So yes, when we think of Iceland, we all have pictures of ice, glaciers and..... of Jökulsárlón (pronounced Yeu-Kul-SaOr-leun). This is also one of my favorite places in Iceland, magical, hypnotic... I love it so much that even after 25 times there (!!!), I always take my camera and pictures. Special light, iceberg colors from blue to black, high tide or low tide, seals playing in icebergs, terns fishing in the lagoon or resting on icebergs, great skua that contemplates the sea ... so many unique moments that I would be "almost" frustrated to not have my camera with me.
First, the literal translation is "Glacier River Lagoon". It is the most famous and largest proglacial lakes in Iceland. It lies south of the Vatnajökull Glacier between the Vatnajökull National Park and the town of Höfn.
It appeared between 1934 and 1935, and its surface is currently about 18 km². Its maximum depth of 260 meters gives it the first place among the deepest lakes in the country (I can say that it is more than 300 meters dixit the Icelanders!).
Near Jökulsárlón there are two other proglacial lakes, Fjallsárlón and Breiðárlón (we don't really know about it but there are quite a few glaciers with a glacial lagoon ;) ). Blocks of ice breaking off the front of the Vatnajökull Glacier, more precisely of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, drift on the lake, then reach the sea.
They then often strand on the black sand beach nearby, its nickname is "Icy Beach" or "Diamond Beach". The colors of these small icebergs range from turquoise to dark blue, passing through the yellow that comes from volcanic sulphide, the black that comes from the ash of volcanoes and the white in several shades.
Apart from what I've written before, I would say that Jökulsárlón is a must-see in Iceland. If you are a nature lover, you won't regret going there.
To appreciate the lagoon and its beach located at 5 minutes by foot, you will have to take your time. Even on a whimsical day, it's definitely worth to walk from the parking lot, just to see the curious seals, the icebergs dancing with the rising and falling tides, the Arctic tern flying above you (or trying to attack you, depends on their mood!). I also recommend not to forget (like me the first time) to go through the so called "Diamond Beach".
Jökulsárlón is located on the circular road (ring road - road n°1). From Reykjavik, it takes about 5 hours without stops (which is very difficult, believe me). The road is accessible all year, subject to mild weather conditions. If you go through the Skaftafell national park, Jökulsárlón is only 45 minutes away by car and in the other direction from Höfn, Jökulsárlón is about 1 hour away. Car rental is the best option if you want to be have more freedom or to travel around Iceland. Before your road trip, always check these websites : weather forecast / road conditions / security during your trip
Another option: the bus! You only need to check the buses schedules. There are more buses running between June and early September and few still run when fall arrives. For more information, you can have a look at the websites of the bus companies:
- Sterna: possible departure from Reykjavik and many other stops on route no. 1
- Straeto: choose the line 51 - be careful it is necessary to consult the schedules
Other options are available to you: the reservation of "tours", some proposals at the end of the article.
Well, I would say... observe the fauna and flora! A "free" activity, considering you are respecting the animals and avoid disturbing them, especially during the nesting season.
When you will arrive at the parking lot, you'll probably see a cloud of Arctic terns during the summer. You must be careful not to approach too close to them because you will know very quickly that they are not happy to see you and you will certainly be assaulted.
However, do not worry, you can observe them safely fishing in the lagoon at the bridge (an unforgettable sight when the tide goes up!). If you want to see mammals instead, you can take a little walk along the lagoon and suddenly see some seals swimming in the lagoon or between the lagoon and the bridge towards the sea.
Otherwise, you can book an amphibious boat tour, an experience that will lead you closer to the icebergs. If you are lucky, you will surely see seals! You can book from May to November; for more information and reservations, click here.
Another option quite close to the amphibious boat, the zodiac - it's almost the same experience but you will get closer to the glacier ... and there are generally fewer people than for the amphibious boats (smaller groups).
Finally, for the more adventurous, if you want to appreciate this magnificent landscape, there is still the option of kayaking or ice hovering. Be careful, do not go alone on your own! Only professionals and people supervised by professionals are authorized to navigate on the lagoon. Contact me for more information.
Of course, Ice caves should be on your bucket list during winter. Being under the ice is just a magical experience. There are many tours available that allow you to explore these hidden wonders. Check all the ice caves tours departing from Jökulsárlón here.
If you want to book tours from Reykjavik, it's a good option which will save you the car rental, driving the road (as a reminder, Jökulsárlón is a 5-hour drive from Reykjavik ...) and booking a hotel. Especially since the road in winter (and in summer!) is not always very practical depending on weather conditions, which can be very rough.
Few proposals here:
- A day in southern Iceland* with a guide who will make you discover the most beautiful natural sites of the south coast.
- A two-day South Coast combo* including the most beautiful spots in southern Iceland, including Jökulsárlón and a glacier excursion. Here's another two day South Coast tour* to compare.
*tours only available from may to october
Find all Jökulsárlón tours here. Contact me for more information.
On the main parking lot near the lagoon, a shop serves fast food. There are also many food trucks that will give you other options.
There is no accommodation in Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. Nevertheless, several options are available nearby: hotels, campsites, bed and breakfast. Caution, wild camping is strictly prohibited in Iceland and you can't camp on the parking lot.
See also: Camping in Iceland | All You Need to Know.
Have a nice trip! Góða ferð!