Extreme Iceland offers Glacier Hikes with transfer from Reykjavik or self drive meet-on-location tours.
With 11% of its total land area covered by ice, Iceland is a glacier paradise. Here you can find the largest ice cap in Europe along with some amazingly picturesque outlet glaciers. Many of these glacier tongues are very easy to access, allowing Iceland to offer a great selection of glacier walking tours to its visitors.
After reading the following guide, you will understand how these glaciers were formed over thousands of years and why they are so unique. You will learn about the glaciers in Iceland and will receive a brief overview of the different glacier-related tours and activities available. This will help you pick the tour that best suits you and your extreme iceland travel plan.
Contrary to what you may believe, glaciers are not formed from water. They form from fresh snow. In places where the snow doesn't melt, such as on mountaintops or in the highlands, it begins to accumulate. This continues over decades and centuries until the massive amount of snow begins to compress under its own weight and transform itself into ice. This ice continues to grow and become denser, reaching hundreds or thousands of meters of thickness.
Powered by its own enormous weight, the edges of the ice start to move and slide down the mountain hills, like extremely slow, heavy, and cold rivers. This is how “outlet glaciers” or “glacier tongues” are formed.
This movement causes deep cracks and crevasses in the body of the glacier. While making them look even more extraordinary, these crevasses make the glaciers quite dangerous to navigate.
Snow and regular ice are white because they contain a lot of air bubbles. This air reflects the full spectrum of light, making us perceive it as white. When ice is strongly compressed, on the other hand, the air bubbles are forced out of it and do not interfere with the light traveling through the ice, allowing it to pass through undisturbed.
Ice absorbs much more light from the red spectrum than the blue spectrum. This means that as the light travels deeper into compressed ice, it loses more of the red spectrum along the way. This loss of red reflected light causes us to perceive blue.
As the surface of the glacier comes into contact with the air and begins to melt, it loses its blue color. The crevasses and cracks in the body of the glacier, however, are less exposed and do not melt as easily, making those areas appear blue. This effect is most impressive when it is seen in the glacial tongues and ice falls, as it gives the outlet glaciers a spectacular bluish hue.
Covering 8% of the total land area of Iceland, Vatnajökull is the largest ice cap in Europe. The Vatnajökull glacier has an area of 8,100 km2 (3,100 sq. mi) and ranges from approximately 400 to 1000 meters (1,300-3,300 feet) thick. Its 30 outlet glaciers dominate the landscape surrounding the southeast part of the Ring Road. As they are very easy to access and spectacular to see, most glacier walking tours operate on these glacier tongues.
The best Vatnajökull glacier tours will visit either the Svínafellsjökull or the Falljökull glacier tongues. Breiðamerkurjökull is famous for the glorious Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and its brilliant ice caves.
Svínafellsjökull, the “pig mountain glacier,” is approximately 1,000 years old and one of the bluest glaciers in Iceland. Surrounded by a marvelous landscape and decorated by its thrilling crevasses, Svínafellsjökull has earned the nickname of the “Hollywood glacier.” It has been a shooting location for many Hollywood movies and TV shows, such as Lara Croft, James Bond, Batman, Interstellar, and Game of Thrones. Svínafellsjökull is the most visited glacier hiking area in Iceland.
Falljökull, the “falling glacier,” is a massive icefall which drops down the mountains. With its incredible ice sculptures and hair-raising steep elevation, it is one of the most beloved locations for ice climbing tours. It can be found next to Svínafellsjökull. Both outlet glaciers make up part of the Skaftafell Nature Reserve, which in turn is part of the vast Vatnajökull National Park.
Breiðamerkurjökull is the ‘mother’ of the famous Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. It lies further east than the Skaftafell Nature Reserve. This is one of the most beloved and most visited glaciers in Iceland. Tourists come to see its ice tongue ending in a large lagoon. This is where huge icebergs break off the glacier and drift across the lagoon towards the ocean. It is not surprising that this is one of the most photographed places in Iceland!
In winter, Breiðamerkurjökull has even more to offer visitors as it becomes home to some beautiful ice caves. The most well-known is the stunningly blue Crystal Ice Cave. Spend a day in the area, go on a glacier hike, and explore the aquamarine blue ice cave. It could be one of the most amazing experiences of your life!
Langjökull, also known as “the long glacier,” is the closest glacier to Reykjavík. At 953 km2 (592 sq. miles) it is the second-largest glacier in Iceland. Langjökull almost completely snow-covered surface makes it the perfect snowmobiling playground, even in summer! Langjökull is also home to the largest man-made ice cave in the world, with natural ice caves also having been found on it.
The beautiful Mýrdalsjökull, in the “mire valley,” is the closest glacier to Reykjavík to offer glacier walking tours. Sólheimajökull, its most well-known outlet glacier, is also known as the “Sun’s Home Glacier.” Its 10-kilometer (6-mile) ice flow drops from a height of about 1,300 meters (4265 feet) down to 100 meters (328 feet) and has formed spectacular landscapes and rugged rock formations along its path.
In The Journey to the Center of the Earth, Jules Verne’s famous science fiction novel, the passage that leads into the center of the earth is located in the Snæfellsjökull glacier. Snæfellsjökull, the “snowfall glacier” is situated at the tip of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in west Iceland.
A volcano which lies under the glacier has erupted several times over Iceland's geological history. The icecap lies within a national park which features plenty of breathtaking attractions: dramatic sea cliffs, historic fishing villages, black beaches, and thrilling volcanic landscapes.
No classic glacier walking tours are offered on this glacier, but you can sign up for a guided hike that reaches the 1446-meter (4744-foot) high summit.
In 2010, Eyjafjallajökull became world-famous when the volcano erupted. This major event caused massive disruption to air travel over a week, blocking the airplanes in 20 countries and leaving 10 million travelers stranded.
The difficult-to-pronounce Eyjafjallajökull “island mountain glacier” is a small, 100-kilometer (62-mile) wide ice cap in south Iceland, west of the larger Myrdalsjokull glacier. This ice cap is not very easy to access and therefore it is not a common destination for glacier hikes. There are trekking tours that pass close by or helicopter tours offered that travel over this infamous volcano. The closest glacier that tourists can visit would have to be Sólheimajökull.
If you are looking for a stunning glacier walk, we recommend two of Iceland’s southern glaciers: Mýrdalsjökull and Vatnajökull. These have the most scenic glacier tongues which offer thrilling crevasses and mind-blowing landscapes. Walking in this surreal environment makes one feel tiny and fragile.
The shortest glacier tours are usually 3 to 3.5 hours long. There is an easy glacier walking tour, suitable for anyone over ten years of age. The tour takes place on either Falljokull or Svinafellsjokull, depending on the conditions and the season.
The Glacier Explorer Tour is somewhat longer. It lasts approximately 5.5 hours and does not allow anyone under the age of 14. On this tour, you will traverse the ever-evolving landscape of Falljökull.
The Glacier Xtreme Tour is 4 hours long. But this is not merely a glacier walk. On this tour, you will get the chance to climb an ice wall! A specially-trained glacier guide will teach you what to do and keep you safe on this adventure.
The Glacier Grand Slam Tour is a whole-day adventure that offers an easy glacier hike on either Falljokull or Svinafellsjokull (depending on the season and the conditions) as well as a scenic boat ride on the Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon.
This Glacier Tour offers a combination of a Super Jeep ride, a short glacier walk, and a short boat ride on a glacier lagoon.
The Full-Day Ice Cave Safari is a 9-hour adventure where a glacier walk is combined with the exploration of some thrilling ice caves.
Check out all of the possibilities at Meet On Location Glacier Tours!
Sólheimajökull glacier is an outlet glacier of Mýrdalsjokull. Only a 2.5-hour drive from Reykjavík, it is the closest glacier to the capital city to offer glacier hiking tours. Going on a glacier hike here would be a great addition to your south coast to-do list.
This classic 3-hour glacier walk is easy and manageable for anyone over the age of 10. If you prefer a somewhat longer tour, this 4-hour glacier hike is perfect for you. The age limit is slightly higher, only allow those over the age of 14. If you are interested, ice climbing combined with a glacier hike is also possible on Sólheimajökull.
There are day tours that include a glacier hike with pick-up and drop-off in Reykjavík. These glacier walks all take place on Sólheimajökull as it is the only glacier that is close enough to Reykjavík for a day trip.
The best choice would be to combine your tour of Iceland’s south coast with a glacier walk. This is very popular with visitors to Iceland.
The 12-hour Sensational Iceland Tour will take you to the most beautiful natural attractions on the south coast and allow you to hike on a glacier as well.
The 10-hour Glacier Hike and Waterfalls Tour will take you to Iceland’s most well-known waterfalls and for a walk on the Sólheimakökull glacier, of course.
If you are more into glacier hiking and ice climbing, this tour only focuses on the ice and nothing else.
In winter, you will get the chance to witness the most miraculous natural phenomenon in Iceland: the Northern Lights. The 16-hour Waterfalls, Glacier Hike, and Auroras Tour is a complete south coast tour which includes an aurora hunt.
Natural ice caves are formed when meltwater runs through a glacier, leaving behind caverns within the glacier.
In spring, when the temperatures start to rise and the sunlight is longer every day, the surface of the glacier begins to melt. This meltwater drains downwards through the crevasses and moulins, carving channels and conduits into the body of the ice. When winter comes many of these caverns freeze and create beautiful natural ice caves that are now safe to enter.
These unique natural formations are only accessible in winter as they collapse or are flooded during the summer. Every year at the beginning of winter brand new ice caves form in the body of the glacier, sometimes in the same location as the previous winter.
When you are in an ice cave you are literally standing inside a glacier. As glacial ice is formed by compression, these ice caves are vibrantly blue! When the light conditions are favorable you are sometimes able to see very deep into the crystal-clear body of the ice. This is why one of Iceland’s most beloved ice caves is called the “Crystal Ice Cave.”
Glaciers can be dangerous. As they rapidly glide forward, their surface cracks. Glaciers have different layers. The top layers are more fragile and breakable while the lower layers are more solid. This results in many constantly-changing deep crevasses and fissures. In a very short period of time on a glacier, crevasses can form, snow bridges can collapse, and rainfall can completely alter an area. To top it off, Iceland has hundreds of small earthquakes every day and many subglacial volcanoes.
Regardless how experienced a hiker you are, no one should attempt to venture out on a glacier without being accompanied by a local glacier guide who knows the terrain and is properly trained and equipped for these special circumstances.