Svinafellsjokull Glacier Hiking Tour
Add an exciting twist to your vacation with a fun and easy hike across the ice cap of Svínafellsjökull glacier. Take in the stunning views of mountains and frosty landscapes on this incredible tour, perfectly suited to all who want to spice up their holiday with an icy adventure.
Svínafellsjökull is a tongue of Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest glacier, and extends to the verdant area of Skaftafell Nature Reserve. Skaftafell is known for its lush flora growing between black sands and a white glacier. You'll meet your local guide at Freysnes, located at the base of the nature reserve.
From Freysnes, you'll be driven to the foot of Svínafellsjökull glacier where you will be given all necessary equipment for a safe journey, such as crampons and a helmet. The guide will brief you on all safety procedures and share with you their intimate knowledge of the glacier; its surroundings, formation, composition and the danger it faces with the changing climate.
When you are all set, you will begin your hike. The guide will lead you past the jagged ridges, blue crevices and ever-changing ice sculptures of this mighty glacier. You’ll get to experience the eerie silence of these vast, empty surroundings as you stare down a dramatic icy canyon of a glacier moulin.
Svínafellsjökull and Skaftafell Nature Reserve are a part of Vatnajökull National Park, the largest protected area in Europe and believed by many to be Iceland's most beautiful area. On your hike, you’ll get a fantastic view of the park, the mountain peaks and the glistening blue glacier stretch that surrounds you.
Don’t miss out on this unique opportunity to explore Europe's largest glacier. Book now to secure your spot on this unforgettable glacier hike. Check availability by choosing a date.
- Available: All year
- Duration: 2 hours
- Activities: Glacier Hiking
- Difficulty: Easy
- Languages: English
From Reykjanesta and the next 100 km onwards, the south shore is characterized by lava formations constantly battered by the wild ocean waves (‘brim’ in Icelandic). For the next 300 km after that the shore consists of sands with hardly any harbours.
Along with the powerful brakers, there is rich birdlife in the lava shore area. As for the sand shores, despite the lack of harbours, people would set off for fishing there anyway, at tremendous risk and this would indeed often result in great losses of life.
South Iceland is the most popular part of the country and contains some of the most beautiful natural attractions in Iceland, among them the Golden Circle, some of Iceland's most famous active volcanoes as well as the beautiful Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon.
South Iceland is usually divided into the fertile South Icelandic lowlands between Hellisheidi and Eyjafjallajokull volcano on the one hand - and on the other hand the eastern part with the big volcanic glaciers Eyjafjallajokull and Myrdalsjokull (home of Katla) and flattened sands stretching towards the sea.
The South Icelandic lowlands
The South Icelandic Lowlands stretch nearly 100 km from Hellisheidi in the west towards Eyjafjallajokull in the east as a very flat and fertile farming land. From the shore the lowland stretches about km towards the inland. This is the best agriculture area in Iceland. The whole area is geologically very young, mainly of tuff type, formed during the Ice Age by the lava flows of the numerous volcanoes of the area. The area is indeed surrounded by volcanically active mountains on all sides. The glacier rivers of the area have helped filling the lavas with sand and clay, leaving it more and less smooth and fertile. Very strong earthquakes are found in this area as well.
The most active volcanoes of the area are Hekla and Eyjafjallajokull. No less active and not far off, but on the east side, is Katla, which we’ll adress in the eastern part-section. South of the mainland are the volcanic Westman Islands, famous for the 1973 eruption as well as the eruption in 1963, when Surtsey island was formed. Closely linked to the volcanic activity in the south is the geothermal heat found in many places, the best known being the Geysir area, which forms a part of the famed Golden Circle, which also consists of Gullfoss waterfall , Iceland's most famous waterfall as well as one of its most beautiful, located in the popular rafting river Hvita and Thingvellir National Park, comprising three of Iceland's most beloved natural attractions.
The earthquakes of the area bear witness to the fact that Iceland is still in shape. This is further evidenced by the endless number of fissures in the lavas, fractures in the mountains and certain pieces of lands sinking. The area of Thingvellir is the best known example of this, showcasing the continental drift. Thingvellir is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the location of the old parliament, Althingi, (now situated in Reykjavik) and one of Iceland's most important sites.
Another of Iceland's most popular attractions is the beautiful Thorsmork valley, situated between Myrdalsjokull and Eyjafjallajokull.
Natural harbour-sites are hardly any on the South shore, due to sand produced by the glacier rivers. A few towns are found in the area, Selfoss being the biggest one, Hveragerdi is another, then there are Hella and Hvolsvollur, all conveniently located by the ring road. By the shore are three fishing villages; Thorlakshofn, Eyrarbakki and Stokkseyri. Thorlakshofn the only one of those that can accommodate modern ships and ferrys. The ferry to the Westman Islands sails from there. A new harbour has been built on the sandy coast opposite the Westman Islands. The whole south shoreline offers some of the most gigantic braker waves that you are likely to see.
Culturewise, in addition to Thingvellir, we reccomend the ancient bishop seat of Skalholt (weekends at Skalholt further offer rich music life). Also, Iceland's most famous saga, Njal's saga takes place in the South lowlands. We further recommend the large reconstructed turfhouse near Stong and the ancient excavated ruins.
For sports, horse riding is popular in the area as well as catching salmon or trout, hiking, and river rafting in Hvita.
The east part of South Iceland.
This is the area south and east of Myrdalsjokull. The volcanic glaciers Eyjafjallajokull (near the border of the eastern and western part) and Myrdalsjokull, dominate the view. The landscape has been shaped by volcanic eruptions and vast sands stretch to the sea. Some agriculture is found here, however, with the farms in a row alongside the mountains. A few large glacial rivers fall down in this area which also has striking waterfalls, such as Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss.
Eyjafjallajokull is already well known for its 2010 eruption, disturbing air communication all over Europe for many days. Much more serious,however, would be an eruption from Katla, a volcano in the eastern part og Myrdalsjokull.
Katla’s last eruption was in the year 1918, when an enormous flood of water exploded from the glacier in a matter of minutes, threatening the local farmers of the area. Large amounts of ash and muddy material were brought to sea to form a new land of sand, Kotlutangi, later washed away by the sea. No people were killed in this eruption. Eruptions in Katla throughout the ages have further created the vast sand area Myrdalssandur. Sixteen eruptions have been recorded for Katla since 930 at intervals of 13-95 years and the volcano is being closely monitored, as time may draw near to its next eruption.
In the same volcanic system as Katla (geologically speaking), are the Lakagigar craters, northeast of Myrdalsjokull. Those erupted in the years 1783-84; producing the largest amount of lava known in historic times. The ashes hindered the sunlight from reaching down to the surface of Earth, resulting in cold climate over northern Europe.
In this area – what we call the eastern part of South Iceland -, there are many places worth visiting: Solheimajokull is a beautiful glacier in a walking distance (an outlet of Myrdalsjokull); Skogar has a very interesting museum of older time traditions and Skogafoss is only a few km away from there. One of Iceland’s most famous hiking routes, Fimmvorduhals, starts from Skogar. Southwest of the village Vik is one of Iceland’s most spectacular beaches, Reynisfjara. Together with the promontory Dyrholaey, which is the southernmost tip of the mainland of Iceland, it offers a breathtaking view with amazing rock formations, a black pebble beach, an abundance of birds and the powerful waves of the North Atlantic Ocean crashing on the beach.
Further east stretches the world's most vast sand plain, Skeidararsandur. North of the sand is the fascinating Skaftafell preservation area. At its east end, south of Hvannadalshnukur, Iceland's highest peak, is Ingolfshofdi cape, with its rich birdlife, old fishermen's shacks and its lighthouse. Following the shore further east is the incredibly beautiful and ice-filled Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon. Not far off is the region of Sudursveit, featuring the culture center and heritage museum Thorbergssetur, erected in the memory of Icelandic author Thorbergur Thordarson.
Jökulsárlón is Iceland’s most famous glacier lagoon. Conveniently located in the southeast by Route 1, about halfway between the Skaftafell Nature Reserve and Höfn, it is a popular stop for those travelling along the South Coast or around the circular ring road of the country.
It stands out, however, due to the fact that it also fills with icebergs breaking from the glacier, some of which tower several stories high.
These icebergs, other than their scale, are notable for their colouration. Although they are, as expected, largely white, most are also dyed electric blue in part, with black streaks of ash from eruptions centuries past.
When the icebergs finally make it across the lagoon, they either drift out to sea or wash up on the nearby shore. Because of the way they glisten against the black sands of Breiðamerkursandur, this area has been nicknamed ‘the Diamond Beach’.
In spite of being a rather recent formation, Jökulsárlón is the deepest lake in the country, with depths reaching 248 metres. With a surface area of 18 square kilometres, it is also growing to be one of the largest.
Jökulsárlón has not been around since Iceland’s settlement; it only formed around 1935. This was due to rapidly rising temperatures in the country from the turn of the twentieth century; since 1920, Breiðamerkurjökull has been shrinking at a dramatic rate, and the lagoon has begun to fill its space.
Today, the expansion of Jökulsárlón is accelerating. As recently as 1975, it was just 8 square kilometres, and now that size has more than doubled.
In the relatively near future, it is expected that the lagoon will continue to grow until it becomes a large, deep fjord.
Though a dark omen for Iceland’s glaciers and ice caps in general, the retreat of Breiðamerkurjökull has resulted in an incredibly beautiful, if temporary, site. This has not been overlooked by Hollywood.
Jökulsárlón has been featured in the James Bond films A View to Kill in 1985 and Die Another Day in 2002, 2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and 2005’s Batman Begins.
In 2017, Jökulsárlón was enveloped into the Vatnajökull National Park, thus it is now fully protected by Icelandic law.
Because of the wealth of herring and capelin that the tides bring into the lagoon, Jökulsárlón is somewhat of a hot-spot for Iceland’s wildlife.
In summer, it is a nesting site for Arctic Terns; stay well away from this area, as these birds are notorious for the fierceness with which they protect their eggs, dive-bombing the heads of any they see as a threat. Skuas also nest on the lake’s shores in this season.
Seals can be reliably spotted here throughout the year, swimming amongst or else hauling out on the icebergs. Jökulsárlón provides them with a safe haven to rest and socialise, especially considering the waters of southeast Iceland are renowned for their population of orcas.
Vatnajökull is the largest ice cap in Iceland and the third largest glacier in Europe, covering 8% of the island's landmass. Vatnajökull Glacier can be found in the south west of Iceland and is a popular spot for glacier hiking and ice caving tours.
Facts about Vatnajökull
- Surface: 8,100 km2
- Average thickness: 400 - 600 m
- Maximum thickness: 1,000 m
- Height: 1,400 - 1,800 m
- Highest peak: 2,200 m (Hvannadalshnjúkur)
Information about Vatnajökull
Vatnajökull Glacier belongs to the greater Vatnajökull National Park, which encompasses the former national parks Skaftafell, in the southwest, and Jökulsárgljúfur, in the north. Vatnajökull's highest summit is Hvannadalshnjúkur which rests on top of a stratovolcano known as Öræfajökull.
Underneath the glacier rests some of the most active volcanoes in the country, the most notable being Grímsvötn, Öræfajökull and Bárðabunga. Volcanic activity in the region has occurred on and off throughout the centuries, and many geologists believe that such a period is overdue for immediate future. If their calculations are correct, it would mean significant volcanic activity for Vatnajökull over the scope of the next half century.
The glacier boasts of over 30 outlet glaciers, which are channels of ice that flow out of ice caps but remain constrained on the sides of the valley. The major outlet glaciers of Vatnajökull include Dyngjujökull in the north, Breiðamerkurjökull and Skeiðarárjökull to the south. To the west, one can find the outlet glaciers Síðujökull, Skaftárjökull and Tungnaárjökull.
Glaciers are in constant motion underneath their weight; as they form over the centuries, the accession of snow exceeds its melting, creating a constant "push" on the ice cap. Each year, due to the melting ice water, new ice caves form that disappear come spring.
- Click here for a selection of Ice Cave tours
Numerous rivers run out of Vatnajökull, making up some of the greatest glacial rivers in Iceland:
- Tungnaá (west)
- Köldukvísl (west)
- Þjórsá (west)
- Jökulsá á Fjöllum (north)
- Skjálfandafljót (north)
- Jökulsá á Brú (north east)
- Jökulsá í Fljótsdal (north east)
- Jökulsá í Lóni (south)
- Hornafjarðarfljót (south)
- Jökulsá á Breiðamerkursandi (south)
- Skeiðará (south)
- Núpsvötn (south)
- Hverfisfljót (south)
- Skaftá (south)
Vatnajökull National Park
Vatnajökull National Park, in its current state, was established in June 2008. The park now covers an area of 14.141 km2, making it the second largest national park in Europe. Vatnajökull National Park has 14% coverage over the whole island of Iceland.
Rivers divide the highland plateau to the north of the park; an area that sees massive glacial flows in the summertime. The volcanic table mountain Herðubreið towers over this particular region, along with volcanoes Askja, Snæfell and Kverkfjöll.
The canyon Jökulsárgljúfur was carved out by glacial floods centuries ago. At the upper end of the canyon, you'll find Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe. Further north, the horseshoe-shaped canyon Ásbyrgi is believed to have formed when Óðinn's horse, Sleipnir, stepped his foot down from the heavens.
East around Snæfell, one can find wetlands and ranges, home to roaming herds of wild reindeer and abundant birdlife. Steep mountain ridges make up the south side of Vatnajökull, where outlet glaciers crawl in between the ridges onto the lowlands. The sandy plains of Skeiðarársandur also lie to the south as they reach out to sea. The glacial river Skeiðará runs through this vast desert.
One of Iceland's most visited landmarks is the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, which sits at the head of outlet glacier Breiðamerkurjökull. There, large icebergs that have broken off the glacier gather to float in the lake before ending up in the Atlantic Ocean, or on the nearby Diamond Beach.
- Click here for a selection of Jökulsárlón tours
The Future of Vatnajökull
The volume of Vatnajökull reached its peak around 1930 but has since been in a steady process of decline. Because of rising levels of global temperature, approximately over the last 15 years, Vatnajökull has on average lost about a metre of its thickness annually.
If temperature levels continue to rise, the glacier could be all but gone nearing the end of the next century, leaving only small ice caps on top of the highest mountain summits.
Vatnajökull and Jökulsárlón in Popular Culture
- HBO's Game of Thrones (season 2, 2012)
- Batman Begins (2005)
- James Bond: Die Another Day (2002)
- James Bond: A View to a Kill (1985)
Skaftafell is a nature preserve in Oraefasveit. It used to be a national park of its own but joined the larger Vatnajokull National Park in 2008.
Skaftafell is notable for its rich flora, growing between sands and glaciers, and overall for its amazing and contrasting scenery. You can take short and easy trails to the waterfalls Svartifoss and Hundafoss, as well as Skaftafell glacier, with the mountain Kristinartindar and Morsardalur valley further off. Skaftafell is also the perfect base camp for those seeking to climb Iceland’s highest peak, Hvannadalshnukur.
Skaftafell Visitor Center
At the Skaftafell Visitor Centre, local and foreign travellers will find answers to virtually any questions they might have about the greater Skaftafell area, its history and geology, along with information about nearby hiking trails, recreational options and accommodation.
Photo from Svinafellsjokull Glacier Hiking Tour
Svínafellsjökull in an outlet glacier of Vatnajökull, the largest ice cap in Europe, found within the Skaftafell Nature Reserve in Iceland's south-east.
It is one of the most popular glacier tongues to hike, with some tours upon it lasting throughout the year; ice climbing is also possible here. Because of its dramatic ridges, plunging crevasses, spectacular views and vivid blue and white colouration, it was used in Game of Thrones Season 7 to represent the harsh lands North of the Wall.
The South Coast of Iceland is the country's most visited sightseeing route, along with the Golden Circle.
The famed South Coast shoreline stretches from the greater Reykjavík area and is dotted with natural wonders such as cascading waterfalls, volcanoes both active and dormant, black sand beaches and glacier lagoons.
Geography, Nature & Wildlife
Iceland is divided into eight geographical regions. Out of these, the Southern Region is the largest, as it spans over 24.000 square kilometres with its administrative centre in the municipality of Selfoss.
What is known as the South Coast embodies the shoreline of this particular region. The area consists of a lowland that is mostly composed of marshlands, bays and cultivated pastures that are met by a series of black beaches where the estuaries to the east and west of the district close off the coastal body.
Underneath the soil rests a vast lava field, known as Þjórsárhraun. Its edges reach several hundred metres offshore where the ocean waves crash upon them, thereby protecting the lowland from the invasion of the sea. This results in the South Coast being unusually lacking in the deep fjords that so distinctly characterise the rest of Iceland's shore line.
The region boasts vibrant bird life during all seasons. It is not only rich with both marshland birds and seabirds but also migrating birds such as the North Atlantic puffin. Some species stay throughout the harsh Icelandic winter, including the northern diver, the loom and various species of gulls and ducks.
Highlights of the South Coast
The South Coast offers an unprecedented array of natural wonders that draw thousands of visitors each day. When driving the route from Reykjavík City, the highlights in their correct order are:
- Seljalandsfoss Waterfall
- Vestmannaeyjar; The Westman Islands
- Eyjafjallajökull Glacier Volcano
- Skógafoss Waterfall
- Sólheimajökull Glacier
- Dyrhólaey Peninsula
- Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
- Reynisdrangar Sea Stacks
- Coastal Village Vík í Mýrdal
- Skeiðarársandur Glacial Sand Plain
- Vatnajökull National Park
- Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
These attractions count for but a fraction of what the South Coast has to offer. The vast sand plains of Sólheimasandur are home to a crashed DC-3 Plane Wreck, and close to Seljavellir by the Skógar Village there's Seljavallalaug, one of the oldest swimming pools in Iceland.
- Explore the many wonders of the area on these South Coast Tours
The Diamond Beach is the name of a strip of black sand belonging to the greater Breiðamerkursandur glacial plain, located by the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon on the South Coast of Iceland.
Breiðamerkursandur is a glacial outwash plain located in the municipality of Hornafjörður. The sand stretches approximately 18 kilometres along Iceland’s South Coast, more specifically from the foot of Kvíárjökull Glacier to the famed glacier lagoon Jökulsárlón, that nests by the foot of Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier. Both glaciers count amongst the 30 outlets of Vatnajökull, Iceland’s largest ice cap.
The outwash plain was formed when three of Vatnajökull’s outlet glaciers, Breiðamerkurjökull, Hrútárjökull and Fjallsjökull, flowed forward due to volcanic activity and ground the rocks of the underlying surface, creating and pushing forward the glacial sediments. Such sand plains are a common part of the Icelandic landscape, due to the island being volcanically active as well as boasting numerous ice caps. The terminus (the tip of a given glacier) also dug deep into the ground and left what is now the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon.
The Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon is one of the most famed and visited attractions in Iceland. Floating on the lagoon are enumerable ice bergs that have broken off the resident glacier, creating an ever-changing scenery of incredible allure.
The river Jökulsá connects the lagoon to the Atlantic Ocean, meaning that these icebergs eventually drift out to sea where they are polished by the waves before floating back to the black sands of Breiðamerkursandur. The name "Diamond Beach" comes from the white ice on the black sand appearing like gemstones or diamonds, as they often glisten in the sun and sharply contrast their jet black surroundings.
Departure time : 09:30 14:00,
Expert glacier guide (local)
Necessary equipment such as crampons and a helmet
Pickup and drop off from Freysnes
Transport from Reykjavík
Meals and refreshments
What to bring:
Good shoes (hiking boots if you have them)
Warm and waterproof clothes.
Thin hat and gloves