Jkulsrln glacier lagoon in Iceland

In the south east of Iceland, you'll find a glacier lagoon filled with large chunks of ice. This ice lagoon has become one of Iceland's most popular attractions due to its immense beauty. The lagoon is called Jökulsárlón, or Glacier's-River-Lagoon.

Jökulsárlón is one of Iceland's natural crown jewels, we've even started calling the nearby black beach our Diamond Beach, as the ice chunks lying on it resemble diamonds glistening in the sun. Thousands of people are drawn to it, all year round, we have an incredible amount of stunning pictures of it and it's even Iceland's most popular filming location! So what is it exactly that makes this location so unique?

Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon's location

Stunning sunset over Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon

Jokulsarlon ice lagoon is right next to Vatnajökull glacier, Europe's largest glacier. Vatnajökull and its surrounding area is Iceland's largest national park, and the second biggest national park in Europe, after Yugid Va in Russia. There are only three national parks in Iceland, all very unlike each other. Jokulsarlon forms a part of Vatnajökull National Park, that is characterised by ice, glacier tongues, rugged highlands and lava landscape.

Here you can find out more about the glaciers in Iceland.

Impressive glacier in Iceland

The lagoon is formed naturally, from melted glacial water coming from the glacier and is getting bigger each year, as big blocks of ice crumble from the ever decreasing glacier into the lagoon. Although the lake is becoming more impressive as it increases in size, it takes its toll on the glacier, visibly demonstrating the effects of global warming. That makes the lagoon and the nearby glacier tongue even more special, since it will look different each and every time you go there due to the constant change of the Icelandic landscape. Each visit is unique.

Diamond Beach by Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon in Iceland

The glacier tongue coming down into the lake is very close to the sea, and the lagoon is connected to the sea, the seawater also aiding to melt the ice from the glacier. The chunks of ice that fall into the lagoon slowly melt and drift out to sea, where the Atlantic waves crash on them at the black volcanic beach that's found there.

Icelandic Diamond Beach by Jokulsarlon ice lagoon

This black stretch of sand gets covered in translucent, compact ice that's thousands of years old that glistens in the sun, much like diamonds. This is how the beach has earned itself the nickname Diamond Beach.

Wildlife at Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon

Cute little seal in the ice lagoon

Seals can be seen swimming in the lagoon and by the coastline, or relaxing on top of an iceberg floating in the lagoon. Iceland is also full of birdlife, especially during summer, so you may see the arctic tern and a number of other birds in the area. This is not a popular area for puffins though, but if you are driving from Reykjavík you can stop by Dyrhólaey lighthouse and Reynisfjara beach on the way to see some puffins. The drive along the south coast to Jokulsarlon is breathtakingly beautiful and it's worth it taking your time to get there.

Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon as a film location

A scene from Interstellar shot on Svnafellsjkull glacier tongue

A great number of films have been shot in Iceland, many of which you can read about in our article about movie locations in Iceland. This icy landscape has inspired many filmmakers to shoot there, and it's especially easy in the summer time as the weather may be quite warm but the surroundings look cold.

Besides the two James Bond films (Die Another Day and A View to a Kill) and Tomb Raider that were filmed at the icy lagoon, then Batman Begins and Interstellar were shot nearby at Svínafellsjökull glacier, inside Vatnajökull national park.

A number of commercials and music videos have also been shot at Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, such as Bon Iver's Holocene, Justin Bieber's I'll Show You and the music video to Gerua from the Bollywood film Dilwali starring Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol, that you can see here above.

How to get to Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon?

Northern Lights over Jkulsrln glacier lagoon

You can drive yourself or go on a tour to the lagoon. If you are driving from Reykjavík, note that it's about a 5-6 hour very scenic drive to get there (so it will take you longer with all the stops you'll want to make on the way!). We therefore recommend taking at least 2 days in going there and back to Reykjavík.

The drive is not a boring one, as you will pass by some stunning scenery, including the gorgeous waterfalls Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss, the black beach of Reynisfjara, Mýrdalsjökull glacier and Eyjafjallajökull volcano - just to name a few natural attractions along the way.

Diamond Beach by Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon

As there are so many places to explore on the way, we have a number of self-drive suggested itineraries, such as this 6 day self drive tour of the south coast and the Golden Circle in summertime, and a similar 6 day winter drive, that also includes a visit to an ice cave. If you have a shorter time, then there's also this 3 day winter drive, that also includes the ice cave or we can customise a self-drive plan for you.

If you want to make your plan yourself, then we can help you to find a cheap but good rental car.

Jkulsrln glacier lagoon during summer

The lagoon is accessible all year round, although in winter it may be a little weather depending. If there's a snowstorm raging then you'd be advised not to drive in wintertime. Most days you will be fine however. The roads along the south coast generally stay clear all year round and there is a bit of traffic so if you run into trouble then someone will stop by quickly and help you out!

An icy view of Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon

The added bonus of traveling during wintertime is that you may catch the Northern Lights, so don't let winter weather stop you from exploring this gem of Iceland's nature! If you don't want to drive yourself then you can always book a tour to go there, such as this Christmas Season 3 day tour or this 2 day winter tour to Jökulsárlón with ice caving.

This 2 day tour to Jökulsárlón that includes glacier hiking is also available all year round.

Activities at Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon

Boat tours operate in the summertime on the lagoon, between April and October. Indeed, they are the same boats as were used in Tomb Raider, that you can see in the clip above that supposedly takes place in Russia.

Boat tour on Jkulsrln glacier lagoon

In the high season, July and August, there are up to 40 trips a day. You can choose between going on an amphibian boat tour that leaves multiple times a day or a Zodiac boat tour that has a fixed time schedule. Individuals don't need to book in advance for the amphibian boat tours but groups larger than 12 people will need to book. The Zodiac tours can sell out so it's advised to book them in advance, they only operate between June and September. Find out more by contacting Ice Lagoon or book this glacier hike and boat tour.

Natural ice cave in winter near the glacier lagoon

In wintertime you can go ice caving nearby, in a natural blue ice cave within the Vatnajökull glacier. The ice caves form when the glacier is melting and rivers run underneath the ice, sculpting the ice into a tunnel. Each cave is different from the next one and they vary in size and shape. What they all have in common is the incredible blue colour of the ice.

Another ice cave in Iceland

The ice caves are only accessible between November and March each year, and are very dependant on weather. If it's too warm then they may fill with water, melt or even collapse in places, so you should never enter an ice cave unless you're with a guide that knows the area and the cave well, and has deemed it safe to enter. So it's likeliest that you can go when the weather is at its coldest, in January or February. You'll see a winter wonderland that's hard to find elsewhere!

Northern Lights over Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon

Jokulsarlon is also a very popular place to try and catch the Northern Lights dancing above, as the scenery looks phenomenal with the auroras reflected in the water and the ice.

Auroras over Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon

The Northern Lights occur all year round, but are only visible during the dark and can therefore not be seen in the summertime when the nights stay bright. From September until mid April is when you can see the Northern Lights in the sky, depending on a clear sky and how active they are.

Check out our 5 day winter package that includes the glacier lagoon, Northern Light hunts, the ice cave and more.

What to be aware of at Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon

Tourists climbing on top of the ice at Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon - photo credit Owen Hunt

(Picture by Owen Hunt)

There's one main safety measure you should be aware of when you go to this ice lagoon. It should go without saying that it's not wise to go swimming in a lake full of enormous icebergs, or climbing on top of those icebergs - but somehow people are tempted to do so!

People sometimes underestimate the Icelandic nature and find themselves in dangerous situations, often needing the rescue of some of Iceland's search and rescue teams.

So don't be tempted to do what many film characters or singers do (such as James Bond, Shah Rukh Khan or Justin Bieber) and swim in the lake or climb on top of the icebergs! We're not just being boring by saying so, the current in the lagoon is very strong and can easily carry you out to sea if you venture a little too far swimming in the lagoon.

The tips of the icebergs at Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon

The lagoon is very deep, up to a couple of hundred meters deep. What you see of the huge icebergs floating in the lagoon are literally just the tips of the icebergs, about 90% of the iceberg is underneath the water. Sometimes the icebergs tip over, when the ice underneath the water surface has become smaller than what is seen above the surface (due to the ice cracking or melting). If people are climbing on to the top of the ice and then the ice tips over, you might get caught underneath the ice and find yourself in a life threatening situation. That's not really worth a good picture.

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