Iceland boasts an impressive range of geological features, from fiery volcanoes to vast glaciers and explosive geysers. Not in vain, it is nicknamed As the Land of Ice and Fire.
Ice caves are among the most magical of these natural wonders that you can visit and explore for yourself during your adventure in Iceland. Let’s dive into exploring what ice caves are, how and why they form, and where the best ice caves are in Iceland!
What Are Ice Caves?
An ice cave is simply any natural cave that contains significant amounts of ice all year round. For this permanent ice to exist inside an ice cave, there must be a cold zone of less than 0 °C where water is present.
Ice caves can be white or blue, mixed with the colors of the cave itself, which can include black, red and copper.
What’s the Difference Between an Ice Cave and a Glacier Cave?
Although they are frequently confused, glacier caves are different from ice caves. A glacier cave is a cave that has formed within the ice of a glacier. This means that glacier caves are fully made of ice and are often an incredibly beautiful blue color. Glacier caves are surrounded by ice, rather than just containing some ice, as with ice caves.
How Do Ice Caves Form?
Ice caves need cold winter air in order to form. An ice cave is created when this freezing winter air settles into a cave and cannot get out of the cave again.
Moisture enters the cave as precipitation or through water seeping through fractures and fissures in the bedrock of the cave. This water then freezes in the frigid air that has entered the cave, creating ice formations, such as frozen lakes or icicles.
How Many Ice Caves Are There in Iceland?
There are countless ice caves in Iceland; it’s impossible to say exactly how many! But let’s just say you won’t be short of options for stunning ice caves or glacier caves to visit during your Icelandic adventure. To give you an idea, around 11% of Iceland’s landmass is covered in ice – wow!
7 of the Best Ice Caves in Iceland (Plus Glacier Caves of Iceland!)
Visiting an ice cave is one of our favorite things to do in Iceland in the winter. Not least for the incredible views and awe-inspiring icy structures you’ll see. Here’s our ultimate guide to the best ice caves in Iceland. We'll include the most spectacular glacier caves of Iceland too, as you won’t want to miss the beautiful blue ice of these natural wonders!
1. Blue Diamond Cave in Vatnajökull Glacier
This breathtakingly beautiful cave is one of Iceland’s most famous glacier caves. Also, arguably, the most stunning glacier cave in Iceland! Situated in the largest of Iceland’s glaciers, the vast Vatnajökull Glacier. This huge mass which takes up 8% of the country’s landmass and is almost 1 kilometer deep in some sections, Blue Diamond Cave is one not to miss.
Around a 5.5-hour drive from Reykjavík, the trip to Blue Diamond Cave is well worth it. Especially as you first step into the cave and soak in the dazzling clear blue ice all around you. The unique shapes in the snake-like structure of Blue Diamond Cave make this a fascinating one to explore.
2. Sapphire Ice Cave in Breidamerkurjökull Glacier
Despite its name, the Sapphire Ice cave is actually a glacier cave. It is located in the Breidamerkurjökull Glacier, which is an outlet glacier of Vatnajökull. Created by the flow of water through the glacier interior, there is a river inside Sapphire Ice Cave that turns into a strong flow during summer.
Spectacular icicles and all manner of astonishing crystal blue ice sculptures greet you upon entering the breathtaking Sapphire Ice Cave. The ice dome you walk underneath contains ice that formed over 900 years ago! After exploring Sapphire Ice Cave, you can take a trip to the nearby Jokulsarlon Ice Lagoon. Located at the mouth of the Breidamerkurjökull Glacier, it offers some stunning views of icebergs floating across this glacial lake.
3. Split Mound Cave near Thorlakshofn
A traditional ice cave, rather than a glacier cave, Split Mound Cave is a 1300-meter-long lava tunnel that formed around 4600 years ago. A tour of this cave involves walking the length of the tube to soak in all the extraordinary lava formations, which takes around an hour. Good physical fitness is required for a visit to Split Mound Cave.
Situated near the town of Thorlakshofn, a tour of this cave is a brilliant day trip activity from the capital. Luckily, it is around a 45-minute drive from Reykjavík! Split Mound Cave is an ice cave due to the ice that often decorates the lava formations inside the cave. It was created by the cold air that becomes trapped there.
4. Katla Ice Cave in Kötlujökull Glacier
Open all year round, Katla Ice Cave is actually situated on top of Katla Volcano! This volcano is topped by the Kötlujökull Glacier, which contains the impressive Katla Ice Cave. Inside, you can see black volcanic ash from the eruptions over the years. Last erupting in 1918, the notorious Katla Volcano was nicknamed ‘the Gateway to Hell’ due to its dangerously explosive nature.
This darker ice cave contains much black ice, with scatterings of blue ice and white snow. You might even see a waterfall if you visit on a sunny day! Katla Ice Cave is located in Southern Iceland, around a 3-hour drive from Reykjavík.
5. Langjökull Ice Cave in Langjökull Glacier
The man-made glacier cave in Langjökull Glacier is the world’s longest man-made ice tunnel at over 500 meters. Icicles and natural ice crevasses lit up by soft LED lighting can be viewed inside Langjökull Ice Cave. You’ll also find sitting areas and even a wedding chapel inside this innovative and unique ice tunnel in Iceland!
Although it’s not immune to changing weather and climate conditions, Langjökull Ice Cave can currently be visited all year round. This ice cave is one to visit to witness the intertwining of the Earth's natural beauty with human ingenuity and engineering.
6. Skaftafell Ice Caves in Breidamerkurjökull Glacier
The magical Skaftafell Ice Caves in Breidamerkurjökull Glacier are an outstanding crystal blue color. That makes them an ideal photography destination for those iconic ice cave shots!
The caves are located in Skaftafell Nature Reserve, which is part of the largest National Park in Iceland, Vatnajökull National Park. These glacier caves are formed by the river that runs through the glacier during summer. Skaftafell Ice Caves are in the south-east of Iceland, around a 4-hour drive from the capital.
7. Perlan Indoor Ice Cave in Reykjavik
Explore the world’s first indoor ice cave at the award-winning Perlan Museum in Reykjavík. Made of over 350 tons of snow, this ice cave is 100 meters long. Learn all about glacier caves in Iceland at this interactive exhibit. It is perfect for a rainy day or for during the summer season when less ice caves are accessible for visitors.
This impressive ice tunnel recreates a glacial environment indoors. It will allow you to experience a glacier cave for yourself, no matter the weather conditions. At this Wonders of Iceland exhibition, you can find out all about how Iceland’s glaciers are changing. You will also learn how they affect the land and the lifeforms that live on glaciers.
Top Tips for Visiting Glacier Caves and Ice Caves in Iceland
Book an ice cave tour in advance, so you know your spot is reserved. Essential for exploring ice caves, an experienced guide will give you all the safety equipment needed. They will also share fascinating information about the ice cave and take care of transport to the sometimes remote ice cave locations.
Visit Iceland in the winter or spring if you’d like to go ice cave exploring. That’s because ice cave season runs from November to late March each year. There are a handful of ice caves in Iceland that you can visit during summer. Although the vast majority are only accessible in the winter season and early spring.
Be aware that there are different ice caves each year, as the glaciers are constantly shifting and changing shape. It means that new ice caves are discovered after each summer. Sometimes older ice caves will no longer exist or be accessible. You can check which ice caves you’ll have the option of visiting when you book your tour.
Wrap up warm! As the name suggests, ice caves tend to have icy temperatures. You’ll need a waterproof jacket and layers to make sure you don’t feel the chill. Be sure to include these in your Iceland packing list, so you’re well-prepared for your ice cave adventure.
Discover the Best Ice Caves in Iceland For Yourself
Steeped in majestic beauty, Iceland’s ice caves offer an amazing opportunity to walk among centuries-old ice and witness stunning blue ice formations. A trip to explore Iceland’s ice caves and glacier caves is sure to be one you’ll remember forever.
Now you’re all clued-up on ice caves after reading our Iceland caves guide. Get prepared for your journey to Iceland by reserving your campervan in Iceland. Traveling by campervan will give you the ultimate freedom and flexibility to discover many of Iceland’s stunning landscapes and explore as many ice caves in Iceland as your heart desires!