Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is an amazing spectacle that you’ll want to experience on your trip to Iceland. It’s a 5-hour drive (without stops) from Reykjavik but worth the journey and can be combined with a few nights away from the capital as there are many other attractions along Iceland’s south coast. You will find it by driving along the country’s main ring Route 1 ring road, between Höfn and Skaftafell – a lovely drive with stunning views of waterfalls and glaciers en route.
Sitting on the edge of the Vatnajökull National Park in southeastern Iceland, the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is where the Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier, one of thirty outlet glaciers from the Vatnajökull ice cap, makes its way towards the sea. There is ample free parking in the vicinity of the lagoon, plus a car park close to the beach to the south of Route 1.
The glacier once reached the Atlantic Ocean but has since receded by about 5 miles, leaving a lake between the glacier snout and the sea. Since the 1970s, the size of the lake is said to have increased four-fold in size and is now thought to be the deepest lake in Iceland.
My photographs here do not do it justice but it is such an iconic, incredible view that the location has been used for action scenes in two James Bond movies (A View to a Kill and Die Another Day), as well as in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Batman Begins. Keen followers of the US TV series Amazing Race may also recognise it.
It’s here that Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier meets the water and calves. Calving is a process of glacial ablation (melting) which sees masses of ice break off from the glacier and enter the water. These icebergs can be of varying size and float in the lagoon before eventually melting completely within the lake or making their way out towards the Atlantic.
Had we more time, we’d have taken one of the cruises on the lagoon but after our Katla ice cave tour and snowmobiling adventure on Mýrdalsjökull, sadly there just weren’t enough hours left in the day. You can take a cruise on a large amphibian boat or, for an experience that allows you to get even closer to the towering ice bergs, ride on smaller rib boats (zodiac tours). If, like us, you are unable to fit this into your schedule, you can still enjoy the scene from the water’s edge.
This breathtaking lagoon is also a rich sea habitat for gray seals. Sometimes they can be seen on the resting on the floating icebergs but keep your eyes also on the lake as there’s a good chance you’ll see some bobbing around against a backdrop of glorious Arctic scenery.
Seals can apparently also sometimes be seen on Diamond Beach, altough none were present at the time of our visit. Diamond Beach is just a short 5-minute walk from the lagoon along a path that runs under the Route 1 bridge. It’s where the icebergs that float from Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon are washed back onto the shore, after making their way to the ocean.
Of course, having experienced more melting, they tend to be much smaller by the time they are washed up onto the beach.
Intermediate, all this glacier ice scattered across the shorline, battered by the waves from the sea, is in itself quite a sight.
Ice with a high bubble content tends to be quite white in color and translucent…
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…whilst ice with a low air content tends to be crystal clear – almost sparkling like jewels in the sand – hence the name Diamond Beach.
These clear chunks of ice, forever weathered by the ocean’s ebbing tide, are really quite a sight, particularly when the light catches them.
Their glassy texture contrasts beautifully with the beach’s black volcanic sand.
If you can, make sure you include Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach on your Iceland itinerary to see Mother Nature at its finest. It’s a significant drive to get there, but it’s a magical place that makes it more than worth the effort.
My recommendation would be not to attempt to do the journey as a day trip from Reykjavik but instead to take a few days traveling along the south coast as there is so much to see in this part of Iceland.
Planning a trip to Iceland yourself? You can watch a video from our trip to Iceland here. You’ll see footage from Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach between 4m 59s and 5m 12s:
Disclosure: Our trip to Iceland was also sponsored by Helly Hansen.