Iceland’s Amazing Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

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Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon in Iceland

How to Visit Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

Jokulsarlon, Iceland

The landscape is full of broken icebergs, streaked blue and black, floating with the tide, occasionally breaking apart in a mighty crash. This is Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon in Iceland.

Jokulsarlon iceberg lagoon is Iceland’s deepest and most spectacular glacial lake, beloved by tourists, photographers, adventurers – even world-famous Hollywood super-spies.

If you visited this frozen landscape a hundred years ago, all you would have seen was ice. But then, the world started to heat up… thanks global warming!

Because of this increase in the world’s climate starting around 1920, the icebound edge of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier started to melt. The Icelandic word Jökulsárlón actually means “glacier’s river lagoon”.

Jokulsarlon lagoon forms part of Vatnajökull National Park, and has become one of Iceland’s most popular attractions.

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Jokulsarlon Lagoon Selfie

King of the Ice!

Icebergs At Jokulsarlon

In less than a century, this vast frozen landscape collapsed into a mess of shattered ice & liquid that we see now — Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon.

A river soon formed, and found its way to the sea, pulling broken icebergs into the North Atlantic and sculpting unearthly shapes along its black-sand banks.

Every year, this fledgling glacier lagoon is made larger as icebergs break off Vatnajökull glacier, float around in the lagoon, and eventually drift out to sea in the summer months.

Jokulsarlon doubled in size between 1975 and 1998. It now covers 7 square miles – and is growing every year.

Jokulsarlon Lagoon Sunrise

Colorful Sunrise at Jokulsarlon

Iceland At Its Most Beautiful

Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon is a photographer’s paradise. I was in heaven during my visit in November. First and most obviously, the ice is jaw-droppingly beautiful.

Compressed glacial ice often turns glassy and a deep, luminous blue, and that’s best seen when the icebergs break and flip over.

You’ll see plenty of broken blue icebergs at Jökulsárlón – and the contrast against the white backdrop of the distant glacier and the black sand of the lagoon’s beach is truly other-worldly.

You may even see seals too. Thanks to that small river leading to the ocean, the lagoon is filled with fish, and seals regularly gather at the river mouth to feed, along with huge numbers of seabirds.

Jokulsarlon Lagoon Bridge

Bridge Over the Glacial River

Jokulsarlon Iceland boat tours

Boat Tours on the Lagoon

Glacier Lagoon Boat Trips

A tour company called Glacier Lagoon has been running boat rides at Jokulsarlon for nearly 30 years, ever since the world’s most famous super-spy James Bond himself made an appearance.

In the opening scenes of Roger Moore’s A View To A Kill (1985), the iceberg lagoon was used as a stand-in for Northern Siberia – and when news got out, tourists started arriving, as did boat tour services.

There are two types of tours to choose from. There is an amphibious boat ride (ISK 5500 / $55 USD) for a relaxing tour round the biggest icebergs, accompanied by guided commentary.

For the more adventurous, get fitted with a flotation suit and lifejacket and take a Zodiac (ISK 9500 / $95 USD) for much closer views of the ice, including right under the glacier’s edge if conditions permit.

Jokulsarlon Glacier Black Sand Beach

Ice Scattered over the Black Sand

When To Visit The Lagoon

Jokulsarlon’s boat tours only run between May and October, and outside of those months, Icelandic weather can get fierce – although bad weather can hit at any time, so it’s wise to always be prepared for white-out conditions.

The best months for good weather (and clear-sky photography) at the lagoon are July and August – but September/October can be a better time to visit Iceland because the tourist season has ended, prices are lower and there will be less people around.

You’ll also have a better chance of seeing Iceland’s incredible northern lights!

Getting To Jokulsarlon

The Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon is hard to miss off the side of Iceland’s famous Ring Road (Route 1) – but it requires some planning to get out here. Rather than try to cram it into a single day, you should really plan for two days.

Rental Car

RentalCars.com searches all the big car rental companies and finds the best price. This is probably the easiest way to rent a car in Iceland.

You can also rent a campervan like I did, and save money on accommodation by sleeping in it while driving across Iceland on your own – it helps to have your own transportation because the lagoon is pretty far away.

UPDATE: Since writing this post, Iceland implemented new laws in 2015 that restrict where you can spend the night in a campervan. You can no longer pull over and spend the night anywhere. You must stay at designated campgrounds.

The drive takes about 4 hours from Reykjavík, provided you don’t stop along the way (which is almost impossible in Iceland, there’s tons to see!).

By Bus

Strætó Bus: Route 51 from Mjódd bus terminal (Reykjavík) to Jökulsárlón. It’s a 6 hour trip that starts at 1pm – and the next bus back is usually at 12:55pm the next day.

If you visit Jokulsarlon by bus, you won’t be returning the same day – and since accommodation at the lagoon is non-existent (see later), you’d have to be pretty adventurous to pick this option.

Hitchhiking

Another adventurous option, but hitchhiking in Iceland is pretty common and safe. How long it will take you to hitchhike here from Reykjavík just depends on your hitchhiking skills, luck, and how many stops you make.

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Jokulsarlon Group Tours

If you’re the type of person who prefers joining a tour, there are group tours that visit Jokulsarlon, some of which begin in Reykjavik.

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon Camping

Overnight at Jökulsárlón in my Camper Van

Where To Stay Near Jokulsarlon

I spent the night camped out at the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon parking lot in a campervan (which is no longer allowed). There are no hotels, hostels or guesthouses at the lagoon itself. Höfn is the closest large town, about an hour away.

If you’re wondering where to stay in Iceland near Jokulsarlon, here are my recommendations:

BUDGET
Jokulsarlon Budget Hotel
Vagnsstaðir Hostel
This is the closest hostel to Jokulsarlon, about 13 miles to the northeast.

Check prices & availability:
Booking.com / TripAdvisor.com

BUDGET
Jokulsarlon Budget Hotel
Höfn Hostel
Environmentally friendly hostel with sea views, located 1 hour away in the village of Höfn.

Check prices & availability:
Booking.com / TripAdvisor.com

MID-RANGE
jokulsarlon Hotel
Hali Country Hotel
Just 15-minute drive from the lagoon, offering double, triple rooms and apartments plus a restaurant.

Check prices & availability:
Booking.com / TripAdvisor.com

LUXURY
Key West Luxury Hotel
Hotel Höfn
Located in Höfn about an hour away, this hotel offers modern rooms with glacier & sea views.

Check prices & availability:
Booking.com / TripAdvisor.com

Ice at Jokulsarlon Lagoon

Shiny Diamonds of Ice on the Beach

Jökulsárlón Travel Tips & Advice

  • Iceland in the summer can be surprisingly warm, but icebergs at Jokulsarlon lagoon give off waves of cold air you can feel on your face. Take a hat and a warm gloves, even if it looks sunny.
  • Watch out for the fiercely territorial skua seabirds that live in the area – if you get close to their nests, they’ll dive at you noisily until you back off!
  • Sunrise is the best time to photograph the glacier lagoon icebergs, not only because of great lighting conditions, but also because there are less tourists. Sunset is also good, but more crowded than sunrise.
  • During the tourist season, there’s a small café that serves a limited amount of snacks. But that’s about it.
  • Iceland’s incredible crystal ice caves are not far away from Jokulsarlon, so if you happen to be visiting in the winter, I highly recommend exploring them with a guide!

No trip to Iceland is complete without a stop at Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon, as you can see, there’s a good reason why it’s one of Iceland’s most popular natural attractions! ★

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USEFUL TRAVEL RESOURCES FOR ICELAND
Iceland Map – Plan your trip around Iceland with this handy map
RentalCars.com – Great site for comparing rental car prices
HappyCampers.is – Campervan rentals in Iceland
Skyscanner.net – My favorite place to book cheap airline flights
Booking.com – Book affordable accommodation in Iceland
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Iceland
Suggested Reading: The Little Book Of Hidden People

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Tips for visiting Jokulsarlon lagoon Iceland. More at ExpertVagabond.com
Tips for visiting Jokulsarlon lagoon Iceland. More at ExpertVagabond.com
Tips for visiting Jokulsarlon lagoon Iceland. More at ExpertVagabond.com

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21 Comments

  1. I also will be traveling in my campervan and have been planning to stay overnight in the parking lot but I read that the rule is that you could only park overnight (at the lagoon)in a camper that has a bathroom. Like you said not everyone follows the rules, so did you just risk it, or did they seem okay with you parking in the lot overnight? I’m okay with paying an overnight fee if there is one, I just don’t want to disrespect or get a fine. I’m also having trouble finding info about the lagoons rules online and am getting just a bunch of different peoples stories of what they did and it seems a lot of people have parked their camper overnight in the lot. Any advice would be great!

    1. These “no camping/campervan” rules came into effect in 2015. There were no such laws when I did the trip (2014). So yes, things have become stricter as to where you can and can’t spend the night in a vehicle due to the massive increase in tourism.

      My guess is there will be signs if it’s not allowed?

  2. If you’re driving yourself to the area where the ice caves are do you book a tour from a hotel as will be in a normal car – how do you hire a guide and transport do you have to stay in Höfn or can you arrange a tour from your hotel thinking of the floss hotel??

  3. Hi,
    Your pictures are beautiful. Can you stay in the Jokulsarlon parking lot in a 4×4 in November? There are only 2 of us and are considering sleeping in the jeep as we are travelling from Reykjavik but is it possible to stay there in November.
    Thanks.

    1. the law in iceland says you are NOT allowed to camp in a vehicle unless it is parked at a campsite. not that everyone follows the rules, but it is indeed the law. keep that in mind as you plan your travels.

  4. Iceland is on my wish list to visit, thank you for this post. I hadn’t thought about travelling around in a camper before but I’ve just sent the link to my husband to see if he would be as keen as me!

  5. Amazing post! Iceland looks incredibly beautiful; I can’t wait to visit. Your photos remind me of my cruise along the glistening glaciers in Alaska – a freezing but truly magical experience.

  6. I loved Jokulsarlon, but I was lucky enough to find my own private glacier lagoon that was entirely frozen over with no other tourists around. It was such a cool experience and almost as good as Jokulsarlon itself (maybe even better if you ask me) it was super close to the glacier too!

  7. I loved my visit to Jökulsárlón. Despite the weather being pretty miserable and having to change from an inflatable boat tour to the larger, more solid, boat, I really enjoyed the fascinating scenery. I also enjoyed the ‘Diamond Beach’ visit, i.e. under the bridge and at the edge of the sea. As you have suggested, it is better if you go there in a rented car — much easier having your own transport. Thanks for the Travel Blog — some inspiring content and layout suggestions. Bye from Abu Dhabi.

  8. Iceland is truly a very special and unique place and this Glacier Lagoon looks definitely breath-taking and awe-inspiring place to be and enjoy. Your photos are simply amazing and reflect the raw and quirky beauty of Iceland.

  9. Wow, I had never heard of this lagoon before. It looks amazing. I’ll remember it when visiting Iceland.

    Did you take one of the boat tours?

    Who said global warming is such a disaster. ;)

  10. Stunning pics and good information. Cant wait to go to Iceland. At the rate climate change is affecting the planet, there isn’t enough time for me to visit Iceland, Greenland, Arctic circle and Antarctica.

  11. Another great informative post Matthew, went there in summer and totally relate with your experience.

    I rescheduled my flight and took the day trip which took ~ 3.5 hours to reach from Reykjavik but in the end all the hassle was totally worth it… And not to mention the waterfalls on the way… mind blown!