What is a Glacier?
An Iceland glacier is a large mass of ice that forms over time, and it can be found on land or in the ocean. Glaciers are most often found in the polar regions, but they can also be found in mountain ranges. They are formed when snow accumulates and is compressed into ice. The ice will continue to grow and move downhill as it is pushed by gravity, until it reaches a region where it melts or breaks off into a stream or river.
The Top 5 Glaciers in Iceland and Why They're Worth Seeing
Iceland is home to some of the world's most fascinating glaciers. These glaciers are worth seeing for a multitude of reasons, from their beauty to their history. Iceland has the highest number of glaciers in Europe, and Icelanders are proud of their country's glacier history.
1. Vatnajokull Glacier - Largest Glacier in Iceland
Vatnajokull glacier is the largest glacier in Iceland and Europe. It’s so large that the glacial tongues that have manifested on its edges also have their own Iceland glacier names. There are nine glacier tongues in total, but the most notable is Oraefajokull glacier because of its popularity with hikers.
The Vatnajokull Iceland glacier is part of the Vatnajokull National Park in the southeast of Iceland. The national park has a campsite and café; a good spot for meeting fellow hikers and refueling before commencing your climb.
Not far from the glacier, you can find Iceland's Diamond Beach. The nearby beach is affectionately known as Diamond Beach because chunks of ice accumulated on its shore. They break away from the Vatnajokull glacier, drift out to sea where they’re polished by the North Atlantic waves, and wash up on shore looking like diamonds.
2. Langjokull Glacier - Glacier Near Reykjavík
Langjokull is the second-biggest glacier in Iceland and the glacier closest to Reykjavík. Known as 'the long glacier' due to its shape, Langjokull is a popular destination for tourists staying in the capital city Reykjavík. It is easily reachable with a hire car as it only takes 90 minutes to drive there from the capital city.
Langjökull is situated in western Iceland, in the Highlands. It is a popular attraction with tourists travelling Iceland's Golden Circle as it is a short drive from Gullfoss waterfall.
If you’re feeling very adventurous, you can explore the Langjökull ice caves. These man-made ice caves are the largest in the world and quite the sight to behold. There are regular tours inside the caves, but they can also be hired for weddings and parties.
3. Hofsjokull Glacier - Most Difficult to Reach Glacier
This difficult to reach Iceland glacier has received the reputation of being an adventurer's dream. Not just because of its difficult to reach location, but because it hides Iceland’s oldest and largest volcano beneath its ice. The volcano underneath Hofsjokull has been dormant for over 12,000 years. Let's hope it stays dormant a little while longer!
4. Drangajokull Glacier - Smallest Glacier in Iceland
Drangajokull is not the biggest Iceland glacier (in fact it's the smallest Iceland glacier), but it is one of the prettiest. Located in an uninhabited nature reserve in the Westfjords, this area of Iceland is renowned for its beauty and wildlife.
Drangajokull is a special glacier, as it’s one of the few Iceland glaciers not yet affected by climate change. All other glaciers in Iceland have been shrinking in size in recent years, except Drangajokull.
Despite its isolated location in a nature reserve, this little glacier is still worth visiting on your trip to Iceland. It’s the only glacier in Iceland with an altitude under 1000 m, making it much easier to climb than others.
5. Snaefellsjokull Glacier - Most Famous Iceland Glacier
Snaefellsjokull is the most famous Iceland glacier. It is situated on the tip of Snæfellsnes peninsula in west Iceland, at the base of Snaefellsjokull National Park.
The name of the region, Snaefellsnes actually means "Snow mountain area". This isn’t very surprising when you consider the Snaefelljokull glacier is hiding a volcano under its ice. The volcano hasn’t erupted for 2,000 years, so it seems the snowy peaks keep the volcano in good spirits!
Unfortunately, Snaefellsjokull is rapidly decreasing in size due to climate change. It’s not the only glacier in Iceland affected by changing climate and rising heat. Many others are also starting to shrink.
Okjokull - The Lost Glacier
Iceland’s glaciers are pretty big, so you’re probably wondering how Okjokull managed to get lost. The sad truth is that the Iceland glacier wasn’t lost, it was destroyed by climate change.
Climate change is one of the biggest threats we face in the 20th century, and even the mighty glaciers of Iceland can’t stand up to it. In 2019, after the hottest July on record, Iceland held a funeral for the glacier. Okjokull glacier finally melt. The ceremony was both a tribute to the incredible landscape of Iceland and a warning of what may come.
A plaque was unveiled at the glacier funeral with a message written by the Icelandic poet, Andri Snær Magnason. The plaque for the lost glacier is a somber reminder of our collective responsibility to look after the Earth.
Tourists can still visit the site where the Icelandic glacier Okjokull once stood. The glacier site is in Borgarfjörður, West Iceland. It is approximately a two-hour drive from Reykjavík.
Visiting an Iceland Glacier
There’s no denying that climate change is a threat to Iceland’s environment, but that shouldn’t stop you visiting this wonderful country. It’s more important now than ever to experience the magic of Iceland and enjoy the mighty Iceland glaciers. Hire your car rental in Iceland with Reykjavik Cars today and get ready for for an unforgettable adventure.