7 things you didn’t know about Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is one of Iceland’s most iconic locations.
Located in the South East of Iceland, this enormous lake is fed by glacial meltwater from the largest Glacier in Europe. In the water, icebergs bob up and down, and seals hunt for their dinner. Above you, arctic birds squabble over fish and screech at tourists that step too close to their nests.
The icebergs floating in the water have broken off from Breiðarmerkurjökull glacier tongue, an outlet of Vatnajökull. This is the biggest ice cap in the whole of Europe. Each iceberg is unique, ranging in color from a glowing blue to the streaky black of volcanic ash.
No matter what their color, they are each uniquely beautiful. They drift silently to the ocean where they will wash up on the shores of the nearby Diamond Beach.
Many thousands of people visit the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon every year. They snap a few photos and jump back in their cars, without learning anything about this incredible lake.
If you want to make the most out of your trip to the Glacier lagoon, read on to discover all the secrets that the other visitors don’t know!
What to Know About Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon Before You Visit
1. It’s Only A Baby!
Something about the floating icebergs gives Jökulsárlón a timeless quality. Most visitors assume that it has been around for hundreds or thousands of years.
Actually, it’s just a baby.
The Glacier Lagoon was created by melted glacier water following a warming of global temperatures. The Icebergs floating inside the water may well be comprised of 1000-year-old glacier ice that has broken away from Breiðarmerkurjökull glacier tongue, but the lake itself has only been around since the 1930s!
In fact, this enormous lake was 4 times smaller as recently as the 1970s.
Climate change is causing the ice to melt faster than the fresh snow can compensate for in the winter months. The lagoon is growing constantly, and the glacier tongue’s retreat is clearly visible with each year that passes.
Not only does this make the lagoon unique every time you visit, but it also makes it an important place to show to our children.
Here they can learn first hand about the impacts of climate change, and be inspired to change the world for the better.
2. You Can Avoid The Crowds!
Due to its outstanding natural beauty, Iceland is a very popular destination for tourists.
Places like the Glacier Lagoon are particularly popular and can be very busy during the day time.
If you would prefer to visit at a quieter time, you should go earlier or later in the day. Sunset is a particularly lovely time to enjoy the lagoon. As the day comes to an end, most people have gone home and the sky is lit up with amazing oranges and pinks.
This is also the best time to snap some photos of the lagoon. The Icebergs look truly amazing under the setting sun – it’s impossible to take a bad photo of them!
3. There Is So Much More Than Meets The Eye
Everyone knows that Icebergs are mostly hidden beneath the surface.
But you might be surprised to know how deep the Glacier Lagoon really is. Although a fairly narrow lake, the lagoon is the deepest lake in the whole of Iceland.
In places, it is an incredible 250 meters deep!
Because of the rapidly melting ice cap, it is getting constantly bigger, whilst the glacier feeding it is getting smaller. The deep waters are certainly not empty.
Lots of life can be found beneath the surface!
The water is teeming with fish like herring, trout, salmon, krill, and capelin, which make a tasty snack for the seals and seabirds of the lagoon. You can find seals at the lagoon year-round, but they are particularly active in the winter when they come here to catch their food.
Bird lovers should keep their eyes peeled for the Arctic Tern and Great Skua, who will have no fear about letting you know when you’ve got too closer to their nest! Occasionally a whole shoal of fish gets swept into the lagoon from the ocean, and the birds enjoy a feeding frenzy.
Not only do Skuas eat fish, but they have also been known to make off with an unfortunate puffin!
It is technically possible to see puffins at the lagoon, but you are much more likely to see them at nearby cliffs and rock arches.
You can find the 10 best places to see Icelandic puffins in this article.
4. It Gets Pretty Cold!
It may seem obvious that the Glacier lagoon is going to be cold, but it can be easy to forget this on a warm summer’s day.
No matter what the weather is like in the rest of the country, the wind coming off the glacier and meltwater is very cold. Make sure that you bring warm layers, including a hat and gloves.
You should also bring a waterproof layer, particularly if you’re thinking about taking a boat trip when you arrive.
Insider Tip: You might not know that mobile phones run out of battery very quickly in the cold. If you are traveling Iceland in the winter, make sure you keep your phone well charged up.
Because of this, it’s also a good idea to have a backup paper map instead of relying on mobile GPS, or even a second phone kept switched off for emergencies. This can keep you safe if you break down in a blizzard!
For more safety tips for your visit to Iceland, check out this article!
5. It’s Right Next Door To The Diamond Beach!
After the glaciers have escaped from the lagoon, they float out to sea.
Here they are broken up by the churning waves and washed up on the black sands of the nearby Breiðamerkursandur beach, known as Diamond Beach. Vistors love to admire the glittering fragments of ice as they get left on the shore.
Many people miss the Diamond beach when they visit the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. Make sure you’re not one of them!
The small parking lot is directly opposite the parking lot for the Glacier lagoon. If you are driving there from Reykjavik, you will find it on the right side of the road.
Like the lagoon, it is very busy in the day time. If you prefer tranquility, then get there early or late to welcome the Icelandic sunrise or enjoy the peaceful vibes of sunset.
6. It Changes Every Day!
After a quick visit to the lagoon, you might think that you’ve seen everything there is to see.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Glaciers are known for their dynamic, changing nature. They are not stagnant pieces of ice. They are flowing, growing, and receding all the time.
They are formed as the combined weight of thousands of years of fresh snowfall causes an enormous sheet of ice to form, which then starts moving and flowing under its great weight.
The melting and reforming of ice sculptures mean you can never walk across the same Glacier or step into the same Ice Cave twice. The Glacier Lagoon is no exception to this.
New icebergs are constantly being created and floating across the lagoon. Each of them is unique in size, shape, and color. From unearthly blue to crisp white, to the stripy black of volcanic ash.
Every day new icebergs are created and destroyed, so every time you visit the lagoon it will be different.
If you want to learn more about Glacier Walking and Ice Caving in Iceland, check out this article!
7. There is A Secret Glacier Lagoon!
Just 15 minutes away from Jökulsárlón, you will find a much more peaceful Fjallsarlon Iceberg Lagoon. This is normally overlooked by tourists, earning it the nickname of ‘secret ice lagoon.’
(This shouldn’t be confused with the ‘Secret Lagoon’, which is a geothermal swimming pool near the Golden Circle. )
As time goes on, Fjallsarlon Iceberg Lagoon is getting more well known. It is still much quieter and more peaceful than Jökulsárlón.
If you are coming from the capital, you would reach the Fjallsarlon Iceberg Lagoon approximately 10km before coming to Jökulsárlón. You will find it via a turn off on your left-hand side. However, if you are coming from the East, it would be the other way around.
The waters here are somewhat less impressive.
At Jökulsárlón, a mixture of fresh and saltwater creates a deep, gorgeous blue. At the secret lagoon, the waters are not quite so clear. Mixing with the earth, they are a murky brown color rather than the vibrant blue of Jökulsárlón.
However the floating icebergs are just as impressive, and you can take a small boat right up to the glacier’s edge.
With time it’s sure to get much busier. But for now, it has plenty of parking and it is quiet.
As it gets more popular, it will still relieve some of the busyness at the more famous Glacier Lagoon.
Insider Tip: It is also possible to take a boat trip at the secret ice lagoon, but they run less often. You can find out more information about this here.
How do you get to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon?
Armed with your knowledge, it’s time to set off for the Glacier Lagoon.
The Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is located in the South East of Iceland, right by the Ring Road.
The best way to get there is by hiring a rental car. Although it is possible to join a bus tour or get a public bus, we highly recommend taking a self-drive tour.
This way you are free to travel independently and get off the beaten track. You can still visit all the things that you would see on a guided tour, but you can do it at your own pace.
It is 370 kilometers (230 miles) East from the capital city of Reykjavik. You should leave a minimum of 5 hours to drive there from the capital, but in Winter you may well need longer.
Although it’s a destination in its own right, it’s a good idea to combine a visit to the Glacier Lagoon with other attractions in the area. Skaftafell is a particularly good place to visit on the way.
Parking is free, by the way, so it’s a good idea to drop back and admire the lagoon even if you’re working on a tiny budget.
Where to stay at the Glacier Lagoon
The Glacier Lagoon is quite a distance from the capital, so it makes sense to stay in the area for a few days. Alternatively you could visit it as part of an epic Icelandic Road Trip on Route 1.
Either way, you’re going to need to find somewhere to stay!
The nearest places to stay at the Glacier Lagoon are about10km away.
They get booked up far in advance, so don’t leave it too late to make a reservation. If your visit to Iceland is more spontaneous, your best bet is to try and get a room in the town of Hofn, which is a 1-hour drive from the lagoon.
Here are some specific recommendations to help you plan where to stay at the glacial lagoon.
The Closest Options (10km away)
They are both highly rated, but offer very different experiences.
At Reynivellir, you will find clean, charming little cabins. It is cheaper to stay here than at the hotel, but some facilities like bathrooms and common areas are shared. The Hali Country Hotel offers a more luxurious hotel experience, with private bathrooms.
Whichever you choose, they have incredible views of the ocean and highly rated onsite restaurants.
The Next Best Thing (20-30km away)
If those hotels are booked up, you can try some of the hotels slightly further away.
About 20km to the East of the Lagoon you will find Guesthouse Kálfafellsstadur and Vagnsstadir Hostel. Both are very affordable and highly rated. The area is very peaceful, and guests report seeing the Northern Lights right from the front step.
Otherwise, you can choose accommodation about 20km to the West of the lagoon.
If you’re looking for luxury, you will want to head to Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon. For the adventurous amongst you, consider staying at the nearby Adventure Hotel Hof, where you can organize some exhilarating excursions right from the front desk.
Hotels in Hofn (40- 60km away)
There are also plenty of places for you to stay in Hofn.
It may be a little further away, but it has a much wider range of hotels, hostels, and guesthouses. Iceland has so many visitors every year, so you may have to consider booking a hotel a bit further away if you haven’t had much time to plan in advance.
Some of the top-rated accommodation in Hofn includes:
- The Milk Factory – a simple but very highly rated hotel located in an old Milk Factory. It has amazing views of a glacier and is 4km from Hofn town center.
- Díma Studio Apartments – If you’re looking for a home from home, you can check out these self-catering, high-quality apartments.
- Hofn Hostel – For an affordable place overlooking the harbor, check out this environmentally friendly hostel
Camping or campervanning at the Glacier Lagoon
In the past, it was possible to just hire a campervan and park for the night in the Glacier Lagoon parking lot. However, this is now illegal because there were too many people doing it, and the roads and parking lots of Iceland were congested.
Litter was left behind and a lot of damage was done to the natural environment. As a result, there are now really strict regulations around wild camping in Iceland.
It is occasionally possible to wild camp at a high altitude to access some of the most challenging hiking trails, for example at Skaftafell. But if you are staying in a campervan in Iceland, you must book into a campsite.
The closest campsite to the Glacier Lagoon is called Svinafell.
It is 50km away from the Glacier Lagoon Parking Lot and is open between May and September. Toilets and showers are available, but there is no electrical hook up available for camping vehicles.
What else can I do when visiting the Glacier Lagoon?
Firstly, you’re going to want some time just soaking up the beautiful views.
You may want to bring a picnic if the weather is mild, and enjoy it beside the lake.
Once you are there you can also go on an Ice Caving Tour, Glacier Walking Adventure, Amphibian Boat Ride or Zodiac Boat Trip . The boat tours take place right at the lake, whereas the Ice Caving and Glacier walking tours just use the location as a convenient meetup point.
For some of these trips, pre-booking is necessary. There could also be some age restrictions for young children depending on the type of activity. It’s best to double-check this with whichever tour company you are booking an activity with. You can find out more information about one of the local tour providers here.
Afterward, you can have a simple hot meal at the cafe or take a stroll down to see the glittering ice on the black sand of Diamond Beach.
If you’d like some more inspiration for your trip to the South of Iceland, we have loads of ideas of things to do broken down by Icelandic region. You can check it out in this article.
When is the best time to visit the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon?
Because it is right by the Ring Road, the roads to the Glacier Lagoon are kept clear throughout the winter.
Thanks to this, you can book a self-drive tour all year round.
However, driving in Iceland is more challenging in the wintertime, so you should only proceed with renting a car if you feel comfortable driving in windy and snowy conditions.
If you visit in the summertime, you can enjoy a boat excursion on the lake. Amphibian boat tours take place between July and August, and Zodiac tours operate from June until the end of September.
(If you’re wondering what the difference is, Amphibian boats have wheels and can move over both land and water. Zodiac boats are smaller and can usually get even closer to the icebergs.)
If you don’t mind the driving conditions, the winter can be just as lovely at the glacial lagoon. This is the time when you will find most seals, who flock to the lake to hunt for fish. You will also have the chance to see the Northern Lights (or Aurora Borealis) as they light up the sky above the Icebergs – what could be better?
You need to wear lots of warm and waterproof clothes in the wintertime and remember that the daylight hours are extremely short. Even in Summer, the cold air coming off the Icebergs makes a colder microclimate at the lagoon. Make sure you bring a coat, hat, and gloves to keep warm during your visit.
If you prefer to escape other tourists, then get there for sunrise or sunset when there will be fewer people around.
Otherwise, head to the Secret Ice Lagoon, which we told you about earlier.
Can you see the Northern Lights at the Glacier Lagoon?
Yes! You can absolutely see the Northern Lights at the Glacier Lagoon.
You are more likely to see them on a clear night in the wintertime. In the summer, the daylight hours are extremely long, and the sun never completely sets.
But in winter, the tables are turned. The long hours of darkness can seem gloomy, but the amazing Northern Lights make the darkness worth it.
Whilst we can’t guarantee an appearance of the Northern Lights, you have a great chance of seeing them during a winter visit to Jökulsárlón. The colorful lights in the sky are just as unearthly as the beautiful Ice Sculptures on the water.
Between September and April, you have a chance of seeing the Northern Lights. Of course, your chances are slimmer at the beginning and end of this period.
Can I swim in the Lagoon?
Millions of people have watched the music video of Justin Bieber swimming in the Glacier Lagoon. Some of them have even decided to try taking a dip themselves, wading into the sub-zero temperatures to get the perfect selfie.
As tempting as it might be to take your clothes off and copy a pop star, you should not attempt to swim in the lagoon.
The temperature can be as cold as -3 degrees centigrade (26 degrees fareheit), which is cold enough to kill you. The Icebergs can also crumble or flip over, trapping you under the cold water.
Did we mention the underwater currents that can sweep you out to sea?
If you want to go to a swim, you are much better off visiting one of Iceland’s natural hot springs. You can still get all the best views of glaciers, mountains, and the open sky. As a bonus, you won’t get hypothermia!
If that sounds more appealing, check out our guide of the 10 best hot springs to visit in Iceland. Some of them are completely free!
What is the future of Iceland’s Glaciers?
As we mentioned earlier, the Glacier Lagoon was created by the melting of glacial ice in the 1930s.
There are still over 400 glaciers in Iceland, some of them up to 1000 meters thick in places! But they are indeed melting. Although more snow is added to the glaciers every winter, the rate of ice loss is now higher than the rate of growth.
This has already led to the loss of one glacier.
In 2019, the first Icelandic Glacier lost its glacier status. Due to rapid melting, the remaining ice of the Ok-jökull glacier no longer moves under its own weight. It is therefore no longer considered a glacier.
Following the announcement that Ok-jökull had been lost, 100 people walked up to the spot where it had once stood. A bronze plaque now marks the spot that reads:
‘In the next 200 years, all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it.’
This plaque is very moving, and can also be visited by people that want to raise awareness about the climate crisis.
See You Soon!
We hope you have enjoyed this guide to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.
This is an unmissable stop on your visit to Iceland, and we hope you will enjoy it all the more for having some background knowledge before you arrive.
If you’re planning a trip to Iceland soon, then make sure you check out the rest of our articles. We have a wealth of resources and videos to help you plan the ultimate Icelandic adventure.
Plus, we offer some unforgettable self-drive tours so you can enjoy all the independence, without any of the hassle!
We look forward to welcoming you to the land of fire and ice.