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Vatnajokull Glacier & National Park, Iceland

Europe's Largest Glacier

Vatnajökull is not only the biggest glacier in Iceland but in the whole of Europe. It covers over 8100 km2 and has around 30 outlet glaciers. Vatnajökull National Park was founded in 2008 on the foundation of Skaftafell National Park and Jökulsárgljúfur reserve. The National Park is the largest protected area in Europe. Apart from the glacier, the National Park includes some highly regarded natural marvels; huge glacier rivers, stunning canyons, beautiful glacier lagoons and impressive waterfalls.



Iceland was given its name due to the vast amount of ice found covering the land. Still today, there are numerous ice caps to be found all around the country but not a single one gets anywhere close to the voluminous Vatnajökull.

Vatnajökull or “the Water Glacier” as its name would roughly translate to isn’t just by far the biggest glacier in Iceland but also in the whole continent of Europe. The glacier’s average thickness is about 500 meters (1640 ft) but the thickest part is 950 meters (3116,8 ft) almost a whole kilometer! Vatnajokull covers over 8100 km2 and has around 30 outlet glaciers which crawl from the glacier’s core mainly out onto the south shore. These glacier tongues are some of the most exquisite sights you will ever see, with blue crystal ice, volcanic ash layers and incredibly diverse flora.

Falljokull Glacier

Icelanders are very fond of their glaciers which have decorated their landscaped from settlement and in 2008 the Vatnajökull National park was finally established to protect and serve in the best interest of this magical place. The park was founded around two pre-existing national parks Skaftafell National Park and Jökulsárgljúfur National Park. The new National Park is the largest protected area in Europe and apart from the glaciers, the National Park includes some highly regarded natural marvels; huge glacier rivers, stunning canyons, beautiful glacier lagoons, and impressive waterfalls.


  • About 10% of Iceland is covered with Iceland with Vatnajökull covering 8%
  • Vatnajökull is the largest glacier in Europe
  • Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is the deepest lake in Iceland
  • The original name of the glacier was Klofajökull
  • Vatnajökull is believed to have formed about 2500 years ago
  • You could fit every human in the world TWICE at Vatnajökull’s surface
  • The highest mountain of Vatnajökull is Bárðabunga but the highest peak of its outlet glacier is Hvannadalshnúkur towering from Öræfajökull

This isn’t exactly an easy question to answer, with the ice cap covering 8100 km2 and all, but, we can roughly say that Vatnajökull is located in central to southeastern highlands. Vatnajökull can be seen stretching out down the shore all along the South Coast and adds a real charm to the area.

Glacier hiking tour on Vatnajokull Glacier

Vatnajökull National Park reaches all the way up to the North to Ásbyrgi and beyond and all the way down to the flatland in the South. It reaches West almost touching the highland lake Þórisvatn and in the East, it extends into Fljótsdalshreppur where the wild reindeer roam. It is safe to say that the largest National Park in Europe reaches over some of the most fascinating areas in Iceland.


Driving from Reykjavík to Vatnajökull is simple. You will drive out of the city on road 1 heading in an easterly direction, going over Hellisheiði heath and onwards down to the town of Hveragerði, through Selfoss and continue following the same road as you did out of Reykjavík until you reach your destination. The route couldn’t be easier to track. No twists or turns but plenty of stunning sights and attractions right by the road to stop at and take in the beauty. Some examples would be Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrabúi waterfalls. The powerful waterfall Skógafoss, the pitch black Reynisfjara Sand Beach and the impeccable Dyrhólaey the cape with the arched hole. Onwards you will cross black sand plains for some time until reached the town of Kirkjubæjarklaustur and at this point, you will start to spot the first sighting of Vatnajökull. Now it is solely up to you where you want to touch the ground with the glacier or which location you are supposed to meet up for a tour. For most, it will be in Skaftafell National Park (4 hours from Reykjavík), at Jökulsárlón (5 hours from Reykjavík) or any of the other glacier lagoons such as Heinabergslón and Fjallsárlón.

Glacier and Moss meet in Skaftafell Iceland

Note: There are a few ways of getting about going close to the glacier but one should not attempt to mount the glacier unless in the company of a guide or an experienced glacier climber. You can easily join one of our multi-day tours that have a glacier experience included, your options being glacier hiking, ice caving or even both.

You can also reach the area to join a meet on location tour by jumping on a public bus and going off at Skaftafell or Jökulsárlón. Chances are you will need to stay the night in the area before the tour as most of them start relatively early.


Vatnajökull is best accessed and viewed from the south. Here numerous outlet glaciers stretch down from the plateau – Breiðamerkurjökull, Skaftafellsjökull, Virkisjökull, Svínafellsjökull, Falljökull, Skeiðarárjökull to name a few. Öræfajökull is one of the best-known outlets because of its tremendous volcanic eruption in the 18th century. It has become quite popular to hike to the top and because of conditions on the glacier this is only doable in a short period of the year, the top can be really crowded on a sunny day in late April/May.

Falljokull Glacier hiking

Tour options are endless ranging from short glacier hikes available all year round such as the popular Glacier Wonders tour, to a fantastic glacier hiking and ice caving combination in the winter, such as the Into the Glacier tour. In summer, some like to do a Glacier Lagoon boat ride as an addition to a glacier hiking tour and then the Glacier Grand Slam is the absolute best.

Crystal Ice Cave

If you are visiting in winter and are simply looking for a blue ice cave tour the Crystal Ice Cave Tour is your winner but if you are looking to really explore the glacier, going further up on a more challenging hike the Glacier Explorer should be your pick and is available all year round!

The newest addition in the flora of Vatnajökull tours are the snowmobiling tours. From April to October, you have the option of snowmobiling tour on the vast Vatnajökull, from January to March, you can do it as a combination, Snowmobiling & ice cave exploring on Vatnajökull.

jokulsarlon glacier lagoon

The famous Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon is to be found in the southern part of the glacier and takes its icebergs from the Breiðamerkurjökull outlet glacier. The Icebergs are multicolored and ever changing depending on seasons and oxygen that resides in the blocks and they casually float around in the lagoon, gradually melting into smaller bergs that move over to a pitch black sand beach. There they icebergs float ashore and glisten in the sun giving the beach the name “the Diamond Beach”. The wildlife at the glacier lagoon is very vivid at the lagoon as numerous seals live in the lagoon and birds such as Seagulls, Great Skuas, and Arctic Terns.

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon Iceland Zodiac Boat Tour

You can explore the lagoon by walking along its shore, or in summer by jumping on one of the boat ride tours available on the lagoon. The boat options are either an Amphibian or a Zodiac but for the most adventurous souls, there is also the glacier lagoon kayaking tour!


Underneath the great ice mass lies two of the most active volcanoes in Iceland; Grímsvötn and Bárðarbunga. Grímsvötn is the most active of the two estimated to have erupted up to one hundred times since the settlements of Iceland. The last eruption in 2011 was relatively small and did not have any serious effects to day to day lives in the vicinity of the glacier.

Food in Iceland

Shown in the order they appear when driving from Reykjavík to Vatnjökull heading East.

Attraction Cafés

  • Systrakaffi at Kirkjubæjarklaustur
  • Skaftafell National Park Cafeteria
  • Fjallsárlón Café
  • Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon Café

Hotel Restaurants

  • Adventure Hotel Hof
  • Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon
  • Fosshotel Vatnajökull

To grab quickly

  • Glacier Goodies Food Truck
  • Freysnes Gas Station and Grill

Restaurants at Höfn í Hornafirði

  • Íshúsíð Pizzeria
  • Pakkhús Restaurant
  • Humarhöfnin

Shown in the order they appear when driving from Reykjavík to Vatnjökull heading East.

Hotels

  • Hotel Laki
  • Magma Hotel
  • Icelandair Hotel Klaustur
  • Adventure Hotel Geirland
  • Fosshotel Núpar
  • Hotel Skaftafell
  • Adventure Hotel Hof
  • Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon
  • Hali Country Hotel
  • Hotel Smyrlabjörg
  • Fosshotel Vatnajökull

Hostels

  • Vagnstadir HI Hostel

Guesthouses, B&Bs and Farmstays

  • Hrífunes Guesthouse
  • Eldhraun Guesthouse
  • Eldhraun Holiday Home
  • Hunkubakkar Guesthouse
  • Dalshöfði Guesthouse
  • Hvoll Guesthouse
  • Lækjarborgir Guesthouse
  • Reynivellir
  • Skyrhúsið Guesthouse
  • Kálfafellsstaður B&B
  • Lækjarhus Farm Holidays
  • Guesthouse Stekkatun
  • Guesthouse Skalafell
  • Lilja Guesthouse
  • Setberg Guesthouse
  • Glacier World Guesthouse

Note: None of the accommodations listed here are in the town Höfn in Hornafjörður. That is not to say that Höfn isn’t a fantastic place. There are bountiful great options in Höfn but the list would just get too long.

Here is a list of all the fantastic camping sites near Vatnajökull glacier sure to provide you with a great camping experience and memorable views!

  • Camping at Kirkjubær II in the central town
  • Camping Ground at Kleifar near Stjórnarfoss
  • Skaftafell Campsite in the National Park
  • Svínafell Camping Site under Svínafellsjökull “the Hollywood glacier”
  • Haukafell Campsite East of Fláajökull glacier
  • Höfn Camping Ground at Höfn í Hornafirði

Tomb Raider Iceland

Svínafellsjökull Glacier


  • Batman Begins (2005) the glacier is here displayed as Tibet’s cold mountains!
  • Interstellar (2014) Svínafellsjökull represents the ice planet but Máfabót was displayed in the movie as the water planet.
  • Game of Thrones (Season 2) Iceland was first displayed in season 2 where Svínafellsjökull appears as the snowy landscape Beyond the Wall which then continued through the series.

Falljökull Glacier


  • Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) Vatnajökull National Park and Falljökull glacier displayed as Greenland and Afghanistan in the Secret Life of Walter Mitty which was filmed all over Iceland. 

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon


  • James Bond: A View to Kill (1985) the ice packed lagoon is a picture perfect background in the final scene where James Bond (Roger Moore) shoots a helicopter that crashed into one of the icebergs.
  • Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) the opening scene shows Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie) in Siberia Russia sailing along icebergs before driving across a glacier field. The scene is shot in Jökulsárlón and on Vatnajökull glacier.
  • James Bond: Die Another Day (2002) the second time Jökulsárlón appears in a James Bond film now Mr. Bond is in a car chase on the frozen lake! The lagoon was literally clocked up with a dam for the filming of the movie. It only took a few days until the lagoon had completely frozen over and the stunt doubles were able to shoot their scenes.
  • Land Ho! (2014) this adorable heartwarming comedy tells a tale of two ex-brother in-laws who travel all over Iceland including Jökulsárlón.