Iceland has a total of 269 named glaciers (Icelandic: jöklar), covering about 11% of its surface. So, they’ve been an integral part of Icelandic culture ever since the settlers first arrived from Scandinavia. Their meltwater feeds most of the rivers that give life to the country, and so create the world-famous Iceland waterfalls. Naturally, you’ll want to see these glaciers up close, perhaps even hike over them. Well, you can do it, but only with experienced guides and the right equipment. Let’s take a closer look at Iceland’s glacier tours.
What is a Glacier Tour?
Simply put, a glacier tour is a guided hike across a glacier. There are different levels of tours depending on your fitness, confidence and experience. So, it’s certainly possible to complete an easy glacier walk in Iceland, where no previous experience is required. Having said that, it’s very important to listen to your Icelandic mountain guides, because the conditions can be tricky. These glacier guides of Iceland’s phenomenal natural features will instruct you on the correct technique for your adventure. You’ll be told all about the glaciers, how they came to be and their current state. Be ready with questions, because if there’s ever a time to learn about glaciers, it’s when you’re standing on one.
The guides will provide you with appropriate equipment, such as crampons, helmet and harness and explain how to use them. But you also have to show up prepared with the correct clothing.
What to Wear For a Glacier Walk in Iceland
Not jeans. When jeans become wet they are heavy and stiff—they’re not at all suited to a glacier hike. You’ll want to wear a fitted underlayer that is designed to keep you warm. Then add another warm layer on top, and finally some waterproof trousers and a waterproof jacket or coat. Wear well-fitting, waterproof hiking boots too. Bring along some decent sunglasses, because the glare off the ice and snow can be very strong. Take sunscreen; that reflective ice can burn you much faster than you think. Scarves, gloves, and hats are of course essential too and bring plenty of water to drink. Depending on the tour and the company, the requirements will be different. Be sure to check the tour itinerary to find out what is and isn’t included.
A Glacier Walk From Reykjavik
Take a look at a map of Iceland and you’ll see glaciers spread throughout the country. On a clear day, you can see Snæfellsjökull all the way over on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula from the capital. But what about taking a glacier walk close to Reykjavík? Well, the closest glacier to Reykjavík that guided tours operate on is Mýrdalsjökull, which is found on the south coast. Because of its proximity to the city, there are tour companies that will pick you up and drop you off. Langjökull is another nearby glacier that you can explore on an organized tour; this is the country’s second-largest glacier. Arguably the best tours, however, take place on Iceland’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull, which covers a large chunk of the south. On these tours, you generally have to drive to a specified meeting point near the glacier yourself. That’s where a rental car comes in handy.
Glacier Tour Companies
Below are some companies that operate tours on or near Vatnajökull; it’s so huge that smaller, outlet glaciers surround it. It’s worth noting that most companies will only offer glacier walks between April and October. In the winter months, the weather is generally too harsh to do this safely, but there are other options available. Keep in mind that all tours are subject to weather. A little rain won’t cancel them, but if the conditions are deemed to be unsafe the tour will be rescheduled.
Glacier Adventure Tours
Looking for an Iceland glacier hike in October? Head to https://glacieradventure.is/ and book a half-day glacier walk with these guys. They’re located at Hali on the south coast, about 15 minutes past Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. The Lagoon itself is famed for its beauty, so be sure to stop there along the way. This is also the home of “Diamond Beach” where chunks of glacier ice have deposited onto the nearby black sand. The distance between Glacier Adventure Tours and Reykjavík is about five hours, so it’s a great addition to a south-coast adventure.
Once you’ve checked in for their trip at the meeting point, they’ll get you in a Super Jeep. Then they’ll drive you to Breiðamerkurjökull, an outlet of Vatnajökull, where you’ll spend between 1-1 & ½ hours. You’ll experience natural ice sculptures, sinkholes, ridges, and more; a silent tranquil icy paradise. The price per adult is ISK 13,900 or USD 108, the difficulty is described as moderate and the minimum age is 10 years. They run two tours a day between April and October, book your spot now and get yourself excited.
If you’re looking for something more challenging, the company also offers a guided trek to Hvannadalshnúkur, Iceland’s highest peak. This is a full-day tour that begins early, and previous hiking experience is required. Prices start at ISK 39,900 or USD 310 and the tour runs from May to August; be prepared for a tough, epic day.
If you happen to be coming to Iceland in the winter, you won’t miss out on the action. This company also offers two ice cave tours in the colder months of the year: the Crystal and the Blue. Experience the shapes that mother nature has weaved and spun from water, solidified into cold art.
Adventure Point Iceland
This small, family-owned tour company operates out of Hof, a town at the base of Vatnajökull on the south coast. The tour guide takes out small groups, offering an intimate, personalized experience. The members of this company possess a deep knowledge of the glacier and know the best places to visit. With a combination of glacier walking and ice caving, you’ll avoid the crowds and find great photo opportunities. Contact them here for a quote and to find out more about their tour.
About Iceland’s Glaciers
Glaciers generally take centuries to form, and Iceland’s glaciers have been around for thousands of years. Their color depends on their location; many glaciers here contain ash veins, from solidifying on and around volcanic rock. Some parts of a glacier also lose their white solid color for a translucent blue. This is because the ice has come under such strong pressure that it has forced out all air particles. Interestingly, many of Iceland’s glaciers actually sit atop volcanoes. This is true of Eyjafjallajökull, whose sub-glacial volcano erupted in 2010 and cause air traffic disruption across Europe.
Unfortunately, due to climate change, most of the world’s glaciers are shrinking every year. This is the case in Iceland, although Vatnajökull still holds the title of the largest ice-cap in Europe by volume. It covers an area of 7,900 km² (3050 m2), or 8% of Iceland’s total land. The glacier is protected within Vatnajökull National Park, one of three national parks in the country. Do your best to minimize your impact on the environment to help these natural wonders stick around. Glaciers do a lot more than just look nice; the water they hold would bring havoc to Earth if released. I don’t know about you, but I like my sea levels where they currently are.
Iceland isn’t known as the land of ice and fire for nothing. Its towering glaciers and volcanoes offer a wealth of adventure for locals and visitors alike. A glacier trek in Iceland is an unforgettable experience; imagine walking on ice that is hundreds of meters thick. And if you don’t fancy walking, why not snowmobile over the glacier? There are companies based all over Iceland that offer this adrenaline-filled activity. Grab your rental car in Iceland and drive to a glacier; they’re hard to miss, and there’s plenty of room.
Samuel Hogarth, Cars Iceland.