Discover the Vatnajökull glacier in Iceland: tickets, prices, opening hours

Découvrir le glacier Vatnajökull en Islande

Planning a trip to Iceland? Take the opportunity to visit the Vatnajökull glacier, the country’s largest ice cap!

Vatnajökull: there’s no doubt about it, you’re in Iceland! Behind this Nordic-sounding name, which means « glacier of lakes », lies the country’s largest glacier, and one of the largest and most voluminous in Europe. Located in the national park of the same name, in the south-east of the country, the Vatnajökull glacier (8,300 km2) covers 8% of Iceland’s surface area, almost the size of Corsica, and reaches a height of 2,109.6 metres.

A visit to Iceland’s Vatnajökull glacier, an adventurer’s paradise, is a must on any trip to the land of ice. Are you planning to discover this mythical glacier? Find the answers to your questions in this short guide, concocted with passion!

History of the Vatnajökull glacier

Histoire du glacier Vatnajökull

Photo credit: Flickr – Eric Montfort

A glacier is a mass of ice formed by the accumulation of snow over time. When the Vikings colonized Iceland in the 9th century, the Vatnajökull glacier was much smaller than it is today.

Between the 13th and 19th centuries, Iceland entered the Little Ice Age, during which the Vatnajökull glacier grew in size. But global warming and multiple volcanic eruptions, which began in the second half of the 20th century, have since reversed the trend, causing this ice giant to lose part of its surface area. For beneath the Vatnajökull glacier lie active volcanoes, including Öræfajökull, the country’s largest volcano, Grímsvötn and Bárðarbunga.

In 1996, the major eruption of Grímsvötn caused the devastating flooding of the Skeidará river, following the powerful evacuation of a large quantity of water previously held under the ice. This phenomenon is known as jökulhlaup, or « glacier run » in Icelandic.

Since 2008, the Vatnajökull glacier has been an official part of the Vatnajökull Nature Park, which includes the former national parks of Skaftafell(excursions and hikes possible) and Jökulsárgljúfur. With a surface area of 15,000 km2, the park covers 15% of Iceland’s territory and is considered Europe’s largest.

What to see and do on the Vatnajökull glacier in Iceland?

Que voir et que faire au  glacier Vatnajökull en Islande ?

Photo credit: Flickr – David Phan

A visit to Iceland’s Vatnajökull glacier is an adventure within an adventure. As well as admiring the breathtaking panoramas from Route 1, you’ll be able to get up close and personal with this ice giant. Whether you’re a keen sportsman or simply a lover of the great outdoors, look forward to a unique experience in an extraordinary setting!

Numerous excursions, including hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, mountaineering and kayaking, are available on and around the Vatnajökull glacier and its glacial tongues (Skeiðarárjökull, Svínafellsjökull, Skaftafellsjökull).

Glacier hiking

Whatever your level, a hiking tour is the best way to access the glacier tongues and the most incredible landscapes of Iceland’s Vatnajökull glacier. Always accompanied by a guide, who usually provides the necessary equipment, the more motivated among you can even add ice climbing to the mix, for a spectacular view of Hvannadalshnukur, the country’s highest peak.

These excursions are available all year round, depending on the weather, and are open to all budgets.

Book your excursion and hike to the Vatnajökull glacier

Ice caves

In winter, from November to March, discover the intense blue ice caves at the heart of the Vatnajökull glacier! This natural phenomenon is the result of melting glaciers in summer and water passing through the ice. These caves change with the day and the weather, making them a unique experience.

A must-do with a guide!

Book your visit to the ice caves of the Vatnajökull glacier

Around the Vatnajökull glacier

In and around the park, which bears the same name as the Vatnajökull glacier, you’ll find other of the country’s top destinations:

  • Skaftafell

It’s one of the park’s gateways and a starting point for numerous hikes on the Vatnajökull glacier. And don’t miss the Svartifoss waterfall!

Book your hike in Skaftafell National Park

  • Skeidararsandur

This is a desert plain, formed by glacier meltwater, which lies between the Vatnajökull glacier and the Atlantic coast.

  • Jökulsárlón

Jökulsárlón, meaning « glacier lagoon », is Iceland’s largest proglacial lake, located south of the Vatnajökull glacier. It can be explored by boat or kayak between April and October, especially from Reykjavik.

Book your excursion to Jökulsárlón from Reykjavik

How do I get to the Vatnajökull glacier?

  • By car

To visit the Vatnajökull glacier in Iceland, you’ll need to rent a car during your stay to reach one of the park’s access points, or pre-book an excursion from Reykjavik or one of the nearby destinations (Vik, Höfn, Jökulsárlón…).

The ice cap is easily reached by car via Route 1, the main road that circumnavigates the country. Skaftafell, 325 kilometers from the capital and 140 kilometers from Vik, is one of the most popular entrances. There are other entrances to the north and west of the glacier, but these are not recommended unless you travel by 4×4 and know the area well.

  • By bus

Otherwise, Iceland has a good bus network linking the country’s main towns and tourist destinations (Vik, Jökulsárlón…). But you’ll be less flexible if you choose this option, as you’ll be dependent on bus timetables and stops.

Vatnajökull glacier opening times and prices

Book your excursion and hike to the Vatnajökull glacier

SCHEDULES

It’s possible to visit Iceland’s Vatnajökull glacier all year round, unless weather conditions don’t allow it.

However, not all excursions are possible every month of the year. Visits to the ice caves are only possible in winter, while boats on the Jökulsárlón lagoon, for example, only operate in summer.

Don’t hesitate to stay several days in the area to take the time to explore Vatnajökull National Park and its surroundings, and indulge in one of the many half-day excursions on offer.

RATES

Access to the Vatnajökull glacier is free of charge, but prices for the various excursions range from €50 to €150 per person, on average, depending on the activity chosen (hike, cave visit, boat trip…) and the number of people in the group. Please note that this price range does not include any transfers from Reykjavik.

GOOD TO KNOW

Before we let you set off to visit Iceland’s Vatnajökull glacier, here’s some additional information:

  • Good physical condition and a minimum age may be required for certain sporting or high-risk activities.
  • The weather can change very quickly in Iceland, affecting road conditions and the accessibility of certain tourist attractions. Make sure you get all the information you need before setting off, especially in winter!
  • To maximize your chances of seeing the northern lights on the Vatnajökull glacier, it’s best to visit Iceland between September and March.