In Southeast Iceland, you'll find a glacier lagoon filled with icebergs. This ice lagoon has become one of Iceland's most popular attractions due to its stunning beauty. The lagoon is called Jökulsárlón, or 'Glacier's-River-Lagoon.’ While COVID-19 has not closed nature, it has impacted some tourist activities.
Jökulsárlón is one of Iceland's natural crown jewels, and we've even started calling the nearby black beach our Diamond Beach, as the ice chunks lying on it resemble diamonds glistening in the sun.
Typically, thousands of people are drawn to Jökulsárlón all year round to watch the free-flowing icebergs, explore the lagoon on boat tours, and even frequently snap a picture of a seal.
However, COVID-19 has drastically reduced the number of visitors. Thankfully, Iceland is still open to visitors from approved countries, giving travelers a unique experience to visit during a time with barely any other tourists.
Yes, it is safe. Following the guidelines set by the Icelandic health authorities, local businesses have adapted well to operating during COVID-19. Tours are taking out fewer people on each trip, restaurants are seating fewer people at a time, and face masks are worn if people cannot maintain a distance of 2 meters between each other. Employees are also frequently sanitizing commonly touched surfaces to keep both locals and visitors safe.
As with many attractions in Iceland, the lagoon being outside is an added benefit to visiting during COVID-19. This gives you the flexibility to distance yourself from others and still experience the beauty of the icy lagoon.
How Can I Get to the Lagoon During COVID-19?
The lagoon is located just about 380km from Reykjavik (about a 5-hour drive with no stops). You could choose a self-driving tour giving you access to a thoroughly planned itinerary and vehicle to travel in. For some, they feel more comfortable traveling in their own car during COVID-19.
If you would rather sit back and enjoy the trip, you can join a fully guided Jokulsarlon tour. You can find our top-rated Jokulsarlon tours listed on our website to learn more about what each one offers.
Does COVID-19 Impact the Boat Tours in the Lagoon?
Tour operators have had to make a few changes during this time. As mentioned previously, the tours are taking out fewer people in each tour to stay within the gathering ban. Some lagoon tour boats are quite small, making it challenging to stay 2 meters apart. Masks are often worn to mitigate risk. Handrails and any shared safety equipment are sanitized between tours.
Truthfully, this provides visitors with a unique experience to have a smaller group tour than ever before. You will have the chance to ask your guide more questions and get to experience the lagoon in a new way. Just don’t forget your camera!
An incredible amount of photographs capture the lagoon's stunning beauty, and it has even become one of Iceland'smost famous filming locations. So what is it exactly that makes this location so unique?
With a maximum depth of 248 metres, Jökulsárlón is Iceland's deepest lake
Jökulsárlón's surface area measures at 18 km²
It takes approximately 5 hours to drive to Jökulsárlón from Iceland's capital, Reykjavík
The icebergs in Jökulsárlón are composed of ice that is over 1,000 years old
Jökulsárlón first started forming in 1934, when Breiðamerkurjökull glacier started retreating, leaving the lagoon in its path
The lagoon has increased fourfold in size since the early 1970s
The lagoon connects with the ocean and is therefore composed of a sea and freshwater mixture which causes its unique colour
Seals can be seen in Jökulsárlón year-round, but they flock to the mouth of the lagoon to catch fish in the winter
Jökulsárlón sits south of Vatnajökull, Europe's largest glacier.
Vatnajökull and its surrounding area, including Jökulsárlón, compose Iceland's largest national park, and the second-largest national park in Europe, after Yugid Va in Russia.
The lagoon is formed naturally from melted glacial water and is perpetually growing while big blocks of ice crumble from the ever-shrinking glacier.
As Jökulsárlón increases in size, the retreating glacier visibly demonstrates the effects of global warming, with noticeable receding year after year.
This, perhaps, makes the lagoon and the nearby glacier tongue even more special, as they will look different each time you pay them a visit.
The icebergs that break away from the glacier and fall into the lagoon, slowly melt and drift out to sea, where they are polished by the North Atlantic waves before being washed ashore on the jet-black beach called Breiðamerkursandur.
This black stretch of sand is, therefore, always covered in translucent, compact ice sculptures that glisten in the sun, much like diamonds. This is why Breiðamerkursandur is nicknamed Diamond Beach.
Seals can be seen swimming in the lagoon and by the coastline or relaxing on top of a floating iceberg.
The lagoon is also teeming with birdlife, especially during summer, when you are likely to see the arctic tern and a number of other species.
This is not a popular area for puffins though. But if you are driving from Reykjavík you can stop by Dyrhólaey lighthouse and Reynisfjara beach on the way to see some puffins if you’re visiting in the summer months.
Remember that the drive along the South Coast to Jökulsárlón is breathtakingly beautiful. So be sure to take your time and enjoy the sights.
A great number of films have been shot in Iceland, and Jökulsárlón's icy landscapes have attracted many filmmakers.
The James Bond films ‘Die Another Day’ and ‘A View to a Kill’, and ‘Tomb Raider’ were filmed at the icy lagoon.
However, both 'Batman Begins' and 'Interstellar' were shot nearby at Svínafellsjökull glacier, inside Vatnajökull national park.
Most recently, however, Vatnajokull national park was also used as one of the filming locations for ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’. The scenes were shot of Walter supposedly trekking the Himalayas.
A number of commercials and music videos have also been shot at Jökulsárlón, such as Bon Iver's Holocene, Justin Bieber's I'll Show You and the music video to Gerua from the Bollywood film Dilwale starring Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol.
To reach Jökulsárlón you can either drive yourself or join a tour that takes you to the lagoon.
If you are driving from Reykjavík, note that it's about a 5-6 hour journey to get there.
The drive itself is incredibly scenic, so it will take you longer to get there with all the great stops you'll want to make on the way. We, therefore, recommend spending at least 2 days travelling there and back to Reykjavík.
I’d highly recommend this 2-day tour which includes transportation and accommodation. It will take you all the way to Jökulsárlón along stops at the best South Coast spots along the way. You will even get to visit a stunning blue Ice Cave and enjoy various hunts for the Northern Lights.
The drive is one of the most stunning journeys in Iceland. You will pass by some stunning South Coast scenery, including the gorgeous waterfalls Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss, the black beach of Reynisfjara, Mýrdalsjökull glacier and Eyjafjallajökull volcano to name a few.
As there are so many places to explore on the way, we have a number of self-drive suggested itineraries to maximise your experience.
A 6-day self-drive tour of the South Coast and the Golden Circle would help you make the most of your trip to Iceland if you’re planning on staying for at least a week in the summertime.
Alternatively, if you are planning a visit in winter a 6-day winter drive would be my recommendation, as it even includes access to the Ice Cave by Jökulsárlón.
If you are looking for a shorter trip, then there's also a 3-day winter drive, that also includes a visit to the ice cave.
However, if you’re looking for a specific itinerary we currently don’t provide if you get in contact we can easily customise a self-drive plan specifically for you.
If you want to make your plan yourself, then we can help you to find a great cheap rental car for your adventures.
Jökulsárlón is accessible all year round, although in winter it may be a little more weather dependent.
If there's a raging snowstorm or high winds then you'd be advised not to drive in wintertime.
Most days you will be fine, however. The roads along the south coast generally stay clear all year round and there is a bit of traffic so if you run into trouble then someone will stop by quickly and help you out!
The added bonus of travelling during wintertime is that you may catch the Northern Lights.
A huge part of the fun of exploring Iceland is always the journey. You must keep up to date with weather and road conditions (daily is best) and be prepared to change plans if your safety is compromised.
But spending some time at Iceland’s crown jewel, Jokulsarlon, is well worth the journey.
If you’re feeling even more adventurous, you can also include glacier hiking on a 2-day tour to Jokulsarlon. This provides the most breath-taking views standing on top of Europe's largest glacier.
Boat tours operate in the summertime on the lagoon, between April and October.
They are indeed the same boats that were used in ‘Tomb Raider’, and were featured in the clip above that supposedly takes place in Russia.
Photo from Jokulsarlon Amphibious Boat Tour
During high season (July and August), up to 40 boat trips run on the lagoon per day.
Individuals don't need to book in advance for the amphibian boat tours but groups larger than 12 people will need to book.
The Zodiac tours can sell out and it's advised to book them in advance as they only operate between June and September.
It is also possible to go ice caving from Jökulsárlón and explore a natural blue ice cave within Vatnajökull glacier.
The ice caves form when the glacier is melting and rivers run underneath the ice, sculpting the ice into a tunnel.
Each cave is different from the next one and they vary in size and shape. What they all have in common is the incredible blue colour of the ice.
As the glacier moves it creates different looking Ice cave’s each year, and sometimes even provides multiple Ice Caves which your tour will take you to visit. Wonderfully, no two visits are ever the same when exploring an Ice Cave.
Most ice caves are only accessible from mid-October to March each year, although some operators do not start until November and tours are very dependent on the weather.
If it's too warm, the caves can fill with water, melt or even collapse in places, so you should never enter an ice cave unless you're with a guide that knows the area and the cave well, and has deemed it safe to enter.
One of the best-known caves is the Blue Ice Cave. It is also one of the larger caves and forms in a similar position from the same meltwater system each year.
You can go there from Jökulsárlón. Your tour will include a guided super jeep ride to reach the Ice Caves opening, high up in the glacier.
The guide will also explain everything there is to know about Iceland’s glaciers and the Ice Caves, as well as answering any and all of your questions.
The tour departing from Jökulsárlón is also the only tour that visits this particular cave, providing visitors with the opportunity to enjoy it far away from all the crowds.
Jökulsárlón is also a very popular place to try and catch the Northern Lights dancing above.
The scenery creates a phenomenal foreground for photographers, often with the auroras reflected in the water and the ice.
On really intense aurora shows it can light up the whole lagoon in dances of colours including green, pink, red, purple and blue. This is truly a once in a lifetime aurora viewing opportunity.
The Northern Lights occur all year round, but are only visible when it's dark and can therefore not be seen in the summertime when the nights are bright.
You can view the aurora from Iceland anytime from the start of September until mid-April, depending on a clear sky and how active the northern lights are.
Check out our 5-day winter package that includes the glacier lagoon, Northern Lights hunts, the ice cave and much more to help make your visit to Iceland truly spectacular.
There are many options for accommodation around the glacier lagoon if you plan to stay in the area overnight.
One of the closest establishments is the Hali Country Hotel. Immersed in the countryside, all of the rooms come with private bathrooms.
If you’re travelling with a higher budget, Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon is a four-star, stylish hotel in the area. The hotel has all the amenities you could need and even has a waterfall right outside.
Hotels and hostels close to the lagoon, however, have the tendency to book up very early.
If you aren't fortunate enough to get a room at one, then the second most convenient option is to stay at the nearby town of Höfn (1 hour away from Jökulsárlón).
If you were planning on travelling the ring road or wanted to finish your day in a place with a wealth of amenities, the town of Höfn is a preferential place to retire regardless. It is home to the best tasting lobster in Iceland and close to the stunning mountain Vestrahorn making it a great place to spend an overnight and explore from.
Höfn also has a variety of different lodgings, to suit different budgets and styles.
Hotel Höfn is a lovely hotel for those who prioritise comfort.
If you are travelling all around Iceland, and Jökulsárlón is just one of the many places you plan on staying at, you’ll always find plenty of places to stay on your route.
There's one main safety measure you should be aware of when you go to this ice lagoon.
It should go without saying that it's not wise to go swimming in a lake full of enormous icebergs, or climbing on top of those icebergs. But for some strange reason, many people are tempted to do so!
People sometimes underestimate Icelandic nature and find themselves in dangerous situations, often needing the aid of some of Iceland's search and rescue teams.
So don't be tempted to do what many film characters or singers do (such as James Bond, Shah Rukh Khan or Justin Bieber) and swim in the lake or climb on top of the icebergs.
We're not just being boring by saying so, the current in the lagoon is very strong and can easily carry you out to sea if you venture a little too far swimming in the lagoon.
The lagoon is 200m deep, and is, in fact, Iceland's deepest lake. What you see of the huge icebergs floating in the lagoon are literally just their tips as about 90% of the ice is submerged in the water.
Sometimes the iceberg's tip over when the ice underneath the water surface has become smaller than what is seen above the surface (due to the ice cracking or melting).
If people are climbing on to the top of the ice and then the ice tips over, you might get caught underneath the ice and find yourself in a life-threatening situation.
That's not really worth a good picture. So just take care and enjoy this gorgeous location, making sure you avoid doing dumb things on your visit to Iceland.
Whether you opt to drive, plan your own journey, book a self-drive or take a guided tour, a visit to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is one not to be missed. It’s known as Iceland’s crown jewel for a reason, and many tourists flock there at all times of the year to enjoy its splendour. We’d love to answer any questions and read about your experiences in the comments below.