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Glaciers

Glacial ice covers approximately 10% of Iceland’s surface area and the country’s glaciers contain the same amount of water as approximately 20 years’ precipitation across Iceland. One of the key features of glaciers is that they move. When a glacier advances, its surface cracks as the top 20-30 metres are fragile while deeper down the ice is more solid. This is why valley glaciers are often heavily crevassed, with crevasses being up to 30 metres deep. A changing climate has an effect on the distribution and movement of glaciers. Iceland’s glaciers cover numerous active volcanoes, and eruptions and geothermal heat melt ice and can cause glacial outbursts. Around one-third of the water flowing to the sea in Iceland is glacial in origin. Some Icelandic glaciers are fairly remote but most of the large ones can be visited easily enough.

Southern Iceland is home to Iceland’s largest glaciers

Glaciers cover approximately 10% of Iceland’s surface. The largest glaciers are located in central and southern Iceland, the largest being Vatnajökull covering 7,900 km2 and with a volume of 3,000 km3. This makes it Europe’s largest glacier by volume and second largest in terms of area. Other major glaciers are Langjökull (900 km2), Hofsjökull (890 km2) and Mýrdalsjökull (560 km2). Iceland’s fifth largest glacier is Drangajökull (142 km2) located in the eastern part of the West Fjords.

Valley glaciers

A valley glacier is an outlet glacier that flows out of an ice cap. Most valley glaciers only advance a few hundred metres a year. However, some unstable valley glaciers can surge forward several kilometres.

Ice caves

Most ice caves are located where rivers flow out of glaciers and are formed when the ice melts during the spring. Ice caves formed by geothermal heat can also be found at several locations within the Vatnajökull National Park. Ice caves are often stunningly beautiful and entering them can be a memorable experience and many tourists naturally want to visit them. However, ice caves are by their nature rather unstable and are constantly changing and can therefore be dangerous to inexperienced visitors. Ice caves should not be visited without an experienced local guide and the necessary equipment, such as crampons, a helmet and a headlight.

Glacial lagoons

Glacial lagoons form at the head of valley glaciers. Glacial tongues erode the land and the moraine is washed away by the water bursting out from beneath the snout of the glacier. The resulting depression often becomes a lake as the glacier retreats. With the melting of the glaciers over the past few decades, glacial lagoons have formed in several places at the heads of valley glaciers in Southern Iceland. The water in the lagoon comes from melted ice and such lagoons often contain icebergs that have broken off the edge of the glacier.

The oldest and most famous glacial lagoons at Vatnajökull are Jökulsárlón and Fjallsárlón, but in the last few years, lagoons have formed next to the valley glaciers Skeiðarárjökull, Skaftafellsjökull, Svínafellsjökull, Kvíarjökull, Fláajökull, Heinabergsjökull and Hoffellssjökull as they have melted and retreated. A lagoon at the head of Gígjökull, a valley glacier extending down from Eyjafjallajökull, disappeared in the volcanic eruption in 2010. In recent years a large lagoon has formed at the head of Sólheimajökull, a valley glacier flowing out of Mýrdalsjökull.

Jökulsárlón

Jökulsá is a powerful but very short glacial river at Breiðamerkursandur (average flow 250-300 m³/s, but only 500 metres long). It flows from Jökulsárlón, which is easily the largest and best known glacial lagoon in Iceland.

Once upon a time the river Jökulsá emerged from the glacier and flowed 1 - 1.5 km to the sea. However, in about 1935 a lagoon began to form at the edge of the glacier and around 1950 the lagoon began to expand rapidly as the glacier retreated due to ice melt. At the same time, the river has become shorter due to wave erosion at the coast and if this continues the river will disappear and the lagoon will fill with seawater. The effect of the tide can already be felt in the lagoon. Attempts have been made to slow down this process by trying to combat erosion and raising the water level of the lagoon.

The river was first bridged in 1966-1967 and the bridge is 108 metres long. There was a ferry across the river from 1932 but prior to that crossing, the river was very difficult due to the strong current and icebergs. It was often impossible to cross and many people drowned over the years attempting to reach the other side. If it wasn’t possible to cross on horseback, for example when the river flowed in a single torrential channel and was not braided in several channels, people sometimes resorted to crossing the glacier above the source, but this was hazardous as the glacier was often crevassed. People began to mark out a path across the glacier around 1870.

Major glacial rivers in the western part of Southern Iceland

Two major glacial rivers are located in the western part of Southern Iceland. One of them is Þjórsá, at 230 km the longest river in the country. It originates in the glacier Hofsjökull. Þjórsá has been harnessed for power in the highlands. Several impressive waterfalls can be found in the river, such as Dynkur, Tröllkonuhlaup and Urriðafoss. The other river is Hvítá, whose source is the glacier Langjökull. The river Sog flows into the river east of Ingólfsfjall and the river then becomes known as Ölfusá. It has the largest discharge of any river in Iceland with an average flow of 423 m³/s. Ölfusá flows through the town of Selfoss and enters a large estuary before entering the Atlantic Ocean just west of the village of Eyrarbakki.

Ice Climbing and Glacier walk
It is unlikely that anyone will ever forget the first time they tried ice climbing. Agencies in many parts of the country offer ice-climbing tours.
Jeep- & Glacier Tours
Many travel agencies specialize in different kinds of jeep exhibitions. A jeep tour on a glacier with breathtaking views is an unforgettable experience.
Snowmobile & Snowcat Tours
Many agencies offer snowmobile or ATV tours. They are suitable for anyone looking for a little excitement and adventure while on vacation.
Cave Exploring
For spelunkers and potholers,Iceland has scores of caves, large and small, deep and shallow, to be explored. Some caves may be explored without a guide and many agencies offer cave exploration tours for others.
Boat Tours
From whale watching to puffin tours to northern light cruises, coast hugging trips and more, they each provide an enjoyable and memorable experience.
Kayak Tours / Paddleboarding
Kayaking is an exhilarating experience and many agencies throughout the country offer kayak tours on lakes, ponds and the ocean.
Eyjafjallajökull Glacier
The Eyjafjallajökull glacier is a 1651 m high glacier-capped stratovolcano. It is one of the smaller glaciers of Iceland. It is situated to the north of Skógar and to the south and west of the bigger glacier Mýrdalsjökull. The icecap of the glacier covers a volcano (1651m in height) that has erupted relatively frequently since the Ice Age. The crater of the volcano has a diameter of 3-4 km and the glacier covers an area of about 100 km². In June 1994 an earthquake swarm lasting for nearly a month occurred below the active volcano Eyjafjallajökull in South Iceland. It is otherwise a relatively quiet volcano – although it is not listed as being inactive. Eyjafjallajökull erupted in 1821-1823. The south end of the mountain was once part of the Atlantic coastline. As the sea has since retreated some 5 km, the former coastline has left behind sheer cliffs with a multitude of beautiful waterfalls, the best known of them being Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss. In strong winds, the water of some of the smaller falls can even be blown up the mountain. It is one of the three glaciers that surround the Thorsmörk area - the other 2 being Myrdalsjökull and Tindfjallajökull. Specialized tours are arranged on the glacier for both skiing, super jeep tour, and hiking. One should never venture onto the glacier without guides and good knowledge of this kind of activity as this is a very dangerous area for inexperienced visitors. Eyjafjallajökull featured prominently in world news in 2010 when ash from its eruption halted air traffic in Europe. An ice cap with several outlet glaciers covers the caldera of Eyjafjallajökull with a crater diameter 3-4 km wide. The outlet glaciers, Steinholtsjökull and Gígjökull, descend from the main glacier and can be visited by 4x4 trucks along the F-road to Þórsmörk. The area between the glaciers Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull with volcanic craters, Magni and Móði, created in the first stage of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption in April 2010.   
Mýrdalsjökull glacier and Katla
Mýrdalsjökull Glacier and Katla Volcano Mýrdalsjökull is a glacier located in the south of Iceland. It is situated to the north of Vík í Mýrdal and to the east of the smaller glacier Eyjafjallajökull. Its peak reaches 1493 m in height and in 1980 it covered an area of 595 km². The view on a clear day is one of the prettiest in the world. Guided snow scooter, snowmobile, Super Jeep, dog sledding and iceclimbing tours are offered on the Myrdalsjökull glacier. Travelers on the glacier have to be extremely careful about crevasses and inexperienced travelers should not go there alone. Weather conditions shift very rapidly and high winds and snowstorms can appear in a flash all year round. The volcano Katla, in the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, has erupted on average every 40 - 60 years. Sixteen eruptions have been recorded since the settlement of Iceland, the last in 1918, but there have probably been more. Katla is one of the most famous volcanoes in the country, and its eruptions usually have very serious consequences. It can actually be regarded as one of the most powerful volcanoes in the world and probably the largest active volcano in the northern hemisphere. During the eruption, the glacier above the volcanic vent melts and the melted water collects under the ice-cap until it makes its way out under the edge in a violent flood. These are called "Jokulhlaup". Huge amounts of ice, rocks, silt and sand carried along by the floodwater. Most of the Mýrdalssandur sand plain has been formed by deposits in past floods. Katla has been showing signs of unrest recently and some geologists suspect that it might erupt in the near future, since it is way overdue to erupt. Eruptions of Katla have taken place (since known and recognized human settlement): 1918, 1860, 1823, 1755-56, 1721, 1660-61, 1625, 1612, 1580, 1416, 1357, 1311, 1262, 1245, 1177, 950.
Vatnajökull Glacier
Vatnajökull is the largest glacier in Iceland, and the largest glacier by volume in the whole of Europe. It covers over 8 percent of Iceland measuring an area of 7,800 km², with an average thickness of 400 m and the highest point, Hvannadalshnúkur, measures at 2,110 m (6,921 ft.). Vatnajökull has around 30 outlet glaciers flowing from the ice cap, all of which bear a name; glaciers and outlet glaciers all have names that end in “jökull” in Icelandic. Vatnajökull belongs to the Vatnajökulsfljóðgarður (Vatnajökull National Park) and covers a large area surrounding the glacier, including the glacier itself. The National Park offers numerous interesting sites to visit and is a must for all who are interested in Geology and beautiful, natural vistas.  
Öræfajökull glacier
Öræfajökull:  Iceland’s highest mountain Extending south from the Vatnajökull icecap and towering to around 2,110 m (6,922 feet), Öræfajökull is Iceland’s highest mountain. Its height actually varies with the season and the depth of snow and ice, since the peak itself, Hvannadalshnúkur, is topped by ice which is thickest in spring and thinnest in autumn. The mountain and surrounding areas offer good skiing in winter and are very popular with walkers and hikers throughout the year.
Fjallsárlón Glacial Lagoon
Scenic Fjallsárlón is a glacial lagoon located around 10 km. west of Jökulsárlón, at the southern edge of Vatnajökull glacier. With the steep glacier tongue, Fjallsjökull coming down from Vatnajökull and all the way into the lagoon, makes it a perfect peaceful place for photos as well as enjoying the untouched nature. Fjallsárlón also offers boat-tours on the lagoon as well as a bistro with fresh and tasty refreshments.  
Jökulsárlón Glacier lagoon
Jökulsárlón is a glacial lagoon by the ring road and was recently designated as a part of Vatnajökull National Park. It's still blue waters are a sight not to be missed, as it is dotted with the icebergs from the edge of Breiðamerkurjökull, a part of the Vatnajökull glacier. The lagoon flows through a narrow gateway into the Atlantic Ocean, leaving the spectacular sight of the large chunks of ice on the black sandy beach. In wintertime, the fish-filled lagoon hosts a number of seals, which visit the lagoon for an easy meal. Year-round curious seals can be seen basking on the blue-tinted icebergs. The lagoon is accessible from the beach all year round, and so is the café on the banks of Jökulsárlón. For hikers, a marked hiking trail between Jökulsárlón and Fjallsárlón is recommended as a scenic trip through unforgettable surroundings.  A word of warning - don't jump onto the ice floating in the lagoon. Some tourists think it’s okay to do it, but it is dangerous play, and the ice can capsize leaving you stuck beneath it in the ice-cold water. So let's be very careful here.Please heed the advice of the locals and never ever step on the ice in the lagoon!  
Skálafell – Hjallanes
Skálafell is situated in the exact middle between the glacial lagoon Jökulsárlón and the town of Höfn in Hornafjörður. Skálafell offers access to beautiful, marked walking paths around the area offering a mere 45-minute walk to the edge of Vatnajökull glacier. Furthermore a new walkway bridge over river Kolgríma opens the hiking area of Heinaberg from Skálafell. This area is very popular when it comes to visiting glacial areas.   
Heinaberg
Heinaberg is a beautiful area that consists of Heinabergsjökull glacier, the glacial lagoon Heinabergslón, where you can go kayaking among the icebergs during summer, and stunning landscape. The Heinaberg area is part of Vatnajökull National Park. The gorgeous glacial lagoon of Heinaberg, Heinabergslón, is accessible by car and is often studded with large chunks of glacier that break off the Heinabergsjökull glacier. The area offers excellent conditions for hikers, as it has several interesting hiking trails, along which one can see waterfalls, ravines, volcanic intrusions, and even, on a lucky day, a reindeer.   
Fláajökull Glacier
Fláajökull is an easily accessible outlet glacier from Vatnajökull. The area offers spectacular views of the ever-receding glacier that has receded 2 km during the last one hundred years, leaving a glacial lagoon in its wake. The area can be described as a hikers’ paradise as it has several good hiking trails and offers a rich variety in birdlife. The area is therefore an excellent destination for bird watchers, hikers and all who are interested in witnessing how the movement of the glacier shapes the surrounding landscape.   
Hoffell
Hoffell is a farmland area characterized by a large outlet glacier named Hoffellsjökull and gabbro rock. Gabbro rock is originated deep in the Earth but is visible in the area due to the uplift of the area and glacial erosion, which gives the environment a greenish hue in the otherwise dark rocks. Hoffell is an area and a farmland in southeast Iceland. It is characterised by a large outlet glacier, Hoffellsjökull, and gabbro rock, which originally formed deep in the earth‘s crust but is now visible due to uplift of the area and glacial erosion, which gives the environment a greenish hue in the otherwise dark rocks. The Hoffell area is 15 kilometres from the town of Höfn.Driving or hiking north from Hoffell along the sands of Hoffellssandur you will enjoy the spectacular scenery of mountain slopes carved out by earlier glaciers. Along the sands of Hoffellssandur you will enjoy the spectacular scenery of mountain slopes carved out by earlier glaciers. Along the way, there is also a borehole, constructed to extract geothermal water. Finally, you reach the ice of the glacier-tongue, Hoffellsjökull, skirted by the numerous hiking trails of the Geitafell mountain.The area is preserved for outdoor recreation, as it is rich in vegetation, wildlife, and geological variety. The area’s many hiking trails offer a stunning view of the diverse beautiful wonders it has to offer.  
Langjökull Glacier
Langjökull is the countries second largest glacier. Its accessibility is as good as it gets, however no one should attempt driving up a´glacier on their own. Many agencies offer tours where they take you up the glacier in specially equipped vehicles with experienced glacier guides. You can choose from jeep excursions, glacier hiking and snowmobiling.