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Guide to Jökulsárlón, Iceland’s Glacier Lagoon

Iceland is full of otherworldly natural wonders and Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is no doubt one of them. Giant icebergs float gracefully in a sea of ice against the bluest backdrop you can imagine. If you’re looking to add this epic, icy destination to your Iceland itinerary, keep reading. This post has all the details to plan a perfect stop at Iceland’s glacier lagoon.

In this Guide:

Here’s what we’re covering in this post. We invite you to read the full post or jump ahead to the section you’re most interested in.

This is Zoe who was almost one during this trip. They are generally unimpressed; it’s nothing against the glacier lagoon.

What isJökulsárlón?

Jökulsárlón is a glacier lagoon in Iceland. It’s a beautiful, iceberg filled lagoon located on Iceland’s southern coast, about 4 hours driving from Reykjavik. The glacier lagoon is a great stop for those traveling Iceland’s Ring Road or anyone looking to add an extra day to their Golden Circle itinerary.

Let’s start with some of the basics.

How did Iceland’s Glacier Lagoon form?

Jökulsárlón is a relatively new glacier lagoon in Iceland. It formed in the 1900s as the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier started to melt due to rising temperatures caused by climate change.

As the glacier recedes, it leaves behind a large crater which was filled with water from the melting glacier and nearby seawater. The ice breaks off the glacier in large chunks and then melts and breaks apart as it moves toward the sea.

What makes Jökulsárlón unique is that the glacier lagoon is mostly enclosed, except for a small waterway which leads out to the ocean. As a result, thousands of ice chunks consolidate in the lagoon until they’re small enough to flow through the waterway and out to sea.

The result is the lagoon we see today, a breathtakingly beautiful lake filled with ice of all shapes and sizes.

Where does the ice go? Diamond Beach.

In case the lagoon wasn’t beautiful enough, the glacial ice has one last gift to give. After washing out to sea, the ice chunks eventually become small enough to be carried to shore by the ocean’s waves.

As the tide recedes, the ice chunks are deposited on the nearby beach. The result is freshly washed ice chunks shining like diamonds against the black sand beach. Hence the name, Diamond Beach.

Things to do at Iceland’s Glacier Lagoon, Jökulsárlón

The main thing to do at Jökulsárlón is to observe the natural beauty of this unique landscape. Here are a few different ways to do that and a few other things to do while you’re there.

  • Boat Ride: Explore the glacier lagoon from the water on an amphibian boat or Zodiac speed raft. The boat tours only run in the summer. Each boat type operates during different seasons and has different requirements for children.
  • Diamond Beach: Diamond Beach is an iceberg graveyard of sorts. You can get to the north side Diamond Beach by walking from the main lagoon viewing area. You can also drive across the bridge and park on the south side to explore the other side of the beach.
  • Walking Trail: There is a short walking trail accessible from the main parking lot. It has a slight incline and offers some really beautiful views of the glacier lagoon.
  • Hiking: There is a 4.4 mile hiking trail that runs along the south side of the lagoon. If you’re looking to extend your time here, get away from the crowds and see the glacier lagoon from a new angle, this is a great option.
  • Animal Spotting: Seals can often be found bopping in and out of the currents near the mouth of the lagoon. If you’re lucky you can spot them sunbathing on the ice. There’s also puffins in the area, and we spotted several atop the ice bergs.
  • Ice Cave Tour: There are naturally forming ice caves inside the nearby glacier. You can take a 2.5 hour tour to explore a few of these caves. These tours run September – March.
Watched this cute little seal at the mouth of the lagoon for a while.

Jökulsárlón Amphibian Boat Ride Review

Amphibian boats run from June to August. Each tour is scheduled for 35 minutes. Tickets cost 6,000 ISK ($46.75 USD) per adult and 3,000 ISK ($23.37 USD) per child 6-12. Children under 6 are free.

You can purchase tickets online up to 1 hour before the tour’s scheduled start. You will need to pick up your tickets at the ticket booth on site when you arrive before you board.

We boarded the boat on land, a short walk from the parking lot. Life vests were distributed and were required for all passengers. Children’s life vests were available. Face masks were also required in 2021.

The boat drive into the lagoon and then took a short loop around the central portion of the lagoon. We stopped briefly at one of the larger icebergs for photos, but where otherwise moving the entire time.

The ride was slow and not bumpy. That is to say it did not trigger my own generally sensitive motion sickness. We were traveling with a nearly 1-year-old toddler. We stood briefly for photos, but generally felt safer holding them on our lap as the life vest was a bit bulky.

The tour guide talked (in English) a majority of the trip. They shared information about how the lagoon formed, how long icebergs live in the lagoon, and some other interesting tidbits about the area. We were able to hear and understand the guide well.

You could touch this piece of ice from the lagoon if you wanted … but we were in the middle of a pandemic so we chose not to touch something a bunch of other people touched.

If you have a day at Jökulsárlón, a boat ride is a really nice way to explore the lagoon. Did I enjoy it? Absolutely!

Is it a must-do for $45 a person? I would say no. If you were trying for a budget trip, the views are (almost) just as good from the land. It’s also fine to skip if you just don’t want to commit the time to it.

View from the amphibian boat.

Plan Your Visit to Iceland’s Glacier Lagoon, Jökulsárlón

Once you’ve decided to add Iceland’s glacier lagoon to your Iceland itinerary, it’s time to start planning the details. While Jökulsárlón is generally pretty straight forward, there are some things you’ll want to know before hand when planning your trip.

When to Visit Jökulsárlón

Jökulsárlón is open to visitors all year. While you can visit during the winter, we recommend visiting Iceland’s glacier lagoon in the summer.

It might seem counterintuitive to visit an ice lagoon in the summer, but the logic is sound. Winter weather can make the road to the glacier lagoon very dangerous and sometimes completely impassable. Boat tours also stop running during the winter months, so you will only be able to see the glacier lagoon from the land.

For those reasons, we recommend you visit Iceland’s glacier lagoon in the summer. Air temperatures are mild, usually averaging 40s – 50s Fahrenheit, but the water is still cold enough to keep the lake filled with ice.

We visited in July and our toddler did not need their coat. They wore a long sleeve t-shirt hoodie and sweat pants. We (the parents) wore pants and long sleeves. We had light jackets which we took on and off throughout the day.

Boat tours on the lagoon operate in summer months, but each boat type has different schedules. Generally speaking, boats of some kind are available from June through November. Summer months can bring large crowds to Iceland, so shoulder season (June and October-November) will be your best bet.

We visited Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon in July. The weather was perfect. Temperatures were in the low 50s and with the sun, we didn’t even wear a coat. The sun made the ice extra sparkly and the whole landscape completely stunning.

How to Get to Jökulsárlón

Jökulsárlón is easily accessible via car. The glacier lagoon is located just off of Iceland’s Route 1, aka Ring Road, which is the main route that encircles the entire island.

It takes about 5 hours to drive from Reykjavík to Jökulsárlón. The drive is very pleasant and takes you past some beautiful scenery along the country’s southern coast. It would be easy to make a full day out of the drive, stopping at waterfalls, lava fields and small towns along the way. It is also a great way to extend a Golden Circle road trip, more on that below.

There is ample free parking available near Jökulsárlón and across the highway at Diamond Beach.

Unfortunately Jökulsárlón is not easily accessible via bus. You could technically do it, but it would take about 7 hours. In general, Iceland is not particularly well connected by public transit between cities. While there are bus routes available between some of the bigger towns, the stops and times are limited and the fares can be quite expensive.

How Much Time Do you Need for Jökulsárlón?

Iceland’s glacier lagoon can fit into your itinerary a few different ways.

If Jökulsárlón is your only stop for the day and you’re looking to have a leisurely visit, plan to spend about 4 hours there. This will allow plenty of time to enjoy the sights, go on a boat ride, eat lunch and spend some time at diamond beach.

But don’t rule out Jökulsárlón just because you can’t commit 4 hours to the stop. The glacier lagoon is also nice for a quick stop. If you’re driving Route 1 and are planning to pass it anyway, you could easily plan to see the glacier lagoon in 30 minutes to an hour. This would give you time to take a quick walk around, take a few photos, and maybe walk over to Diamond Beach.

We had a full day to commit to driving to Jökulsárlón from Vik, so we took our time. We ended up spending 3.5 hours at Jökulsárlón, which included a boat ride and lunch.

How Much Does it Cost to Visit Jökulsárlón

Generally speaking, Jökulsárlón is free to visit. There is no cost to view Iceland’s glacier lagoon from the land. Parking is also free at Iceland’s glacial lake and at Diamond Beach.

Activities on the water, such as boat rides, are an additional cost (about $45 USD per person). Food and drink is also available for purchase (about $2.50 USD for drinks and $15 USD for lunch).

The menu at one of the food truck’s at Iceland’s glacier lagoon. We loved that they had such a good vegan option! This was rare in Iceland.

Amenities at Jökulsárlón

While Jökulsárlón is a natural wonder, you won’t be roughing it to visit. The tourism infrastructure built around the glacial lake makes it easy to visit. Here’s a few of the amenities you’ll find at Iceland’s glacier lagoon.

  • Free Parking. Most guests are arriving at the glacier lagoon by car, and there is ample free parking available at Jökulsárlón. The parking lot is gravel and does not require any special vehicle type.
  • Food & Drink. There are two food trucks located near the parking lot, just steps from the glacial lake. Here you can find fresh-made sandwiches, warm and cold beverages including coffee, and a few other snacks. Vegan options were available. The vegan roll was one of the best things we ate in Iceland!
  • Free Wifi. If you don’t have a data plan on your trip, the free wifi is super helpful. I believe you only needed to enter your email address to connect.
  • Bathrooms. There are bathrooms available at Jökulsárlón right beside the parking lot. The bathrooms had a short line while we were there, but were very clean and well maintained. The bathrooms were free to use at Jökulsárlón.
Vegan roll at Iceland’s glacier lagoon

Where to stay near Jökulsárlón

There is no place to legally stay overnight at Iceland’s glacier lagoon. Wild camping is not permitted in Iceland and there are no hotel accommodations at the lagoon itself. Instead, you’ll need to stay overnight at a nearby town.

If you’re looking to stay near Jökulsárlón, the closest option is the town of Reynivellir. It’s a 15 minute drive and has a few small guesthouses. This is probably not your best option, though.

Most people are stopping at Jökulsárlón as a part of a bigger Ring Road road trip or as an add on to the Golden Circle. In either case, it’s better to move a bit further in either direction to a bigger town with more amenities.

If you’re heading north on the Ring Road, staying in Höfn (1 hour north) is a great pick. If you’re heading south, we recommend staying in the village of Vik, which is half way between Reykjavik and the glacial lake. We personally stayed at Puffin Hotel in Vik. Both towns have decent guesthouse options, restaurants and grocery stores.

It’s worth noting, especially if you’re traveling with kids, that Vik does not have a pharmacy. In Iceland, you can only buy medicines (even ibuprofen and acetaminophen) from a pharmacy.

Vik, Iceland

Jökulsárlón Sample Itinerary

A visit to Iceland’s glacier lagoon can appeal in different ways to different types of travelers. To some, it’s the main destination, while to others it may just be a quick stop on their way to somewhere else.

We decided to make a full day out of our visit to Iceland’s glacier lagoon. Here’s a look at our itinerary and how we spent a day here.

  • 9:30 AM -12 PM: Drive from hotel in Vik to Jökulsárlón
  • 12 – 12:30 PM: Observe the lagoon and get a lay of the land
  • 12:30 – 1:15 PM: Amphibian boat tour
  • 1:15 – 2:30 PM: Walk along the north side of the lagoon to Diamond Beach
  • 2:30 – 3 PM: Lunch & coffee (Vegan Roll from food truck on site)
  • 3 – 3:30: Explore the south side of Diamond beach (Drove to the parking lot on the south side)
  • 3:30 – 7 PM: Drive from Jökulsárlón to Vik. Our return trip was longer because we made a few stops. We stopped at Skeiðará Bridge Monument, Scenic Green Lava Walk & one of many roadside waterfalls.

Get Ready for Iceland’s Glacier Lagoon

Now that you’ve planned your trip, it’s time to get ready! Here’s a few things you’ll want to be sure to have when you visit Iceland’s glacier lagoon. You may also want to check our minimalist Iceland packing list to help get ready for your whole trip.

What to Wear at Jökulsárlón

  • Comfortable Shoes: Sneakers are a good pick for the glacier lagoon. Hiking boots aren’t necessary unless you’re taking a longer hike from here, but you will want comfortable and sturdy shoes for short walks and rocky paths.
  • Zip-up Jacket: The temperature varies by season of course, but it also varies a lot minute by minute. A change in cloud coverage or a light breeze can change the feels-like temperature enough to need a jacket. Bring a light jacket that you can easily take on and off. I like this jacket because it’s also packable, waterproof and windproof.
  • Cute outfit: If you packed a favorite outfit, this is the place to wear it! Since you don’t need any technical gear for this visit, so it’s a good opportunity to set aside your waterproof pants and look cute for some photos.
Kenny has always loved this North Face jacket. It’s windproof, waterproof and super lightweight, making it perfect for a day at the glacier lagoon. Sadly they don’t seem to make anything similar anymore.

What to Bring to Jökulsárlón

  • Good Camera: The lagoon is stunning and photos just do not do it justice, but a good camera is going to get a heck of a lot closer. We don’t have a DSLR, but photos on Kenny’s iPhone 12 were significantly better than on my iPhone XS.
  • Waterproof Backpack Cover: Iceland weather changes quickly and rain is always an option. We kept a waterproof backpack cover with us at all times, just in case.
  • Baby Carrier: Parents of small children will want to pack a baby carrier. The paths are mostly gravel and not ideal for strollers. We used the Nuna CUDL carrier. Check out this post for more tips on baby wearing for travel and reviews of our favorite baby carriers.
The Nuna carrier is great for most things. Zoe naps really well in the carrier facing inward, like during this walk on Diamond Beach. Then when Zoe’s awake, we switch it to forward facing.

Add Iceland’s Glacier Lagoon to your Golden Circle Itinerary

The Golden Circle is a popular travel route that includes stops at Thingvellir National Park, Geysir Hot Spring Area and Gullfoss waterfall. Jökulsárlón is not on the Golden Circle route. For travelers who want to see more than just the Golden Circle but can’t commit to the full Ring Road, the glacier lagoon is a great pick.

To add Jökulsárlón to your Golden Circle route, first make the main Golden Circle stops at Thingvellir National Park, Geysir Hot Spring Area and Gullfoss waterfall. Head south to Route 1 after visiting Gullfoss Waterfall. Follow Route 1 all the way to Jökulsárlón. (Maps below.)

Gullfoss Waterfall

If you were driving straight through, this would take about 4.5 hours, but we don’t recommend that. Instead, consider stopping at some of the amazing sites along Iceland’s southern coast. Some of our favorites were Skógafoss waterfall and Dyrhólaey lookout and lighthouse.

Golden Circle & Jökulsárlón Itinerary & Maps

Here’s a look at our exact itinerary. This road trip starts and ends in Reykjavik, and includes 4 days and 3 nights of adventures.

Day 1: Golden Circle

  • Depart from Reykjavik
  • Thingvellir National Park
  • Geysir Hot Spring Area
  • Gullfoss Waterfall
  • Skálholt Cathedral
  • Overnight in Fludir

Day 2: Southern Coast

  • Depart from Fludir
  • Seljalandsfoss Waterfall
  • Gljúfrafoss Waterfall
  • Skógafoss Waterfall
  • Dyrhólaey lookout and lighthouse
  • Black Sand Beach
  • Overnight in Vik

Day 3:Jökulsárlón

  • Depart from Vik
  • Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon
  • Diamond Beach
  • Roadside stops at Skeiðará Bridge Monument & Scenic Green Lava Walk
  • Overnight in Vik

Day 4: Return to Reykjavík

  • Vik Friendship Status
  • Vik i Myrdal Church
  • Drive back to Reykjavík

IsIceland’s Glacier Lagoon Worth the Drive?

It takes about 5 hours to drive straight from Reykjavík to Jökulsárlón. That’s a long drive for travelers who are staying in Reykjavík their whole trip or just weren’t planning to venture out that far. It leaves a lot of people wondering if Jökulsárlón is worth the trip out there.

We think that the answer really depends on the type of traveller you are and the kind of trip you’re taking. For some, this will be the highlight of your trip. For others, this might leave you wanting more.

Personally, we loved it and thought the extended Golden Circle itinerary was perfect for us. However, we don’t necessarily think it’s the best choice for everyone. We may not have chosen the glacier lagoon over a different excursion if we weren’t traveling with a toddler. (It was also during a pandemic, which limited our options further.)

Travelers who will value Jökulsárlón

Families with young children, older travelers, or travelers with mobility issues will likely love Jökulsárlón the most. These types of travelers may not be able to take part in some of the more extreme adventures Iceland has to offer. They may otherwise be considering a shorter trip, maybe justReykjavik and the Golden Circle.

A trip to Iceland just isn’t complete without some epic nature and surreal landscapes. The glacier lagoon allows travelers to have that experience with relative ease. Other than the long drive, visiting Jökulsárlón requires little physical effort required, minimal added costs and doesn’t require a very long stay.

Adding Jökulsárlón to your itinerary also likely means adding some extra stops along the way. Stops like Seljalandsfoss waterfall and Reynisfjara black sand beach. These stops combined with the glacier lagoon can make this extra day or two feel like an epic journey, which it is!

Skógafoss waterfall

Travelers who may not want to prioritize Jökulsárlón

That said, adult travelers or families with older kids may find themselves wanting more. There’s just so much that Iceland has to offer that might be more worth your time.

If we were traveling without our toddler, we may have done something a bit more extreme like seeing an active volcano, hiking a glacier or going on a complete Ring Road road trip. These weren’t good options for us personally on this specific trip, but they look incredible for different travelers in a different season of life.

We’re by no means saying these types of travelers shouldn’t stop here – I’m sure they’d enjoy it as much as anyone. But if you have lofty visions of adventure during your Iceland trip, the glacier lagoon may leave you feeling let down. If you’re passing by Jökulsárlón, we would definitely suggest stopping, but maybe not going too far out of your way.

We also don’t recommend a day trip to Jökulsárlón from Reykjavik. While the glacier lagoon is very beautiful, there are better things to do with your day that don’t require 10 hours in the car.

Happy Iceland Travel Planning!

Iceland has so much to see and do. It’s hard to choose exactly what stops to add and how to build the perfect itinerary for your travel needs. We hope you’ve found this guide to be helpful for planning your Iceland trip.

If there’s anything missing from this guide that you’re curious about, please let us know in the comments. Whether you’re in Iceland now or planning your dream trip, we hope you have an amazing adventure.

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Saturday 26th of November 2022

[…] is one of the most popular day trips in Iceland. You can also explore Geysir and the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, where you can see the waterfall Gullfoss, geysers, and glacier. You have a longer period of time […]