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A Guide To Visiting Iceland's Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

|July 31, 2023
Konstancija is a writer who enjoys long walks and hikes in nature, "hunts" for second-hand goods, and is a frequent guest in public libraries where she loves to read and roam around stacks of books.

Do you have questions about the famous Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon? What is it? How did it form? Where is there to stay close by? Which are the best tours to take there? We have everything you need to know and more.


Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon in Iceland is one of the most incredible natural wonders of the world. People are often blown away by the sheer vastness and unique beauty before them, as majestic icebergs make their way through the enormous lagoon to the Atlantic Ocean.

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

Icebergs in Jökulsárlón

After leaving the lagoon, the glistening blue and white icebergs are washed up on the black sandy coastline at Diamond Beach, another iconic stop in the area. While many of the icebergs go straight out into the ocean, the chunks that wash up at the beach glisten in contrast to the dark sand. This creates a vision unlike you will see anywhere else in the world.

WHY IS JÖKULSÁRLÓN GLACIER LAGOON FAMOUS?

Ice Glacier Lagoon in Iceland

Icebergs at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

There are many reasons why visitors across the world have heard of Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, which is the deepest lake in Iceland. The lagoon, which has been featured as a must-see on Lonely Planet’s travel list, is a key location for many films and TV shows. Action scenes in A View to Kill and Die Another Day were shot at Jökulsárlón. You can also spot the lagoon in the background of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Batman Begins, the TV series Amazing Race and various other TV shows and documentaries.

HOW WAS JÖKULSÁRLÓN GLACIER LAGOON FORMED?

Boat Tour in Glacier Lagoon

Tourists visiting an iceberg at Jökulsárlón by boat

The glacier lagoon did not exist at all until circa 1934, when the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier began to melt and retreat, leaving Jökulsárlón in its wake.. Since then, warmer temperatures have caused the glacier to retreat rapidly in a pattern of accelerated growth, causing the lagoon to grow extensively. The deepest part of the lake is actually very close to where the snout of the glacier used to be.

BREIÐAMERKURJÖKULL GLACIER

It’s impossible to talk about Jökulsárlón without mentioning Breiðamerkurjökull, a major glacial tongue reaching down towards the coast from Vatnajökull. The width of this glacier can be clearly seen from Route 1, and you may be surprised to see that it actually does resemble a big wide icy tongue! Before Breiðamerkurjökull retreated, it reached a point close to the highway.

The fascinating icebergs that you see floating in the lagoon have calved (broken off) from Breiðamerkurjökull glacier.

WHERE IS JÖKULSARLÓN GLACIER LAGOON LOCATED?

The glacier lagoon is located right on the Ring Road between Höfn and Skaftafell at the head of the retreating Breiðamerkurjökull glacier. As visitors approach from the direction of the beach, they may catch a glimpse of a procession of unusually shaped ice forms, signalling their arrival. The views at Jökulsárlón are magical and totally worth the visit from Reykjavík!

HOW TO GET TO JÖKULSARLÓN GLACIER LAGOON?

Getting to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is fairly straightforward thanks to its convenient location on the Ring Road. These are the most popular options available to visitors looking to get from Reykjavik to Jökulsárlón:

Getting To Jökulsárlón From Reykjavik

Travelling by Car in Iceland

View of the Icelandic landscape from a car traveling to Jökulsárlón

Drive by Car

It is easy to get to Jökulsárlón if you are doing a self-drive tour. From Reykjavík, you just follow Route 1 in a southerly direction for 380 km. By leaving Reykjavík at 06:00, you will be able to visit Jökulsárlón, stop at some of the waterfalls on the south coast and make it back to the capital within the same day. Of course, this depends on the traffic and weather conditions.

Take the Bus to Jökulsárlón

If you are keen to take public transport to the lagoon, bus number 51 goes from Mjódd, Reykjavík to Jökulsárlón. It takes about 6 hours and costs around 11.000 ISK per person.

The bus runs Monday-Friday + Sunday (not Saturday).

Join a Tour

There are many tours that head to Jökulsárlón, both day and multi-day tours, giving a variety of options and destinations. Arranging a tour is the ideal solution for those who feel uncomfortable driving in another country and those who want to squeeze more into their itinerary. Taking a guided tour is the perfect way to really get to know the country through insights and tips from a knowledgeable, local guide. We even offer private tours, allowing you to enjoy a bespoke, customized experience of the lagoon. Explore our Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon tours to find an option that suits you.

WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT JÖKULSARLÓN GLACIER LAGOON?

When deciding the best time to visit Jökulsárlón, you need to consider the experiences you'd like to have. If getting up close with the icebergs on a boat tour is a desired activity, visit in the summer or early autumn when they flow freely and leave room for vessels to explore. Boat tours operate from April to October. 


If you seek a complete Icelandic adventure, try braving the winter cold to catch the Northern Lights and explore ice caves within the Vatnajökull Glacier. Ice cave tours run from November to March, weather-dependent. You can choose between seeing icebergs in summer or the winter landscapes for your Jökulsárlón visit.

THINGS TO DO AT JÖKULSARLÓN GLACIER LAGOON

TAKE A BOAT TOUR

Boat Tour in Glacier Lagoon Iceland

Amphibian Boat Tour in Lagoon

One of the most thrilling ways you can explore Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is from the water. Many people enjoy these boat tours as it gives them the opportunity to enjoy all aspects of the lagoon and to sail among iceberg chunks. Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is where Amphibian and Zodiac boat tours take place. During your trip, you’ll get to see some of Iceland’s best South Coast attractions: Vatnajokull National Park and Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier.

KAYAK AROUND THE GLACIER

If you enjoy challenges, especially physical ones, you should go on a Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon kayak tour, where you’ll be able to glide through mirror-like waters. Here you’ll be able to see and understand why this place was used for movie sets and appreciate the breathtaking blue and white tones that surround you. If you wish to free two birds with one key and experience a day full of icy adventures, try a glacier hike and kayaking tour in Jokulsarlon. Once you’re done with paddling, next on your agenda is Falljökull Glacier, from which you’ll see Hvannadalshnúkur – Iceland’s highest peak.

VISIT DIAMOND BEACH

Diamond Beach at Sunset in Iceland

Sunset behind the mountains Diamond Beach

The dramatic black Diamond Beach at Jökulsárlón is almost as famous as the Ice Lagoon itself. The beach offers one of the most surreal sights ever seen, a procession of blue and white icebergs of all shapes and sizes gliding silently to meet their final destiny in the wild waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Many are washed up on the shore of the Diamond Beach. On a sunny day, they shimmer like diamonds against the coal-blackness of the sand.

JOIN A GLACIER HIKE TOUR

A Jökulsárlón & Skaftafell tour from Reykjavík is a fabulous way to explore the area! You will get to see icebergs, some as large as apartment blocks, jostling one another in the lagoon. To get the full experience of the area, this tour also stops at other natural wonders, like Diamond Beach, peppered with icebergs of all shapes and sizes, and Seljalandsfoss, one of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls.

Clear Icebergs at Diamond Beach in Iceland

Icebergs on the sand at Diamond Beach

ENJOY THE NORTHERN LIGHTS SHOW

The Northern Lights are a natural attraction that lure many travelers to Iceland. Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is one of the best places where you can witness this spectacular natural phenomenon. One of the main requirements to be able to see these lights is a dark, clear sky, and Jökulsárlón has not only that, but also magnificent-looking surroundings of icebergs slowly floating around the lagoon. All this culminates in an enchanting atmosphere. 

To increase your stakes of witnessing the Northern Lights, go on a two-day tour to Iceland’s South Coast, where you will spend time exploring the glacier lagoon and many other exciting Icelandic highlights. If you’re lucky to have more time to spend in Iceland, then why not explore the country by going on a four-day trip to the west and south of Iceland? Imagine spending your days shifting from one attractive place to another and finishing your day (actually, night) with the dance of the Northern Lights.

Northern Lights Above Glacier Lagoon in Iceland

Northern Lights above Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

Where To Stay Near Jökulsárlón?

With so much to see in the vicinity of the lagoon, it is good to stay over and maximise your time in the area. Many visitors who are traveling around Iceland stay in the Höfn, Skaftafell or Kirkjubæjarklaustur areas for a couple of nights. Hotels, guesthouses, farm accommodations, hostels and camping facilities are all available. Hof 1 Adventure Hotel at Hof í Öræfi, between Skeiðarársandur and Breiðamerkursandur, is a good option, with comfortable accommodation and a warm welcome. The atmosphere is relaxing thanks to its sauna and hot pot, food is readily available with a restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner and you will be in a great spot to hunt for the Northern Lights.

The Icebergs At Jökulsárlón

Huge icebergs in Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon

Icebergs At Jökulsárlón

The icebergs calved from Breiðamerkurjökull can range from small in size to a whopping 30 m high, and each one is a unique shape. Their glittering whiteness is pierced by bright jewel blue and greenish hues. Spectacular gray shadows, formed from the ash of historic volcanic eruptions, slice through a few of them. Some are luminous like diamond jewels, while others are more opaque.

Why Are Icebergs Blue?

How is blue ice formed? Glacier guides are often asked how ice can sometimes be such astonishing shades of brilliant blue. The oldest icebergs originated as pure white snow, before being compressed by the weight of the glacier for thousands of years. Sometimes for more than 10,000 years since the last ice age. When ice is heavily compressed, the air is pushed out and the surface does not reflect light nearly so well. When this happens, light from the sun within the long-wave red spectrum is absorbed and reflected back as blue or sometimes blue/green. So the manner in which our eyes are able to perceive the color spectrum plays a part. Older icebergs with incredibly striking tones of bright blue or green are composed of heavily compacted ice, which also contains a heavy concentration of microorganisms. Rare wholly electric blue icebergs have been described as “blue diamonds”. Newer icebergs are white unless they too have gray streaks from the ash residues of volcanic eruptions or contain a high level of microorganisms.

WILDLIFE AT JÖKULSÁRLÓN GLACIER LAGOON

Nature in Glacial Lagoon

Seals resting on rocks at the Icelandic coastline

The glacial lagoon is home to many animals, from fish to birds. Those who enjoy fishing will love trying their luck in the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, where you can find salmon and trout. While you usually cannot spot fish in the water, there is often a real treat for your eyes waiting on a big chunk of ice in the form of seals. And those that are extremely lucky may even catch a glimpse of a whale as it breaches the water!

Bird watchers will be more than satisfied with a trip to Jökulsárlón because there are many species living here such as sea eagles, cormorants, the common guillemot, etc. Iceland is known for being the magnet of puffins, so you can see these cute, colorful birds here too.

OTHER GLACIER LAGOONS IN ICELAND

Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon (Fjallsarlon)

Fjallsárlón Lagoon, also known as Fjallajökull Lagoon is right at the southern end of Vatnajökull on the Fjallsajökull glacier tongue, about 11 km to the south of Jökulsárlón. The famous volcano mountain, Öræfajökull, and Iceland’s highest peak, Hvannadalshnjúkur, which rises to 2,110 m, tower above the lagoon, creating a unique and majestic vista.

Landscape of Fjallsarlon Glacier Lagoon in Iceland

Fjallsarlon Glacier

How Was Fjallsárlón Formed?

Fjallsárlón Lagoon, like Jökulsárlón, is considered to be a periglacial lake. Warmer temperatures have caused the retreat of the Fjallsajökull Glacier, thus creating the lagoon and calving off floating icebergs. The calving process itself is also a factor which accelerates the retreat of the glacier. The surface area of the lagoon is now around 4 km2. A small glacial river flows from Breiðárlón, a small nearby lagoon, then streams down into Fjallsárlón.

Fjallsárlón Tours

Icebergs at Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon in Iceland

Small chunks of ice at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

The Glacier Grand Slam Glacier Hiking and Glacier Lagoon tour is a sparkling jewel in the crown of glacier experiences and is one of the most popular glacier adventures available. This tour begins at Skaftafell Booking Center, where you will meet the rest of the group. Your local guide will then take you straight out to the glacier. On your way to the spectacular Virkisjökull, a glacier tongue which radiates down from Vatnajökull, your guide will teach you all about this glacial wonderland. At Virkisjökull with crampons strapped on, the ice adventure really gets going! You will be shown astonishing glacier features and their formation will be explained to you. Watch closely and you may even see how ancient ice falls hundreds of meters off the mountain, as it moves in slow motion towards the ocean. This place will leave you gasping in wonder.

The glittering highlight?  An amphibian boat tour, which will take you soaring between the icebergs of the ice lagoon – a totally mesmerizing and unforgettable sight and feeling. While passing the icebergs, you will feel the sheer coldness they radiate.

Want to combine your glacier experience with a thrilling boat ride? The Fjallsárlón Iceberg Boat Tour allows you to experience both the Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon and Falljökull Glacier.

FAQ - Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon

How Large Is Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon?

The lake has quadrupled in size since 1970 and it continues to grow. It now covers an area of 18.2 km2, and at 248 m this is the deepest lake in Iceland. Want to find out more about glacier lagoons beyond Jökulsárlón? There are many to explore.

HOW LONG DO YOU NEED AT JÖKULSÁRLÓN GLACIER LAGOON?

The length of the trip to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon depends on how much time you have and how much you want to see. It’s possible to check the site out in four to six hours, whereas various tours can take a whole day or more.

CAN YOU WALK AROUND JÖKULSÁRLÓN GLACIER LAGOON?

Yes, Jökulsárlón is open all year round and is free to visit and walk around. You’ll find plenty of natural attractions here and nearby, such as Vatnajökull Glacier and Diamond Beach.

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