The beautiful Jökulsárlón glacial lake in Iceland: info, tips & tours
The Jökulsárlón Ice Lake is Iceland's largest and most famous glacial lake and is one of the greatest natural wonders of the island. The ice lake is located next to the Skaftafell National Park in the southeast of Iceland and lies close to the Atlantic Ocean. The water of the lake is dotted with small and large floes of ice. It is breathtakingly beautiful and ensures wonderful photos.
Read more about a visit to the glacier lake, about the boat trips and how to buy tickets online.
Tours and tickets Jökulsárlón Ice lake
Wil jij ook graag een tour maken Skaftafell nationaal park, ijsgrotten bezoeken of een boottocht maken over het adembenemende Jökulsárlón ijsmeer. Boek dan zeker je tour online. Bij GetYourGuide heb je zelfs de mogelijkheid om te annuleren tot 24u vooraf, met geld terug garantie. Boek je tour online of kijk hieronder voor nog meer mogelijkheden:
Would you like to tour Skaftafell national park, visit ice caves or take a boat trip on the breathtaking Jökulsárlón ice lake. Be sure to book your tour online. At GetYourGuide you even have the possibility to cancel up to 24 hours in advance, with money back guarantee. Book your tour online or look below for more possibilities:
The history of the Jökulsárlón Ice lake
1.1. The creation of the glacial lake
The Jökulsárlón ice lake was created by the shrinking of the Breiðamerkurjökull, a glacier tongue of the Vatnajökull glacier. The meltwater that comes from the glacier tongue fills the ice lake. The Vatnajökull Glacier is one of Iceland's largest ice sheets, but global warming has caused it to retreat about a hundred meters a year over the past century. The glacier lake only emerged at the end of the 1940s. Meltwater from the Vatnajökull Glacier flows from the glacier to the Atlantic Ocean via a seven-kilometer long river. The glacial lake lies at the edge of the glacier about one and a half kilometres from the Atlantic Ocean.
1.2. The photogenic ice floes
In addition to the meltwater from the ice caps, large chunks of ice regularly crumble off the glacier tongue. As a result, icebergs and floes of ice float around on the lake which eventually drift to the sea because of the wind and current. When the floes are small enough, they begin to drift towards the ocean. They make their way from the lake to the ocean in about a day.
Commercial boat trips on the ice lake didn't start until 1985, after the lake had been the setting for the James-Bond film A View to a Kill and many tourists started going to the lake.
1.3. A fast-growing glacial lake
Until the 60's it was impossible to cross the river therefore people had to climb the glacier itself to get to the other side. In 1967 a bridge was finally built across the river so that the ring road at Höfn could be extended. Because the ice lake continues to grow, the bridge is vulnerable.
In 1975 the Jökulsárlón lake was only about eight square kilometers large, while today it is already three times as big. It is therefore expected that if the lake continues to grow this way, within a few years it will reach the sea and form a bay. The Jökulsárlón ice lake is now about 23 square kilometers in size and about 250 meters deep and is still growing every year as the Vatnajökull glacier continues to retreat.
The Jökulsárlón glacial lake
2.1. The volcanoes of Jökulsárlón
The nine volcanoes that lie under the ice cap of the Vatnajökull Glacier also play a role in the creation of the lake. The volcanoes are still erupting regularly. This not only creates a hole in the ice cap and extra melting water, but also layers black ash on the ice blocks. The part of the ice floe that protrudes above the surface of the water has a blue-white colour due to the light of the sun. The ice under water has a transparent clear blue color.
2.2. Animal spotting
Many fish swim in the water, which also attracts many different seabirds to the lake. Seals are often spotted in the ice lake.
A boat tour between the the ice floes of the glacial lake
3.1. Boat tour
On the east side of the lake the tour operators are located with whom you can book a boat trip. With a boat tour you will sail towards the glacier, which rise about 20 meters above the water. From the boat you can sail along ice floes on the water to see the special natural phenomenon. A nice extra: you have the opportunity to taste the pure ice water!
There are boat trips with the larger amphibious vehicles, but also with smaller boats that can get closer to the ice. You then get a thick insulating floatation suit to put on. The trips take about 30 to 40 minutes and are usually accompanied by a guide.
3.2. Jeep tours and kayaks
There are several tour operators by the lake, many of which also offer jeep tours and other nature tours. It is also possible to take a kayak on the lake.
The black Diamond beach
Diamond beach is located at the Jökulsárlón lagoon, right before the bridge at Jökulsárlón, between the ring road and the ocean. The beach is dotted with huge blocks of ice. They come from the melting glaciers and end up on the beach via Jökulsárlón.
The chunks of ice are white and blue in colour and take on every possible shape. It is as if the black sand is full of glistening diamonds, large and small. There is a parking lot south of Ring Road 1. Be aware: don't be surprised by the ice cold water when you walk on the beach.
Tickets for a boat tour
The Jökulsárlón ice lake, the hiking trails around and the parking lot are all free of charge. The ice lake can be visited all year round, but in winter the wind is very harsh and a larger part of the lake will be frozen.
The lake itself is free, but if you would like to do a boat tour, you will have to pay to do so. Tickets can be bought on the spot, but also online.
Our tip: The Jökulsárlón ice lake is very popular. Therefore we recommend to book an organized tour beforehand. You can do so online.
How to avoid waiting lines?
The Jökulsárlón ice lake is one of Iceland's biggest attractions, therefore it can get quite busy around the lake. However, you can always find a spot near the lake where you can sit at ease. To be ahead of most people, it is best to visit the ice lake as early as possible. Extra bonus: The early morning light shines beautifully on the ice floes.
If you want to join a boat tour, it is always advisable to book online in advance. The amphibious boats sail several times a day during the high season, but it is still best to book in advance. The places on the boat trips are scarce and you should always book in time if you want to join the boat at a specific time. The same goes for the kayak trips.
How do I get to the Jökulsárlón glacial lake?
7.1. By car
The lake is located next to Ring road 1 between the Skaftafell national park and the town of Höfn. It is possible to drive there from Reykjavik, but count on about a five to six hours drive. On the way from Reykjavik to the ice lake you will also pass many other beautiful sights. It is therefore advisable to make the trip in two days and spend the night somewhere in the area and then drive further to the Jökulsárlón ice lake.
7.2. By bus
If you prefer not to drive yourself, you can easily book a tour online from Reykjavik. A bus will take you to the natural wonder.
You can park on one of the many parking lots next to the lake. The parking places in front of the bridge, when you drive from Reykjavik and Skaftafell, are less busy. The larger parking spaces can be found on the other side of the bridge, towards Höfn and the east of Iceland.
Our tip: Park in a small car park southwest of the lake. From there you can walk up a path for a beautiful view of the lake. Or turn in front of the bridge, if you come from the south, and park at the second parking place you pass. There you have a fantastic view of the Atlantic Ocean and the ice floes on the black beach.
Practical info for your visit
- The Jökulsárlón Cafe is located at the largest car park, where the tour operators are based. There you can have a drink, buy a simple snack and choose souvenirs. The cafe is open all year round from 09:00. From November to February the café closes at 17:00, from March to May and in October at 18:00 and from June to September at 19:00.
- The weather in Iceland can change rapidly therefore, changes in the weather can prevent boats from sailing.
Video: Boat tour on the Jökulsárlón glacial lake
What can you expect from a boat trip on the glacial lake? This video shows how beautiful the ice floes look from a boat. It also shows some of the most beautiful stops you can make on your way from Reyjkjavik to the ice lake. To admire all this in person, you will have to board the boat yourself!
Don't miss out on anything during your stay in Iceland, get our travel guide!
Like most of us, you don't want to miss out on anything during your vacation in Iceland. Well, we have some good news, because we already did the research for you! Buy our Iceland travel guide with 99 sights (+ GPS coordinates) and a mapped tour. Prefer to try it out first? Download your free Iceland travel guide here.