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Discovering the Beauty of Vatnajökull National Park in Iceland


Vatnajökull National Park

    Vatnajökull National Park is the biggest national park in Iceland and home to the largest glacier in Europe, Vatnajökull. As you might’ve guessed, the latter is also what gave this prestigious park its name.

    Vatnajökull National Park is considered a must-visit place for any traveler to the island since you can plan an entire trip itinerary out of just the many interesting attractions and exciting activities the park offers. Here’s what to know about this incredible place and why it can’t be missed on a trip to Iceland.

    Svinafellsjokull glacier in Vatnajokull national park

    A Few Quick Facts About Vatnajökull National Park

    Below are a few quick facts about Vatnajökull National Park:

    • The park covers roughly 12,000 square kilometers of the island (about 14% of the entire country!).
    • The infamous Vatnajökull Glacier, situated inside the park, takes up roughly 8100 square kilometers of the 12,000 square kilometers, which equates to about 8% of the entire country!).
    • The glacier’s ice is about 400 meters thick throughout but is known to reach a thickness of 1000 meters in certain places.
    • Vatnajökull Glacier might seem like the ultimate frozen landscape, but this ice cap covers many active volcanoes.
    • Vatnajökull National Park is not just the biggest national park in Iceland but also in all of Europe.
    • The park has been named an official UNESCO World Heritage Site.
    • You might’ve already “seen” Vatnajökull National Park without knowing it since this incredible location has been featured in many famous movies and TV series. These include Batman Begins, The Fantastic Four, James Bond, Tomb Raider, and Game of Thrones.

    Vatnajökull National Park

    The Geological Significance of Vatnajökull National Park

    In essence, Vatnajökull National Park is the perfect depiction of what it means to be the Land of Fire and Ice. Here’s the geological lowdown on the contrasting terrain:


    By now, you’re well aware of Vatnajökull National Park’s icy reputation. The glaciers play a big part in shaping the landscape here in Iceland. Due to seasonal changes and global warming, as well as volcanic eruptions, melting glaciers, and even glacial floods, not only slowly erode away the earth but can even create new attractions such as canyons, rivers, and waterfalls.


    Despite being so well known for its ice, Vatnajökull National Park also has a fiery side. It’s home to 10 volcanoes, 7 of which are lying underneath the glacier. When it comes to the volcanic activity of the park, the ice almost serves as a historic journal as you will find ash streaks of thousand-year-old eruptions captured within the glacier and walls of the ice caves.

    The Mid-Atlantic Ridge

    The Mid-Atlantic Ridge is where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are pushing apart. Iceland sits on top of this ridge (almost running straight through half of the country from North to South), and these tectonic movements cause the island to have so much volcanic activity. The center of the Mid-Atlantic mantle plume can be found in the northwest of Vatnajökull National Park.

    Dettifoss in Vatnajokull national park

    Where is Vatnajökull National Park in Iceland?

    Vatnajökull National Park is located in the south of Iceland, roughly 320 kilometers (or a 4-hour drive) from the capital city of Reykjavik. Just note that this is during good weather days during the warmer months of the year.


    Once the colder months come with challenging road conditions, this journey can take up to 7 hours. Either way, Vatnajökull National Park isn’t a recommended day outing you take from the capital city. Rather, include it as part of your Ring Road road trip itinerary.

    Getting to Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

    You can visit Vatnajökull National Park in the following ways:

    By Booking a Spot on a Guided Tour

    We have numerous tour operators and private guides here on the island who will be able to take you to Vatnajökull National Park. It can be part of their existing tour packages, ranging from day outings to multi-day holiday tours. Alternatively, you can request a customized private tour. Just remember that summertime is peak season here in Iceland, so please book guided tours well in advance if you plan on visiting during this time.

    By Driving Yourself

    We’ve always believed that this is the best way to explore the island, especially with Vatnajökull National Park located so conveniently close to our popular road trip route and the main road around the island, the Ring Road.

    When is the Best Time to Visit Vatnajökull Glacier National Park?

    Because most of the attractions and activities in Vatnajökull National Park are outdoors, the warmer months of the year are usually the best time to visit the park. Not just because of the warmer weather, but also because you will have plenty of daylight hours to create a jam-packed trip itinerary. Needless to say, the park becomes exceptionally busy during the summer months in Iceland (from June to September).

    Therefore, many opt for a trip during one of the shoulder months, such as May or October, to avoid the majority of the peak season crowds (as well as the peak season pricing!) here on the island. But this doesn’t mean that Vatnajökull National Park is off-limits during the colder months of the year. In fact, most ice caves are kept closed throughout the warmer months, making the colder months the ideal time to go ice cave exploring.

    How Much Does Vatnajökull National Park Tickets Cost?

    One of the biggest benefits of visiting the largest national park in Iceland is that it is completely free. Entrance is free, and viewing the various attractions inside the park and activities such as hiking are free. The only costs you need to consider are gas (if you’re driving yourself), any souvenirs from the Visitor Center, and the price of guided tours (the latter includes when you want to explore the ice caves).

    Some of the Things to Do and See At and Around Vatnajökull National Park

    When planning your trip to Vatnajökull National Park, these are some of the things to consider when compiling your trip itinerary:


    There are many hiking trails inside Vatnajökull National Park. Irrespective of your experience, skills, age, or fitness levels, you can find the perfect trail for you – whether you’re looking for a quick walk, a day outing, or a multi-day trek. Some of the most popular trails include:

    • Svartifoss – Sjonarsker, Moderate Difficulty, 5.3 km (roughly 1hr and 38 minutes)
    • Falljökull Glacier, Moderate Difficulty, 2.9 km (roughly 49 minutes)
    • Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, Moderate Difficulty, 10 km (roughly 2hrs and 12 minutes)
    • Kristinartindar via Svartifoss, Hard Difficulty, 17.9 km (roughly 6hrs and 50 minutes)
    • Skaftafell-Svartifoss-Sjonarsker-Sel, Moderate Difficulty, 6.1 km (roughly 1hr and 47 minutes)

    Hikes on the Glacier

    This is when you take your hiking up a notch and start exploring the icy landscapes of the glacier itself. Not only will you trek its frozen surface, but you’ll also get first-hand knowledge from your experienced guide while seeing some incredible things, such as ice formations and deep, dark crevasses. The only way to go glacier hiking is via a guided tour due to safety concerns, and all gear and equipment are provided.

    Snowmobile Rides Across the Glacier

    If glacier hiking doesn’t get your blood pumping enough, cruising the icy landscape on a snowmobile certainly will. This is also done via guided tour and, once again, all gear and equipment will be provided to you.

    Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

    Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon is an incredibly magical place. This lagoon filled with floating icebergs and seals lazying around on drifting sheets of ice is also a way to get within touching distance of a glacier. Here, you can choose between two types of boat tours (the one a bit more for the adventure seekers among us with its speed) that can get you as close to the action on the lagoon and the glacier as possible.

    Diamond Beach

    Diamond Beach is practically next door to Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. This black sand beach is famous for the ice washing onto its shore and then shimmering like Diamonds when the sun shines on it. This is definitely one of the black sand beaches in Iceland not to be missed.

    The Ice Caves

    As mentioned, exploring the ice caves is a seasonal activity here on the island, mainly reserved for the colder months of the year, especially winter. Exploring the ice caves is also something that can only be done via guided tours due to safety reasons. One of Iceland’s most famous ice caves can be found in Vatnajökull National Park, called the Crystal Ice Cave.

    The interesting thing about these ice caves is that you can visit the same ice cave each year, and it’ll never be exactly the same. This is due to the ice caves continuously melting and freezing along with the seasons and the volcanic activity here on the island.

    The Wildlife

    Vatnajökull National Park might infamously be known for its icy features, but there is plenty to see when it comes to the wildlife in the park. Birdwatchers come from far and wide to see the 75 bird species that call the park home (especially in its southern region). Some birds you can spot here are the Great Skua, Rock Ptarmigan, Barnacle Goose, Gyrfalcon, Wheatears, and Pink-footed Goose.

    Vatnajökull National Park also boasts about 2000 free-roaming reindeer, and at places such as Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, you’re almost certain of spotting a Harbour Seal or two. If you ever see what looks like a fluffy white Pomeranian running around, that’s probably our biggest predator, the Arctic Fox.

    Svartifoss Waterfall

    Svartifoss Waterfall is such an impressive sight that it has inspired art and architecture here on the island. If you ever visit Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik, you’ll clearly see the resemblance of the black basalt column backdrop of Svartifoss.

    Askja Caldera

    The Askja Caldera is a volcanic crater with the brightest blue-green water you’ll ever see. But this is not just an attractive attraction – if you get your timing just right, you’ll catch the caldera when the rangers have opened it to the public for swimming.

    Vatnajökull National Park and the Imminent Threat of Global Warming

    It’s no longer just the volcanic activity here on the island that threatens the glaciers. Global warming is proving to be a natural disaster that is just waiting to happen. Research shows that Vatnajökull Glacier was actually growing till about 1930. Since then, it has steadily started its decline, the majority of which had to do with season changes and the volcanic activity on the island.

    But the rate at which the glacier is melting has now increased to staggering rates. According to the latest scientific data, it is predicted that the Vatnajökull Glacier will be at least half its current size by the year 2100. What makes this incredibly scary is not just that we would’ve lost an incredible natural wonder, however, as the largest glacier in Europe, that feeds directly into the ocean, which makes rising sea levels a massive concern.

    Where to Stay Near Vatnajökull National Park

    The best place to ensure you’re close to the action would be to book a camping spot at the Vatnajökull Campground. This is not just the most affordable accommodation option. But, also when you’re renting a motorhome in Iceland, it means you can go “camping” in comfort. Alternatively, you can book accommodation just outside the park, such as Reynivellir Guesthouse or Fosshotel.

    Vatnajökull National Park Promises to Be the Adventure of a Lifetime

    Where can one see so many interesting things and do so many exciting things, all in one stop, as in Vatnajökull National Park? This park will take up at least a couple of days of your Iceland trip itinerary. That’s why we recommend renting a motorhome in Iceland and making it a road trip stop.

    Also, camp at Vatnajökull itself to keep driving to a minimum while ensuring you’re as close to the action as possible. You’ll even find many of the hiking trails starting at the campground. But whatever you have planned for your visit to Vatnajökull National Park, the largest national park in Europe, home to the largest glacier in Europe, is guaranteed to provide you with the fondest and most remarkable memories.