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Vatnajokull: Iceland’s Magnificent National Park and Glacier

Away, in northern Europe, in a country close to the Arctic Circle; there is one of the most impressive national parks of the continent. A land full of extremes and mysteries. A constant-changing and violent territory, where the forces of nature are more evident. That park is home to the largest glacier on the continent: The Vatnajokull.

Vatnajokull glacier tongue

Glaciers are huge masses of compressed ice sheets that can be hundreds of meters thick and several kilometers long. However, we tend to forget the vital role they play in our environment. Not only are they impressive and beautiful, but they also hold most of the frozen freshwater on Earth. That is also the case of Vatnajokull, the largest glacier in Europe. A stunning white tongue of chilled water that slides through Iceland’s wildest region. Let’s get to know Vatnajokull glacier.

Where is Vatnajokull glacier located

You can find this glacier in the Highlands of Iceland, a vast and inhabited region that covers most of the interior of the country. This region is a delightful place to visit as nature here remains untouched, wild, and imposing.

Within the Highlands, we find the Vatnajökull National Park, a protected area of land where this immense mass of ice has been forming for thousands of years. The park is located approximately four hours away from Reykjavik. It is essential to mention that this is what it would take by car, driving from the capital to one of the southern points of the park. This point is known as Skaftafell; and to get there, you just have to drive for hours on the Ring Road, the main road in Iceland.

As we mentioned before, the extent of the glacier is such that it cannot be fully explored in just one day. It is the largest glacier in Iceland, located in one of the most remote regions. When planning a trip, it is crucial to narrow down the area you want to visit in advance.

Information about Vatnajokull

The Vatnajokull Glacier is one of the most surprising areas to lose yourself, metaphorically, in Iceland. In Icelandic, it is correctly written this way: Vatnajökull. Vatna means “water,” and Jökull means “glacier,”; quite descriptive, right? Sometimes people write the name this way: vatnajøkull, but I am afraid it is not Icelandic, is a vowel used in the Danish, Norwegian, and Faroese languages.

As we mentioned at the beginning of the article, it is the largest glacier in Europe. But how big is Vatnajokull? Well, the ice cap covers 8% of the surface of Iceland, with about 7,900 km2 (3,100 sq mi) of extension and an average thickness of 380 m (1,250 ft). So you can get an idea of the dimension. The glacier covers a slightly larger area than the entire State of Delaware.

glacier cave at the vatnajokull glacier

The national park, where the glacier is located at, is the largest of the three national park sin Iceland. It is not difficult then to imagine that sighting a glacier such as the Vatnajokull is not the only option available here.

In addition to being home to more than 30 outlet glaciers, it is also home to a few active volcanoes you can hike such as the Grímsvötn, Öræfajökull and the Bárðarbunga. Many people tend to believe Vatnajokull is a volcano itself; however, it is just the ice sheet or Icecap that covers, at least, seven different volcanoes.

If that was not enough, you could also visit Iceland’s highest mountain, Mt. Hvannadalshnjúkur, which is 2,110 meters high (6922ft). If you want to climb to the top, you must be in excellent physical shape. Climbing the highest peak in Iceland is not an easy task if you must do it while walking on ice. Since we are talking about physical activities, did you know that this National park offers several outdoor activities? Let's get to know them.

What to do in Vatnajokull

Climbing is, of course, one of the most common options. Now, there is not only one type of climbing. You can climb mountains as we mentioned before or you can climb glaciers! In the Skaftafell area, located in the southern tip of the park, you have the opportunity to join a glacier hiking group.

Agencies have several types of groups depending on the physical condition of the client, so rest assured that you will find an activity adapted to you. The companies themselves provide the necessary equipment to carry out this activity: helmets, harness, ice axes, and crampons.

If you prefer a less demanding activity, nearby, you have the most famous glacial lagoon in Iceland, Jokulsarlon. You can take a pleasant walk around the area, quietly sightsee the beautiful views that the lagoon offers. If you feel like having a unique and more adventurous experience, you can join a Jokulsarlon boat tour. These tours will take you as close to the icebergs as safely as possible!

That is where the James bond movie “Die Another Day” was filmed, a car chase won’t be possible, but nothing can stop you from feeling like a movie star!

If you're traveling on a budget, going on a hike is a great way to enjoy the beauty of our country without spending money. The Vatnajokull National Park offers trails for all types of tourists. If you are not really into walking, we still recommend hiking to the Svartifoss waterfall, as it only takes 45 minutes and leads to one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland.

You can also rent a car in Iceland, head to the area to enjoy an afternoon doing some snowmobiling, tour the snow-covered surfaces in a super jeep or visit the imposing ice caves.

Accommodation in the area is widely available, so you can spend a day or two here and do as many activities as possible. You can stay at Höfn, a lovely fishing village with over two thousand inhabitants. This town is an important center for tourists, as it is quite close to the southern point of the glacier.

hiking on ice at the Vatnajokull glacier

Vatnajokull: Iceland’s magnificent National Park

How could we imagine that something as violent as a volcanic eruption could create something so beautiful? Iceland is an island that the more you explore it, the more it surprises you.

Delving deeper into this immense mole of ice can be one of the most impressive experiences of your visit. Many tourists comment on how moved they felt when admiring the mighty nature of this region. We highly recommend you to add Vatnajokull to your itinerary. So when anyone asks you where is the largest glacier in Europe, not only can you reply, but reminisce about all the emotions you have experienced in it.


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