Winter is a beautiful season for visiting Iceland. Waking up to the city and mountains covered with a fresh blanket of snow is an amazing start of the day. Also, some of Iceland’s natural wonders are only visible or at their best in winter, like the northern lights, glaciers, and ice caves. In this article, we will tell you about all the things you can do at the foot of, on top of, and inside a glacier.
At the foot of the glacier
Glaciers are an impressive sight and hiking up close to a glacier is time well spent for those who prefer to stay with their feet on solid ground. Two glaciers in Iceland have easy hiking paths leading up to them: Sólheimajökull in South Iceland and Skaftafellsjökull in Southeast Iceland. The hike from the parking lot to Sólheimajökull glacier is about 3km and takes up to 30 minutes. The gravel path is somewhat rough, so wear good boots, but overall, it’s not a challenging hike. It will take you close to the glacier offering breathtaking views.
To get to Skaftafellsjökull, there’s a path starting at the visitor centre in Skaftafell. The trail is well indicated and is halfway paved and halfway gravel. The path will bring you close to the glacier and you will be able to see the glacier really well. A round-trip takes 1 to 1.5 hours.
Please note that if you want to go on the glaciers instead of looking at them from up close, you need to book a guided tour.
On top of the glacier
Glacier hiking and climbing
Sólheimjökull glacial tongue is a popular spot for glacier hiking and ice climbing. Sólheimajökull glacier is easy to reach from Reykjavík, as it’s only 165km from the city. On the way to the glacier, you cross along the beautiful south coast of Iceland and you can stop at Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls. At the start of the guided glacier hike, you put on your crampons and start your glacier hike. On top of the glacier, you can enjoy the wonderful views all around, and the different colours of ice, and explore its crevasses and swell holes. During the hike, glacier guides will tell you all there is to know about glaciers. You can combine a glacier hike with ice climbing if you’re up to the challenge. It’s also possible to combine glacier hiking with a northern lights tour to experience two of Iceland’s wonders on the same day.
If glacier hiking isn’t your thing, you can also go snowmobiling. This is possible on the glaciers Langjökull, Mýrdalsjökull, and Vatnajökull. Before going snowmobiling, you will get a short instruction and you will get a warm overall and helmet. After this, you are ready to go on an exhilarating ride over the snow. You’re only allowed to drive a snowmobile if you have a valid driver’s license, and you can have one passenger per snowmobile. It’s the coolest way to enjoy the beautiful view of the glacier and its surroundings.
Inside the glacier
Until March, it’s possible to visit natural ice caves in Iceland. Ice caves are formed when meltwater runs through a glacier, melting more ice along the way leaving an open space behind. Sometimes, these open spaces are spacious enough for people to visit. In winter, these caves are stable enough to visit, and trained guides can take you to them. The best ice caves, like the large Crystal Ice Cave, are hidden in Vatnajökull glacier, Europe’s largest glacier, with tours departing on a five-hour drive from Reykjavík.
Into the Glacier
Langjökull is Iceland’s second largest glacier. Since 2015, people can walk straight into the glacier, through a man-made tunnel going 30m down into the ice and stretching over half a kilometre. The tunnel has been made deep inside the glacier where the ice is most stable. Even though it’s man-made, nature takes over quickly, which results in the tunnel slowly but constantly changing. Crevasses form and ice sculptures shape without human intervention. If you go on this Into the Glacier tour, you will start with a spectacular ride in an eight-wheel drive glacial truck to the entrance of the tunnel. It is easily accessible and offers an amazing opportunity to explore the glacier from within. The temperature in the glacier tunnel is 0°C all year round.
Perlan – Wonders of Iceland
If you don’t have time to venture far out of Reykjavík, there’s good news. In 2017, Perlan Museum designed a replica of an ice cave, made with real ice. It’s the first indoor ice cave in the world. The temperature inside the ice cave is -10 °C and it takes about 10 to 15 minutes to walk through it. It’s easily accessible and you don’t need special boots, but it’s recommended to dress warmly. Inside the cave you will read information about glaciers, while at the same time looking at and touching real ice! At the end of the tunnel there is an exhibition about glaciers in Iceland. A free shuttle bus drives between Harpa Concert Hall and Perlan. It departs twice every hour, every day.
Contact us at the What’s On tourist information centre for more information!
Go with a certified tour operator
Ice caves and glaciers change constantly under influence of the weather and movements of the ice. Most adventure tours are heavily weather-dependent and might be cancelled based on weather conditions. Caves are sometimes narrow, and cave floors might be slippery. Tour operators will make sure you have the right clothes and equipment. Always be careful, and only go into an ice cave or hike on a glacier with a certified guide. Also, remember to dress warmly and wear good boots.