In South Iceland, Jökulsárlón glacier and Vatnajökull lagoon are gems to be discovered

21. February, 2020

When nature gives you a gift of beautiful scenery, you have to take it. Especially in Iceland where glaciers, waterfalls, rivers, caves, black sand beaches and moss covered lava fields are within easy reach by car (the country’s moody weather permitting, of course!).

Consider visiting Vatnajökull glacier lagoon (pronounced vatna-yuhktl and translated as the Water Glacier), a star of numerous Instagram posts, travel blogs and those infamous Justin Bieber images that show him clad only in skimpy underpants taking a dip in the cool glacier waters.

To get to the lagoon, drive along the south coast of Iceland past the farmlands, glaciers and the Atlantic Ocean. The dramatic terrain will continuously surprise and delight you but should you like to break up your journey, why not stop by Seljalandsfoss or Skógafoss waterfalls or get close to Vatnajökull glacier in the Vatnajökull National Park.  Incredibly, it covers 13% of Iceland and is largest national park in Western Europe.

This writer was so taken by what looked like an immense frozen river cutting through the volcanic rock that she had to get out of the car and run and scream – there was no other way to process what I was seeing for the first time in my life. Perhaps it was the colour – unexpectedly blue, with deep  brown veins or the total volume of ice (the glacier is almost 1km thick at its deepest point) or the immense size (it’s the largest glacier mass in Europe).

I tried to imagine how thousands of years ago the mass of ice moved across the landscape. Even today the glacier is alive – it’s retracting at a rate of one meter per year and many of its outlet glaciers are melting at an even higher rate due to global warming – and chunks of it fall into the water. This is the place where fire and ice interact: the latest volcanic eruption took place locally in May 2011. On its southern edge Vatnajökull houses Iceland’s highest mountain, Hvannadalshnúkur, a climbing and hiking spot.

When the road calls you again, drive to Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. Located on the edge of the Vatnajökull National Park, it is a sight one is unprepared for. Here icebergs of all sizes lay scattered across the lagoon. You may have seen photographs of it but they pale in comparison with the sheer energy and otherworldliness of the real thing. Fortunately, you can get very closer to them. All year round, with the exception of early April and late October, two boat tours depart from the shore. On the Amphibian tour passengers board a car on land and then it sails among icebergs. On a smaller Zodiac boat adventurers dressed in floatation suits and lifejackets get up close and personal with the icebergs and if safety concerns and conditions allow it, the captain takes you to the edge of the glacier itself.

One travel writer, who visited the lagoon nearly twenty years ago, noted how a piece of ice found on shore provided ice cubes for the evening cocktails. With glacier water so pure, it’s not such a bad idea. While passengers in your car pass around chilled gin and tonics, the driver can head to a small café on site for a hot coffee.

It is a long day, with the drive and all the stops along the way, but it’s worth it. Totally worth it.



By Svetlana Graudt

Svetlana was born in Moscow, where as many as nine million people use the metro every day. After 12 years in London she moved to Reykjavik for love. Svetlana loves cities and reading long articles in The New Yorker.