Vatnajokull ice cave tour is one of the most popular activities you can try while visiting Iceland, especially when you are in Vatnajokull National Park, the largest and most impressive national park in the country.
Because of the impressive number of glaciers and volcanoes, Iceland is also called The Land of Fire and Ice so you should not leave this country without exploring its volcanoes, hot springs, glaciers, and waterfalls.
I spent many long hours searching for the best tours and ultimate adventures that allow me to discover the beauty of the area.
I put together all the relevant information about glacier caves Iceland so that you can easily find all the information you need to know before your Icelandic adventure.
I will start from zero and I will tell you what an ice cave is and then I will tell you when to go, where to go and what to do for your ultimate adventure.
Vatnajokull ice caves
As you probably already know, 11% of the total surface of Iceland is covered with a significant layer of ice known as the glacier.
These glaciers were formed thousands of years ago and they cover plains, mountains, and even active volcanoes.
Because in this country we found a very interesting interplay of hot and cold, I mean glaciers and volcanoes, many stunning ice caves appeared.
What is ice cave Iceland?
Iceland ice caves are also known as Crystal caves because the light that is shining through the beautiful blue ice makes the caves look exactly like crystals.
Ice caves appear from the interplay of glaciers and volcanoes, from significant differences between hot and cold.
All across Iceland, there are many ice caves but their location changes from one year to another, as the glaciers are moving constantly: they advance in winter and melt in the summer.
The most impressive and famous caves are found in Vatnajokull National Park so don’t be surprised if everybody recommends you a short tour of the Vatnajokull ice cave.
By the way, summer is not a great time if you are interested in an Iceland tour ice cave as the ice is melting and it is too dangerous to go down in the interior of a glacier.
In the winter the weather is cold so the ice caves stop melting and the tunnels formed in the summer by the water that flows leave behind impressive blue ice caves.
How the ice caves were formed
Glaciers are constantly moving and they reshape the face of the Earth as massive forces occur when these giants advance and melt.
The speed of their movement often leaves open crevasses that when filled with the water that comes from glacier melting create deep shafts or moulins as they are called.
Beneath the ice cap, there are active volcanoes that have hot springs and volcanic vents that produce heat and also cause the glaciers to melt.
These tunnels that are formed from the temperature differences are known as caves, more exactly ice caves.
When is the best time to visit Glacier caves Iceland
As I mentioned earlier, summer is not a good time to visit ice caves in Iceland because of the temperatures the glaciers start to melt and it is very dangerous to go inside them.
The only time when you can visit these amazing caves is between November to April, when the temperatures are lower and the glaciers are not melting so fast.
The melting of the glaciers produces rivers that flow inside the glaciers so the caves might crack and collapse when outside is warm so it is very unsafe to go inside ice caves during summertime.
Are there ice caves all over Iceland?
The most famous one is the Vatnajokull ice cave that is located in Vatnajokull National Park in the southern part of the country.
These caves are known as Blue Ice Caves and are definitely the most impressive from all over the country.
There is about a 5 hours drive from Reykjavik to Vatnajokull caves but before you leave Reykjavik don’t forget to book your seat at a guided tour experience, as it is too dangerous to do it on your own.
You can choose from a simple ice cave tour or a combined tour that pumps adrenaline into your veins.
What we try and we strongly recommend are the following tours:
1.Skaftafell: Ice Cave Tour & Glacier Hike is a very interesting tour that includes an ice cave tour and a beautiful hike up of Falljokul Glacier.
The tour lasts for about 4 hours and you will meet the icy side of Iceland with a professional guide who will tell you all you need to know about these magnificent landforms.
2. Vatnajökull Glacier: Ice Cave Tour is a 4 hours tour that shows you the incredible Vatnajokull ice cave, the largest glacier in Europe.
You will be transferred from the meeting point to the glacier with a special 4×4 vehicle so everybody can buy this tour no matter of his physical condition.
The tour starts at Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon where you will meet your guide and onboard the super 4×4 vehicle (a tremendous experience itself).
Pack a raincoat and thermal layers as the temperatures are quite low inside the cave.
3. From Reykjavik: Langjökull Glacier Ice Cave Tour, a tour dedicated to those of you who don’t have a rented car to move around Iceland.
In the tour fee, you have included the pickup and drop-off to your hotel in Reykjavik plus the opportunity to visit a man-made cave inside the second-largest glacier from Iceland.
The temperature inside the cave is around 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit).
From the entrance of the park to the entrance of the glacier, you will be transported with a specially modified vehicle so the experience will be unique and something not to miss.
4. Another impressive ice cave that is located outside Vatnajokull National Park is Katla ice cave, located very close to the town of Vik I Myrdal, in the vicinity of Reyjkavik.
Once you reach Vik, by rented car or public transport, prepare for a unique adventure, such as visiting the unique cave located below Katla Volcano.
The 3 hours Ice Cave by Katla Volcano Super Jeep from Vik is the best way to explore a natural ice cave located beneath a volcano and to learn more interesting information about glaciers, volcanoes, and ice caves.
The meeting point is in Vik I Myrdal where you will get your ice cave equipment ( crampons and helmet) and get into a super jeep to go to the natural cave.
Katla Ice cave tour
The closest and the most authentic ice cave experience to Reykjavik is definitely Kafla Ice cave located in Mýrdalsjökull Glacier, about 170 kilometers ( 43 miles) west from Reykjavik the capital city of Iceland.
A big plus for this ice cave is that it is accessible all year round so you definitely have to include it into your travel plans even if you visit Iceland in the summer.
Blue ice cave vatnajökull glacier Iceland
The most popular ice caves from Iceland are located inside Vatnajokull National Park which is about 385 kilometers or 50 miles away from Reykjavik.
Vatnajokull glacier cave means Water Glacier ice cave and is also known as blue ice cave or crystal cave because of the unique way the light reflects inside the caves.
Inside the park, there are more than 30 glaciers and an impressive number of ice caves that are open during the cold season.
The difference between the Vatnajokull ice cave and Katla ice cave
There are two main differences between the ice caves from these two sides of Iceland:
- The color of the ice: in Vatnajokull it is blue and in Katla it is transparent
- Visiting time: Kafta can be visited all year round, while Vatnajokull glacier caves are open only between November to April.
Besides these two famous ice caves, there are some other interesting places you should consider when visiting Iceland:
- Langjokull Ice tunnel
- Perlan Ice cave
- Lofthellir Ice cave
Langjokull Ice tunnel
Langjokull is the closest ice cave artificially built close to Langjokull, which is the second-largest glacier in Iceland.
14 months were necessary to build this man-made cave and in order to get to it, you needed to ride a special modified 4×4 vehicle in order to reach it.
The departure point for this glacier is Kalki Base Camp which is located about 150 kilometers ( 94 miles) away from the capital city of Reykjavik.
Once you get to the ice cave you will enter into a completely new world: frozen hallways illuminated by lights and all kinds of ice formations are waiting to be discovered.
Perlan Ice Cave
Besides the world-famous Vatnajokull ice cave, in the capital region, there is Perlan Ice cave, a place once used to store the drinking water for Reykjavik citizens.
Inside, 100 meters of the artificial cave with walls full of informative and interactive panels are waiting to be discovered.
At the construction of the Perlan ice cave workers had used more than 350 tonnes of pure snow gathered from all over the country.
The place is popular not only because of this artificial cave, but also it is known to be among the best places in Iceland to spot Northern Lights.
Lofthellir Ice cave
If the southern part of the country is full of ice and glaciers, the northern part of the country does not have such interesting formations spread all over the area.
There is still one beautiful cave that you should consider visiting, and here I am talking about Lofthellir Ice Cave located close to Myvatn lake.
This fantastic cave is an ice cave not a glacier cave like the others mentioned above and is one of the very few places of this kind in Iceland.
Inside the cave, you will find naturally shaped ice sculptures and stalactites and was formed about 3500 years ago and has more than 350 meters beneath the Laxardalshraun lava field.
Most of the tours start from Akureyri in a 4WD vehicle and on your way to the cave you have the unique opportunity to pass near Hverfjall volcano and the impressive Ludentsborgir craters.
Where to sleep
Make sure you book one of the following hotels and guesthouses in Iceland as they are all conveniently located at the entrance of Vatnajokull National Park.
Here are my suggestions for your overnight stay when plan to visit this part of Iceland:
- luxury: the luxurious rooms from Fosshotel Lagoon awaits its guests with clean and cozy rooms with huge windows overlooking the mountains, a great restaurant, and a bar. The glacier lagoon and Diamond beach are half an hour away from the property.
- mid-level: nestled in the middle of the wilderness Seljavellir Guesthouse Hofn is a great place to spend your night and observe the Northern Lights as the place is far from any light pollution.
- budget: the simple but clean Laekjarhus Farm Holidays Iceland located just 15 miles from the Glacier Lagoon is run by an Icelandic family of farmers, a great place to set your camp and explore the area.
Ice caving Iceland is a unique and beautiful experience that should not be missed when visiting Iceland.
Vatnajokull ice cave or the blue caves can be visited only between November and April as the warm temperatures cause ice melting and it is extremely dangerous to venture inside the glaciers.
Katla caves on the other hand can be visited all year round but the color of the ice is less spectacular than the one from the blue caves.
We strongly recommend you book a guided tour and explore these natural wonders with a professional guide to discover new and unique interesting things about glaciers, caves, and volcanoes from Iceland.
When it comes to equipment, you definitely have to take with you crampons, headlamp and helmet, and of course your camera for some unbelievably beautiful shots!
Why are Iceland’s ice caves so Blue?
The main reason why most of the lakes, rivers, and locations have such a beautiful blue color is that the water absorbs the colors more efficiently.
The blue caves from Iceland are unique in the world in the subarctic region and scientists are still fascinated by these amazing colors.
After the snow falls on the glaciers it gets compacted under its weight and becomes part of the glacier itself.
When it gets compacted, the oxygen bubbles form air bubbles and large ice crystals which for the human eye translates into a beautiful aquamarine blue.
There are also black ice caves and red ones but in my opinion the most interesting ones are the blue caves.
Are ice caves in Iceland safe?
As with most outdoor activities, ice caving comes with some risks which are why I always recommend going on an ice caving tour with a professional guide.
The guided tours provide not only experienced guides but also all the necessary equipment to ensure your safety while inside the glacier.
Helmets, crampons, headlamps, and walking poles are the main things you need to have with you, plus thermal layers and waterproof jackets.
The guide will definitely do it, but we recommend you to do it too- check the weather forecast before venturing on the glacier as the country is famous for its unpredictable weather.
What to wear for an ice cave tour?
Of course, it is cold inside the cave as low temperatures are the first condition for these glacier caves to form.
So, when dressing for your ice cave adventure make sure you wear the warmest winter clothes you have.
And if you don’t have such clothes then you definitely need to buy some thermal clothes to dress up: wooden jumpers, extra pairs of socks, waterproof trousers and of course a hat, gloves and a scarf.
Wear comfortable and good hiking boots as you will need to put crampons on them when you start the glacier hike and inside the ice cave.
Most of the tour companies offer hiking boots so if you don’t have one you can rent a pair of boots before the start of the tour.
How long are ice caves tours in Iceland?
Well, it is hard to say how long ice cave tours last as each tour operator is allowed to create its own tour.
Generally, the length of the tour is influenced by many factors including the departure point, if you travel by 4×4 or on foot, the ice cave you want to visit, and of course the weather conditions from that day.
If you choose for a day tour from Reykjavik then be prepared to wake quite early in the morning and come back late in the afternoon as these day tours usually last for about 10 or 11 hours.
If you pick a tour that starts at the entrance of the park or other certain departure point close to the ice cave chosen, then the whole experience will last between 3 to 5 hours.
No matter which tour you choose, a day tour or a short one, you most probably will spend inside the ice cave somewhere between 25 to 45 minutes, and the difference of time is spent hiking the glacier.
When is the ice cave period in Iceland?
Some glacier caves, especially the Vatnajokull ice cave, can be visited only during the cold season, from November to April, and this is for your own safety.
There are some caves that can be visited all year round, like the one from Katla volcano, but they are not as impressive as the blue ice caves from Vatnajokull National Park close to Golden Circle route.
We strongly recommend you plan your trip to Iceland during the cold season if you want to include in your adventure a visit to an ice cave.
In winter the ice stops melting, the caves freeze and it is safe enough to enter beneath the ice cap and explore this hidden world.
Which is the best ice cave in Iceland?
There are plenty of glacier caves in Iceland, most of them located in the southern part of the country so it is hard to say which one is the best.
Still, my favorite ones are Crystal Ice Cave from Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier, Katla Ice Cave which is open all year round, Langjokull Ice Cave, a spectacular man-made cave and of course the beautiful Vatnajokull Ice Caves with its stunning blue caves, rare attractions in the world.
Can you visit glacial ice caves in Iceland on your own?
Private caves like Langjokull can be visited only accompanied by a certified guide, while other glacier caves hidden beneath the glacier can be visited on your own.
But definitely, this is an experience which I don’t recommend trying as it is too risky; always go into an ice cave with a professional guide even if you are an experienced hiker.
The most beautiful and spectacular caves are the ones from Vatnajokull National Park but these are also the most dangerous ones, so go here only accompanied by a professional guide.
Where is the Crystal ice cave in Iceland?
One of the most fabulous glacier caves from Iceland is the Crystal Cave that is located in Vatnajokull, Europe’s largest glacier.
Starting with 2011, the cave is formed in approximately the same location and it is shaped by the glacier river that forms each summer.
You should enter into this cave with a professional guide, wearing adequate equipment and of course a camera to catch the beauty of this place.
Logistical tips and tricks for your trip
Book your accommodation
We always use Booking.com as they have the best price-quality ratio and they offer a wide range of hotels, guesthouses, apartments, and villas to choose from.
You will find here all types of accommodations, from the cheapest ones to the most luxurious.
Don't forget travel insurance
We never leave home without HeyMondo Insurance or Safety Wings Insurance as they offer the best services and a good value for money, plus COVID coverage.
Travel insurance will always protect you against unexpected events and cost like illness, COVID, injury, theft, or travel cancellation.
We never go on any trip without travel insurance and there were many cases when we had to use it.
Renting a car
We like to explore a country on our own and a car gives us the mobility and freedom to do that.
We always rent our car from Discovercars as they have free cancellation 48 hours prior to starting date and a wide range of car rental companies and options to choose from all over the world.
Tours and attractions
When we are looking for some adventure or we simply want to break up the monotony and discover new places, we always use GetYourGuide.
We love it because we always find the most amazing experiences, with free cancellation and a large variety of activities and tours to choose from.
Airplane tickets and holiday packages
Expedia is our ally when searching for the best price for airplane tickets as it works as an aggregator for a huge number of airlines and we always find the best price for our flights.
Travel tip: use Expedia when you are searching for holiday packages as they have many last-minute offers and great discounts for hotels, flights, and even the whole holiday packages.