffic disruptions and road closures.

Travellers and affected residents are encouraged to monitor weather and road conditions before setting out.

Unusually Dry Summer in West and Southeast Iceland

Stykkishólmur - Stykkishólmshöfn - Breiðafjörður - Snæfellsnes

Rivers and streams have been shrinking and even drying up entirely following several weeks with little to no rainfall in Iceland. In Stykkishólmur, West Iceland, where measurements stretch back to 1857, last July was the second-driest one on record. In West and Southwest Iceland, rainfall has been less than 10% of the average for July and early August, according to Meteorologist Einar Sveinbjörnsson.

“Around July 20 it caught my attention that for example east of Lómagnúpur mountain [in Southeast Iceland] there were already numerous dry streambeds,” Einar wrote yesterday on his Facebook page, where he maintains a weather blog. “It was impossible to find usable drinking water. That was about four weeks ago. Since then, there has been almost no rain in that area.”

While Iceland experienced a rather wet spring, the weather shifted in July across most of the country, with Stykkishólmur reporting just 4.7 mm of rainfall that month and only 0.5 mm since. In Höfn, Southeast Iceland, rainfall measured 11.6 mm, a record low (although notably, the town’s records do not go as far back as those in Stykkishólmur).

Einar observes that the dry spell has affected water levels in many rivers across the country, even glacial rivers fed by meltwater during the summer. Norðurá river at Stekkur and Fossá river in Breiðafjörður measure at just 1% of their average flow rates for this time of year.

According to Einar, the North Atlantic fronts that usually unload their rain over Iceland have instead moved over the British Isles and Northern Europe, where weather has been unseasonably wet. Ireland has been experiencing record rainfall and downpours have caused floods in Norway and elsewhere.

Iceland’s Popularity Grows – Among Walruses

Köfunarþjónustan ehf. / Facebook. A walrus takes a break in Sauðárkrókur, Northwest Iceland

No fewer than four walruses have wandered over to Iceland so far this year. Walruses are not native to the country but since the start of this year, individuals have made stops in East Iceland, the Westfjords, Northwest Iceland, and the capital area. Walruses can be dangerous and readers are warned against approaching them.

Last Thursday, archaeologists working on a dig in Arnarfjörður in the Westfjords spotted a walrus out in the water. It was later spotted sunning itself on the shores of the fjord near Hrafnseyri, RÚV reports, and stayed on into the weekend. Just a few days earlier, a different walrus made himself at home on a floating dock in Sauðárkrókur harbour in Northwest Iceland. “It’s our new pet,” port security officer Ágúst Kárason told reporters. “He’s damn big and hefty, an adult with big tusks.”

Followed to work by walrus

In early June, a staff member of the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute in Hafnarfjörður, in the capital area, was accompanied by a walrus on his morning commute. “I was biking and he followed me from Herjólfsgata street to Fjörukráin restaurant by Strandgata street. There he turned around and swam out into the fjord,” Jón Sólmundsson told reporters. “He was also curious, there were some people that stopped to watch him and he seemed to be considering them too.”

Yet another walrus spotted in Breiðdalsvík, East Iceland in February turned out to be celebrity walrus Thor, who had spent the winter sightseeing around the UK with stops in the Netherlands and France. Walruses seen in Iceland generally arrive from the shores of Greenland or from northern Norway, but Thor may have travelled from the Canadian Arctic. There were no indications that any of the four walruses were the same animal.

Swam from Ireland to Iceland

More walrus visits have occurred in Iceland over the past few years. One was spotted on June 17, 2022 in the town of Reyðarfjörður, East Iceland. A GPS tag on the animal revealed that it had swum over from the Faroe Islands. In September 2021, a walrus spotted in Höfn, Southeast Iceland turned out to be Wally the Walrus, who had been previously spotted in Spain, Wales, and the Isles of Scilly (off the UK coast). Wally had last been seen in Cork, Ireland before being spotted in Iceland, meaning he had swum over 1,000 km [620 mi] to reach the island.

Icelandic subspecies went extinct after human settlement

Iceland used to be home to a special subspecies of walrus, but it became extinct around 1100 AD, most likely due to overhunting by humans. Walrus tusks were considered precious at the time and were sought-after by royalty in Scandinavia and elsewhere. Other factors, such as rising temperatures and volcanic eruptions, may have been factors in the animals’ extinction as well.

Jogger Has Run-In with Aggro Owl in Southeast Iceland

“Tempo running” took on a new meaning for Þórgunnur Torfadóttir when she went out for a jog in Hornafjörður, Southeast Iceland last week and was dive bombed—repeatedly—by a short-eared owl (Asio flammeus). Fréttablaðið reports that the fearless flyer was most likely protecting its young, but a local ornithologist says that such behaviour is relatively uncommon among owls in Iceland.

“I was out for a jog and just starting a short tempo run—I wanted to push myself,” Þórgunnur recalled. “Then a bird flies toward me and I think: That gull is flying really low.”

‘I see a shadow coming up behind me’

As the bird got closer, it started hissing and spitting, Þórgunnur continued. “That’s when I see it’s not a gull, but an owl. And then she dived at me over and over with such horrible screeching.” In one terrifying instance, the owl’s razor-sharp talons were only about a metre [3 ft] from her face.

Þórgunnur steeled herself and did the only sensible thing: she hissed and screeched back at the owl while vigorously flapping her arms. The spectacle worked and the bird retreated.

Turning and running back in the other direction, Þórgunnur thought her ordeal was over. “But then I see a shadow coming up behind me and think: No, not you again! I ran as fast as I could and was finally able to shake her.”

Þórgunnur said she knew that skua, Arctic terns, sea gulls, and even redwings are known to take a flying peck at people who intrude on their territory, but the incident with the owl still surprised her. “I had my hair in a ponytail, and it occurred to me that maybe the owl thought it was a mouse or a fox’s tail or something.” But more likely, she said, is simply that it’s the owl’s nesting season.

Still loves birds

Ornithologist Björn Arnarson at the Southeast Iceland Bird Observatory confirms the latter speculation. He said this kind of behaviour isn’t common among owls in Iceland, but it does occasionally happen at this time of year. The owl was almost certainly protecting its young nearby. He explained that short-eared owls are very protective of their owlets, but agreed that this particular bird was unusually aggressive.

As harrowing as the experience was, Þórgunnur says she still wouldn’t rank it in the top ten worst of her life and moreover, wouldn’t even say that the short-eared owl is the worst of the dive-bombing birds she’s fended off. “The skua are the worst,” she said. “They crash into you like fighter jets, but they don’t make as much noise as owls.”

And none of her run-ins with feathered fighters change the affection she holds for southeast Iceland, which she said is a bird paradise, and its fauna.

“Adventures like this don’t change the fact that I still really enjoy birds.”

Fourteen People Rescued from Glacier in Massive, 24-Hour ICE-SAR Operation

Fourteen hikers are cold and shaken but thankfully safe after being rescued from Mt. Hvannadalshnjúkur in Vatnajökull National Park on Friday. The operation, which took almost 24 hours from the time of call-out, is one of the most extensive rescue missions to have been undertaken in recent history. All total, the rescue was conducted by 140 ICE-SAR volunteers, hailing from across South Iceland and even further afield. RÚV and Vísir reported.

A group of twelve Polish women and two Icelandic tour guides began their hike up Hvannadalshnjúkur around 3:00 AM on Thursday morning. Hvannadalshnjúkur is the highest peak of the Öræfajökull volcanic glacier. The group planned to reach the 2,109-m [6,921-ft] summit around noon on Thursday and then make their way back down. During their descent, however, their GPS broke, and unable to continue, they called Search and Rescue for help around 4:00 PM on Thursday.

Björgunarfélag Hornafjarðar, FB

Group took shelter in two tents at 1,800 metres

“The first information we got from them, it looked like it would be pretty easy, even though nothing’s easy up there,” explained Jens Olsen, vice-chair of the Hornafjörður ICE-SAR team. A team of rescuers on snowmobiles reached the group around 11:00 PM that night. “That’s when it started looking like it was going to be pretty complicated.”

“The temperature was just around freezing, it was raining, sleeting, snowing. So the conditions weren’t good and the visibility was basically nill,” continued Jens. “We decided to stay put and give them something to munch on and drink and then wait for more snowmobiles. They were just up on the glacier in the caldera at an altitude of 1,800-metres [5,905-ft] in two tents.”

Björgunarfélag Hornafjarðar, FB

Rescue took nearly 24 hours

Transporting 14 people down a glacier is no simple task, of course, and getting the whole party down the mountain was time-consuming and arduous. The first hikers started being transported down the mountain to Höfn í Hornafjörður around 5:00 AM on Friday; the last hikers made it to town at 3:00 PM that afternoon—nearly 24 hours after they made their emergency call. A crisis shelter had been set up and was waiting to receive them.

Jens’ colleague, Sigfinnur Mar Þrúðmarsson described the harrowing process of getting down the glacier. Due to low visibility and worsening conditions, it took rescuers almost eight hours to reach the hikers in the first place, and then it took six hours for them to make it back down. “Nearly all the way there we had maybe ten, fifteen metres [32-49 ft] of visibility. So if the closest car got too far ahead, you actually lost it. It was really wet snow and then on the way back, it had snowed a ton and people really had their hands full finding their way home.”

Considering what they’d been through, the hikers were all doing relatively well by the time they’d made it safely down the mountain, but Jens said the situation was verging on “critical” when the group was first found by ICE-SAR on Thursday afternoon. “I don’t think they could have stayed there much longer and everyone’s glad that it went so well. It could have been much worse.”

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.

Coldest Night This Winter and Frosty Conditions Ahead

The coldest temperature of the winter thus far, -21°C [-5.8°F], was measured near Mývatn lake in North Iceland on Friday night, RÚV reports, and meteorologists say that the cold snap will continue, with temperatures between -2 and -15°C [28-5°F] on Saturday.

Temperatures will continue to be coldest in inland areas in the Northeast of the country, although otherwise, weather conditions are expected to be mild and good for outdoor activities.

The window for winter fun will be brief, however, as in much of the rest of the country, there is a yellow alert in effect for wind on Sunday. Gale or severe gale-force winds of up to 15-23 m/s [49-75 f/s] in the capital area and similar conditions are expected in South Iceland, Southwest Iceland, Northwest Iceland, the Westfjords, Northwest Iceland, and the (uninhabited) central highlands. Sleet or rain is expected in low-lying areas on Sunday afternoon.

Roads are open throughout the country, but ice can be expected in most places, as can occasional snow cover on roadways.

 

Walrus Makes Stop in Southeast Iceland

A small crowd gathered in Höfn, Southeast Iceland, when a walrus was spotted in the town harbour yesterday evening, RÚV reports. There are no walruses living on Iceland’s shores, but one is spotted on average every ten years or so, likely arriving from Greenland. The walrus spotted in Höfn swam out to sea last night and caused no damage to residents or the harbour.

Though Iceland does not have a local walrus population today, there is evidence it used to. In 2019, DNA analyses and radiocarbon dating of walrus tusks found in Iceland revealed that they belonged to a previously unknown subspecies of the Atlantic walrus. This confirmed Iceland was “home to a distinct, localised subspecies” of walrus, according to Dr. Hilmar Malmquist, Director of the Icelandic Museum of Natural History.

Read More: Walruses Fuelled the Viking Expansion

The subspecies lived on Iceland’s shores from at least 7000 BC but disappeared shortly after the arrival of settlers. The total population seems to have been relatively small (around 5,000 animals) and thus vulnerable to habitat changes. Iceland’s climate today is too warm to support a walrus population. The animals prefer colder temperatures as well as abundant sea ice, especially during breeding season.

While Hilmar says a warming climate and volcanic eruptions may have been factors in the animals’ disappearance, the most likely explanation is that the animals were hunted to extinction by humans. Walrus ivory was once traded as a luxury product in Europe and Vikings also used walrus hides to make rope and walrus blubber to make oil, used for waterproofing ship hulls. Some sources suggest Vikings also ate walrus meat.

Wildfire Alert Phase Spreads to Southeast Iceland

brunasvæði sinubruni brush fire

A wildfire alert phase is now in effect across roughly half of Iceland following weeks of dry weather and fires across the Southwest quadrant of the country. The region of Austur-Skaftafellssýsla in Southeast Iceland has been added to the alert phase, which is also in effect across Southwest and West Iceland, the Westfjords, the northwest region, and the Reykjavík capital area. An uncertainty phase is in effect on the Suðurnes peninsula.

All handling of open fire is banned in the areas where an alert phase in effect, where precipitation has been rare in recent weeks and not much is in the forecast. “It has probably never been more important to be especially careful with fire in areas with vegetation and to avoid the use of barbecues and tools that heat up with use,” a notice from the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management states.

Almannavarnir. An alert phase is in effect in the dark yellow regions and an uncertainty phase in the light yellow region.

Homeowners are encouraged to review their fire preparedness, as “every second can make a difference.” Anyone who witnesses a wildfire should immediately call the emergency line 112. Witnesses can often put out fires in the early stages with the help of garden hoses or buckets of water.

The public (particularly owners of summer houses in the affected region) are encouraged to:

  • Not light fires inside or outside (including fireplaces, grills, bonfires, fireworks, etc.)
  • Not use disposable or ordinary barbecues
  • Check exits by summer houses
  • Review fire protection (fire extinguishers, smoke detectors) and make an escape plan
  • Not use tools that become very hot or cause sparks
  • Remove flammable material near buildings (check the location of gas containers)
  • Wet the vegetation around buildings where it is dry