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Discovering Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon: Iceland's Icy Marvel


Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

    Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon is considered a must-visit spot here in Iceland. Visiting this ice lagoon in Iceland truly is one of the trip itinerary items that need to be cemented in stone, and this article will tell you why.

    From adrenaline-pumping boat excursions and incredible wildlife to natural wonders of such magnitude that it will almost make your head explode – Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon has all this and more. Now, without further ado, here’s why any trip to Iceland is incomplete without a stop at the glacier lagoon.

    Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon: A Quick Overview

    Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon is Iceland’s largest and deepest lake, clocking in at a staggering 30 square kilometers and measuring at depths of 285 meters. This glacier lagoon in Iceland is connected to the sea, so it gets impacted by the tides, and you will see a tidal change of 2 to 3 meters at the lagoon.

    The lagoon is filled with sheets of ice and big bobbing icebergs. These icebergs are pieces of another one of Jokulsarlon’s claim-to-fames and the very reason for its continued existence; the magnificent Breidamerkurjökull Glacier. Although we refer to it as a glacier, it’s actually a glacier tongue that originates from Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull.

    Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon in Iceland

    It is the melting glacial water (and all the melting pieces of ice bobbing about) continuously feeding the lagoon – hence its characteristic bright-blue color. Jokulsarlon is an incredible sight, so it’s not surprising that the star of the island has also become a blockbuster star in Hollywood. Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon can be seen in famous movies such as The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Batman Begins, and Tomb Raider.

    Historical Evolution of Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon: How the Jokulsarlon of Today Came to Be

    Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, aka Jokulsarlon Lake, started to form in the 1930s. It was the beginning of Breidamerkurjökull Glacier’s retreat, and as the glacier started to melt, it formed (what was then) a small lake on the Breidamerkursandur Black Sand Beach. As the glacier continued to melt, more and more glacial meltwater filled the lake, making it bigger and bigger till it finally became the lagoon we know and love today.

    Evolution of Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

    Jokulsarlon’s Role as Natural Wonder Here in Iceland

    Jokulsarlon can be found in Vatnajökull National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and with attractions such as Jokulsarlon inside its borders, it’s not hard to understand why. Jokulsarlon’s impact on the park and its surrounding landscape is very apparent. Currently, the glacier is still melting, and in the future, this is more likely to become even more rapid rather than come to a halt due to global warming.

    The current melting rate means that the lagoon expands by at least 0.5 square kilometers per year (but as we mentioned, this could increase in the future). Big pieces of the glacier also break off at times and turn into the icebergs we find floating about in the lagoon. These icebergs can be absolutely massive, with some being taller than a 2-story building, and many of these ice masses are estimated to be more than 1000 years old!

    They then bob around the lagoon till they eventually melt, while others either float out to sea or wash ashore on our infamous Diamond Beach. But whether it’s from the melting icebergs or just the general melting of the glacier, the melting ice releases minerals and sediment trapped inside the ice. This is what gives the lagoon its characteristic bright blue, milky color. 

    Jokulsarlon tour by boat

    The Unique Ecosystem of Jokulsarlon

    Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon is much more than just icy impressiveness. You will find a wealth of wildlife in the Jokulsarlon ecosystem. Because of the interesting combination of freshwater and saltwater in the lagoon, one can find a myriad of fish species swimming around these waters, including the Arctic Char and Atlantic Salmon.


    With so much food and the lagoon creating a bit of shelter, it attracts various “predators”. These include seabirds, such as Gulls, Arctic Terns, Eiders, Guillemots, and many other migratory species that can make any avid bird watchers day.

    Another famous “predator” frequenting the waters at the lagoon is the seal. You are almost guaranteed to spot a bunch of them at Jokulsarlon, either lounging around on sheets of drifting ice, playing in the water, or chasing after, you guessed it, fish.

    The lagoon has become an invaluable source of food, especially during the winter months when the seabirds and seals can often be seen at the mouth of the lagoon, where they are treated to a buffet of food while still sticking to the comfort and protection offered by the lagoon.

    Although this is not a guaranteed sighting at all while visiting the lagoon, some have spotted our free-roaming reindeer around the edges of the lagoon. So, who knows, you might get lucky.

    Tourist in Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

    Navigating to Jokulsarlon: How to Get to the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon in Iceland

    As we already mentioned, Jokulsarlon is located inside Vatnajökull National Park (in the southern part of the national park, to be more exact). Vatnajökull National Park can be found in the southeast of Iceland.

    While easily accessible via the Ring Road route, unless you’re planning on staying in Höfn, we wouldn’t recommend taking this outing on as a day trip from the capital city, especially not during the colder months of the year with much fewer daylight hours. That being said, due to Jokulsarlon being such a must-visit site, there are quite a few ways one can visit the lagoon. These are some of the options to choose from:

    You Can Catch a Flight

    This is an ideal option if your time on the island is limited. Even though you won’t be able to catch a direct flight to the lagoon, you’ll be able to get one to Hornafjordur (with a flight time of 3 hours, 15 minutes) or Egilsstadir (with a flight time of about an hour), and then just take transport the rest of the way to Jokulsarlon.

    If you land at Hornafjordur, you can either rent a car or grab a taxi or Bus 51 to get to the lagoon. If you land at Egilsstadir, your best option is to rent transport and road trip the 270 kilometers to the lagoon.

    You can Take the Bus

    We already mentioned the bus you can take from Hornafjordur, but there are quite a number of other options to choose from. One option is the bus that goes directly to Jokulsarlon from the capital city of Reykjavik. This will take you a total of about 11 hours, and you will have only 2 stops along the way: Hvolvöllur and Vik I Myrdal.

    The other options will all require a combination of a few busses as well as a taxi or a rental vehicle, with the best of the latter being the bus that departs from Reykjavik Campsite. 3 Bus changes later, you will end up in Kirkjubæjarklaustur, where you can get transport to take you the rest of the 1.5-hour drive to the lagoon.

    You Can Book a Spot on a Tour

    We have plenty of tour operators and local guides who can get you to Jokulsarlon. They may already have an existing tour package you can book a spot on, or they can accommodate a private, customized tour that caters to your specific needs and requirements.

    Local tours can also vary from dedicated day outings to combination day tours that include a variety of local attractions and multi-day holiday packages where you’ll be taking in loads of different sights all across the country over the span of a few days. A few options when it comes to these tours are:

    Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

    Planning Your Visit: When is the Best Time to Visit Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon?

    While Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon is open all year round, the different seasons bring different experiences with it:

    • During the warmer months of the year, especially the summer season, you’ll have many more daylight hours to explore the lagoon and partake in all its icy adventures.
    • The winter season is the best time to explore the ice caves (generally kept closed throughout the warmer months of the year), and the combination of the cold and the increased darkness makes for the perfect conditions to spot the Northern Lights.
    • Sadly, even though the winter might seem to be the perfect time to visit such an icy scene like Jokulsarlon, the opposite is true. This is because the lagoon can be completely frozen, with even the icebergs “cemented” into place. This also means no boat tours, so you’ll have to settle for a sideline view of the lagoon.
    • Many believe that the best times to visit the lagoon are during the summer and early autumn, when the lagoon seems almost alive with movement – from the floating ice to the wildlife.

    Immersive Experiences at Jokulsarlon

    As we already touched on, Jokulsarlon offers much more than just a breathtaking view. These are some of the most popular activities you can partake in at the lagoon:

    Book a Boat Tour

    You’ll have your pick of two types of boats. The one is the Amphibian, which offers more of a sightseeing cruise experience. The other, the Zodiac, is more for those who enjoy getting the blood pumping a bit. While both will get you up close to the action on the lagoon, those on the bumpier and more fast-paced Zodiac will be rewarded by getting so close to the glacier that you can almost reach out and touch it.

    Visit the Ice Caves of Jokulsarlon

    Visiting the ice caves in Iceland is an other-worldly experience. These icy caverns, with their bright-blue yet translucent walls and “ceiling”, even have streaks of black ash from past eruptions frozen inside. You’ll also find all sorts of interesting icy formations, such as the stalactites dangling from above. Jokulsarlon’s famous ice cave is the Crystal Ice Cave and can only be visited via a guided tour due to safety concerns.

    Go On a Glacier Hike

    If you want to traverse the icy landscape of Europe’s largest glacier, this is the way to go. Once again, this can only be done via guided tour, and age restrictions apply for children (no under 10s allowed). All gear and accessories are provided. Tours usually take about 4 hours, so plan accordingly.

    Check Out the Annual Fireworks Show

    The Annual Fireworks Show, as the name suggests, occurs each year at Jokulsarlon and is a highlight for many. The way the lights in their infinite colors light up both the night sky and the water and ice on the lagoon is something one can’t truly describe to someone.

    Go Kayaking

    This is probably the most one-on-one experience you can have at Jokulsarlon. If you thought the boat tours could get you close to the action, the kayaking takes things to the next. Here, you can get to within centimeters of the floating ice and seals playing in the water.

    But don’t worry about safety; this is only done in small group guided tours, and all necessary gear and equipment is provided. Just have a chat with the tour operator first since there are age and weight restrictions that apply.

    Accommodations Near Jokulsarlon: Where to Stay

    With Jokulsarlon being such a popular spot among visitors, you’ll find a wide variety of accommodation around it, ranging from luxurious, high-end stays to affordable camping options that will get you as close to the beautiful Icelandic nature as you can possibly get. The following will be our top picks if you’re looking to sleep over:

    Jokulsarlon Hotels (for a more luxurious stay)

    Jokulsarlon Guesthouses (for a comfortable stay with a less hefty price tag)

    Jokulsarlon Campsites (for the ultimate budget-friendly stay, and you can keep all your creature comforts with a motorhome)

    The Dos and Don'ts of Visiting Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

    If this is your first time on the island or to Jokulsarlon in particular, the following dos and don’ts will be very helpful:

    DON’T Wait to Book During the Summer

    Whether you’re planning on going on one of the tours at Jokulsarlon or staying around the lagoon, don’t wait to make a booking. Summertime is peak season here on the island, and you might just end up being very disappointed.

    DO Visit Early Morning or Late Afternoon During the Summer

    As we said, summer in Iceland is peak season, which means peak season crowds. If you want to try to avoid most of them and get an extra special experience at the lagoon, come during sunrise and sunset.

    DON’T Forget Your Waterproof Gear and Clothing

    This is especially true for those planning on going on one of the excursions on the lagoon itself. Without waterproof gear and clothing, you and your things might end up getting drenched.

    DO Wear Layers

    Even if it’s a day with amazing weather, things can change pretty quickly here on the island, and it can get quite chilly at the lagoon (understandable with the ice and all that). By wearing layers, you’ll be prepared – always being able to take something off or put something on when the conditions call for it.

    Make Jokulsarlon a Stop Along a Ring Road Road Trip

    Renting a motorhome and going on a Ring Road road trip has many advantages. Not only will you get to explore most of the island, but you’ll also be able to make Jokulsarlon a stop along the way.

    You’ll also have both your transport and accommodation sorted, making things much easier, especially during the busy summertime. Plus, you can go camping in comfort at affordable rates (especially if you get the Camping Card). By renting a motorhome in Iceland, you’ll be able to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience at Jokulsarlon on the adventure of a lifetime in Iceland!