Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon in Iceland – Ultimate Guide

September 16th, 2022

Written by:

Camila Contreras-Langlois

6 min read

Your vacation to Iceland isn’t complete without a visit to the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, one of the absolute must-see highlights of the country. 

There’s nothing that quite compares to seeing this ancient natural feature. Huge icebergs float in the unique teal green water of the lagoon and flow down to the black sand beaches on the coast. 

Whether you stroll along the shore or explore it from the water, there’s so much you can see here. With the lagoon changing with the seasons too, you can visit lots of times and never see the same thing twice!

If you’re exploring Iceland at your own pace, make sure to include a trip to the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon.

We’ve rounded up some of the best facts, tips and advice to help make your visit to Jökulsárlón one you’ll never forget.

What makes Jökulsárlón so special?

As one of the natural wonders of Iceland, seeing Jökulsárlón will really take your breath away. It’s well worth a visit and you won’t regret taking the time to see it. Here’s why…

Icebergs floating on a clear lake is not a sight you spot every day. Jökulsárlón is also famous for this unforgettable landscape of mountains and glaciers, as it sits at the foot of  Breiðamerkurjökull glacier. That’s where the ice chunks break off from and sail away to sea.

You may even be able to see an icefall when you are there, which really brings home the power of nature.

Jökulsárlón is also the deepest lake in Iceland, being approximately 280-meters (930-feet) deep in places. The mix of freshwater from the glacier and saltwater from the Atlantic Ocean is what makes the waters their teal color.

The lagoon is a popular destination and has featured in several movies too. It’s easy to see why filmmakers were inspired when you stand on the shore of this icy wonder. 

Where is Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon?

You’ll find the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon in the southeast of Iceland. The lagoon is a 5-hour drive east from the capital of Reykjavík, close to the East Fjords of Iceland. 

The lagoon borders the Vatnajökull National Park, which includes the Skaftafell Nature Reserve and Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest glacier. Sitting at the foot of Hvannadalshnúkur, Iceland’s highest mountain, the lagoon offers a spectacular backdrop. 

The famous black sand Diamond Beach is also found very close to the lagoon. This means you can see several of Iceland’s top sights when visiting the southeast of Iceland. The icebergs breaking on the shore are quite a sight to see.

How far is Jökulsárlón from Reykjavík?

The glacier lagoon is approximately 380 km (236 mi) from Reykjavík, roughly 5 hours of driving time. 

As most trips to Iceland begin in Reykjavík, visiting Jökulsárlón in the southeast does require a drive. You can either hire a car and drive yourself, or there are many guided minibus and private tours that will also take you. 

How do I get from Reykjavík to Jökulsárlón?

Whether you’re driving or getting whisked away on a guided tour, you’ll be following the Ring Road (“Route 1”). It is the main road around the country and is well-maintained all year long.

You can break up the 5-hour drive with a stop in the popular tourist town of Vík, which is an ideal halfway stopping point. Or you could opt to follow the Golden Circle route, before taking the Ring Road along the south coast. Self-drive tours give you the freedom to explore Iceland.

For those who drive, be prepared if you’re planning to visit Iceland in winter. Hire a 4×4 car suitable for coping with snowy and icy roads, or opt for a licensed minibus tour operator. 

What can I see and do around Jökulsárlón?

There’s so much you can do when visiting the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. Here are some ideas: 

1. Take a boat trip

Why not hop on a boat trip out on the lagoon itself? You’ll be cruising through the aquamarine waters and around the ice floes. Some boat tours are amphibious, allowing you to explore some of the shoreline as well.

boat next to icebergs on jokulsarlon glacier lagoon

2. Kayak in summer

During the summer months, it’s possible to kayak on the lagoon. You can get up close to the 1,000-year-old glacier chunks and go exploring off the usual path of the boats. 

Pre-book a kayaking tour for the best experience. You’ll take advantage of a knowledgeable guide and have access to appropriate gear like a dry suit, as the water is still quite cold. 

3. Spot the local wildlife

The lagoon is popular for its range of wildlife. Look out for seals basking on the ice, Arctic terns wheeling in the summer, and perhaps even ravens or the rare gyrfalcon. If you’re keen to see wildlife, travel to Iceland in summer to enjoy some local flora and fauna. 

4. Visit Diamond Beach

Across the road from the lagoon, you’ll find Diamond Beach. The icebergs follow through the narrow waterways and end up here. Visit Diamond Beach and you’ll be wandering along one of Iceland’s most famous black sand beaches. 

The huge white chunks of ice glitter against the contrasting sand – it’s easy to see how the beach gets its name! You can visit the beach all year round, although be aware of rogue waves that can occur by the waterline.

Woman on Diamond Beach in Iceland

5. Walk inside glacier ice caves 

As the lagoon is very close to the Vatnajökull glacier, you can easily make a trip to see the ice caves. The best time to walk inside the ice caves is October to March, when the colder weather makes them more stable for exploring. 

The blue ice cave is one of the most well-known and tends to form in the same place each year. The ice shines a bright sky-blue and is carved with natural patterns from the water. The cave forms in the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, which is one of the ‘tongues’ of the Vatnajökull glacier. 

The best way to experience this is with one of the ice cave tours that run in the area. Local tour operators will be able to advise the safest way to enjoy the ice caves and provide the all-terrain transport to get you there.

6. Hunt the Northern Lights 

If you’re visiting during the colder months, you can seek out the Northern Lights at Jökulsárlón with a guided tour. 

Seeing the iridescent lights dancing on the ice and waters of the glacier lagoon is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Remember they are natural, so it’s all down to luck and timing to see them.

There are very low levels of light pollution in this part of Iceland. It’s a great opportunity to try your luck at spotting the aurora in some of Iceland’s most spectacular scenery. 

jökulsárlón glacier lagoon iceland northern lights)

A word of advice

It’s important to bear in mind that you should not go swimming in the lagoon or climbing on the ice floes. 

While the waters might look calm and inviting, even in the summer months, the water is still very cold. You can quickly get into difficulty when swimming. 

The ice floes are also not as stable as they look. If you try to climb on them, they can tip over or break, which can pull you under and into danger. For your safety, you should stick to the shore, boat tours or kayaks for exploring.

How long should I spend at Jökulsárlón?

Exploring the glacier lagoon and surrounding areas could be packed into a couple of hours if you’re well organized. However, we recommend staying for at least a full day so you can make the most of the beautiful scenery and surrounding areas. 

As the drive from Reykjavík takes several hours, don’t rush to jump back in the car. You could spend time at Jökulsárlón easily as follows:

  • Enjoy a boat tour of Jökulsárlón. Book a boat tour to explore the glacier lagoon. You can see the turquoise water and impressive ice floes, and maybe even a relaxing seal. If you’re on a kayaking tour, you can get really up close. 
  • Explore Vatnajökull. Go hiking up to Vatnajökull glacier. Explore the blue ice cave, or maybe try a spot of snowmobiling on the glacier itself. 
  • Visit Diamond Beach. Here you can stand on the famous black sands and walk around the icebergs. Watch out for sea birds and see the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean.

Where can I stay near Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon?

It’s not possible to stay directly at the Jökulsárlón lagoon itself, but luckily you can find plenty of accommodation just a short drive away. Some of the most popular places to stay near the glacier lagoon include:

1. Hoffell and Höfn

Hoffell has its own glacier nearby, the Hoffellsjökull outlet glacier, part of the larger Vatnajökull glacier. This village also features its own geothermal heated outdoor hot tubs for a little extra luxury. 

Höfn is further from the glacier but flaunts its own charm and things to see. As a fishing village, Höfn has lots of traditional Icelandic culture and history. It offers great views of the Vatnajökull glacier as well as plenty of places to stay too. 

For both locations, the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon is approximately a 1-hour drive away. 

2. Kirkjubæjarklaustur

This picturesque little farming hamlet may be small, but it offers lots to visitors. Kirkjubæjarklaustur is home to 3 beautiful waterfalls – Rauðárfoss, Stjórnarfoss, and Systrafoss. You can easily visit all of them in one day and still have time to look around the village.

Kirkjubæjarklaustur is close to Vík, which is another excellent place to add to your itinerary. Jökulsárlón is approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes away.

Is Jökulsárlón worth it?

Still debating whether or not to make visiting Jökulsárlón part of your trip to Iceland? You should know that the glacier lagoon is popular for a reason. The beautiful water, ethereal ice floes, bright blue ice caves, and black sands all make Jökulsárlón a must-see in Iceland. 

It’s regularly rated by visitors as one of the most spectacular sights to see in Iceland and is well worth the drive from Reykjavík. 

Make time in your itinerary to visit the unique glacier lagoon and you truly won’t regret it. Whether you visit in winter or summer, witnessing Jökulsárlón is an unforgettable experience. 

You can secure your trip to the glacier today for just a 5% deposit when you book with Iceland Tours. 

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Written by:

Camila Contreras-Langlois