Diamond Beach by Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon

The Complete Guide to Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon in Iceland

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In the southeast of Iceland, you'll find a glacier lagoon filled with large chunks of ice. This ice lagoon has become one of Iceland's most popular attractions due to its immense beauty.

Learn everything you need to know to plan your trip to the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon in Southeast Iceland. This ice lagoon has become one of Iceland's most popular attractions due to its stunning beauty. Jokulsarlon translates to “Glacier's River Lagoon.”

Jokulsarlon is one of Iceland's natural crown jewels, and the nearby black beach has coined the name Diamond Beach, as the ice chunks lying on it resemble diamonds glistening in the sun. 

Thousands of people are drawn to Jokulsarlon year-round to watch the free-flowing icebergs, explore the lagoon on boat tours, and snap pictures of seals.

You can find a place to stay at Hofn, a nearby town to the glacier lagoon. If you're visiting during the winter, we recommend renting a 4x4 vehicle to get around in the countryside of Iceland. There's also an opportunity to hike on the very glaciers that feed water into the glacier lagoon, book a glacier hiking tour, and explore more of the icy side of Iceland!

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon Facts

  • With a maximum depth of 814 feet (248 meters), Jokulsarlon is Iceland's deepest lake.
  • Jokulsarlon's surface area measures 11.2 square miles (18 square kilometers).
  • It takes approximately five hours to drive to Jokulsarlon from Iceland's capital, Reykjavik.
  • The icebergs in Jokulsarlon are composed of ice that is over 1,000 years old.
  • Jokulsarlon glacier first started forming in 1934, when the Breidamerkurjokull glacier started retreating, leaving the lagoon in its path.
  • This glacial lagoon in Iceland has increased fourfold since the early 1970s.
  • The lagoon connects with the ocean and is composed of seawater and freshwater. This is what creates the unique color.
  • Seals can be seen in Jokulsarlon year-round, but they flock to the lagoon’s mouth to catch fish in the winter.

Where is Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon?

Stunning sunset over Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon

Jokulsarlon sits south of Vatnajokull, Europe's largest glacier.

Vatnajokull and its surrounding area, including Jokulsarlon, compose Iceland's largest national park, and the second-largest national park in Europe, after Yugid Va in Russia.

Impressive glacier in Iceland

The lagoon formed naturally from melted glacial water and continues to grow as ice blocks crumble from the ever-shrinking glacier.

As Jokulsarlon increases in size, the retreating glacier visibly demonstrates the effects of global warming, with noticeable receding year after year.

This makes the lagoon and the nearby glacier tongue even more unique, as they will look different each time you visit them.

Diamond Beach by Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon in Iceland

The icebergs that break away from the glacier and fall into the lagoon slowly melt and drift out to sea, where the North Atlantic waves polish them before being washed ashore on the jet-black beach called Breidamerkursandur.

As a result, this black stretch of sand is always covered in translucent, compact ice sculptures that glisten in the sun, much like diamonds. This is why Breidamerkursandur is sometimes called the Diamond Beach.

Wildlife at Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

Seals can be seen swimming in the lagoon and relaxing on top of icebergs.

The lagoon is also teeming with birdlife, especially during summer, when you see the arctic tern and many other species. 

This is not a popular area for puffins. But if you are driving from Reykjavik, you can stop by Dyrholaey 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 Jokulsarlon is breathtakingly beautiful. Take your time and enjoy the sights.

Jokulsarlon Lagoon as a Film Location

Jokulsarlon has been used as a shooting location for Hollywood for decades.

Jokulsarlon's icy landscapes have attracted many filmmakers to shoot scenes for their movies in Iceland.

The James Bond films “Die Another Day” and “A View to a Kill” were filmed at the glacial lagoon. “Tomb Raider” was filmed there, too.

Both “Batman Begins,” and “Interstellar” were shot nearby at the Svinafellsjokull glacier inside Vatnajokull National Park.

Most recently, however, Vatnajokull National Park was used as a filming location for “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” The scenes from this movie that were shot there show Walter supposedly trekking in the Himalayas.

Several commercials and music videos have also been shot at Jokulsarlon, 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.

How to Get to Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

Northern Lights over Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon

To reach Jokulsarlon, you can either drive yourself or join a tour that takes you to the lagoon.

If you are driving from Reykjavik, note that it's 236 miles (380 km) to reach the glacier bay in Iceland. It can take anywhere from five to six hours.

The drive itself is incredibly scenic, so it may take you longer to get there, given all the great stops you'll want to make on the way. We, therefore, recommend spending at least two days traveling from Reykjavik to Jokulsarlon and back.

We highly recommend this 2-day tour which includes transportation and accommodation. It will take you to Jokulsarlon and stop at the best South Coast spots along the way. You’ll get to visit a stunning blue ice cave and enjoy opportunities to see the northern lights.

The drive is one of the most stunning journeys in Iceland. You'll pass by some incredible South Coast scenery, including the gorgeous waterfalls Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss, the black beach of Reynisfjara, Myrdalsjokull glacier, and Eyjafjallajokull volcano.

Diamond Beach by Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon

There are so many places to explore on the way, so we have several suggested self-drive itineraries to maximize your experience. 

A 6-day self-drive tour of the South Coast and the Golden Circle will help you make the most of your trip to Iceland if you’re planning on staying for at least a week in the summertime.

If you plan to visit in winter, a 6-day winter drive is our recommendation, as it includes access to the ice cave by Jokulsarlon. While there, why not try out a Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon ice cave tour

If you are looking for a shorter trip, there's also a 3-day winter drive that includes a visit to the ice cave.

However, if you’re looking for a specific itinerary we don’t currently provide, contact us, and we can customize a self-drive plan specifically for you.

If you want to plan for yourself, we can help you find a cheap rental car for your adventure.

Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon during summer.

Jokulsarlon is accessible all year round, although it may be a little more weather-dependent in winter.

If there's a raging snowstorm or high winds, it’s best not to drive.

Most days, however, you'll be fine. The roads along the south coast are typically clear all year. There is a bit of traffic, so someone will surely stop by quickly to help you out if you run into trouble.

An icy view of Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon

The advantage of traveling in winter is catching the northern lights

A considerable part of the fun of exploring Iceland is the journey. You must keep up to date with weather and road conditions (checking each daily is best) and be prepared to change plans if your safety is at risk.

But spending some time at Iceland’s crown jewel, Jokulsarlon, is well worth the journey. 

If you don't want to drive yourself, you can always book a tour, such as a 3-day South Coast adventure or a 2-day winter tour with ice caving.

If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can also include glacier hiking on a 2-day tour to Jokulsarlon. This provides the most breathtaking views as you stand on top of Europe's largest glacier.

Things to Do at Jokulsarlon Glacier 

Visitors can do many different things when visiting the Jokulsarlon lagoon and glacier. What to do depends on how much time is available and what types of experiences are of interest. 

Jokulsarlon Lagoon Boat Tours

Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon boat tours operate in the summertime, between April and October.

They're the same boats used in “Tomb Raider” and were featured in the clip above.

An amphibious boat cruises through the glacier lagoon.Photo from Jokulsarlon Amphibious Boat Tour

During the high season (July and August), up to 40 boat trips run Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon tours per day.

You can choose between going on an amphibian boat tour that leaves multiple times per day or a Jokulsarlon Zodiac boat tour with a fixed schedule. 

Individuals don't need to book the amphibian boat tours in advance, but groups larger than 12 people will need to book ahead.

The Zodiac tours can sell out, so it's best to book them in advance as they only operate from June to September.

Natural ice cave in winter near the glacier lagoon

To get even closer to nature, booking a Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon kayak tour is something you won’t forget. This tour happens in the summer months only and allows you to move between the floating pieces of ice and get up close and personal to the glacier. 

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon Ice Cave Tours

It’s possible to go on an ice cave tour from Jokulsarlon and explore a natural blue ice cave within the Vatnajokull 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, but they all share an incredible shade of blue ice.

As the glacier moves, it creates different-looking ice caves each year and there are multiple ice cave tours which you can take during your visit. No two visits are ever the same when exploring.

Another ice cave in Iceland

Most ice caves are only accessible from mid-October to March each year, although some operators do not start until November, and tours are 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 has been deemed safe to enter.

One of the best-known caves is the Blue Ice Cave. It's also one of the more extensive caves and forms in a similar position from the same meltwater system each year.

You can go there from Jokulsarlon. 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 to know about Iceland’s glaciers and the ice caves and answer all of your questions.

The tour departing from Jokulsarlon is the only one that visits this particular cave, providing visitors with the opportunity to enjoy it far away from all the crowds.

Northern Lights over Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon

Jokulsarlon is also a popular place to try and catch the northern lights dancing in the skies above.

The scenery creates a phenomenal foreground for photographers, often with the auroras reflected in the water and the ice.

On intense aurora shows, it can light up the entire lagoon with dancing colors, including green, pink, red, purple, and blue. This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime aurora viewing opportunity.

Auroras over Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon

Take in the Northern Lights

The northern lights occur all year but are only visible when dark. Therefore, they can’t be seen when the nights are bright in the summertime.

You can view the aurora in Iceland from early 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, hunt for the northern lights, ice cave, and much more to help make your visit to Iceland genuinely spectacular.

Where to Stay at Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

Jökulsarlon is Iceland's deepest lake.

You can easily book a stay near the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon if you plan to stay in the area overnight.

One of the closest establishments is the Hali Country Hotel. It's located in the countryside, and all of the rooms come with private bathrooms.

If you’re traveling on a higher budget, Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon is a stylish, four-star hotel in the area. The hotel has all the amenities you could need, plus a waterfall right outside.

Hotels and hostels close to the lagoon tend to book up very early.

If you aren't fortunate enough to get a room at one, the second most convenient option is to stay at the nearby town of Hofn (an hour away from Jokulsarlon).

If you were planning on traveling the Ring Road or wanted to finish your day in a place with a wealth of amenities, the town of Hofn is an excellent choice. It's home to the best-tasting lobster in Iceland and close to the stunning Vestrahorn mountain.

Diamond Beach is one of the most beautiful photography locations in Iceland.

Hofn also has various lodgings to suit different budgets and styles.

Hotel Hofn is a lovely hotel for those who prioritize comfort.

If you are traveling all around Iceland, and Jokulsarlon is just one of the many places you plan on staying, you’ll always find plenty of places to stay on your route.

What to be Aware of at Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

There's one primary safety measure you should know when you go to this ice lagoon.

It should go without saying that it's not wise to swim in a lake full of enormous icebergs or climb on top of those icebergs. But 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.

Have a great time when you visit but keep in mind the current in the lagoon is powerful and can easily carry you out to sea. The lagoon is 656 feet (200 meters) deep and is Iceland's deepest lake. What you see of the massive icebergs floating in the lagoon are just their tips as 90 percent of the ice is below the waterline.

Sometimes icebergs tip over when the ice underneath the water surface becomes smaller than what’s seen above the surface. This occurs due to the cracking or melting of ice.

If people climb to the top of the ice and then the ice tips over, they can get caught underneath the ice and be in a life-threatening situation.

That's not worth a good picture!

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 journey, book a self-drive, or take a guided tour, a visit to the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon is one not to be missed. It’s known as Iceland’s crown jewel for a reason, and many people go there at all times of the year to enjoy its splendor. We’d love to answer any questions and read about your experiences in the comments below.