Do you know where Iceland gets its name? Well, the answer is simple. There is a lot of ice here and not just in winter. Most of the ice is found in massive glaciers which stay frozen all year round.
The greatest of them is Vatnajökull glacier. Covering an area of 7900 km2 (3100 sq/mi), making it the second largest glacier in Europe.
With this incredible size it's no wonder many interesting sites are found at and around the glacier. The whole area is called Vatnajökull National Park and covers the actual glacier along with areas around it.
Vatnajökull National Park is a world full of wonders and everyone visiting Iceland should have it on their travel plan.
Getting to Vatnajokull National Park
It is located in the southeast side of Iceland. The best way to see Vatnajökull National Park is by driving there on your own. By having a rental car, you are free to explore whatever you want, when you want it. Therefore, renting a car and making it your own adventure is by far the best way to go.
What's great about driving to Vatnajökull National Park is that from Reykjavik it is all on one main road. Road one, also called the Ring Road. So it's easy to find and passable for most parts of the year.
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The drive from Reykjavik to Vatnajokull National Park is long. At least five hours if you drive nonstop. We do not recommend doing so but it is highly possible to take a day trip there.
There are plenty of interesting places drivers can stop as you go along the south coast of Iceland. Such as Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, Skógafoss Waterfall or Seljalandsfoss Waterfall.
Which car is most suitable for the south coast?
During summer it is possible to make the trip on any 2WD, such as Toyota Yaris or Kia Rio. If you are traveling in winter we recommend a 4x4/AWD as there will be snow and ice on the road. An SUV such as Toyota Rav4 or Dacia Duster are ideal for such a trip.
As this is a long drive to a remote part of Iceland it is very important that drivers look at both weather and road conditions before making the trip. This is especially important when traveling in winter.
The first stop is usually Skaftafell. A beautiful grown oasis under the glacier. Skaftafell is like a hiking hub, as there are so many marked trails in the area. All leading towards incredible natural wonders.
From there it is popular to hike to a side glacier called Skaftafellsjökull. From there it is also possible to hike to Svartifoss waterfall.
There is a Skaftafell Visitor Centre, where guests can get information about the area and hiking and other activities available. There are hotels and a camping area is open in summer.
Overlooking Skaftafell is Hvannadalshnúkur, Iceland's tallest mountain. The mountain is a volcano with an icecap on top. It is possible to hike the mountain but should never be done without guidance.
This is a very difficult and dangerous hike. If you want to conquer Iceland's tallest mountain there are hiking tours, you can book in advance.
Jokulsarlon Glacier lagoon
Jökulsárlón is a glacial lagoon and one of the biggest attractions in Vatnajokull National Park. It is about a five hours drive from Reykjavik and just off road one.
The scenery at Jökulsárlón is breathtaking. There you can see icebergs of all sizes and shapes floating in the lagoon as the ice breaks away from the glacier.
Boat tours are available where visitors can sail on the lagoon and travel between the icebergs. This is very popular as visitors will see a lot more of the lagoon.
If you do not like boats, it is also possible to walk on the coast of the lagoon. Do not enter the water or climb on the icebergs. The lagoon water is extremely cold, and icebergs are both unstable and slippery.
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Right across the Ring Road from Jökulsárlón is the black sand beach called Diamond Beach. The black sand gets its name from the crystal icebergs which float down the glacial river from the lagoon and out to sea.
Once there the Atlantic Ocean pushes the icebergs back to shore. Leaving them in the sand looking like huge diamonds in the sand.
Just be careful when walking on the beach. Pay attention to the ocean as waves can appear suddenly. Do not go into the water. The waves are very powerful.
We recommend always keeping a safe distance from the ocean when walking on Diamond Beach.
Breiðamerkurjökull is another glacier within the national park. This outlet glacier of Vatnajökull is one of Iceland's most famous attractions. There visitors can go on boat tours on a glacial lagoon or snowmobile tours on the icecap.
The most amazing attraction however is the ice caves. Ice cave tours are available and we highly recommend them. Ice caves are among the most beautiful things you can see in Iceland, along with the northern lights.
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This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Vatnajökull National Park. All you need now is the perfect rental car to start your next adventure. Whether you decide to make a one day trip to Jökulsárlón or take a few days to explore other amazing sites within Vatnajökull National Park.