Explore glaciers on our day and multi-day tours from Reykjavik. Whether it's a day tour of glacier hiking on Sólheimajokull Glacier or a multi-day tour to Skaftafell wilderness area, Vatnajokull glacier and Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon with stops at the South Coast pearls of Iceland, we have plenty of adventures to choose from all year round!
When you arrive in Reykjavik, you will be amazed by the colorful downtown houses and the spirited urban atmosphere. As the northernmost capital of the world and the largest city in Iceland, Reykjavik is located in the southwest of the island and on the southern shore of Faxa Bay. There are 126,041 inhabitants living here as of January 2018. Not only is this place a glorious home for many amicable Icelanders, it’s also the primary choice of stay for most international visitors.
The vibrant capital is a huge, stylish canvas that’s pinpointed by countless, big and small, attractions and sceneries. When you wander the streets and alleys in Reykjavik, you will find some beautiful scenes and unique traces every step of the way. And this is just a wonderful start for your journey in Iceland. After some awesome time in Reykjavik, it’s time for you to find more inspiration for your next adventure.
There is so much to see and so much to do in Iceland. The vast subarctic wilderness is amazing, but it can be overwhelming for the first-time-to-Iceland travelers. The practical thing to do is to think about what Iceland is famous for when you plan your trip.
Iceland is famous for glaciers. In Iceland, about 11% of the land area is covered by glaciers. There are 269 named glaciers that almost include all types: ice caps (a mass of ice that covers less than 50,000 sq-km of land area), outlet glaciers (also named glacier tongue), mountain glaciers (alpine glaciers), cirque glaciers, and ice streams. Nothing showcases glacier better than Iceland. As one of the main attractions, glaciers are essential to Iceland tourism.
Most of the glacier tours are operated in South Iceland. Popular spots for glacier hiking, ice climbing, and ice caving tours are on Myrdalsjokull glacier, Solheimajokull glacier tongue, and Vatnajokull National Park.
The Vatnajokull glacier is the most voluminous ice-cap in Iceland and in Europe. The name in Icelandic literally means “water glacier” in English. Sitting in the southeast of Iceland, its ice cap covers an area of 8,300 sq-km and owns more than 30 miraculous glacier tongues. The glacier tongues (also called outlet glaciers) are the glaciers that flow out of their ice caps. They remain constrained in the valley due to the complex shapes of the mountain landscapes. The major glacier tongues from Vatnajokull include Dyngjujokull and Bruarjokull in the north; Breidamerkurjokull and Skeidararjokull in the south; Sidujokull and Tungnaarjokull in the west; and then, Flaajokull and Skalafellsjokull in the east.
On the south point of Vatnajokull, the highest peak Hvannadalshnukur is rising 2110 meters (6,920 feet) above sea level. The highest point is located on the northwestern rim of the Oraefajokull summit crater. Oraefajokull is the largest active volcano in Iceland. Its eruption in 1362 was so catastrophic that it wiped out all the previously established farmland and left the area uninhabitable for decades. This was one of the numerous powerful volcanic activities that formed and shaped the Icelandic magnificent, extraterrestrial landscapes over the course of time.
The volcanic activities in Vatnajokull are under constant surveillance since they were pretty erratic in the past centuries. Many seismologists believe that several predicted eruptions are now overdue. This could mean there will be some potentially powerful volcanic activities in the next 50 years if the academics are correct about their predictions.
The area of Vatnajokull is now being protected as Vatnajokull National Park. It’s one of the largest national parks in Europe after years of development. Many adventurous activities are operated in this area. The most popular glacier experiences on the outlet glaciers of Vatnajokull are glacier hiking and ice caving.
Each summer, the fascinating ice caves start to form inside the glaciers. They will be fully formed in winter. That’s when you can follow a professional guide to enter an crystal ice cave in the Vatnajokull area. You will see the enchanting colors and the striking textures. Meanwhile, on the surface of the glacier tongues, the rugged icescapes also intrigue many outdoor lovers and adventure-seekers to come here for glacier hiking and the epic landscapes.
In the same area, the brilliant Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon is a fantastic spot for boat tours and kayaking in the summertime. There are usually three types of boat tours: amphibian boat tour, Zodiac boat tour, and kayaking. All of them allow you the wonderful opportunities to be close to the floating ancient icebergs in the lake. You may also see some wildlife such as seabirds and seals relaxing on their favorite spots. The amphibian boat tour takes about 40 minutes, and you get to hold a piece of thousand-year-old ice and taste it. The Zodiac boat tour takes about one hour from meeting the guides for safety instruction and equipment. Cruising in the peaceful lake to see and hear the vivid wildlife while you are in the middle of the floating icebergs - it’ll be unforgettable!
The incredible Diamond Beach is close by. It’s a heavenly place for photographers and nature lovers. In the summertime, rich wildlife nest in this area making the place a lively natural wonder. When you are on a boat tour cruising in the middle of the icebergs, it’s possible to see some seals relaxing on the ice or on the shore if you are lucky!
Because Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon is located on the east point of the South Coast, many tours that go there from Reykjavik will pass the southern rim where numerous mind-blowing attractions are located. It’s impossible not to make multiple stops before you reach Jokulsarlon. If you plan to have a South Iceland - Reykjavik round trip in one day, you can go with Vatnajokull Voyager. It covers all the highlights in the south and offers free pickups from Reykjavik.
With the nation’s highest peak, the largest active volcano, the crown jewel Jokulsarlon, and the highlights along the South Coast, a journey to Vatnajokull is, without a doubt, a must-have experience. It’s approximately 319 kilometers from Reykjavik to Vatnajokull, and that’s a four-hour drive via Ring Road.
As the fourth largest ice cap in Iceland, Myrdalsjokull glacier is located in the south, and it approximately covers an area of 600 sq-km ( 232 sq-mi). The glacier is visible from Ring Road when you travel to South Coast from Reykjavik. The highest peak is 1,493 meters (4,898 ft) above sea level. The notoriously powerful volcano Katla lies beneath the glacier.
In 2010, the global media extensively reported the enormous eruption from Eyjafjallajokull for its disruptive power. Iceland immediately gained international fame in the spotlight. But, Eyjafjallajokull is not the only powerful volcano in Iceland. Katla, nicknamed the “monster volcano,” is even more powerful. It’s one of the most active volcanoes in Iceland and it erupted once every 95 years. In 1823, its eruption lasted for 28 days, which is considered a short Katla eruption. The longest eruption so far happened in 1755 in which Katla flared up for 120 days. The last major eruption happened in October 1918. The forceful eruption lasted for 24 days and generated a huge amount of mud flood deposits that extended the southern coast by 5 kilometers.
Myrdalsjokull area is susceptible to glacier floods. In 2011, the glacier flood created by the “monster volcano” Katla destroyed the bridge over Mulakvisi river. In Icelandic, glacier flood or glacier outburst flood is called “jokulhlaup.” This Icelandic word has been adopted by glaciological terminology in many languages because it’s a typical natural phenomenon in Iceland.
Although some of the eruptions had catastrophic consequences, the violence underneath doesn’t tell the whole story about the glaciers. Myrdalsjokull is peaceful most of the time. The popular walking route, Fimmvorduhals Pass, lies between Eyjafjallajokull and Myrdalsjokull, two of the most influential glaciers. While there is no imminent eruption, the glacier tours will continue to operate on Myrdalsjokull. For wonder-seekers, the most amazing thing about Myrdalsjokull glacier is you can visit the natural ice cave by Katla volcano all year round. When you stand in front of the glacier ice cave opening, you will be mesmerized by its colors, layers, and the glistening ice texture. There are tours to the stunning site offering free pickups from Reykjavik and Vik.
Solheimajokull glacier is one of the glacier tongues on Myrdalsjokull. The rugged glacier is filled with impressive ice crevasses. It’s easily accessible for visitors via Ring Road. Glacier hiking on Solheimajokull is wildly popular. It’s relatively easy to do, and there will be abundant time for you to appreciate the mind-blowing icescapes and the stunning glacier views. It’s an ideal option if you plan to join a glacier hike tour from Reykjavik.
Keep in mind that on the glacier the weather is windier than on the ground. In order to have a nice experience during glacier hiking, you need to dress properly for the occasion. And it’s not recommended that you hike on the glacier without a professional guide. Therefore it’s best to go with a group on a guided tour.
Ice climbing on Solheimajokull is also popular. This fun adventure is not as difficult as it sounds. It’s usually a combination of glacier hiking and ice climbing activities for a small group of participants. During the thrilling actions, you can interact with the blue glacier ice closely. The professional guide usually has the capacity of attending to everyone’s need for help on the tour.
The Golden Circle refers to the three fabulous attractions within 100 kilometers from Reykjavik: Thingvellir National Park, Geysir, and Gullfoss waterfall. The three equally stunning sights are on top of every visitor’s list of must-sees in Iceland.
Thingvellir National Park is where nature and culture harmonically unite into one. It stands on the point where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates diverge. The rift valley is called the Mid Atlantic Ridge. It passes through Iceland from North to South, and Iceland is the only country in the world where you can see the rift valley. More excitingly, Thingvellir hosts the most visible part and you can literally walk between the two continents, or even go for a snorkeling or diving in the nearby Silfra Fissure. This geologically dramatic wonder is too good to miss.
Thingvellir was also the establishing place for the world’s oldest parliament. In the wintertime, when snow covers the entire land, Thingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland, will turn into a mirror doubling the area and making the surroundings an unbelievably beautiful wonderland.
60 kilometers to the east, you will find geysers in one of the most spectacular geothermal areas in Iceland. Situated in the Haukadalur Valley, the geothermal area is home to a range of sceneries including hot springs, mud pots, fumaroles, and geysers. Among these geothermal wonders, the unpredictable Great Geysir and the active Strokkur are the two famous attractions.
You will stand in the middle of the colorful land, where the hills are painted by the minerals that once were underneath the ground. Due to the geothermal activities in the area, the mineral elements later were brought to the surface giving the land a unique signature.
The Great Geysir is a legend of its kind. It’s named after the Old Norse verb “to gush” - geysa - and the word was eventually evolved to become the term “geyser” referring to this type of geothermal phenomenon.
The Great Geysir is not as active as before due to the change of the tectonic activities in this area. But when it does erupt, the gush can reach up to 70 meters (229 feet) in height. The record-high eruption happened in 1840. It said that at that time, the hot spring hurled up about 170 meters (557 feet) in the air; and in 2000, it managed to reach a height of 122 meters (400 feet).
The Strokkur geyser is very active. It erupts every four to ten minutes, and the water can reach up to 20 meters (65 feet) in height. It said that Strokkur has gone up to 40 meters (131 feet) in history.
The geologists believe Strokkur and Great Geysir were formed around the same time. In the recorded Icelandic geology, Strokkur wasn’t even mentioned because the Great Geysir always outperformed its same-aged neighbour. Until 1789, an earthquake unblocked the conduit, Strokkur finally became active and started to gain attention.
Because the Great Geysir is unpredictable most of the time, many visitors spend more time to see Strokkur. It’s only a short wait to see the expected water eruption in the middle of the vast geothermal land. It’s sensational when you see the peaceful turquoise water, first slowly then suddenly, hurls up in the air.
The third stop, also the most powerful attraction in the Golden Circle, is Gullfoss Waterfall. Gullfoss In Icelandic literally means “golden waterfall” in English.
The voluminous flow comes from Hvita, a river originated from the Langjokull glacier. The iconic waterfall has a drop in two stages. The cascade first runs 11 meters (36 feet) down to a platform where the power of the flow gets stronger before it plummets 21 meters (69 feet) down to the rugged canyon. The canyon is about 70 meters (230 feet) in depth. The immerse rumbling sounds created by the giant flow is like a natural symphony that leaves the visitors standing in awe.
From the tranquil Thingvellir National Park to the steaming geothermal area, then finally to Gullfoss, the Golden Circle has the best to offer and is only within the 100-kilometer radius of Reykjavik. It’s possible to see all the attractions on a one day Golden Circle - Reykjavik round trip. You can also join the popular three-day trip that takes you to the Golden Circle and the mesmerizing South Coast.
We have mentioned that the glaciers in Iceland are mostly located in the south. When you head south, it’s best to plan the itinerary on a multi-day schedule. You can mix the fascinating sightseeing activities with some exciting glacier adventures.
The South Coast has too much to see, and many stunning waterfalls and black sand beaches are located along the South Coast. The southern rim stretches from Reykjavik to Vik, but a greater area can cover the mighty Vatnajokull National Park where Jokulsarlon is located. When you reach Selfoss, where the southern lowland begins, it’s about 322 kilometers via Ring Road to Jokulsarlon.
The main attractions include the fabulous Seljalandsfoss waterfall, the amazing Skogafoss waterfall, and Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach.
Seljalandsfoss waterfall is located 121 kilometers (75 mile) east to Reykjavik. Originated underneath Eyjafjallajokull glacier, Seljalandsa river is running to the west on a flat highland until it reaches the 60-meter (197 feet) high cliff. The cascade drops dramatically in the pond at the bottom. There is a cave on the cliff where visitors can go inside. It provides a refreshing perspective to see and interact with the waterfall. You will be able to place your senses in the misty place, whereas, in summer, the delightful Icelandic faunae welcome the season with a mix of pleasant smells; in winter, the surroundings transform into a land of silence with dreamy colors.
Skogafoss waterfall is usually the next stop. As one of the biggest waterfalls in Iceland, the beautiful Skogafoss has an astonishing width of 25 meters (82 feet) and a drop of 60 meters in height. Standing at the foot of the hill, the grand cascade dwarfs the surrounding area by the wide and dynamic stream. In a sunny day, the amount of the spray produced by the falling water often creates a single or even a double rainbow. The multicolored arc makes Skogafoss a romantic place attracting many people to come with their loved ones.
In addition to these two famous waterfalls, there are many other stunning waterfalls in Iceland's South Coast that visitors adore. If you are planning to hunt waterfalls, make sure to add some glacier activities to enrich your journey.
Along the beautiful South Coast, there are many stunning places with excellent sightseeing value and great geological significance. Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach is the perfect example.
As one of the most famous black sand beaches in the world, Reynisfjara stands out for many unique geological features. Wandering on its black sands, the first thing you will notice is the impressive basalt columns forming a geometrical pattern on the side of the hill. You will find a huge cave in Mt. Reynisfjall. The cave’s ceiling was formed by the intersections of the basalt columns. Their polished surfaces glitter in a shimmering silver color when you look at it from a certain angle. In the ocean, the sea stacks stand solitarily like some giant sculptures carved by nature. The ancient volcanic activities unwittingly created so many extraordinary scenes where many visitors find themselves mesmerized. The nearby town Vik i Myrdal is also a must-visit attraction in the south.
There are many South Coast tours from Reykjavik that offer free pickup and drop-off services. One of the best features a guided multi-day tour has is that the participants can learn a great deal about the Icelandic nature and culture from a professional, knowledgeable tour guide.
When you are on the west rim of the Capital Region, by looking toward northwest you can see a beautifully shaped, ice-capped mountain on a day of good visibility. That’s Snaefellsjokull glacier, one of the most beloved glaciers by the Icelandic people. It’s located in the picturesque Snaefellsnes Peninsula, where the highlights include a wide range of landscapes from the light sand beach near Búðir, the vibrant harbor town Stykkisholmur, the gorgeous composition of Kirkjufell and Kirkjufoss, to the supreme Snaefellsjokull glacier.
It’s an approximately 203-kilometer (126 mile) drive from Reykjavik to the west tip of the Peninsula, and it’s about 207 kilometers (129 mile) to circle the Peninsula when the starting and end point is Gerduberg Cliffs. The 500-meter wide Gerduberg Cliff is a massive wall of basalt columnar jointing reaching up to 14 meters above the ground, and the maximum width of the column forms is 1.5 meters.
This spectacular attraction is also one of the recommended highlights when you plan to travel to the south and west part. If you only have a few days in Iceland, think about the following plans: it takes about four days to cover the highlights in South Coast including Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon and the Snaefellsnes Peninsula; you can add one more day when you want to see the magnificent Golden Circle.
As the capital city of the Nordic island, Reykjavik is close to a wide range of sceneries. Situated in the southwest corner of Iceland, its location never limits your exploration. It’s actually where your adventure starts. Even if you only have two days, you can still experience the photogenic South Coast from Reykjavik. The trip will take you all the way to Jokulsarlon. You will stay one night in the countryside. In the wintertime, you will have a better chance to see the Northern Lights since it’s far away from the city lights.
Staying in Reykjavik is a wonderful plan. Many hotels and hostels are located near downtown Reykjavik. You can enjoy the convenience of a cozy, functional capital, while you have the option of joining a tour to the incredible Icelandic wilderness that offers free pickups in Reykjavik. You can check out the list of highlight attractions below on the west and south part of Iceland.
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