Whilst Iceland is the land of fire and ice, ice is the part we are covering in this article. Iceland is home to a myriad of ice caves and ice glaciers, and it is also home to the world’s largest human-made ice tunnel! In Iceland, you can get ice caves that are surface-level with spectacular light displays. Or even ice caves that go so deep underground that the water becomes warm.
In this article, we cover everything you need to know about the ice caves in Iceland. This will equip you with the knowledge to choose the ice cave experience that suits you the best. You will, as well, learn the difference between an ice cave and a glacier cave.
What is an Ice Cave?
Contrary to popular belief, there is a difference between glacier caves and ice caves. These terms are mostly used interchangeably when you look into the best things to do in Iceland and there really isn’t any harm in doing so. If you ever need to impress a glaciologist, however, this is key knowledge.
The ice caves you’ll visit in Iceland are not completely made of ice but are rather “normal” rock caves that have areas with permanent ice in them. This doesn’t mean that it has to be covered in Ice from top to bottom, but rather has ice elements in it that don’t melt away at any point of the year. Ice caves can be completely covered in ice and are sometimes found at the edge of bodies of water, creating beautiful glacial lagoons.
Glacier caves, on the other hand, are caves that are literally made of ice. These can have rock elements in them, but these rocks are mostly debris. Also, any larger rocks will likely be rocks suspended in the ice rather than a part of an actual mountain. You can, however, have glacier caves that have either floor or walls that are partly rock. That is because they can be located on top of or adjacent to parts of a mountain.
Ice Cave Forming in Iceland
In general, the nature of the Iceland ice caves means that there isn’t any larger difference between the formation of these caves in comparison to most other caves worldwide. You will have the normal formation through cracks in the mountain due to various geological activities. Some of these will be the result of magma tunnels that have been formed through volcanic eruptions.
You can also have caves that are the results of water streams within a mountain that have slowly carved out pathways in the rock through erosion. These types of caves can also be formed where the ice meets the rock in a glacier, where water has slowly eroded and melted ice. This creates the ice tunnels that today are used for the ice cave tours in Iceland. If you ask nicely, you might be able to get one of these locations as a scene for your Icelandic wedding.
Regardless of how the cave is formed, the key characteristic is that there has to be a spot in the cave that is permanently colder than 0°C, ensuring that there is always ice in the cave. If not, it’s simply a normal cave and another geological wonder falling victim to global warming.
A real ice cave will stay an ice cave regardless of the season. The fact that summer is covering the country in warm summer sun doesn’t affect the ice deep within the cave. This doesn’t mean that ice caves in Iceland are not affected by the weather. They can still be frozen over in the winter and flooded in the summer, it’s simply the nature of this type of cave.
When to Visit the Iceland Ice Caves
If you want to get in on the ice cave action in Iceland, winter is the time to go. The period to see the ice caves are usually between the middle of October and the end of March. So, make sure to plan accordingly and check our top tips for Iceland in winter before your departure! Going into an ice cave in summer in Iceland is a complete no-go since the ice is melting, which makes it unsafe to visit.
Where are the Ice Caves?
Wherever you have glaciers, you will have ice caves. Iceland is about 10% covered in glaciers, making it a large area to look into, which makes things like dog sledding an option for both tourists as well as mountain rangers. Three things are important to know regarding the locations of ice caves in Iceland:
All ice caves haven’t been found.
Some ice caves get frozen over in the wintertime.
Not all ice caves are accessible (unfortunately).
The ice caves that we visit in Iceland are the ones that have been found, are not frozen over, and are accessible to us in a reasonable way. The rest remains mysteries: some researchers even suggested there might be unknown animals and plants living in some caves.
Most Ice caves that we can visit are in the southern part of the country, close to tourist hotspots, so people can visit them for a reasonable price. Some ice caves in Iceland are in tough spots in rougher terrain, but these are generally only visited by experienced guides and adventurous tourists.
The Best Ice Caves in Iceland
Going on the hunt for the best ice cave in Iceland will be a tough journey. Depending on who you talk to, you will get either the easiest ice cave, the toughest ice cave, the largest ice cave, or the most colorful ice cave. All of them are going to be different, so you should rather put some time into investigating your options and choose the one that suits you the best.
Below, we have compiled a detailed list of the most famous ice caves in Iceland. That will provide you with the information you need to visit the best ice cave for you:
Crystal Ice Cave
Likely one of the most famous ice caves in Iceland that you will find pictures of when you search for them online. This is Iceland’s Blue Ice Cave, which gets its color from the many hundreds of years of ice and snow being compressed under the massive weight of the glacier. This results in a bright blue color that you will best experience when you have a cloud-free day on your hiking journey.
The roof of the cave is completely made of ice and is thin enough to let through light, making this one of the most photogenic caves to visit. Unfortunately, you won’t have a northern lights ice cave experience here, since the roof is still thick enough to block out the northern lights.
The cave is in the Vatnajökull National Park, inside one of the sub-glaciers around Vatnajökull. If you are in the Jökulsarlón area, you can take a tour from there into the cave. Just make sure to check with the tour company that there is space! The number of visitors is restricted to give everyone a fighting chance to marvel at this remarkable ice cave.
Katla Ice Cave
If you are looking for an adventurous kick, this might be the ice cave for you. The Katla Ice Cave in Iceland is located right next to the most dreaded and active volcano in Iceland today: the Katla volcano. It sits underneath the Myrdalsjökull glacier and has a record of having an eruption each 20-90 years. The last eruption was in 1918, so we understand that people are a little bit anxious.
The Katla Ice Cave in Iceland is located in the southern part of Iceland, so it can be a natural part of the itinerary when you are visiting the many things you can do in the southern part of Iceland.
Kverkfjöll Ice Cave
If you are looking for a challenge that is so far off the beaten path that you will need a guide just to find the place, this is the ice cave you want to go to. It is located in the northern part of Vatnajökull Glacier. To visit it, you will need to join a Super Jeep tour or a snowmobile tour that also includes the ice-cave tour in the price. After that, you will need an experienced guide to help you through the exploration of the cave, which eventually will guide you to a truly unique place.
If you decide to go ice-caving in this particular cave, you will not be disappointed. Deep in this cave is a geological phenomenon that you will struggle to find in any other place: an underwater warm stream in an Iceland ice cave. This mix of fire and ice is so deeply rooted in this country that it literally can be found in its core.
Ice Cave and Ice Tunnel of Langjokull
It is impossible to figure out the one ice cave Iceland is most famous for among its visitors. This is a land of ice cave glaciers, crystal caves, and man-made ice tunnels after all. But another that is among the most popular is the Langjokull which is an enormous glacier with out-of-this-world views (keep your cameras fully charged!).
It is located in the West Midlands and is the second-largest glacier in the country (after the Vatnajokull glacier). It also graciously feeds the amazing waterfalls of Gullfoss, Barnafoss, and Hraunfossar.
On one side of the glacier, you will find naturally created ice caves formed over the years (one was termed unsafe due to constant melting). And on the other side, there is a man-made ice tunnel that was created a few years ago. You can explore the stunning ice caves on a snowmobile or on Super Jeep Tours from the Gullfoss waterfall. You can visit the ice tunnel with the help of a Super Truck Tour from Husafell or Reykjavík.
Ice Cave of Langjokull
You can visit an ice cave of Langjokull via a Super Jeep tour or a snowmobile in the form of day tours from the country’s capital. This ice cave is a gorgeous example of the harmony between the glacier and volcanic activities. It has a sapphire blue cover and contrasting colors of ice.
Once you enter, you have two directions to explore. Entering the left zone of the glacier takes you to a narrow area with a natural construction of frozen poles, as if the ice poles are holding the roof up. The frozen river at the ceiling will leave you awestruck.
Ice Tunnel of Langjokull
If you are thrilled about visiting an ice cave, Iceland has carved out some of the most enchanting tunnels for its visitors, and the man-made ice tunnel of Langjokull is no exception. All you have to do is to go from Husafell to the camp, where you will be taken into a huge Monster Truck.
You will be given crampons to provide you with proper mobility on ice and snow. A guide will help you understand the history and architecture of this man-made piece of art. There is even a chapel inside the glacier where couples have taken their vows. Talking about freezing time and making memories!
Safety of Ice Caves in Iceland
When you go on an ice cave hike and glacier-hiking in Iceland in general, it doesn’t matter if you go to Kverkföll on a hard hike or take a short hike to the Skaftafell ice cave in Iceland. The safety concerns will be the same and will look as follows:
Never go on an ice cave hike without a guide.
Always make sure to bring the right things and have warm and durable clothing (check our ultimate Iceland packing list to make sure you don’t forget any essential item).
Bring snacks (unless you’re sure the tour company provides that for you).
Live in the moment. Ice caves shift shape and form, so you will not see the exact same cave twice.
Book Your Ice Cave Tour From Reykjavík
If you are intrigued about touring an ice cave that is under a volcano, Iceland offers you the Katla ice cave experience. It is the only natural ice cave tour that you can do from the capital Reykjavík. The ice cave is in Koklujokull which is an outlet glacier of the majestic Myrdalsjokull icecap and is named after the active volcano Katla. Instead of going on your own, it is better to join an ice cave tour from Reykjavík, as the driving conditions are quite rough.
Also, make sure you have the proper gear to visit the glacier, which your tour company will provide you with. This is one of the main reasons why going solo is not recommended in this adventure, and you should contact one of the cave tours in Iceland. But once you see what lies ahead, you will realize all the groundwork was worth the trip. The mesmerizing moon-like terrain of the region around the glacier was used to film Star Wars: Rogue One.
The good part is that there is not much walking into the glacier that lies underneath the volcano Katla. There is a narrow ice tunnel that will take you to a magical dome with an opening in the ceiling. It looks like a gigantic winter wonderland cathedral! In 2018, there was another opening found in a second ice cave, adding more excitement to its visitors.
Take an Ice Caving in Iceland Self-drive
Now that you know everything there is to know about ice caves in Iceland, you will just need to find the best rental car to explore Iceland and discover everything this land of fire and ice has to offer.