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Ice Caves & Tunnels in Iceland

Scheduled tours to glacier ice caves and ice tunnels

Sometimes called Crystal Caves, the ice caves in Icelandic glaciers are a truly mesmerizing wonder of nature. We offer ice caving tours at two glaciers in Iceland: Vatnajokull in South East Iceland, and Langjokull in South West Iceland.

Popular Ice Caving Day Tours

Multi-Day Tours that Include Ice Caving

Great value multi-day packages on the South Coast with accommodation included.

Combo packages that include Ice Caving

Combo day tours or combo multi-day packages. Make every day count during your stay in Iceland and check out these combos.
Note that the multi-day combo packages often have accommodation included, but not for the night(s) in Reykjavik in-between tours.

Guide to the Ice Caves and Ice Caving Tours in Iceland

Entering an ice cave feels like leaving reality behind and entering a fairy tale. Sparkling like a diamond, cyan blue, and crystal clear, ice caves have a surreal atmosphere that cannot be experienced anywhere else in the world, only deep inside the body of a glacier.

Eleven percent of Iceland’s total land area is covered by glaciers. This allows you the greatest selection of these enthralling natural wonders. With crystal blue caves, black ice caves, ice walls that are striped with layers of volcanic ash, man-made ice tunnels, and even indoor ice caves, Iceland has you covered!

Let us guide you around Iceland’s most amazing ice caves! Learn how they are formed, when is the best season to visit, and where the most interesting ice caves in Iceland are. We will also give you some photography, clothing, and safety tips so that you can have the best possible experience. Read on for our ultimate guide to Icelandic ice caves!

What is an ice cave and how is it formed?

There are two types of ice caves which exist: regular and glacial. Regular ice caves are natural rock caves coated with slicks of frozen water. The ice in these caves is not usually clear but rather a cloudy, milky white. These caves usually feature a lot of icicles and frozen waterfalls. While this type of ice cave is not common in Iceland, there are some impressive lava tunnels that grow giant, thrilling icicles during winter.

The astonishing blue glacial ice caves are the ones that Iceland is so famous for. These phenomena are only found deep inside of glaciers. They formed by the power of meltwater as it travels through the crevasse channels of a glacier. Both air temperature and geothermal activity can cause significant glacial melting. As the meltwater flows through the body of ice, it cuts new paths and carves out huge tunnels and holes deep inside the glacier. When the cold season comes, the caves that the water left behind freeze completely so that they become stable and safe to visit.

A mixture of glacial ice and water ice in the Langjökull ice cave

A mixture of glacial ice and water ice in the Langjökull ice cave

When is the best time to visit an ice cave in Iceland?

The ultimate ice cave season in Iceland is between November and March. Most of the natural glacial ice caves are short-lived wonders that form at the beginning of winter and melt or collapse in spring.

During the summer, the caverns are full of water and most of the ice caves are inaccessible. This is the time when the meltwater reforms and creates new caves. As the glaciers move, retreat, and change constantly, an ice cave that has collapsed may never appear again.

There are, however, ice caves that form in the same location each year due to the specific geological attributes of the area. The famous Crystal Ice Cave, which can be found in Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest glacier, is a great example of this. A new ice cave has been forming in the same location every winter since 2011.

There are also a few ice caves that can be visited year-round. These, however, are not very common. In the winter of 2017-2018, a spectacular ice cave was discovered in Kötlujökull, an outlet glacier of Myrdálsjökull. This ice cave has remained stable during the whole summer, even though its appearance has been changing constantly. It will supposedly be there next year too, but no one can know for sure.

The man-made ice tunnel in Langjökull glacier is also open to visitors. The cave is carved deep inside the glacier and is built in a way that makes it safe and stable all year round.

The spectacular blue Crystal Ice Cave in Vatnajökull glacier

The spectacular blue Crystal Ice Cave in Vatnajökull glacier

Why can’t you enter the same ice cave twice?

The conditions of an ice cave are highly dependent on the actual weather. When the temperatures rise, the ice starts to melt. Meltwater can dramatically reshape the caves. When the temperatures fall, the water freezes and the cave can take on a completely new shape. If the cave is fully flooded and freezes before the water can flow out of it, the cave will simply disappear as the ice fills up the space.

Specifically to Iceland, some geothermal activity can also affect the ice caves. Many glaciers hide an active volcano beneath their thick ice sheets where geothermal heat can be released at any time. This can cause significant melting and redesigning of the ice caves inside the glacier.

On rare occasions, dramatic changes to the look of an ice cave can occur overnight even in the middle of winter. Strong rain, a sudden heat wave, or strong geothermal activity can cause a flood that will reshape a cave completely. Direct sunlight, rain, snow, and normal daily temperature changes also slowly affect the shape of the caves slightly, day by day.

Inside the glacier

Inside the glacier

It is most likely that the ice cave that you saw in November will look completely different at the end of the very same season or even after just a few weeks. This is the reason why the photos for ice cave tours cannot show the actual conditions accurately, it is simply not possible to go and take new photos every day.

The caves are constantly changing and this process is exclusively controlled by Mother Nature. Like a snowflake, every ice cave is special and has a unique size, ice texture, and light conditions. Whatever shape it takes, a glacial ice cave is always shockingly beautiful. This is something you can truly see only once in a lifetime because whenever you come back, you probably will not be able to see the same ice cave again!

Why are the glacial ice caves so blue?

While snow and the ice made from regular water are white, you may be wondering why glacial ice is so blue. No, it is not Photoshop. It is truly that blue!

The reason why we perceive snow as white is that it contains a lot of air. When light hits those air pockets, they act like a million tiny mirrors that scatter the full spectrum of light in every direction. This is what we see as white.

Glacial ice begins its life as snow. Over decades and centuries, the snow builds up and dense ice is formed by the compression of the snow under its own immense weight. This results in the air bubbles between the ice crystals being pushed out of the ice. Without the air bubbles, the white light is not scattered.

Inside the ice, the absorption of red light is six times higher than the blue spectrum. The deeper the light travels inside the ice, the more red light it loses along the way. Glacial ice can be hundreds or thousands of meters thick so the light can travel a long way through the body of ice. A lack of reflected red waves causes our eyes to perceive the color blue.

The Crystal Ice Cave in 2018

The Crystal Ice Cave in 2018

Where are the best ice caves in Iceland?

With the changeable nature of the ice caves as we just explained, you have probably guessed by now that it is impossible to predict what an ice cave will look like in the next season. Late October is the earliest point at which we can tell the location and the outlook of the ice caves for the coming winter season. We can, however, generally presume the location of some ice caves. Based on many years of experience, we can hope for an impressive outcome at some specific locations.

Ice Caves on the Vatnajökull Glacier

Vatnajökull is Iceland’s largest glacier and one of the greatest in all of Europe. This ice cap covers 8% of the country. That makes its great volume an amazing source of innumerable beautiful ice caves.

In recent years, amazing ice caves have been formed at two outlet glaciers on Vatnajökull. These locations are especially great because they offer safe and easy access.

The Falljökull Glacier in Skaftafell is very popular for glacier hikes year-round. Thanks to its high elevation and impressive ice falls, Falljökull is one of the most spectacular glacier tongues in Iceland. Visiting an ice cave here brings double pleasure: half for the panorama and half for the ice cave itself!

Hiking on the Falljökull glacier

Hiking on the Falljökull glacier

The deservedly famous Crystal Ice Cave is the most beautiful example of the perfect crystal blue ice cave. It has been formed in roughly the same location every year since 2011. The cave is located in the Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier near the glorious Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, which is a true wonder in itself.

The Crystal Ice Cave looks different each year and varies in size, but has become famous for always being exceptionally crystal clear and blue. We cross our fingers every year and get very excited around October to find out how the queen of the ice caves will surprise us this year!

The Crystal Ice Cave in 2017

The Crystal Ice Cave in 2017

Ice Caves near Reykjavík

There are two large glaciers located within two to three hours driving distance from Reykjavík. Fortunately, ice caves have been discovered in both and it is likely that new caves will form around their location every winter.

The Katla Ice Cave in South Iceland

The very unique Katla Ice Cave in Myrdalsjökull Glacier was accessible and safe to visit year-round in 2018. The cave is located very close to the infamous Katla Volcano in South Iceland; therefore its walls are densely striped with layers of black volcanic ash.

These stripes give it an incredibly surreal look. Sometimes, the whole ice wall becomes completely black as the ash layers on the surface paint the ice black. It also has hidden small caves and tunnels where the ice is cyan blue and crystal clear. Hopefully, the Katla Ice Cave will continue to share its beauty with us in the future!

The striped ice walls of Katla Ice Cave

The striped ice walls of Katla Ice Cave

Ice Caves in the Langjökull Glacier Near the Golden Circle

Iceland’s second largest glacier, Langjökull, is found some 150 kilometers (93 miles) from Reykjavík. It is famous for being an amazing playground for snowmobilers year-round and has also featured some of the most interesting ice caves of recent seasons. This specific glacier is the ideal place to combine an ice cave tour with an amazing glacier snowmobile adventure!

Moreover, there is a place on Langjökull where you can explore the mysterious glacier and see it from the inside safely, all year round! The idea of the world’s largest man-made ice tunnel came from a group of top engineers, geophysicists, and glaciologists. Even though this ice cave was not formed naturally, the result is almost the same as if were created by nature.

Snowmobiler in Langjökull's natural ice cave

Snowmobiler in Langjökull's natural ice cave

What types of ice cave tours are offered in Iceland?

If you want to visit an ice cave in Iceland, you must join an organized tour that is operated by a licensed tour operator. You have plenty of options to choose from.

Day Tours

There are day tours available with a pickup in Reykjavík. These tours take you to one of the nearest glaciers, Langjökull or Myrdalsjökull. Only these two glaciers are accessible for a day trip from Reykjavík. At Langjökull, you can visit the man-made ice cave all year round or a natural ice cave if one is available at the time of your stay. Taking a snowmobile tour near the ice cave is often an option at Langjökull as well.

The other ice cave day tour option is at Myrdalsjökull Glacier, located on the South Coast near the village of Vík. On this tour, you will not only see the incredible black and blue Katla ice cave, but also the breathtaking panorama of Iceland’s famous South Coast. You will also see two of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls, Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss, which are both 60 meters (196 feet) tall and absolutely majestic!

Multi-Day Tours

The ice caves on Vatnajökull are too far from Reykjavík to be visited in just one day. The daylight hours are shorter in the winter, so it takes at least two days to visit them and return to the capital.

One of the most popular tours is the two-day South Coast tour to the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon with ice caving. This will take you along the entire South Coast all the way up to Southeast Iceland where the mighty Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon awaits you with its giant, blue icebergs. On this tour, you will visit one of Vatnajökull’s spectacular ice caves.

The three-day South Coast and Golden Circle Tours are even more complete. They will take you along the southern coastline up to the glacier lagoon and will also guide you around the famous Golden Circle Route where the tectonic plates drift apart and geysers shoot hot water into the air.

The four-day, five-day, and even longer tours will give you more of an opportunity to explore the land of fire and ice in detail and experience the matchless Arctic atmosphere. You just need to relax and enjoy the ride!

The cheapest ice cave iours in Iceland

If you are leaning towards the budget version, you may consider renting a car and sharing it with your friends or fellow passengers. Taking a self-drive tour to the ice caves and meeting the guides on location is possible. These tours are always much cheaper than the ones that include transport to and from Reykjavík.

For the Langjökull Glacier ice cave tours, you can meet the guides near the Gullfoss Waterfall on the Golden Circle where you will switch to a Superjeep.

For the Myrdalsjökull Katla ice cave tours, you can drive to Vík and switch to a Superjeep there at the Ice Cave Café. Further to the east on the South Coast, Vatnajökull ice cave tours depart from Skaftafell and Jökulsárlón. At both locations, there are large parking lots where you can meet the tour operators and wait for your Superjeep pickup.

To secure your meet on location tour, we strongly recommend that you book it in advance and not on location. Ice cave tours are quite popular and can get fully-booked days before the departure. Make sure that you reserve your seats by booking your tour on time.

Self-Drive Ice Cave Tours Safety Warning

It is very important to be aware that the driving conditions in Iceland can be challenging, especially during winter. Snowy, icy roads and strong wind gusts are common. Sometimes, dangerous storms can challenge our driving skills. Driving in Iceland in winter is only recommended for those that have many years of driving experience and are confident driving in winter road conditions as well.

Even with the meet on location tours, you will not drive directly up to the glacier. You will be picked up by a Superjeep or some other kind of specialized glacier vehicle that will take you onto the glacier and up to the ice cave. Riding in a giant Superjeep is part of the fun!

On the road in Iceland in Winter

On the road in Iceland in Winter

The world’s only indoor ice cave in Reykjavik

It is possible to discover the icy wonderland of an ice cave without even leaving Reykjavík! There is an extraordinary ice cave exhibition at the Perlan Museum, not far from Reykjavík’s city center. The exhibition uniquely displays a piece of a glacier!

Using real ice, they created a perfect, 100-meter (300 feet) long ice cave in a way that looks as if it were formed naturally. The ice tunnel features all of the attributes of an Icelandic glacier: blue ice, black ash layers, thrilling crevasses, and a glacier mill. You can feel the cold, hear the sounds of the glacier as it cracks, and are even allowed to touch the ice!

The exhibition centers around the ice cave but it also showcases plenty of other interesting items about volcanoes, glaciers, and climate change. There is a fascinating photo exhibition about volcanic eruptions and an interactive educational display on how ice and snow have shaped Iceland's cultural heritage as well as what will happen to Iceland’s glaciers in the future.

How to dress and what to pack for an ice cave tour

As you probably assumed, the temperature in an ice cave is pretty cold. For your own safety and comfort, it is advised to dress accordingly. The following are our professional clothing tips for your ice cave adventure.

Dress in layers! You will sit in a heated car for a few hours then you will exit into wintery conditions. Wearing at least three layers will let you easily adjust your clothing to the actual conditions. Do not wear overly heavy clothing as it makes your movements slow and tiring and it is also very uncomfortable when sitting for long hours in the car.

Wear a long-sleeved shirt and long johns as a base layer, made from fast drying, breathable fabric. For insulation, wear a warm fleece or a wool sweater along with a down jacket or a warm - but not too heavy - coat. On the bottom, choose comfortable pants. All of your other layers should be either water-repellent or waterproof.

For walking on and inside a glacier safely, you will need crampons. These are always provided by the tour operator. Crampons, however, can only be placed on steady boots, preferably hiking boots. If you do not have them, don’t worry. In most cases, hiking boot rental is offered during the booking process. Do not wear high-heeled boots or sneakers because these are not compatible with the crampons.

You will also need a cap or a beanie as well as a buff, a neck gaiter, or a scarf. Gloves are also very important. In mid-winter, you may want to enjoy the warmth of some pocket warmers as well. Bring a small day backpack with you where you can pack your camera, some water, and, for the day tours, some snacks as well. Meals are not included in these tours.

Your Ice Cave Tour Dressing and Packing List

On you:

  • Sturdy hiking boots and warm socks
  • Long wool or synthetic underwear
  • A wool or fleece sweater
  • A waterproof or water-repellent down jacket or a warm coat
  • Waterproof insulated pants
  • Gloves
  • A beanie
  • A scarf

In your backpack:

  • Pocket warmers
  • A camera
  • Extra batteries
  • A tripod
  • A water bottle
  • Snacks
Proper clothing for an ice cave tour

Proper clothing for an ice cave tour

How to photograph an ice cave

Ice caves are beautifully photogenic. Getting a nice shot will surely blow up your Instagram or Facebook feed. Under ideal circumstances, you may shoot the photo of a lifetime that will always to remind you of the most amazing adventure of your life.

Photographing an ice cave, however, can be quite challenging as it can be very dark inside. What is not dark for the eyes can be still completely black for the camera. Naturally, different ice caves have different light conditions which can also change constantly as the length of the daylight changes in Iceland. However, if there is not enough natural light in the cave, they are lit up with reflectors.

The man-made ice tunnel inside Langjökull glacier

The man-made ice tunnel inside Langjökull glacier

Ice Cave Photography Equipment and Settings

Generally speaking, photographing inside an ice cave requires similar settings as photographing the Northern Lights or the night sky. Most of the shots will need an exposure that is longer than a second and it can be tricky to focus, so a tripod is a must. Shooting handheld inside an ice cave can be nearly impossible.

As the temperature in the ice caves is very low, we strongly recommend for you to bring a few extra batteries for your camera. Batteries drain very quickly in cold air, especially in dark places where you need long exposures.

For the best picture, we recommended you use a wide-angle lens, as you need to let in as much light as possible and to get as much of the scene into the frame as possible. The classic approach is to take a super wide angle shot towards the bright entrance.

A model or a silhouette of a person can make your picture even more interesting as the scale becomes more perceivable and the picture comes alive. For shooting this picture, a remote shutter release or a self-timer function on your camera can be very useful. Only use auto-focus if there is a good amount of light coming into the cave. Try not to go too high with the ISO because it will make your pictures very grainy. On cheaper cameras, an ISO of over 400-600 can make your pictures grainy, but of course, more expensive professional cameras can handle much higher ISO settings.

The light conditions are always the best around the entrance of the cave

The light conditions are always the best around the entrance of the cave

Pro Tips for Photographing an Ice Cave:

Ideal equipment:

  • A DSLR / 35mm camera
  • Manual mode functionality
  • High ISO performance (up to 3000-5000 without producing much graininess)
  • An ultra-wide angle zoom lens
  • A tripod
  • Extra batteries
  • A light source (flashlight, lantern, or headlamp)

If you do not have an expensive camera, lens, or tripod, don’t worry. You may still be able to take nice photos with a camera held in your hand or even with your phone near the bright entrance or a reflector. Brace yourself against the wall to keep it steady or place your camera on a large rock or something that will not move.

After all, you can be sure that there is no camera that will be able to represent the incredible atmosphere and feeling of being inside a frosty, blue wonderland!

Amazing view from the Katla Ice cave on Myrdalsjökull - taken by a mobile phone

Amazing view from the Katla Ice cave on Myrdalsjökull - taken by a mobile phone

Why can’t you visit an ice cave alone?

Traveling in Iceland may be one of the most beautiful adventures of your life. Do not ruin your experience by putting yourself in danger or by suffering an accident. Glaciers are forever changing and unknowable. As they have different layers that move. Their surface cracks. They can be very dangerous for inexperienced visitors. The glacier ice caves can be fragile and can flood within minutes or, specifically in Iceland, they can be filled with poisonous gases due to geothermal activity.

The only ice caves that are safe to visit are those that are properly examined and approved by local glacier guides and authorities. Only licensed tour operators can run tours to the ice caves safely and legally. Sadly, there have been many tragedies on Iceland’s glaciers and in ice caves that were not approved for visiting.

If you would like to visit an ice cave privately, please contact us and we will find a great solution for you. Regardless how experienced a glacier hiker you are, never attempt to venture out on a glacier or approach an ice cave without a licensed local glacier guide who knows the terrain and is properly trained and equipped for these circumstances.

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