Julie Iceland 6 Comments

Strap on some crampons, grab an ice pick, and set off on a very cool Icelandic adventure. If you are thinking about doing an Iceland glacier hike, we have lots of great information to share with you.

Hiking on a glacier was one of our most anticipated experiences in Iceland. Exploring crevasses, walking on the crunchy ice with crampons, and taking photos of the blue ice…it was absolutely amazing!

There are many different tour options for a glacier hike in Iceland. Choose between a short or long tour, add on ice climbing or a visit to an ice cave, or add on side trips to nearby attractions. With several glaciers and top-rated tour companies in Iceland, there are a lot of options.

In this post, get an idea of what to expect on an Iceland glacier walk. At the end of this article, I provide information about the various tour options to help you pick the best tour.


Iceland Glacier Hike: An Overview

There are two main glaciers in Iceland where you can go hiking: Sólheimajökull glacier and Vatnajökull glacier.

Sólheimajökull Glacier

Sólheimajökull glacier is located in south Iceland, just a short drive from Skógafoss waterfall. It’s only a 2-hour drive from Reykjavik.

Its convenient location makes it the most popular choice for many visitors to Iceland. It is possible to hike Sólheimajökull glacier on a day trip from Reykjavík or easily add it into your south coast sightseeing itinerary.

Vatnajökull Glacier

Vatnajökull glacier is the largest glacier in Europe. It is also part of Vatnajökull National Park, the largest protected area in Europe.

Vatnajökull glacier has roughly 30 outlet glaciers, which are long tongues of ice that reach out from the main glacier. It is these tongues of ice that you will explore. Some of these outlet glaciers were also used in the filming of Game of Thrones.

The ice that floats in Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and washes up on Diamond Beach originate from the Breiðamerkurjökull outlet glacier.

Most glacier hikes on Vatnajökull glacier start in Skaftafell. This is a 4-hour drive from Reykjavík. If you are looking to do an Iceland glacier hike on a day trip from Reykjavík, Sólheimajökull glacier is a better option. But if you want to walk on Europe’s largest glacier and add on kayaking or cruising Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, Vatnajökull glacier is an unbelievable experience.

Vatnajokull Glacier

Vatnajökull glacier | Iceland glacier hike

Ice Caves in Iceland

During the winter months (November through March) you can also go ice caving. Explore naturally occurring ice caves…giant rooms with crystal clear blue ice ceilings. It looks like a magical experience. Since our visit to Iceland was during the summer months, the ice caves were not open.

The ice caves are located at Vatnajökull’s outlet glaciers Falljökull and Breiðamerkurjökull, the Kötlujökull outlet glacier from the Mýrdalsjökull ice cap (the Katla Ice Cave on South Iceland), and at Langjökull glacier (a man-made ice cave) in west Iceland.

Vatnajökull Glacier vs. Sólheimajökull Glacier

We chose Vatnajökull glacier over Sólheimajökull glacier for several reasons. Since Vatnajökull is located farther away from Reykjavik, crowds tend to be lower at this glacier. Plus, there are several different outlet glaciers to hike, so that also keeps crowds low. We were on a Ring Road road trip, so adding this onto our itinerary was a piece of cake. And it is awesome to say that we walked on the largest glacier in Europe!

Iceland Glacier Hike: What to Expect

We booked our tour with Arctic Adventures. They get rave reviews on Trip Advisor and offer a lot of different tour options. We chose the Glacier Explorer Tour, since it offers the most time on the glacier.

Getting Geared Up

Tours of Vatnajökull glacier typically start in Skaftafell. There are several tour companies that offer tours of this glacier and they all have very small offices here. There is a large parking lot and campground in Skaftafell. This is also where you would park to hike to Svartifoss waterfall.

At the Arctic Adventures office, we assembled with the other members of our group. There were a total of 12 members in our group. At the office, we were fitted with crampons, a helmet, a harness, and an ice pick. We had to rent their hiking boots (at a small additional fee), since our hiking shoes were not acceptable. We wear hiking shoes, not boots, and they required footwear that had ankle support.

From the Skaftafell office, we boarded a bus and drove 15 minutes east to the Falljökull outlet glacier.

From this parking lot, with our gear in our hands, we walked 30 minutes to the glacier. It was a flat, easy walk.

Walking to the Glacier

An Iceland glacier hike usually starts off with a short walk on land to get to the glacier.



Vatnajökull glacier | Iceland glacier hike


The Bridge

On the Glacier

Once next to the ice, we put on our crampons and our guide gave us a safety lesson on how to walk on the ice and use an ice pick. And then we were on our way!

Walking with crampons is fairly easy. You do have to pay attention to how you step, since your feet stick into the ice (the whole reason behind wearing crampons, of course!). Since you are walking up and down inclines, you move at a very slow pace. So, on a short tour, you don’t go very far onto the ice, since you are moving so slowly.

Iceland Glacier Hike

When we did this, at the end of July, temperatures were unusually warm. It was 27°C. Since we would be walking on a giant slab of ice, we wore some of our warmest clothes. That was a mistake. We ended up sweating through most of this experience, at least until we really got up onto the ice, where temperatures were much cooler.

This warm weather naturally had a big effect on the glacier. It was disturbing how quickly the glacier was melting. Rivers of water were pouring off the ice. Scientists predict that this outlet glacier will be completely melted by 2030.

For over 3 hours we explored the glacier. We walked through narrow crevasses, got to see very small, blue ice caves, and climbed quite high onto the glacier. Three hours may sound like a lot of time but it flew by. One of the best parts of this tour was climbing through the narrow crevasses and up and over huge chunks of ice.

Here is our glacier hike in photos. 

Iceland Glacier Walk

Iceland Glacier Hike

Iceland Glacier Hike

Iceland Glacier Hike

Falljökull outlet glacier

Iceland Glacier Hike

Iceland Glacier Hike

Hiking through a crevasse | Iceland glacier hike


Iceland Glacier Hike

Iceland Glacier Hike

Iceland Glacier Hike

Blue Ice

Tyler Rivenbark

There were other shorter tours that came and went. On a short tour, you only get about an hour on the ice. Some of the coolest terrain we saw was higher up on the glacier, and a short tour, you would miss this. If you have the time and the energy, I highly recommend taking a longer tour.

Our tour ended back at the Skaftafell office. The Glacier Explorer Tour is a 5.5-hour tour. We spent 3 hours of that time on the ice. The other 2.5 hours were used to get our gear, drive to and from the outlet glacier, and hike on land to the start of the glacier.

PRO TRAVEL TRIP:  Most tours, whether you are at Sólheimajökull glacier or Vatnajökull glacier, will include about a 30-minute walk to get to the glacier. As these glaciers recede, they move farther and farther from the parking lot, adding on walking time to each tour.

Iceland Travel Guide

When to Go on an Iceland Glacier Hike

You can hike on a glacier year round. Tour companies offer glacier hikes all year with additional tours during the busier summer months.

If you choose to hike on Vatnajökull Glacier, it is also possible to do a combination tour with a boat ride on Jökulsárlón Lagoon. 

If you want to explore an ice cave, you can do this between November and March, when the ice caves are open and safe to explore.

Recommended Ages for an Iceland Glacier Hike

For shorter, less strenuous tours, the minimum age is typically 8 years old. For our tour, the Glacier Explorer, the minimum age is 14 years, due to its longer time on the ice and short but somewhat challenging walks through the crevasses.

When booking your tours, tour companies will state the minimum age requirements and difficulty level.

Tim Rivenbark

What to Wear on an Iceland Glacier Hike

Tour companies provide your gear: the crampons, helmets, and ice axes. If you do any ice climbing or a longer tour where you hike farther onto the ice, you will also wear a harness. This is included with your tour price. If you need to rent boots or waterproof gear, you can do this for an additional fee.

The temperatures will be cooler once you are standing on the glacier. It is a good idea to bring layers, even during the summer months. Dress for the weather forecast but add in one to two layers for the colder temperatures once you are on the glacier.

  • Hiking Boots. Not hiking shoes. We were required to wear sturdy footwear with ankle support. Arctic Adventures rented hiking boots for a small additional fee.
  • Several layers of clothes
  • Waterproof pants, if you have them. Avoid jeans, since these can get uncomfortable when wet. We wore lightweight hiking pants (only one layer) and these worked great for us, but the weather was uncharacteristically warm.
  • Rain jacket. If rain is in the forecast, you will still hike on the glacier.
  • Gloves (ideally waterproof)
  • Hat (if the weather is very cold)
  • Bring a backpack. You can throw your extra layers in here if you get warm. Or, pack extra layers in here should you get cold.

If you are on a longer tour, it is also a good idea to bring water and some snacks. On a sunny day, sunblock is essential. And make sure you apply it to your chin. The sunlight reflects off of the ice and can burn the underside of your chin. 

During the winter months, really pile on those layers!!

Earth Trekkers

Which Tour is Right for You?

There are numerous Iceland glacier hike tours to choose from. For Sólheimajökull and Vatnajökull glaciers, I narrowed down the list to these 6 options.

Glacier Explorer with Arctic Adventures. This is the tour that we took and loved it. Starting in Skaftafell, spend 3 hours on the largest glacier in Europe (this tour is 5 hours in total). It is offered all year with a minimum age of 14 years. 

Glacier Wonders with Arctic Adventures. This is the best-selling tour on Vatnajökull glacier. It is a shorter version of the Glacier Explorer tour. It is offered all year with a minimum age of 8 years. 

Jökulsárlón Boat Ride and Glacier Hike with Arctic Adventures. On this full day adventure, explore Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon on a zodiac boat and then hike on Vatnajökull glacier. It is offered from May to October. 

Sólheimajökull Glacier Hike with Arctic Adventures. Spend one hour on Sólheimajökull glacier. You can do this as a day trip from Reykjavík or meet on location at the glacier. It is offered all year and the minimum age is 8 years. 

Sólheimajökull Ice Climbing and Glacier Hike. On this 4-hour tour of Sólheimajökull glacier, learn how to go ice climbing. This tour is offered all year with a minimum age of 12 years.

Crystal Cave Tour. Visit this crystal-clear blue ice cave on a 2.5 hour tour from Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. This tour is available October through March with a minimum age of 6 years. 

Ideas for What to Do after Your Glacier Hike

For an even more epic experience, here are some things to add on to your glacier hike.

At Sólheimajökull Glacier

If you are doing this on a day trip from Reykjavík, don’t miss Skógafoss waterfall, Kvernufoss waterfall, and Seljalansfoss and Gljúfrabúi waterfalls. These are all quick visits and they can be easily added into your drive back to Reykjavík. Skip the Solheimasandur plane wreck…it is an overrated tourist trap.

If you have lots of time and energy, you can add in part or all of the Skógafoss Waterfall Trail. It’s one of Iceland’s most underrated hikes.

Vatnajökull Glacier

Svartifoss waterfall. From the parking lot in Skaftafell, it’s an unexciting 3 km round trip hike to get here but what a unique waterfall!

On the same day as your glacier hike, you can kayak or take a zodiac boat ride of Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. Afterwards, pop out to Diamond Beach to see the ice chunks that wash up onto the jet black sand.

Next to Jökulsárlón is Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon. This smaller and less crowded lagoon is also fed by ice from Vatnajökull glacier.


Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon | Iceland glacier hike

Iceland Glacier Hike Tours


Frequently Asked Questions

Is glacier hiking in Iceland worth it?

Absolutely! This was one of our favorite experiences in Iceland. To strap on some crampons, walk on the ice, and explore the crevasses was one of our most memorable experiences on this trip. Since visiting Iceland, we have hiked on other glaciers around the world and it never gets old. Hiking on a glacier is a very cool adventure to add to your to-do list and if you are planning a trip to Iceland, adding on a glacier hike is easy to do. 

Can you go glacier hiking in Iceland without a guide?

Technically, yes, you can go glacier hiking without a guide but we don’t recommend it. Hiking on a glacier without an experienced guide is very dangerous. Glaciers are constantly moving and shifting. You could fall into a crevasse, get stranded out on the ice, or even just slip and fall and injure yourself. You should only hike on a glacier if you have the proper equipment and are with an experienced guide.

When is the best time to go glacier hiking?

You can go glacier hiking in Iceland all year round. The summer is the best time to go glacier hiking because the days are long, the weather is relatively warm, and there are a lot of glacier hiking tours to choose from. Standing on a glacier is much cooler than standing on land, so if you plan to do this when the weather is cold, you will really need to put on the layers. 

If you have any questions about an Iceland glacier hike, or if you want to share your experience, let us know in the comment section below!

More Information for Your Trip to Iceland

ADVENTURES IN ICELAND: Iceland is full of wonderful adventures. Go off the beaten path and explore Kerlingarfjöll. Spend one day in Landmannalaugar or hike the epic Fimmvorduhals trail (one of our favorite day hikes in the world). Learn how to put all of this together in our 10 Day Iceland Adventure Itinerary.

DAY TRIPS FROM REYKJAVÍK: If you are planning a short visit to Iceland with Reykjavík as your home base, here are 10 great day trips to take from Reykjavík.

BEST OF ICELAND: For a list of top experiences in Iceland, don’t miss our Iceland Bucket List. If you are a hiker, we also have a hiking guide with 10 epic day hikes to do in Iceland.

ICELAND ITINERARIES: There are several ways to put together a trip to Iceland. If you have 10 days, here are four different ways to spend your time in Iceland. This two week Iceland itinerary includes the entire Ring Road and main highlights of Iceland.

ICELAND TRAVEL ADVICE: First time in Iceland? Here are essential things to know about Iceland, including driving tips, sample costs, SIM cards, when to visit, and more.

MORE GREAT HIKES IN EUROPE: From thrilling trails in the Alps to easy walks along the coast, read our article 20 Best Hikes in Europe for some beautiful hiking trails to put on your travel wish list.


Read all of our articles about Iceland in our Iceland Travel Guide.


Iceland Glacier Hike Complete Guide


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Comments 6

  1. Avatar for Rebecca

    This feels like a silly question, but there are obviously no bathrooms up on the glacier and five hours seems like a long time without one! How is that handled?

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      Not only is it a long time without a bathroom, but you are also wearing a harness, so it gets really difficult to get undressed. If you have an emergency, your guide can probably steer you to a somewhat private spot, but it’s best to forgo the coffee and fluids that morning and use the bathroom at the office right before putting on the harness. Cheers, Julie

  2. Avatar for Yolanda

    We didn’t even get close to the base of the glacier, never mind walk in a crevasse, with Arctic Adventures. A lot of it has to do with one person on the group who had no right being there. Could barely walk. We spent more time standing than walking. One group passed us on the way up, we lost sight of them, then they passed us again on the way down. Very disappointing

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
  3. Avatar for Ali

    Hi, I will be 6 months pregnant when we travel to Iceland this year. What are your thoughts on going on a glacier hike while pregnant? We live in Colorado and hike year-round, but haven’t been on a glacier. My doctor thinks it might be okay, but I would love to hear from a mom who has done this tour. Thanks!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      If you have experience hiking, are in good shape, and have the OK from your doctor, then I think that you can do this glacier hike. It’s low on scale of difficulty and it’s not very strenuous. Hiking to Emerald Lake in RMNP or hiking up into the dunes at Great Sand Dunes NP is tougher than this glacier hike. Once on the glacier, you really take your time, since you are in a group with people of all ability levels. Honestly, the most strenuous part of the experience was the walk from the bus to the glacier. I hope you have a great time in Iceland! Cheers, Julie

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