Your Guide to Visiting Iceland's Majestic Ice Caves
One of Iceland's most majestic and awe-inspiring attractions is its variety of ice caves. People visit these formations formed solely by natural forces or with some assistance from man every year. If you are planning to visit Iceland for your next vacation - and especially if you're coming during the winter - then you should definitely consider taking out some time to absorb these wondrous sights before going home.
information provides a helpful overview for visiting Iceland's ice caves and
answers some common questions that newcomers have. Remember, when you book a
tour through Tour.is, you can
always rely on our friendly travel experts to give you guidance and advice on
how to make the best of your stay in the "land of fire and ice".
The post includes the following:
- What are ice caves?
- Why is the glacier ice blue?
- Which season in Best for a tour?
- Where can you find ice caves in Iceland?
- Map of Ice cave tours meeting points
- Which ice cave is the best?
- Can you visit an ice cave without a guide?
- What should you wear and what to bring during an ice cave tour?
- Ice Cave Tours from Reykjavik.
- Ice Cave and Self Drive Tours
Perfect heart formation inside an ice cave in Vatnajökull Glacier.
What Are Ice Caves?
As the name makes clear, ice caves consist of (or at least contain large quantities of) ice. Simple, right? However, it's important to note that there are actually two types of ice caves: glacier ice caves, and rock ice caves. What's the difference?
- Glacier ice caves form within glaciers as meltwater moves within and through these gigantic formations. Every year, these ice caves form anew - sometimes in the same spot, and sometimes in completely different locations but the most popular ones have remained in the same area year after year. These are the ice caves you are more likely to see in Iceland compared to the rock ice caves and this post focus on these ice caves.
- Rock ice caves are caves formed in rock that contain ice throughout the entire year. In many cases, these caves are virtually covered in ice, from the floor to the ceiling. Rock ice caves tend to be more permanent than glacier ice caves. An example of a cave of this sort in Iceland is Lofthellir cave in the Lake Myvatn area in north east Iceland.
You may be wondering what's the scientific explanation for the formation of ice caves. Again, it depends in part on whether we're talking about glaciers or rock caves.
In glaciers, ice caves are formed by melting water that runs under or through the glacier. Over time, this water melts the ice over which it travels, leaving behind ever-widening passageways. During the summer, the warmth from the sun melts the glacier's surface ice, forming holes and crevasses that often descend into caves.
Other ice caves
are formed by geothermal activity (water flows or hydrothermal rivers). In
either case, the solid perimeter of ice or rock is penetrated by water which
creates large openings in its wake. As you can imagine, some ice caves are
easier to access than others!
Why is the glacier ice blue?
The ice in glaciers is formed when new layers of snow are continuously stacked on top of old layers of snow or partially thawed ice crystals from the year before. Compressing the snow crystals under this heavy load binds them together and turns them into dense ice. Because the ice is so dense it absorbs may colors of the visible light spectrum such as red light, which has a long wavelength while scattering the colors with shorter wavelength such as blue light, making the blue colors more prominent in the ice.
Which Season Is Best for a Tour?
This probably won't come as a surprise to you, but winter is the best season to visit Iceland's ice caves. Winter in Iceland generally runs from October to April (some say November to March).
While there are a couple of ice caves you can visit throughout the year, it's probably not a good idea to try an ice cave tour during the summer. This is especially true if you want to visit glacier ice caves. During the warmer summer months, more meltwater flows through the glaciers, causing more glacial movement and instability. For reasons of safety, you should only attempt to visit glacier caves during the cold winter months, when they are firmly "set" in place. There are exemptions like the Katla Ice Cave but generally speaking winter is when you would like to go.
Where Can You Find Ice Caves in Iceland?
There are several
locations spread across the Nordic island that feature ice caves, and no doubt
many locals can recommend their favorite spot to you. That being said, three of
the most popular ice caves in Iceland include the Breiðamerkurjökull Cave (aka
"Crystal Ice Cave"), the Katla Ice Cave, and the Langjökull Ice Cave.
Thes ice caves are all accessed from South Iceland, the crystal ice cave in
Breiðamerkur jökull glacier being furthest to the east and therefore furthest
from Reykjavik while the Icecave at Langjökull is farthest to the west and
closest to Reykjavik. At the western part of Langjökull glacier you will
also find a man made tunnel dug into the glacier and it is accessible all year.
However this post mainly focuses on the naturally formed Ice Caves
Map of Ice Cave tours meeting points
1. Crystal Ice Cave
The Crystal Ice Cave is perhaps the most popular and well-known ice cave in Iceland and attracts scores of visitors from around the world on a yearly basis. It's located in Vatnajökull National Park, which covers a large portion of central and southern Iceland. (Vatnajökull itself is a massive glacier, covering about 8% of the entire island!)
Crystal Ice Cave is positioned near the southern edge of Vatnajökull. It can typically be found in the same vicinity year after year and can hold up to 100 people at a time. The name "Crystal Ice Cave" comes from its lustrous, shiny, and transparent ice interior. The inside of Crystal Ice Cave greets visitors with a mesmerizing array of blue, turquoise, green, and black colors, and is a great choice for taking pictures of your Icelandic journey.
2. Katla Ice Cave
The Katla Ice Cave is quite a bit closer to Iceland's capital, Reykjavik, than Crystal Ice Cave. It is located within the Kötlujökull Glacier. Katla volcano, one of the most well known on the island, has played a part in forming this cave giving its interior a unique feature: pitch-black ash from centuries of volcanic eruptions trapped within the ice.
The entrance to the Katla cave seems like a scene from another world, with its prominent ash-gray ridges jutting out like foreboding towers. The inside of the Katla cave, similar to the Crystal Ice Cave, features an impressive collage of vibrant blue and deep black colors. Katla is somewhat smaller than the Crystal Ice Cave, but well worth a visit nonetheless.
3. Langjökull Ice Cave
The Langjökull Ice
Cave is the latest natural ice cave to be discovered in autumn of 2021. It is a
large cave compared to most others and with translucent blue ice combined with
white, it is truly amazing. To get there you either need to take a ride in a
glacier monster truck or snowmobile from the glaciers edge to the amazing ice
cave which just adds to the adventure.
Man made ice tunnel at Langjökull
The Crystal Ice
Cave, Katla Ice Cave and Langjökull Ice Cave were all formed by natural forces
over the course of years. However, there's also a man-made ice tunnel you can
explore during your stay in Iceland: the Langjökull Ice tunnel, located inside
the Langjökull Glacier. This is reportedly mankind's largest man-made ice
tunnel, and it allows you to walk almost 600 meters (1,970 ft) into the
Since Langjökull is man-made (and also maintained by people), you can visit it throughout the year (yes, even during summer).
Which Ice Cave Is the Best?
Many people ask this question, and the answer is (like most things in life): It depends. All three of the caves mentioned above have their own unique beauty and majesty, and all three are worth your time. In the end, which cave (or caves) you end up visiting will largely depend on how much time you are able to spend in Iceland, and what other things you might want to do or see.
With that in mind, here's some helpful information you should keep in mind about each cave:
Ice Cave: located in southeastern
Iceland, about a 5-hour drive from Reykjavik . Only accessible during winter
(October to April). Guided tours of this ice cave range from 3-6 hours
depending on the tour
- Katla Ice Cave: located in southern Iceland, about a 2 hours 30-
minutes drive from Reykjavik. Open throughout the year. Guided tours take
about 3-4 hours.
- Langjökull Ice Cave: located
in western/central Iceland, about a 1-hour 45-minutes drive from
Reykjavik. Open only in winter (October to April). A guided tour of the
Langjökull ice cave takes about 4-5 hours.
The man made tunnel is open all year and is about 2 hours from Reykjavik
The driving times are all based on non stop drive from Reykjavik to a pickup point where a guided tour starts as we strongly advise only to visit these ice caves with a guide who knows the area.
Can You Visit an Ice Cave Without a Guide?
Rear view of a woman sitting inside of an ice cave in Iceland
Ice caves can be easily affected by weather conditions, and glacier ice caves, in particular, may be unstable during certain times of the year. In addition, some ice caves may contain hazards that experienced guides are aware of, but that are unknown to you like locations of crevasses in the ice or unstable ice.
Some ice caves don't appear in the exact same spot each year. In fact, some ice caves disappear the following year, while new ones appear in different locations! For these and many other reasons, we recommend that you only take a guided tour of the ice caves.
What Should You Wear During an Ice Cave Tour, and What Equipment Should You Bring?
If you visit an ice cave during winter, you'll obviously want to wear several layers of warm clothes. Even in summer being close to the glacier can make the air temperature go down considerably, you should consider wearing clothes like:
- Thermal underwear and a thermal shirt (for your base layer)
- A fleece, wool, or down sweater (for your middle layer)
- A Parka jacket, heavy coat, or wind-proof shell jacket (for your outer layer)
- Insulated gloves
- A scarf
- Wool socks that will keep you warm without making you uncomfortable
- A sturdy pair of winter boots
Your tour guide ensures that you wear a helmet during your time in the ice cave's interior. Your guide may also provide you with spikes if the pathway is exceptionally icy. If you want to take pictures of your visit, consider bringing along a tripod on which to rest the camera of your choice (especially if you want to take long-exposure shots in the cave).
Ice Cave Tours from Reykjavik
For those staying in Reykjavik and don't have a car we offer a few Ice cave tours including pickup in Reykjavik.
If you are looking for some excitement along with a tour of a ice cave the Langjökull Snowmobiling and Ice Cave is truly a great experience.
If you have very limited time in Iceland but would like to see the Ice Caves of Vatnajökull along with the Diamond beach, black beaches of the south costa and if you are lucky the northern lights you can go on a Private Ice Cave and Northern Lights Day Tour. The day tour is very long so staying one night along the way and do a two day private tour of the south coast and a visit to the ice cave is less hectic and gives you more time to enjoy other sights on the way.
Man inside the amazing natural ice cave in Langjökull glacier after a snowmobile ride
Ice Cave and Self Drive Tours
At the end of the day, you'll be very glad that you visited Iceland's majestic ice caves, and enjoyed a once-in-a-lifetime experience amidst the elegant beauty of the island's glacial formations. Consider making one or more of the ice caves discussed above a stop on your itinerary!
If you'd like to learn more about Iceland's ice caves, and how you can fit them into a well-rounded, satisfying tour of the "land of fire and ice", reach out to our team at Tour.is today. We'd be happy to answer any questions you have. We look forward to helping you enjoy your visit to our beautiful country!