The name Iceland is a bit of a misnomer: in the summer, the country is as green as Ireland & while snow covers the top of mountains, there’s very little ice (Greenland, on the other hand…). Perhaps because of this, visitors flock to Iceland’s iceist summer-time ice attraction: the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. Located along the south coast between Kirkjubæjarklaustur & Höfn (i.e. in the middle of nowhere – don’t try to do this as a day trip from Reykjavik), the Glacier Lagoon is both a product of & a victim of climate change: it exists because the glacier Breiðamerkurjökull is receding. The lagoon formed only in the 1930s; however, because of the glacier receding, the icebergs won’t be there in about 150 years because the glacier will have receded too far & ice will no longer break off into the lagoon.
A stop at Jökulsárlón worked out well for our road trip itinerary, as our route had us driving right past the icy lake. Both B & I gasped at the first glimpse of the blue chunks of ice floating in the lake. It is an amazing sight & like nothing we’d ever seen before. You might recognize the lagoon from its staring role in several movies, including the James Bond films “A View to a Kill” & “Die Another Day” (during the filming of that movie, the lagoon was completely frozen over by blocking the entrance to the sea under the bridge – the only time the lagoon has been frozen solid – allowing Pierce Brosnan to drive his car across the ice).
The Iceberg Black Sand Beach
Visitors have a few options when visiting the lagoon: if you don’t want to pay to go on a tour, you can get a pretty good view of the icebergs by walking along the shore. The cheapest tour option which runs most frequently is a ride on an amphibian boat. This is the option we chose, since we weren’t sure on the timing of our arrival & visitors generally don’t need to book the amphibian boat in advance. The third option is a ride around the lagoon on a zodiac boat, which looks absolutely amazing, but must be booked in advance.
We arrived around 4:00pm & bought tickets for the next available boat tour, which was at 5:20pm. While we waited, we walked around the lagoon & then drove across a one-lane bridge straddling the lagoon to explore a nearby black sand beach. As the icebergs break apart & float under the bridge on their way out to sea, some of them are washed ashore onto the beach. There was less ice on the beach than we anticipated, but what was there was really cool.
A boat ride around Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Soon it was time to board our amphibian boat & head out into the lagoon. Our guide, Marco, was from Naples, Italy & came to Iceland to work in the tourism industry. His tour narrative was charming, funny & knowledgable. As we motored around the lagoon, Marco told us about how the lagoon came to be & explained the different features of icebergs, which are constantly changing. We saw one ‘berg turn itself totally upside-down & another fast moving ‘berg float by. Our tour was even lucky enough to spot one of the lagoon’s cutest residents: a seal!
At one point, the boat stopped & Marco retrieved a piece of ice that was floating nearby. Using an ice pick, he broke up the 1,000 year old piece of glacier & handed pieces out to all the tour participants. The pure water is clean enough to drink & we all enjoyed posing for photos, sucking on a piece of ice that was formed over a millennium ago.
One of my favorite moments of the visit was after the boat had cut its motor & we just floated amongst the icebergs for a few minutes. Everyone on the boat was quiet & just enjoyed the moment of being out with nature. The amphibian boat tour far exceeded our expectations – we both found it to be really interesting & well done.
Know before you go…
– during the summer months, an amphibian boat leaves once every 30 minutes, so unless you need to go at a specific time, there’s really no need to book in advance (trust me, I was skeptical!). However, like we did, you might need to wait a bit until the next tour is available.
– there were about 30 people on the amphibian boat during the tour; however, once the boat stops in the lagoon, everyone is able to stand up & move around, so don’t worry about getting a good seat.
– we were given life vests to wear during the boat ride, but other than that didn’t need special gear. Even during the summer months, it was a little chilly out on the water, so it’s worth it to wear a jacket or fleece.
– this is one of the places in Iceland we got a little sunburned! If the sun is shining during your tour, it’s worth applying a little sunscreen on your cheeks before heading out on the boat, as the UV rays bouncing off the ice & water are pretty strong.
– if you don’t have time to go on a boat tour, the view from the shore is pretty good. There were some icebergs pretty close to shore the day we were there (but, of course, they’re constantly changing).
-the lagoon has a small cafe, gift shop & decent bathrooms. It’s also the only thing in the area, so if you need to make a pit stop, this is the place to do it!
-the one-lane bridge straddling the lagoon is a little intense – even though it’s short, sight lines aren’t great & the turn off for the lagoon is right at the end. Take it slow & be aware of other drivers who are coming from the opposite direction.