The ice caves in Iceland are absolute must-visit attractions. There are many ice caves that you can add to your island itinerary, but these are only the tip of the iceberg. There are still plenty of ice caves that have not yet been discovered in the 269 glaciers that can be found in Iceland. That's approximately an impressive 11% of the Icelandic land mass!
In this article, we dive deep into the details of these natural wonders. We take a look at how they are formed and reveal the ice caves that can’t be missed when visiting the island. So, if you’ve ever wondered what it would feel like to walk straight through an ice block, read on.
How are Ice Caves Formed?
An ice cave on the island should actually be referred to as a glacier cave in Iceland. That is because these Iceland caves are actually found inside these massive bodies of ice. Glaciers are formed when fallen snow gets compressed through the centuries.
But snow will always melt, and that’s why glaciers are moving and ever-changing. Sometimes, the movement can be so dramatic that the glacier can actually start twisting and turning. These movements end up forming crevices or cracks. The melted snow water will then inevitably run down these cracks and over time form shafts within the glacier.
Another interesting reason the glacier caves of Iceland are formed is the volcanic activity on the island. Sometimes it can be that hot lava burrows its way through the glacier, forming a sort of ice tunnel.
Other times, the volcanic activity is merely responsible for heating up the underground water supply. The hot water and steam then make their way through the glacier, leaving us with a beautiful glacier ice cave in Iceland.
When is the Best Time to See the Ice Caves in Iceland?
Technically, the ice caves in Iceland are there all year round. But due to safety concerns (snow melts, remember?), these ice tunnels are mainly open to the public during the colder winter months.
You also cannot visit the ice caves alone (even in the winter months) due to these safety concerns. But there are plenty of ice cave tours with experienced guides available on the island.
The Best Ice Caves in Iceland
Are you intrigued yet? Well, if you’re thinking of adding these magnificent natural phenomena to your itinerary, the following ice caves are not to be missed:
Katla, South Iceland
The following should actually give you a hunch as to why this ice tunnel in Iceland exists. Katla is the name of a famous volcano on the island (it even sparked a Netflix thriller series if you ever care to have a browse).
This is also the one ice cave that can be viewed all year round. So, if you’re dead set on visiting Iceland during the summer months, you won’t be missing out too much. Since Katla is only 167 km west of the capital city of Reykjavík, it’s possible to make this ice cave a day outing.
Blue Ice Caves, Vatnajökull National Park
This is probably one of the most famous ice caves in Iceland and is found in one of Iceland’s most prestigious national parks. Since Vatnajökull is also the largest glacier in Iceland (as well as in Europe!) it should come as no surprise that it boasts such an impressive ice cave.
The Blue Ice Caves are often called various names on the island, so please take note, so you don’t end up visiting the same ice cave twice (or even thrice). When you hear the names Blue Diamond Cave, Northern Lights Cave, Crystal Cave, and Waterfall Cave – these are all different names for the Blue Ice Caves, just in their annual different forms.
Lofthellir Ice Cave, North Iceland
This is an interesting ice cave, since it’s not one of the glacier caves of Iceland. In other words, you won’t be walking through walls of ice here. But this cave is famous for its naturally formed stalactites and ice sculptures (hence “ice cave”).
Lofthellir is more than 3500 years old and runs 370 meters under the Laxardalshraun lava field. Those wanting to visit the cave will have to be in the Myvatn area or Akureyri (the second-largest city in Iceland).
Perlan Ice Cave, Reykjavík
Unlike Lofthellir, Perlan is an actual ice cave (with the ice walls and everything), BUT it’s completely man-made. Perlan was constructed as part of the Wonders of Iceland exhibition. It can be found at the Perlan Museum and Observation Deck on Oskjuhlio Hill in the capital city.
It took 350 tons of Icelandic snow to build this 100-meter-long ice cave structure, and, as you can imagine, is a main attraction. Not only for those wanting to learn more about the ice caves in Iceland in general, but also for those who won’t be venturing out of the city.
Langjökull Ice Cave, West Highlands
Langjökull is actually the sister glacier of Vatnajökull. It has claimed both the title of the second-largest glacier in Iceland, as well as being the highest point above sea level. Although it looks like a typical glacier ice cave in Iceland, it has a lot in common with Perlan. Iit is also completely man-made!
It runs 1260 meters long and took almost a year and a half to build. If you would like to visit this interesting mix of natural and artificial, the attraction is very close to Reykjavík, so it’s an easy day trip.
Skaftafell Ice Caves, South-east Iceland
This is yet another ice cave that can be found in one of Vatnajökull’s outlets; Breidamerkurjökull Glacier. Every year, new ice caves are discovered here. This is due to the glacial river that runs through the glacier during the summer months.
So, it’s only once the water freezes again in winter that these ice caves can be discovered and opened to the public for viewing.
Why are the Ice Caves in Iceland Blue?
This phenomenon is not just applicable to the ice caves in Iceland, but also to the glacial walls and icebergs you find floating around the island. This uniquely blue color is due to a chemical process that is only found in sub-arctic climates.
Snow that falls on a glacier eventually also becomes compressed and forms part of the glacier. But this tight squeeze causes the oxygen to try and escape. These escape attempts form large ice crystals and air bubbles. When these factors are present, it appears blue to the human eye.
What to Wear When Visiting the best Ice Caves in Iceland
Needless to say, you’ll need to be dressed very warmly for this type of excursion. But since you'll be more than likely visit during winter you would’ve come prepared to the island anyway.
It’s advisable that you wear your waterproof gear on this outing. A waterproof jacket, waterproof pants, and waterproof hiking boots that can be fitted with crampons. Alternatively, you can rent hiking boots at the cave.
Also, remember to wear warm fleece or woolen sweaters underneath, as well as a pair of warm woolen socks. A hat (we recommend using a beanie), a scarf and waterproof gloves.
Useful information about Ice Caves in Iceland
Below, you will find the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions regarding the ice caves in Iceland:
Which is the Best Ice Cave in Iceland to Visit?
It’s impossible to highlight just one of these ice caves, since they are all unique in some way. It is also difficult to title one as the best when they are ever-changing. Know that the ice cave you visited last year might not be the same ice cave you visit this year purely based on appearance. That's due to the melting and glacier changes during the warmer months.
Is There No Way I Can Visit an Ice Cave Alone?
Well, if you try to sneak in you might be able to do so, but you risk your safety and serious legal repercussions. Play it safe and keep to the right side of the law and book your spot on a guided tour. You will find both day outings as well as multi-day tour options available from various tour operators on the island.
Which Ice Caves are Near Reykjavík?
You have quite a few options when it comes to ice caves in and around the capital city. Perlan is practically in the city itself, and Katla as well as Langjökull are fairly easy day outings.
The Ice Caves in Iceland. Must-visit Places on Any Trip
You can’t get more authentic Iceland than the ice caves. You can either rent a car in Reykjavik and plan day outings from the capital city or you can add these incredible sights to your road trip itinerary.
Alternatively, you can book a spot on one of the many tours to the various ice caves in Iceland. Whichever you prefer; an ever-changing, magical, frozen landscape is just waiting for you to come and explore its beauty.