Glaciers are one of Iceland’s most notable features, with over 10% of the country covered in them. But what is a glacier exactly? Glaciers are essentially build-ups of snow that never melts. Over time, as more snow falls, it compresses, turning into thick ice. Depending on how long the glacier has been there, it can be hundreds of meters in thickness, sometimes even thousands, but they are constantly changing and slowly moving. Due to these shifts, sometimes cracks form, creating dramatic crevices and magnificent ice caves. Some of these ice caves you can even visit.

This article will cover what you can do on the Iceland glaciers, how to get there by rental car, and our top five glaciers to visit while you’re in Iceland. Read on to learn everything you need about the Iceland glaciers.

Related Links: the available rental cars in Iceland; Iceland self-drive travel tips

rent a car in iceland is the best way to visit glacier

Table of content

Frequency asked questions about Iceland glaciers (FAQ)

Here are some of the most common questions about the Iceland glaciers:

What can you do on the Iceland glaciers?

There are tons of unique and fun activities to take part in when visiting the glaciers in Iceland. These include ice caving, ice climbing, snowmobiling, and glacier hiking. If you want to participate in these activities, you will have to book a tour and go with a guide to ensure you have the right equipment and can enjoy the activities safely.

Can I visit the glaciers myself in Iceland?

When visiting Iceland, you can rent a car and do a self-drive tour of many of Iceland’s glaciers. There are many viewpoints along the roads where you can stop and admire the glaciers from a distance. However, if you want to do any activities on the glacier, you will have to book a tour.

viewing the Iceland glacier from the top

What car should I rent if I want to visit glaciers in Iceland?

In order to reach the glaciers around Iceland, you’ll need to rent a car. There are a few factors you’ll need to consider when choosing a rental car, including:

  • Weather
  • How many people are traveling in your group
  • How much luggage you’ll be bringing
  • Your driving itinerary and what attractions you plan to visit.

If you’re visiting Iceland in the summer with a small group of 2 to 3 people, then an economy or compact car may be all you need. An intermediate or full-size car is a better choice if your group is larger. If you’re visiting in the winter, then you definitely need a 4X4; in fact, we recommend a 4X4 all year round. Driving a 4X4 is always better in Iceland as the weather can be unpredictable, plus it will give you more flexibility in terms of where you can drive safely.

For tons of tips on renting a car in Iceland and choosing the best option for your trip, check out our bank of resources here.

What is the largest glacier in Iceland?

The largest glacier in Iceland is Vatnajökull, which is located in southeast Iceland. We will introduce more about it below.

vatnajokull is the biggest glacier in iceland

Where is the glacier lagoon in Iceland?

The most famous glacier lagoon in Iceland is Jökulsárlón, which is located on Iceland’s south coast. You can access the glacier via Route 1 Ring Road. You can find other glacier lagoons in Iceland, but they aren’t as easy to access.

Map + list of glaciers in Iceland: our top 5 picks and other glaciers in Iceland

This map features our top 5 glaciers in Iceland, which will be covered in detail below. Plus, we’ve also marked some of Iceland’s other famous glaciers.

1. Vatnajökull Glacier

vatnajokull glacier hiking in iceland

Vatnajökull Glacier is Iceland’s largest glacier and actually the largest glacier in all of Europe. As it’s so big that there are around smaller glacial tongues, each with its own name. It is situated in Vatnajökull National Park, which contains the highest peak in the country, Hvannadalshjukur, and the famous Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon.

Where is it and how can you get there by car?

Vatnajökull Glacier is located in Vatnajökull National Park, about a four-hour drive from Reykjavik. It’s very straightforward to drive there, and you’ll just need to take Route 1 southeast out of Reykjavik and keep driving east until you hit Vatnajökull National Park. You can’t miss it.

When to visit 

Vatnajökull Glacier is visible from a distance all year long, so no matter which time of year you visit Iceland, you’ll be able to see the glacier.

What can you do there?

  1. Jökulsárlón boat trip or kayaking

Take a boat trip, or rent a kayak on the beautiful Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon. This activity is only available in the summer.

  1. Glacier hiking/ ice climbing

Go hiking on one of Vatnajökull’s glacial tongues, such as Skaftafell or Öræfajökull. You can hike the glaciers all year round.

  1. Glacier blue ice caving

If you’re visiting Iceland in the winter, you can see the jaw-dropping blue crystal ice cave of Breiðamerkurjökull.

What car should you rent for this trip?

2WD or 4X4 vehicles are appropriate for the drive to Vatnajökull Glacier as it’s located on the paved Route 1 Ring Road. If you’re visiting in the winter(November – March), then a 4X4 is recommended.

4x4 rental car iceland

2. Mýrdalsjökull + its glacier tongue Sólheimajökull

Mýrdalsjökull glacier is a smaller glacier, but no less interesting to visit. It’s home to one of the biggest active volcanos in Iceland, Katla, which sits just below the glacier’s surface. Katla has a track record of erupting every 50 to 80 years, but it has been 100 years since its most recent eruption. But not to worry, it’s completely safe to visit as the volcanic activity is being closely monitored. One of the best areas of the glaciers to visit is its tongue Sólheimajökull, which has blue ice caves and impressive rock formations.

Where is it and how can you get there by car?

Mýrdalsjökull is located along Route 1 Ring Road in South Iceland. It’s very near to the coastal town of Vik. As you drive southeast out of Reykjavik on the Ring Road, you’ll pass the town of Skógar, and shortly after, come to Route 221, where you will exit to the parking lot. The whole trip takes about 2 hours and 40 minutes.

When to visit 

You can visit Mýrdalsjökull and see the glacier from a distance all year round.

What can you do there?

  1. Glacier hiking 

The Sólheimajökull glacier tongue is a great place to go hiking with many ice crevasses and rock formations, and you can do it all year round.

  1. Ice caving at Katla

The only ice cave you can visit all year round is Katla. Take a tour to explore the caves, which feature black, white, and blue ice.

What car should you rent for this trip?

Both 2WD and 4X4 vehicles are suitable for this trip throughout most of the year, but we recommend a 4WD during the winter due to the snowy and icy roads to the glacier tours meeting point.

katla ice cave iceland

3. Langjökull

Langjökull is Iceland’s second largest glacier, with two active volcanoes beneath its 580m thick icecaps. Its name translates to “the long glacier,” and it was called that based on its shape. It’s near Gullfoss waterfall, making it a popular add-on to the Golden Circle tour.

Where is it and how can you get there by car?

Langjökull is one of the easiest glaciers to reach by car as it’s only about 2 hours from Reykjavik. It’s located in the Western Highlands, and most tours will depart from the town of Húsafell, the primary access point.

When to visit

You can see Langjökull glacier all year round when driving the Golden Circle.

What can you do there?

  1. Snowmobiling

The most popular activity at Langjökull is to go snowmobiling. You can snowmobile a considerable portion of the glacier and even visit the natural ice caves on a snowmobiling tour. These tours are available all year.

  1. Visit the ice tunnel–into the glacier

You can tour underneath the glacier through the man-made ice tunnels that were carved into the glacier back in 2015. They’ve even made an ice chapel inside the caves, and you can visit these tunnels year-round.

What car should you rent for this trip?

You can drive to Langjökull with either a 2WD or 4X4 vehicle throughout most of the year, but we recommend a 4WD between November and March due to unpredictable winter conditions.

Into The Glacier ice tunnel iceland

4. Snaefellsjokull Glacier

The Snaefellsjokull Glacier was popularized by the book Journey to the Center of the Earth, in which the characters entered the earth via a passage in Snaefellsjokull Glacier. It is actually visible from Reykjavik on a clear day because it covers a large active volcanic peak with a summit of 1446 meters (4744 feet).

Where is it and how can you get there by car?

Snaefellsjokull is located in Snaefellsjokull National Park, on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. It takes about 2 and half hours to drive there from Reykjavik, taking the Route 1 Ring Road north and exiting west at Borgarnes.

When to visit

Snaefellsjokull Glacier is visible all year round if you visit the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

What can you do there?

  1. Snowcat tour

A snowcat tour is a great way to explore Snaefellsjokull Glacier. Instead of walking up to the top by foot, you get to sit back and enough the ride with multiple stops for viewing and pictures.

  1. Hiking to the summit

Alternatively, you can hike to the summit on foot. This challenging hike takes an entire day, and you’ll definitely need a professional guide with you.

What car should you rent for this trip?

You can rent either a 2WD or 4WD rental vehicle to visit Snaefellsjokull, but we recommend a 4X4 if you’re visiting during the winter. That said, if you want to join the snowcat tour, you will need to rent a 4X4 to access the start of the tour as required by the tour operator.

Do you need to rent a car in Iceland for your trip

5. Eyjafjallajökull

Eyjafjallajökull is right next to Mýrdalsjökull, so you can visit both back to back. One of the volcanos under Eyjafjallajökull erupted in 2010, causing huge air traffic disruptions and impacting 10 million travelers due to the ash clouds. The name translates to “the island’s mountain glacier.” It’s not the largest of Iceland’s glaciers, but it’s worth a visit if you’re traveling southeast on Route 1.

Where is it and how can you get there by car?

Eyjafjallajökull is located on the south coast, just off Route 1, so it’s very easy to reach from Reykjavik. It’s just before Mýrdalsjökull and takes about 2 hours to drive there from Reykjavik.

When to visit

If you’re driving Route 1 Ring Road, you can see Eyjafjallajökull at a distance all year long.

eyjafjallajökull iceland

What can you do there?

  1. Hike Fimmvörðuháls

One of the most famous hiking trails, Fimmvörðuháls, runs between the Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull glaciers. On the hike, you’ll see many waterfalls, craters, and lava fields. The best time to hike is in the summer, and you can do it in one or two days.

  1. Super Jeep tours

Take a tour to the site of the volcano eruption on a Super Jeep.

  1. Sightseeing

At the very least, it’s worth stopping over just to get a glimpse of the glacier, especially on a clear day. You can view Eyjafjallajökull glacier all year round.

What car should you rent for this trip?

As the glacier is located just off Route 1, both a 2WD and 4X4 are suitable. But if you’re visiting in the winter, we always recommend a 4WD.

Eyjafjallajökull Iceland

Safe travel tips when visiting Iceland glaciers

When visiting glaciers in Iceland with your rental car, there are a few things you need to know to ensure you can do so safely!

  • Always check the daily weather on Vedur.is, so you know what to expect and can dress appropriately/alter travel plans accordingly.
  • Check the daily road conditions on Road.is for updates. Don’t underestimate nature in Iceland.
  • Always rent a 4X4 in the winter to stay safe on slippery roads.
  • The glacial tours might be canceled if there is bad weather. If you book a tour, check your email before heading to tour meeting points to double-check.
  • NEVER try to go on a glacier without a professional guide.
iceland snowmobile on the glacier

Visit the 5 best glaciers in Iceland

These are our top picks for glaciers to visit on your trip to Iceland. None of them are too far from Reykjavik, so there’s a good chance you could visit them all on your trip to Iceland. They all have unique features that set them apart, whether they have ice caves to explore, or higher peaks to hike. Make sure you always book your rental car online and in advance to ensure you get the car best suited to your trip. This is especially true when visiting in the high season.

If you’re having difficulty choosing the best car for your Iceland trip or need advice, please contact hertz@hertz.is. Or head directly to our website and book your car now.

Book your car in Iceland now with Hertz Iceland

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