Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is a glacier lake, and one of Iceland’s most popular natural landmarks winter and summer alike. Floating icebergs of different shapes and sizes break off the glacier and quietly make their way into the lagoon forming an otherworldly landscape. Those that end up drifting off into the Atlantic Ocean can be seen on the shoreline of the Diamond Beach.
Interested in knowing more about Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon? ?How was the lagoon formed and what activities can you do? Perhaps you want to join a boat tour but don’t know where to start? If so, this blog is just for you!
What is Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon?
The spellbinding Jökulsárlón is a glacier lagoon found in the southeastern part of Iceland, and more precisely in Vatnajökull National Park. The park itself, deemed to be Europe’s largest glacier with a surface of just over 8000km2, covers near 10% of the entire country and is home to some of the island’s most active volcanoes and tallest peak – Hvannadalshnjúkur.
Jökulsárlón is positioned at the head of Breiðamerkurjökull glacier and is comprised of a lagoon filled with meltwater from the glacier. Global warming is beginning to have a direct impact on Jökulsárlón and many other Icelandic glaciers, which, are starting to shrink with record speeds. The more the glaciers shrink, the more meltwater they produce, which, in turn, expands the size of the lagoon.
The massive particles of ice that have been broken off from the glacier can be found peacefully floating in the lagoon. These spectacular chunks of ice all differ in shape, size and hue: Some are blue and white, whilst others even appear to be crystal clear. There are some that are up to 30 meters in height and others that are no bigger than a meter or two. Jökulsárlón provides an everchanging scenery that changes by the day. You’ll never be able to see the same landscape twice which only adds to the already ethereal natural backdrop.
Depending on the wind, temperature and ocean currents, these chunks of ice slowly but surely make their way to the Atlantic Ocean and float into the horizon. Those that are not immediately swept away deep into the ocean’s waters, can be found reflecting the sunrays on the black sand ‘Diamond Beach’ just opposite Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon.
It comes as no surprise that both the Diamond Beach and Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon are one of the most prominent and photographed places in Iceland.
How was Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon formed?
Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon hasn’t been around for centuries, in fact quite the opposite. In the twentieth century Iceland experienced a steady rise in temperature, which amplified the meltwater produced from Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, slowly expanding Jökulsárlón glacier. It is deemed that in 1956, the size of the lagoon was 4km2 and twenty years later it had already doubled. Nowadays the lagoon is 30km2 and is yet to increase in size.
Wildlife in Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon is no short on wildlife. The high quantity of fish, particularly that of capelin and herring, provide for an abundance of seals that often can be seen swimming in the lagoon all year round.
The glacier lagoon is also a famous nesting area for arctic turns, which, from May onwards lay their eggs in the region. It’s worth mentioning that arctic turns are famous for their fierceness and will do anything to protect their little ones. If you happen to visit the lagoon during this period, always make sure to diligently monitor them and never get too close to their eggs.
Jökulsárlón on the Big Screen
As many other Icelandic natural attractions, Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon not only appeals to holidaymakers, but its jaw-dropping beauty is also much appreciated by Hollywood as well. Numerous blockbusters use this natural setting as a movie backdrop, and for good reasons. Some of these Hollywood films include James Bond 007, Lara Croft: Tomb raider, and Game of Thrones.
Activities near Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon and its nearby region is filled with exciting activities that will make your South Coast trip even more extraordinary than it already is.
Take a walk on the Diamond Beach
Just across the road from Jökulsárlón lies one of Iceland’s most prominent natural attractions: the Diamond Beach. Chunks of ice that have broken off from Breiðamerkurjökull glacier and are floating in Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon make their way into the Atlantic Ocean by a small passage.
Wind, air temperature and other factors determine how many ice particles are swept into the ocean. The majority blend with the ocean’s waters and melt quickly whilst others can be found on the black sand Diamond beach. Stretches of coastline are covered with these glittering ice sculptures of different shapes and sizes, greatly contrasting with the black sand.
Join a Boat Ride Tour on Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Several companies offer boat rides on the glacier lagoon, letting visitors get up close with the floating icebergs. Boat rides offer a different perspective of the surrounding landscape as they venture much deeper into the lagoon and allow visitors a chance to see much more than what can be seen from ashore.
Zodiac boat tours cover large areas and can venture out all the way up to the glacier. They run every hour or so, therefore even if you haven’t pre-booked, you still might find an empty slot!
Amphibian boats, are much larger, heavier and cannot reach places where zodiacs can. Nevertheless, they provide a more comfortable experience and are perfect for those hesitant to go on smaller, faster boats. The Amphibian boat tours run only a couple times per day, and must be pre-booked during high-season in order to secure a slot.
Explore Vatnajökull’s Ice Caves
Vatnajökull offers some of the best ice-cave tours of the country! Winter is the ideal time to explore the frozen underworld and marvel at exceptional ice formations with the help of a qualified guide that will be with you every step of the way.
Every year, new ice caves are formed and discovered. Some changes in appearance and structure whilst others completely disappear. Therefore, an ice-cave tour should be on your list of things to do in Iceland! Crampons and all necessary safety equipment will be given before the start of the tour. Hiking boots may be rented for an additional fee.
Go on a Glacier Walk
Glacier walks are the perfect activity for those wanting to try something different and exciting. Experience the sheer magnitude of Vatnajökull glacier whilst you walk in between crevasses and spectacular ice formations all whilst being guided by a professional. This activity is suited for most as it doesn’t require any prior knowledge or equipment.
How far is Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon from Reykjavík?
Jökulsárlón is accessible all year round however, adverse weather, especially during the winter months might make driving along the ring road unsafe. When heading towards the lagoon, it is also advisable to check on the current road conditions on Iceland’s Safe Travel website to make sure there are no surprising road closure on your way there.
You can either drive to Jökulsárlón, or, if you want to leave the planning to someone else, you can always join a tour that stops there. Tours also include fundamental stops on the South Coast, allowing you to marvel at Skogafoss waterfall, walk behind Seljalandfoss and experience the wonders of Reynisfjara black sand beach all in one go.
The 400 kilometres drive takes a little under 6 hours to complete. Although the distance can be driven in a day, it is absolutely not recommended to do so regardless of the season or month. The South Coast boasts some of the country’s finest natural wonders, from raging waterfalls to towering cliffs filled with birdlife, and magnificent views from sea to summit that should definitely not be missed. When driving from Reykjavík, it is recommended to spend at least two days on the South Coast and Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. This timeframe will only cover the bare minimum of natural attractions as there are simply so many of them dotted all over Iceland’s Southern coastline, and 48 hours is not enough to see them all. Should you wish to explore the neighbouring towns and off-the-beaten track locations, it is best to add a day or two to your itinerary.
Iceland’s Ring Road, the country’s main road that circles the island, goes directly to Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon leaving you close to zero possibilities of getting lost or missing a turn. The road continues east bound, until it makes a full circle and comes back down to Reykjavík. It is a fully paved road, that is marked and regularly maintained so you shouldn’t have any issues with driving on it.
When is it best to visit Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon?
Jökulsárlón is worth visiting at any time of the year. Even in the worst of weather, Jökulsárlón’s undoubful beauty and eye-catching landscape still shines through. Of course, as with any other natural landmark, different seasons bring along their specifies.
Summer offers visitors a chance to greet the sunrise whilst overlooking the glacier lagoon, allowing for a truly one-of-a-kind unforgettable experience. The sun beams idyllically refract on the crystal clear floating icebergs as the sun rises from the horizon. In addition, during summer, visitors get the chance to experience Jökulsárlón from up close by joining a boat tour of the glacier lagoon.
Winter brings shorter and colder days, light is quite limited and you only have a few hours before the sun sets once again, making for a very small window of opportunity. Having said that, the cold season brings along a fairytale like winter wonderland scenery. The whole country is covered with a blanket of snow, all of the landscape is frozen, and you get to experience Iceland’s true and turbulent weather! The drop in temperature makes ice-caves safe to explore allowing for plenty of outdoor adventures.
Last but not least, can we really mention Icelandic winter without mentioning the Northern Lights? Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon provides excellent opportunities for Northern Light hunting. Its secluded location and absence of city light pollution substantially increases your chances of spotting these mystical lights dance above your very own eyes. As with all Northern Light hunts, the key to a successful hunt is not to give up. If you don’t manage seeing them from the first go, try to change location or wait a bit longer. They will eventually make their appearance.
Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, part of Vatnajökull National Park is a glacier lake that captivates with its ethereal beauty and natural views. Boat and Ice-Cave tours offer visitors a possibility to get up close with this mesmerising region. The prominent Diamond Beach, can also be found a short walk away from the lagoon.