Are you planning a trip to Iceland at some point soon? If so, you likely have heard plenty about the stunning landscape of the country. The countless Iceland glaciers are a big piece of that, setting the location for many tourist destinations and feeding some of the most beautiful waterfalls on earth.
More about Iceland Glaciers
It has been estimated that over 11 percent of the land area of Iceland is covered in glaciers, with the massive Vatnajokull covering almost ten percent on its own! In total, there are over 250 named Iceland glaciers.
These glaciers cover many types, from alpine to cirque, ice caps to ice streams, mountains to piedmont to outlet style glaciers. Many can be explored up close in some way, shape or form with a glacier tour. With so many choices in one small country, it can be overwhelming to determine which glaciers are best and most convenient to explore, though.
Luckily, we have taken some of the guesswork out of the equation. After extensive research, planning and firsthand experience, we have narrowed down a lost of the most fascinating Iceland glaciers to pay a visit.
The largest glacier in Iceland is Vatnajokull, which spans an area of 8,300 square kilometers. It is roughly the same size as all of the glaciers in mainland Europe put together, or approximately three times the size of Rhode Island. In fact, Vatnajokull is Europe’s largest ice cap.
At its thickest point, the glacier is about 1,000 meters thick! The Vatnajokull glacier was declared a national park in 2008, when Skaftafell and Jökulsárgljúfur were integrated with it to form the Vatnajokull National Park. Size-wise, it is the largest national park in Europe.
Iceland’s Langjokull glacier can be translated to “long glacier”. This is appropriately named, considering it is the second largest glacier in the country. It is 1,360 meters long and has an area of 950 square kilometers. It rises as high as 1,300 meters above sea level at its highest point.
The Langjokull glacier can be found west of the Icelandic highlands, along the Golden Circle of natural attractions in the country (Gullfoss, Strokkur, and the like). To cover the most ground and experience all that the Langjokull glacier has to offer, visitors can book a snowmobiling tour through Extreme Iceland.
Hofsjokull is the third largest glacier in Iceland. To get here, visitors have a far more treacherous and difficult traveling experience. For this reason, many are discouraged from visiting, making it one of the least crowded of our reviewed glaciers.
Hofsjokull has an active subglacial caldera volcano, the largest active volcano in the country. To get to Hofsjokull, tahe the Kjolur F road that runs through the Icelandic highlands. There are tours available through services such as Guide to Iceland’s South Coast and Highlands tour.
Located on the south coast of Iceland is the Myrdalsjokull glacier. It is home to an active volcano named Katla. The top of the volcano is covered by the Myrdalsjokull ice cap.
The Myrdalsjokull glacier is the fourth largest glacier in Iceland, spanning an area of 596 square kilometers. The glacier is also home to Iceland’s most popular hiking route, the Fimmvorduhals Pass. This route lies between the Myrdalsjokull and Eyjafjallajokull glaciers. The Eyjafjallajokull glacier lies to the east of Myrdalsjokull.
Arctic Adventures offers extensive glacier hikes and climbs of Myrdalsjokull, including ice cave tours, one of which goes underneath the Katla volcano.
The eastern neighbor to the Myrdalsjokull glacier is the Eyjafjallajokull glacier. Translating to “Islands Mountains’ Glacier,” the Eyjafjallajokull glacier derives from the Westman Islands that neighbor the glacier.
This glacier is home to the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, famous for erupting in 2010 and disrupting air travel throughout Europe for weeks. A hiking trail take you to the top of the volcano and to the Skogafoss waterfall.
The Sólheimajökull Glacier is an extension from the Myrdalsjokull ice cap. This location is great to visit, as you could easily check off three glaciers in one day. The Sólheimajökull glacier is especially impressive due to the ice crevasses and caves available for hiking and climbing.
Veltra offers some wonderful ice cave walks, hikes, and glacier climbs in and around Sólheimajökull.
Though it is one of the smaller glaciers in Iceland, the Snaefellsjokull glacier is still one of the most popular to visit in the country. It is located in the Snaefellsjokull National Park in the far eastern region of Iceland (Snaefellsnes Peninsula).
The Snaefellsjokull glacier is famous for being the setting of the classic novel “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” by Jules Verne. Surrounding the glacier are lava fields, waterfalls and black beaches, as well as incredible natural wonders such as Kirkjufell and the Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge. There is no shortage of activities to do here.
One of the most popular Vatnajokull outlet glaciers in Iceland is the Öræfajökull glacier. The country’s largest active volcano rests beneath its ice at Iceland’s highest point – 2110 meters above sea level.
There are plenty of breathtaking hikes around the highest peak, including one that could take up to 15 hours total to complete. If you are up for the challenge, we definitely recommend you book a tour with a professional guide, lace up your hiking boots and get out there to explore!
Icelandic Mountain Guides has packages that include a hike to the top of this mountain: Hvannadalshnúkur.
Another Vatnajokull outlet glacier is the Falljökull glacier, which translates to “falling glacier.” You can hike this dramatic landscape carved by ice formations and crevasses. It is a massive icefall that crashes down from the mountain towards the ocean. It is one of the most awe-inspiring sights in Iceland and should not be missed.
Glacier Guides has far more information about Falljökull, how to get there, and what hikes to consider.
Tips for Iceland Glacier Exploration
One of the most crucial tips for exploring glaciers in Iceland is to ensure you are wearing the proper attire. This ranges from a solid jacket to well-functioning hiking boots.
To hike across ice formations safely you will need a pair of hiking boots that are study and waterproof. You will also want to remember to wear a pair of gloves, layers, and a waterproof jacket.
The best thing is to make sure everything you are wearing is waterproof. You will be more comfortable and properly fitted for your excursion. In almost all cases, extra equipment such as helmets, crampons, and ice axes will be provided by your tour.
About Glacier Tours
To properly explore the magnificent array of glaciers listed above, you are almost always going to need to book a professionally-guided tour. Your guides are going to be certified as needed, and will assist you in fitting into your crampons and other equipment.
It’s important to note that glacier hiking is a group activity. It is near impossible to set out on your own without a guide leading the way. Also, you will almost always have others in your group, unless you splurge for a private glacier tour.
The start of most tours will consist of the tour guides providing explanations of the equipment, routes, and expectations. Safety will always be the number one priority, so ensure you pay attention and do as directed.
Once geared up and the group is all set, you will head out for the hike, climb, or walk. You will utilize your crampons and ice axes throughout the hikes and climbs. If you have never used one before, the guides will give you a tutorial on proper usage.
Alternative Glacier Experiences in Iceland
There are other types of glacier tours besides hiking including caving, snowmobiling, lagoon boat tours and 4×4 adventures. Ice caving consists of numerous tunnels and outlets that twist around each other in the interior of glacial caves.
One of the fastest and most expansive options is to book a snowmobiling tour. You will zoom across ice plains and cover the most ground on any of the other tours. This is an adrenaline-packed adventure ready for the thrill-seekers to take part.
In certain locations (like the Glacier Lagoon) lagoon boat tours are available. Here, you can explore the meltwater from Iceland’s ice caps found at the base of each glacier. Finally, if you want to capitalize on the group atmosphere, you can book a 4×4 Jeep tour that can hold up to six passengers. You will zip across the ice in an epic off-road adventure in one of these super vehicles.
The opportunities for experiencing the wonder of Iceland glaciers are endless. With the above list and additional information, you should be equipped with all the necessary steps to ensure that at least one glacier hike or walk makes it onto your itinerary and Iceland bucket list. These are truly a can’t miss natural wonder!
Owner Note: We did not manage to do a glacier tour, ice walk, or cave exploration. Ice caves in the summer in Iceland are a non-starter, and we were not fully aware of how awe-inspiring glacier tours would be until we were hiking up Skaftafell three days into our trip. Next time!