The glacial lakes of Iceland are some of the most stunning and memorable natural landmarks to see in Iceland. Seeing and being on these glacial lakes is really special and they left a lasting impression on me. I rarely use the term ‘awe-inspiring’, but these places deserve it.
The most famous glacial lake is the massive spectacle that is Jökulsárlón, followed by its pretty neighbour, Fjallsárlón. But did you know there are several other glacial lakes that it is possible to see easily?
In this post, I’ll share details about Jökulsárlón, Fjallsárlón and three other glacial lakes, covering things to do and how to get there. I also have some tips for where to stay near them, and a map of where to find them all.
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Table of Contents
Questions About Glacial Lakes In Iceland
But first things first, you might have some questions about glacial lakes (or glacier lagoons, as they are also called).
What Is A Glacial Lake?
A glacial lake is a body of water created by water melted from a glacier.
How Is A Glacial Lake Formed?
They are typically formed when a glacier erodes the land and then melts, filling the depression created by the glacier with meltwater.
Where Are The Glaciers In Iceland?
There are 13 glaciers in Iceland, and two of them have glacial lakes which are easy to visit: Vatnajökull, the biggest icecap in Iceland (and the 2nd biggest in Europe), which has several outlet glaciers that branch off from it and end in glacial lakes; and Mýrdalsjökull. Both of these glaciers are ice caps that sit on top of active volcanic systems and both are in South Iceland.
Which Glacial Lake Has The Biggest Icebergs?
Jökulsárlón typically has the biggest icebergs due to the large size of its outlet glacier (Breiðamerkurjökull) and the size of the lake itself, which is Iceland’s deepest lake, reaching depths of 248m deep.
Is Visiting A Glacial Lake Worth It?
I highly recommend it! I think they are astonishing places to visit in Iceland. The glaciers themselves are impressive and the lagoons can be breathtakingly beautiful. Watching huge blue floating icebergs in the still water is mesmerising. And to think the ice could be 1000 years old makes it even more mind-blowing for me.
At first, I preferred the icebergs that were pure blue, because I saw the grey layers as dirty, tainting the ice. But then I learned it comes from ash residue of historic volcanic eruptions, carried down the glacier over hundreds of years. So I started to see them differently, almost with admiration: the stripes are mementoes of a dramatic explosion centuries ago.
I think the glacial lakes in Iceland are some of the best things to see in Iceland and they are one of the reasons South Iceland is my favourite area of Iceland.
5 Glacial Lakes In Iceland That Are Easy To Visit
Here are 5 glacial lakes that are easy to visit, meaning you can get pretty close to them by car and/or there’s only a short easy hike to see them.
1. Jökulsárlón: The Biggest & Most Well-Known
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is the biggest and most famous glacial lake in Iceland and arguably the most spectacular. Huge blue and black icebergs calve off from Breiðamerkurjökull and float in the teal water of the massive lake, slowly melting until they’re small enough to flow through the overflow channel into the sea. Here they get thrown around by the surf and many end up as glistening fragments on one of the most famous black sand beaches in Iceland, Diamond Beach.
The lake is approximately 18 km2 in area, which has been steadily increasing since it first appeared around 1948. Sadly, this increase in size is an indicator of the effects of global warming: like many others, the iceberg is retreating.
Things To Do At Jökulsárlón
The first thing to do at Jökulsárlón is to wander the shore. Icebergs congregate at the shallow southern end of the lake, where overflow water passes from the lake through a channel into the sea. You will likely be able to see many stunning icebergs in this area, which is right by the car park. And on a clear day, you will get a great view of the Vatnajökull ice cap beyond the lagoon.
An exhilarating thing to do there is a boat tour of the lagoon. Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon boat tours operate on the lake during summer, with a choice of two kinds of boat: an amphibian boat or a smaller, faster zodiac boat. I opted for the zodiac boat and I absolutely loved speeding around the lagoon, getting close to huge glaciers and also to the snout of Breiðamerkurjökull. For safety, you’ll be suited in a bright yellow flotation suit before you go out on the lake.
You can also kayak on the lake, and if you’re lucky enough, you might spot some seals in the icy waters. In the winter, you can do a glacier ice cave tour, where you venture into stunning blue caves within the glacier itself. Super jeep tours are also available from Jökulsárlón.
And of course, you must pair any visit to Jökulsárlón with a visit to Diamond Beach, which is very close by. Seeing the scattered ice across the jet-black sand is really unique.
How Do You Get To Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon?
Jökulsárlón is 380km east of Reykjavik, which would take about 5 hours to drive (more with stops). It is possible to travel to Jökulsárlón from Reykjavik on a day tour, such as this full-day Jökulsárlón day trip. However, you will have less pressure on your time there if you stay in the area.
Jökulsárlón is easy to find because it is right by route 1, the main road around Iceland (also known as the Ring Road, a popular route for road trips in Iceland). You might even see the tops of the icebergs from the road as you approach!
There’s a sizeable car park just off the road and next to the shore of the lake. It’s free, which is nice if you’re exploring Iceland on a budget. There’s also parking on the south side of the road, next to Diamond Beach.
2. Fjallsárlón: Most Picturesque
Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon is less well known than, but just as stunning, in my opinion. It’s a smaller lake with smaller icebergs. But, being smaller, at the shore you are much closer to Fjallsjökull glacier than to Breiðamerkurjökull at Jökulsárlón, so it’s a real treat to see the crevasse-ridden flow of ice coming down the mountainside, splitting into separate tongues of ice and the breaking off in a blue cliff at the snout.
So which is better, Fjallsárlón or Jökulsárlón? Honestly, It’s a hard choice. I love them both in different ways… On my first visit, I would have said Jökulsárlón, because it was so big and spectacular. It looked amazing, with the sun glinting off the ice cap in the distance and the blue icebergs almost glowing.
However, on my second visit, I preferred Fjallsárlón. It’s much quieter there: far fewer people and the stillness is extraordinary. The view of the glacier is really astonishing: it feels like you’re in a theatre looking at a strikingly beautiful set that Nature has created.
So if you have to choose only one, I think either choice is a great choice. But ideally, go to both! They’re very close together – so it is easy enough to stop by both on the same day.
Things To Do At Fjallsárlón
Like Jökulsárlón, you can also do a zodiac boat tour of Fjallsárlón. I’ve been there twice and never seen the boats in operation, but I do know they run during summer in Iceland and can be booked here.
However, the thing I spent all my time doing on both visits is wandering the shore or sitting on a rock, taking in the majesty of it all. Both times I visited, there were not more than two other people there the whole time. It was divinely tranquil.
If you fancy staying the night right on the glacial lake, there is an option to stay in their Aurora Hut / Igloo Boat, which is a floating cabin that fits two people in a double bed. I’m not sure if that is my thing, but it’s good to know that’s an option!
There is also a café in the parking lot, called Frost Restaurant, which opens between 9:30 and 5 pm.
How Do You Get To Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon?
As I said, Fjallsárlón is very close to Jökulsárlón – only 20 minutes’ drive away. So it’s a similar distance from Reykjavik.
To get to Fjallsárlón parking, which is free, turn off the Ring Road onto Fjallsárlón Road and in a few hundred meters you’ll be there. I’ll put a marker on the map at the end of this article. From the car park, there’s a short walk over the gravel moraines that surround the lake.
3. Svínafellsjökull: An Easy Elevated View
Svínafellsjökull isn’t known so much for its glacial lake as for this glacier itself, but it does have a glacial lake, albeit a much smaller one than Jökulsárlón and Fjallsárlón.
What makes this glacier lake worth a visit is, unlike many other glaciers in Iceland, it is easy to see Svínafellsjökull and its lagoon from an elevated viewpoint. After a 30-minute walk, you can enjoy a view directly over the blue glacier snout, its glacial lake and also up the ice cap above.
It’s so great to see the ice close up, crisscrossed with crevasses and tinged with ash. On a sunny day, the blue ice is vivid.
Things To Do At Svínafellsjökull
The only thing I know to do at Svínafellsjökull is to enjoy the view of it from the viewpoint. I don’t recommend climbing on the rocks beyond the viewpoint, because the rocks can be slippery and there is a sign in the car park saying that people went missing here a few years ago.
Since 2018, tours on the ice itself have been discouraged due to the risk of landslides.
How Do You Get To Svínafellsjökull And Its Glacier Lagoon?
Svínafellsjökull is 328km from Reykjavik (4.5 hours driving).
There used to be car access along a gravel track, but that was closed when I visited in 2021. Instead, you can park at the junction of route 1 and the closed road, and then walk along the road instead of driving it. It’s 2.5km each way and fairly flat. At the glacier viewpoint, there’s a now empty car park and a fenced viewing area.
4. Skaftafellsjökull: Good For Hikers
Skaftafellsjökull is a glacier in Skaftafell National Park that is easy to visit via a short hiking trail. Its glacial lagoon is not as spectacular as Jökulsárlón, Fjallsárlón or Svínafellsjökull, but it is still very impressive – and easy to get to on foot.
It is reached via Skaftafell hiking centre, so it’s a good glacial lake to visit in Iceland if you want to combine it with some hiking.
Things to do at Skaftafellsjökull
The main thing to do at Skaftafellsjökull is hiking, with a number of routes to choose from
- The easiest trail goes directly to Skaftafellsjökull glacier lagoon. It’s a well-used, well-marked trail about 1.8km each way. The trail ends on the gravel moraines around the glacial lagoon, and the park guidance warns you not to try to climb on the ice itself.
- Several other trails go up into the hills and to a viewpoint over the glacier at Sjónarníp. There are several trails of varying difficulty and length to choose from, including a popular one that goes via Svartifoss, a striking waterfall over black hexagonal basalt columns.
You can also take guided hikes onto the glacier and you can also do ice cave tours in winter. And there’s an airstrip here, so it is possible to arrange a scenic flight over Iceland from Skaftafell with Atlantsflug.
How Do You Get To Skaftafellsjökull Glacier Lagoon?
To see Skaftafellsjökull, your hike will start at Skaftafell Visitor Centre, within Vatnajökull National Park. This is about 325km from Reykjavik (4 hours 15 minutes driving).
5. Sólheimajökull: Closest To Reykjavik
Sólheimajökull is visited mainly for its glacier hiking opportunity, more than its glacial lake, which is not as pretty as the ones further east (the glacier is more ashy at the snout than blue, and the glacial lake is quite silty).
But it is much closer to Reykjavik, making it more accessible for those who are only in Iceland for a short amount of time, and not able to drive all the way to Jökulsárlón and the other Vatnajökull glacial lakes.
Things To Do At Sólheimajökull
- Guided glacial hikes are popular here – because it’s one of the closest glaciers to Reykjavik. Don’t be tempted to try to do this on your own, though: you need a professional guide and proper equipment to do this safely. You can also visit ice caves at Sólheimajökull within these tours.
- And if you’re feeling adventurous, you can go snowmobiling on Mýrdalsjökull, the icecap over the Katla volcano, from which Sólheimajökull flows.
How Do You Get To Sólheimajökull Glacier Lagoon?
Sólheimajökull is near the town of Skógar – about 10 mins drive from there, and just over 2 hours from Reykjavik. To get there, you turn off route 1 onto the 221 road until you come to the (free) car park. From there. It’s a short walk to the snout of the glacier.
Map: Glacial Lakes In Iceland
Here’s a map of the 5 glacial Lakes I’ve covered in this article, plus their car parks and other key locations:
How To Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left-hand corner of the map to view the layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each one. If you click the star next to the map’s title, it will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu, go to ‘Your Places’ or ‘Saved’, then click Maps and you will see this map in your list.
Where To Stay Near The Glacial Lakes In Iceland
For the Vatnajökull glacial lakes, I have stayed in two places I can recommend:
- Hof Adventure Hotel is a basic budget option in the hamlet of Hof, which itself has a very pretty location and a picturesque turf-roofed church. Hof is between Fjallsárlón and Svínafellsjökull
- Fosshotel Glacial Lagoon is a more comfortable option. It’s a very nice, modern 4-star hotel, also between Fjallsárlón and Svínafellsjökull. I stayed here during a camper van road trip in Iceland when I was really sick of the van and decided to get a last-minute hotel instead! It was just what I needed!
For Sólheimajökull, you could stay in Vik, but it gets busy there, so Skógar might be a good option. Hótel Skógafoss is a nice hotel right by the stunning Skógafoss waterfall.
And if you need any more ideas for where to stay in Iceland, I have a post on Iceland Ring Road hotels.
I hope I’ve shown you a little of how special the glacial lakes in Iceland are. They left such a lasting impression on me and I hope that if you get to see them, they will do the same for you. If you need more Iceland inspiration, check out my suggested itinerary for driving the Ring Road in Iceland – it gives a good overview of the things to do all over Iceland.
Oh, and if you like icebergs, you’ll love Ilulissat in Greenland!