Vatnajökull Glacier – The biggest glacier in Europe
Vatnajökull is not only the biggest glacier in Iceland but in the whole of Europe. Vatnajökull 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.
How can I visit Vatnajökull glacier?
Vatnajökull is best accessed and viewed from the south. Here numerous outlet glaciers stretch down from the plateau – Breiðamerkurjökull, Svínafellsjökull, Falljökull, Skeiðarárjökull to name a few. Öræfajökull is one of the best-known outlets because it is the home of Iceland’s highest peak Hvannadalshnúkur. 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.
- Breiðamerkurjökull is mainly known for being the outlet glacier that feeds the famous Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon and the glistening icebergs that lay on the Diamond Beach. But in recent years glorious ice caves have been found in the glacier which for many has been the ultimate highlight of their visit to Iceland in winter. These Ice Cave are The Crystal Ice Cave and the more challenging Ice Cave Expedition tour.
- Svínafellsjökull “the Hollywood glacier” is where they have filmed episodes for the Game of Thrones and the movies Batman Begins and Interstellar and for a great reason. This place is pure visual utopia and one of the most scenic glaciers in Iceland. Hiking tour on Svinafellsjokull.
- Falljökull “the ice sculpture paradise” for many of the glacier lovers in Iceland this is known as the best place to take longer hikes and here you often find ice caves and tunnels. This is one for the adventurous souls. The Into the Glacier hiking and ice caving tour takes place on Falljökull and so does the amazing Glacier Explorer a half-day and the most adventurous glacier climbing tour found in Iceland, Glacier Extreme.
Jökulsárlón 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”
Volcanoes in Vatnajökull
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.
The Northern part of Vatnajökull
The northern part of Vatnajökull glacier can only be accessed from the highlands, making it more difficult for the average traveler, but a visit to the northern part of Vatnajökull National Park with a certified tour operator is highly recommended. There are numerous marked hiking paths around Vatnajökull glacier here is a link to the ones that are within the National Park.