Information about Vatnajokull

Inside one of Vatnajökull's ice caves

Vatnajökull is the largest ice cap in Iceland and the third largest glacier in Europe, covering 8% of the island's landmass. 

Facts about Vatnajökull 

  • Surface: 8,100 km2 
  • Average thickness: 400 - 600 m
  • Maximum thickness: 1,000 m
  • Height: 1,400 - 1,800 m
  • Highest peak: 2,200 m (Hvannadalshnjúkur)

Information about Vatnajökull 

Vatnajökull Glacier belongs to the greater Vatnajökull National Park, which encompasses the former national parks Skaftafell in the southwest and Jökulsárgljúfur in the north. Vatnajökull's highest summit is Hvannadalshnjúkur, which rests on top of the stratovolcano known as Öræfajökull. 

Underneath the glacier rest some of the most active volcanoes in the country, the most notable being Grímsvötn, Öræfajökull and Bárðabunga. The volcanic activity of the glacial area occurs at intervals throughout the ages, and many geologists believe such a period is scheduled to happen in the immediate future. If their calculations are correct, it would mean a significant volcanic activity for Vatnajökull over the scope of the next half century. 

The glacier boasts of over 30 outlet glaciers, which are channels of ice that flow out of ice caps but remain constrained on the sides to valleys. The major outlet glaciers of Vatnajökull include Dyngjujökull in the north, Breiðamerkurjökull and Skeiðarárjökull to the south; and Síðujökull, Skaftárjökull and Tungnaárjökull to the west. 

Glaciers are in constant motion underneath their weight, as they form over centuries when the accession of snow exceeds its melting. Each year, due to the melting ice water, new ice caves form that disappear come spring. 


Numerous rivers run out of Vatnajökull, making up some of the greatest glacial rivers in Iceland:

  • Tungnaá (west)
  • Köldukvísl (west)
  • Þjórsá (west)
  • Jökulsá á Fjöllum (north)
  • Skjálfandafljót (north)
  • Jökulsá á Brú (north east) 
  • Jökulsá í Fljótsdal (north east)
  • Jökulsá í Lóni (south)
  • Hornafjarðarfljót (south)
  • Jökulsá á Breiðamerkursandi (south)
  • Skeiðará (south)
  • Núpsvötn (south)
  • Hverfisfljót (south)
  • Skaftá (south) 

Vatnajökull National Park 

The Vatnajökull National Park in its current state was established in June 2008. The park now covers an area of 14.141 km2, making it the second largest national park in Europe with a 14% coverage of the island of Iceland.

The combined forces of volcanic and geothermal activity, glacial rivers and ice make up the different features of incredible landscapes that together give Vantajökull National Park its unique qualities. 

Rivers divide the highland plateau to the north of the park; an area that sees massive glacial flows in the summertime. The volcanic table mountain Herðubreið towers over this particular region, along with volcanoes Askja, Snæfell and Kverkfjöll. 

The canyon Jökulsárgljúfur was carved out by glacial floods centuries ago. At the upper end of the canyon, you'll find Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe. Further north, the horseshoe-shaped canyon Ásbyrgi is believed to have formed when Óðinn's horse Sleipnir stepped his foot down from the heavens. 

East around Snæfell, wetlands and ranges are home to roaming herds of wild reindeer and abundant birdlife. Steep mountain ridges make up the south side of Vatnajökull, where outlet glaciers crawl in between the ridges onto the lowlands. The sandy plains of Skeiðarársandur also lie to the south as they reach out to sea. The glacial river Skeiðará runs through this vast desert. 

One of Iceland's most visited landmarks is the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, which sits at the head of outlet glacier Breiðamerkurjökull. There, large icebergs that have broken off the glacier gather to float in the lake before ending up in the Atlantic Ocean, or on the nearby Diamond Beach. 


  • Click here for a selection of Jökulsárlón tours

The Future of Vatnajökull 

The volume of Vatnajökull reached its peak around 1930 but has since been in a steady process of decline. Because of rising levels of global temperature, approximately over the last 15 years, Vatnajökull has on average lost about a metre of its thickness annually. 

If temperature levels continue to rise, the glacier could be all but gone nearing the end of the next century, leaving only small ice caps on top of the highest mountain summits.  

Vatnajökull and Jökulsárlón in Popular Culture

  • HBO's Game of Thrones (season 2, 2012)
  • Batman Begins (2005)
  • James Bond: Die Another Day (2002)
  • James Bond: A View to a Kill (1985) 

Services near Vatnajokull

All services in 50km radius

Attractions nearby Vatnajokull

Grímsvötn

  Grimsvotn refers to subglacial lakes and a volcano of the same name that lie in the western part of Vatnajokull, Europe's largest glacier,...

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Jökulsá á Fjöllum

Jokulsa a Fjollum is a glacier river at the east of the vast Odadahraun lava field in the north-east of Iceland. It is Iceland's second largest ri...

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Breiðamerkurjökull

Breiðamerkurjökull is the glacial tongue that extends from southern Vatnajökull and into the glacier lagoon Jökulsárló...

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Vestragil

Vestragil is a gully at Skaftafell in Vatnajokull National Park and a popular stop for hikers. Here you get the chance to soak weary feet in a hot sp...

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Bárðarbunga

The stratovolcano Bardarbunga is Iceland’s second-highest mountain and lies under the icecap of Vatnajokull, Europe’s largest glacier. Ba...

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Hafrafell

Hafrafell is a small mountain south of Mosfellsbaer town, around 12 km from Reykjavik.  This mountain offers a great view from the top, as you&#...

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Fjallsjökull

Fjallsjokull is an outlet glacier of Oraefajokull and is located in Vatnajokull National Park, not far from Skaftafell. At this glacier you'll b...

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Öræfajökull

  Oraefajokull is a glacier volcano in South-East Iceland. On its north-western side is Iceland's highest peak, Hvannadalshnjukur (2109 m). ...

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Hvannadalshnúkur

Hvannadalshnúkur or Hvannadalshnjúkur is the highest peak of Öræfajökull volcanic glacier in Vatnajökull National P...

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Skaftafell

Skaftafell is a nature preserve in Oraefasveit. It used to be a national park of its own but joined the larger Vatnajokull National Park in 2008. Ska...

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Skeiðarársandur

  Skeidararsandur is a vast sand plain, formed from alluvial deposits. It covers 1300 km², making it the largest sand in the world. There...

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Falljökull

  Falljokull ('Falling Glacier') is an outlet glacier from the Vatnajokull icecap.  Hiking on Falljokull means experiencing a dram...

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Virkisjökull

  Virkisjokull is a glacier situated near Skaftafell in Southeast Iceland. Virkisjokull is an outlet of Vatnajokull glacier and thus a part of...

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Þórbergssetur

Thorbergssetur, located in the remote region of Sudursveit in South-East Iceland, is a culture center and heritage museum dedicated to the history of ...

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Jökulsárlón

Jokulsarlon is a glacier lagoon in the south of Vatnajokull national park that is easily reached by the Ring Road. Covered in thick glacial ice unti...

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Hnappavellir

Hnappavellir is Iceland's most popular climbing area, as well as its largest. These are vertical cliffs situated near Skaftafell in Vatnajok...

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Lomagnupur

Mt. Lómagnúpur is, very arguably, one of Iceland’s most recognisable mountains, with its proud and dramatic cliff faces, flat, gar...

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Askja

  Askja volcano is a vast caldera in a remote part of the easterly central highlands of Iceland, located in the Dyngjufjoll mountains. These m...

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Nýidalur/Jökuldalur

Nyidalur (a.k.a. Jokuldalur) is a valley in the Icelandic highlands, south of the glacier Tungnafellsjokull and north of Hofsjokull glacier. It is a f...

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Dyngjufjöll

Dyngjufjoll is a volcanic mountain range in the lava field Odadahraun in the Icelandic highlands. The Askja caldera is situated in this mountain rang...

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Tours near Vatnajokull

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