The Best Glaciers To Visit In Iceland

Iceland is an island nation with a rich tapestry of history that has shaped the nation into what it is today. It’s also a popular location for adventurers who are eager to witness Iceland’s most well-known attractions: icebergs and glaciers.

Due to its position on the cusp of the Arctic Circle, a portion of the island is covered by glaciers. And there are icebergs, which are offshoots of glaciers that travelers can see icebergs in various parts of the Arctic region. This is one of the greatest attractions of a polar adventure, and it makes sense. People are endlessly fascinated by ice sculptures of people or objects that they could find in and around their neighborhoods. Glaciers are naturally produced masses of snow and ice and other particles that become compressed over hundreds and hundreds of years.

Glacier viewing is a highlight for Quark Expeditions guests who enjoy a pre- or post-trip visit to Iceland.

Glacier viewing is a highlight for Quark Expeditions guests who enjoy a pre- or post-trip visit to Iceland. 
Photo: The Budget Travelers

Explorers and scientists who venture to these glaciers give many of them unique names so that they can be distinguished during ecological studies and even tourist adventures. So what are the best glaciers to visit in Iceland, and what are some of the best ways to experience these natural wonders? Let’s look into those questions and come up with some answers for you to build your next great adventure.

What is a glacier?

Most of us understand what glaciers are, in theory. But how do the experts who educate us all about natural phenomena define glaciers, and what is it that makes them such beautiful and attractive landmarks for nature lovers?

The US Geological Survey focuses on using science to track changes in the natural world. According to their definition, glaciers are large accumulations of crystalline ice, snow, rock, sediment, and liquid water. These elements originate on land and slowly ebb downward to the coasts until they harden into fully formed glaciers that cover shorelines.

For the elements to develop into glaciers, they require the right climate to make those transformations. Only polar regions of the planet are cold enough to create the types of conditions that allow the elements to harden into beautiful glaciers. It’s this natural scientific process that makes journeys to the polar regions of the world such attractive prospects for voyagers and adventurers alike.

How many glaciers are in Iceland?

Geographically speaking, Iceland seems like a very small nation, especially compared to its much larger neighbor of Greenland. This might make you think that there are only a handful of glaciers that surround the island.

You would be wrong to assume that. The Icelandic government has named 269 glaciers scattered across ice gaps, mountains, piedmonts, ice streams, and other natural bodies. Approximately 11 percent of the island’s surface is covered with these glaciers, making them a signature feature of Iceland.

Iceland is one of the many locations in the Arctic region that is home to some of the world’s most breathtaking glaciers. You can also find glaciers of this high quality in places like Canada, Greenland, Scandinavia, the Svalbard archipelago, and, of course, the Arctic Circle itself. Discover more about the types of journeys you can take to each of these destinations using our polar adventure guide to the Arctic.

What is the best way to experience glaciers in Iceland?

So what are some ways to experience the best glaciers to visit in Iceland? A straightforward way is to take a voyage that stops at the island, such as the Under The Northern Lights: Exploring Iceland and East Greenland adventure. This is a 14-day journey that begins in the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik and travels to the Westfjords on the west coast where land and sea collide in the most amazing manner. From there, you’ll continue onward to explore the coast of Greenland.

Reykjavik’s Perlan Museum

Before departing on your adventure, you should take time to explore the Icelandic capital. One of the city’s most famous attractions is the Perlan museum, the natural history museum of Iceland. The venue features exhibitions that showcase Iceland’s relationship with the natural elements, including water that, when frozen, contributes to the glaciers that cover much of the island. It’s a great destination to amp up the excitement for your maiden polar voyage.

Glacier hiking

Hiking across glaciers allows you to get a truly on-the-ground experience over frozen terrain that glistens in the light. Glacial hiking is a popular activity. Quark Expeditions guests get the opportunity to explore glaciers on foot during the many shore excursions throughout their polar expedition.

Hiking across glaciers allows you to get a truly on-the-ground experience over frozen terrain that glistens in the light. Glacial hiking is a popular activity. Quark Expeditions guests get the opportunity to explore glaciers on foot during the many shore excursions throughout their polar expedition.

A dip in the geothermal waters of the Blue Lagoon near Reykjavik appeal to guests after a day exploring glaciers.

A dip in the geothermal waters of the Blue Lagoon near Reykjavik appeal to guests after a day exploring glaciers. Photo: AdobeStock

Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon is one of the most-visited attractions in Iceland, where some Quark Expeditions voyages start or end. Relatively close to the Keflavik International Airport, the Blue Lagoon waters—which reach 36-39 degrees celsius (or 99 to 102 Fahrenheitare contained in a lava field on the Reykjanes Peninsula, an area known for geothermal water. The milky blue color of the water is due to the high silica content, which forms soft white mud on the bottom of the lake which bathers apply to their bodies. It's said to have restorative powers.

Helicopter glacier sighting

Of course, another way to see glaciers in their full glory is from the air. At a high vantage point, This is a great way to see more of Iceland and other polar destinations from the convenience of a well-flown helicopter. As one of our esteemed voyagers, you’ll have the option to book an excursion aboard one of our twin-engine helicopters that are positioned on Ultramarine. Weather conditions will determine if it’s safe enough to fly at the time that you arrive at your destination, but it always helps to book the opportunity and hope for the best!

Best glaciers to visit in Iceland

Iceland has many named glaciers spread across the island. So which glaciers are the most impressive that should be on your bucket list to see ahead of your polar seafaring adventure? We recommend visiting any of these suggested glaciers and basking in the sight that is to behold.

Vatnajökull

Vatnajökull is the largest of all glaciers in Iceland and you might actually recognize it as it was one of the primary shooting locations in the second season of Game of Thrones. Langjökull

Langjökull is the second-largest glacier in the country and, geographically, it is the closest glacier to the Icelandic capital, Reykjavik. This makes Langjökull one of the best glaciers to visit in Iceland for the convenience of having it so close to the location of your polar voyage departure point. You can see the natural beauty of Langjökull within a day, and then prepare to board your ship for the journey across the Arctic Ocean.

Hofsjökull

Hofsjökull is the third-largest glacier in Iceland. Unlike its two larger counterparts, Hofsjökull is also an active volcano that makes it doubly attractive to adventurous explorers. Many of the island's largest rivers begin at the foot of the glacier, including the country’s largest river, Þjórsá which flows from the highlands down into the lowlands where it eventually empties into the ocean.

How to get to the best glaciers in Iceland

To witness the best glaciers to visit in Iceland, you first have to arrive at the island. Given its location in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, there are only two possible ways to visit Iceland: by air or by sea.

While some people prefer a direct flight to Iceland to make the journey as fast as possible, others enjoy taking their time to see the land all around them by traveling on a boat. There’s no better way to make that journey than a voyage like Quark Expeditions’ Three Arctic Islands: Iceland, Greenland, and Spitsbergen expedition.

Arctic terns rest on a chunk of ice near Lilliehook Glacier, Svalbard, which is visited on multi-destination voyages that include both Iceland and Greenland.

Arctic terns rest on a chunk of ice near Lilliehook Glacier, Svalbard, which is visited on multi-destination voyages that include
both Iceland and Greenland. Photo: Acacia Johnson

The best part of this journey is, that over 15 days, you’ll explore three different islands along the boundaries of the Arctic Circle. The voyage begins in Reykjavik and follows the Denmark Strait towards Greenland before veering east to reach the island of Spitsbergen in the Svalbard archipelago. The best glaciers to visit in Iceland, Greenland, and Svalbard await you on this journey of a lifetime.

In addition to the thrill of seeing glaciers across three different islands, you’ll have a lot to see while at sea. Whale pods often swim near the shores of Iceland and other Arctic islands so make sure you have a camera handy while sailing the ocean waters. You never know when a pod of whales will make an experience and entertain you.

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