There is a popular saying that goes, “Iceland’s really green and Greenland’s really ice.” While there might be a grain of truth in that, that doesn’t mean that Iceland doesn’t live up to its name. In fact, more than 10% of the country is covered by glaciers that provide the perfect opportunity to learn about these amazing ancient giants and their effect on Iceland’s (and the world’s) landscape and nature. There are various tours and exhibits that will take you up close and personal with the glacier but it is important to note that no one should attempt to hike a glacier without a trained guide. Here are some of the most fascinating glaciers in Iceland.
Vatnajökull is the largest glacier in Iceland, and all of Europe as well. With an area of 8100 sq. km this majestic ice cap covers around 8% of the country. Vatnajökull is also the home of Iceland‘s highest peak, Hvannadalshnjúkur and has around 30 outlet glaciers flowing from it. One of those outlet glaciers, Breiðarmerkurjökull, is where the magical glacial lagoon Jökulsárlón is formed.
Vatnajökull also has several volcanoes under its ice cap, some dormant and some active, and subglacial eruptions cause the ice to melt which forms incredible ice caves. The glacier and its outlets has been used as a shooting location for many films and TV shows including James Bond and Game of Thrones.
At 953 sq. km, Langjökull is the second largest ice cap in Iceland. The name means “long glacier” and it’s about 50 km long and 15-20 km wide. Despite being so large, not many rivers flow from Langjökull. However, studies show that a large quantity of water flows in subterranean streams to Lake Þingvallavatn, one of the coldest lakes in Iceland. Langjökull has two or more volcanic systems, the best known of which is the Hveravellir area to the east of the glacier. Langjökull’s proximity to Reykjavík makes it a popular spot for ice hiking and snowmobiling tours.
The third biggest glacier in Iceland and the one with the largest active volcano. It’s situated in the highlands, between Vatnajökull and Langjökull. Hofsjökull is the source of several rivers, including the longest river in Iceland, Þjórsá. In 2015, Hofsjökull astonished scientists by actually growing by 1 m for the first time in twenty years, due to an unusually snow-heavy winter. Unfortunately this trend has not continued and Hofsjökull is back to shrinking around 1 m per year.
This 700,000 years old dormant stratovolcano is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Iceland. Located on the beautiful Snæfellsnes Peninsula, on clear days the glacier’s distinctive peak can be seen from Reykjavík. The glacier is thought to have mystical qualities and many visitors to Snæfellsnes talk about the special energy the area has. There are many folk tales about the glacier and it has also been the inspiration to author’s and poets throughout the years. It is the setting for Jules Verne’s classic novel The Journey to the Center of the Earth and in 1993 people believed that aliens were planning to land on the glacier. They never did show up, but maybe they just got lost on the way.
A name everyone has heard but no one can pronounce. Eyjafjallajökull made headlines in 2010 when the volcano under it started erupting. Even though the glacier is now the most famous one in Iceland, it is one of the smallest ice caps in the country, covering around 100 sq. km. The stratovolcano itself, which is completely covered by the ice cap, was once part of Iceland’s coastline, but over more than a thousand years the sea has retreated some 5 km and the former coastline now contains many waterfalls, the best known of which is Skógafoss.
Myrdalsjokull is to the north of Vik i Myrdal and to the east of the smaller ice cap Eyjafjallajokull. The popular Fimmvorduhals hiking trail lies between the two glaciers. The ice cap is the fourth largest on the island covering nearly 600 sq. km. Its highest peak reaches around 1500 meters and offers adventure opportunities like ice caving, ice climbing, glacier walking and snowmobiling. Travellers on the glacier have to be extremely careful about crevasses and inexperienced travellers should not go there alone. Weather conditions shift very rapidly and high winds and snowstorms can appear in a flash all year round.
An outlet glacier from Mýrdalsjökull, Sólheimajökull is one of the easiest glacial tongues to reach. This makes it a favorite spot for glacial hikes and snowmobiling. The glacier is also the perfect place to learn about the geology of glaciers as it is retreating rapidly revealing the evidence of past eruptions and the effects of global warming on the world’s ice caps.