Updated: May 10
If you want to get up close and personal with an iceberg or see the seals chilling on these massive blocks of ice, the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon is your place to be. Here you can kayak between building-sized blocks of ice, visit the stunning Diamond Beach, and even have a taste of ice that is a thousand years old!
Ever wanted to come extremely close to an iceberg without accidentally re-enacting the movie Titanic? The Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon is your best bet in Iceland to get that experience and know just how cold water can get. In this article, we dive into the icy deeps and give you the cold hard facts about this amazing lagoon.
What is Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon?
Situated at the foot of the majestic glacier Vatnajökull, one of the 269 named glaciers in Iceland, Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon is a must-visit place on your trip around Iceland. Enjoy this ice lagoon and marvel at the icebergs floating around in the waters.
Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon is formed by the runoff from Breiðamerkurjökull, a glacial tongue from Vatnajökull. The glacier lagoon started forming in the first half of the 20th century and has developed quickly, which has been a cause of concern for Ring Road 1 and nearby settlements.
Before the lagoon was there, Breiðamerkurjökull met the North Atlantic on the southeast coast of Iceland. Due to rising global temperatures, the Jökulsárlón retreated quickly and created this Iceland glacier lake which is now about 280 meters deep!
Some fun trivia about Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon:
It is Iceland’s deepest lake
It has been the set of two James Bond movies (Die Another Day, A View to a Kill), Batman Begins, and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
It is a part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon has a live webcam feed
Where is the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon
Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon sits in the southeast corner of Vatnajökull National Park, the second-largest national park in Europe and home to many of Iceland’s natural wonders. This also means that you can’t easily go to just any other activity in the national park and will have to do some traveling to get to the other locations.
Under the massive glacier next to the ice lagoon lies three volcanoes, Grímsvötn, Öræfajökull, and Bardabunga. Grímsvötn is the most active volcano in Iceland and is known to create glacial floods due to “small” eruptions under the ice.
If you go south on Ring Road 1, the closest town, Vík, will be almost 190 kilometers away. About 80 kilometers northwest of Jökulsárlón, you will find the town Hofn sitting on a small headland. These are the closest proper settlements, even though there will be several smaller villages and farm clusters alongside the road.
How to Get There
The easiest way to explain the route is to say “take the Ring Road 1 from Reykjavik and head east”. It takes a long time to get there since this is in the eastern part of the country, while Reykjavik is in the west. It will take you a couple of hours, but it will be worth it, and you will have the chance to see many sights along the way.
You will be able to stop at plenty of places to make the trip more worthwhile. A great way to get around is by 4x4 campervan, and if you do so, you would be wise to check out camping near Jökulsárlón.
When to Visit
It goes without saying that the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon will be cold all year around. Even if you get there on the hottest day of the year, you will most likely need a jacket. The mild Icelandic weather will, unfortunately, not help a lot when you are face to face with a block of ice the size of a house.
Jökulsárlón lagoon, Iceland, is best to visit in the summer. Even though it will be cold, the weather will be milder, and you will be able to see it as a vibrant and alive area due to the wildlife. The tours in Jökulsárlón also only operate in the summer months, so that’s also a good reason to stick to the summer.
You can also visit Jökulsárlón in the winter. This time of year, it’s perfect for exploring the area with a cunning glacier tour guide. An obvious perk of visiting the Iceland ice lagoon in the winter is the possibility of seeing the Northern lights alongside the massive ice blocks.
Things to Do at Jökulsárlón
Even though it is basically a (very) cold lake filled with big pieces of ice, there is plenty to do in and around Jökulsárlón, Iceland.
The ice blocks in Jökulsárlón lagoon, Iceland, will vary in size from ice cubes that you have in the fridge to icebergs as large as houses. The first thing that comes to mind when you arrive at Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon is “how can I get closer to the icebergs?” The answer is simple: Any way you’d like!
The most common way to get into the lagoon is by taking an amphibian boat tour. They leave frequently without a fixed schedule and are a little more exciting than a regular Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon boat tour. On this tour, you will learn more about the lagoon from an English-speaking guide and even get to hold (and taste!) a piece of ice that’s more than 1000 years old! The tour is roughly 30 minutes long and you won’t have to book anything beforehand.
If you are in the mood to rather have a classic boat trip, don’t worry. You can always get on the Zodiac RIB boat tour instead. This is a longer trip and will cover much more of the lagoon, so it’s a good option if you have more time on your hands. But you can plan it better since it leaves on a fixed schedule and people are required to book a spot.
If you’re not afraid of the icy waters, some tours offer Jökulsárlón kayak tours. This way, you will be basically on the same level as the water surface, making the encounters with the glaciers close and personal. Jökulsárlón kayaking is not for the faint of heart.
We have heard rumors of people taking a dip in the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, but we strongly recommend not swimming there unless you happen to be a seal.
When you are done driving, boating, and paddling around in the lagoon, you can have a stroll along the world-famous Diamond Beach. Here you can marvel at the pitch-black sand and the large, diamond-like pieces of ice that have been washed up from the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. They are not quite on par with the icebergs in the water in terms of size, but they are still stunning, and you can get close to them without the risk of getting wet.
Why would anything want to spend time in a freezing body of water like the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon? When you look around in this frozen landscape, you will come across plenty of local fauna, frolicking in the ice-cold waters.
Believe it or not, since the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon is connected to the North Atlantic, a lot of fish have started to swim up the short river and into the icy waters. For those fishes who are not such fans of swimming upriver, the tide will give them a helping hand, as the high tide is strong enough to push them most of the way.
The animals you can see in the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon are mostly going to be various types of sea birds. Apart from that, you will see seals chilling on the icebergs and sometimes see their little heads pop up from the water to have a curious look at the tour boats.
Things to Do Around Jökulsárlón
When you’ve had your fair share of the floating, and non-floating, icebergs in the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon and want to expand your horizon a bit, there are plenty of other things to do not far from there.
Vatnajökull National Park
As we said earlier: Jökulsárlón is a part of Vatnajökull National Park and offers much to see and do for everyone, regardless of age.
If you are after the adventurous part of a glacial area, you would be wise to invest in tours on the glacier. You will get the opportunity to hike on the largest glacier in Europe, explore wondrous ice caves, and even try ice climbing if you want to!
If you don’t want to only stick to Vatnajökull National Park, you can easily go and explore the many sights to be seen around south Iceland. Amongst other things, you can check out some of the many waterfalls, stroll along Reynisfjara black beach, or take the ferry over to Westman Islands.
Dos and Don’ts
We joked about swimming earlier, but we can’t stress this enough: do not go swimming in the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. Even if the freezing cold water is something you can handle, you might be taken by one of the many hidden streams that can either pull you out to sea or under an iceberg.
Don’t try to climb an iceberg, and don’t try to stand on top of any of them. Floating icebergs are deceptively easy to flip over, and if you get dragged under by an iceberg, you are done for. Ice blocks on land are safer but extremely slippery, so we strongly suggest you keep off them too.
Keep away from the waves on Diamond Beach. They are stronger than they look and, as we said earlier, you don’t want to have a dip in this water.
Bring warm clothing, even if the weather feels nice before you get there. The sheer volume of ice and the shadow of the glacier keeps things cold all day, all year round.
Visit Iceland's most famous glacier lagoon
This glacier lagoon, with its striking landscape, is one of the highlights of Iceland's nature. No wonder it is a must-visit destination on your next trip to Iceland. As you can see, there is plenty to do at the beautiful Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and if you stick to our advice and hire your campervan in Iceland, you’ll have the time of your life!