Vatnajokull Glacier – The Largest Glacier in Europe


Basic Information

  • Largest Glacier in Europe.

You cannot think of a better place than Iceland to spot jaw-dropping locations such as Vatnajokull glacier. Vatnajökull is not only the largest glacier in Iceland but in all of Europe. The glacier is spread over a massive area of 8100 kilometers square. You will be astonished to know that it covers 8% of the country’s landmass. Hosting around 30 outlet glaciers, Vatnajokull will surely be the most lovable element of surprise. Outlet glaciers are strands of ice that flow out of snow caps but stay constrained on the sides of the valley.

The glacier playground of the country is a part of Vatnajökull National Park, which was founded in 2008. The park is situated in the south-west of Iceland. Vatnajokull loosely translates to the Water Glacier. The average thickness of the glacier is about 500 meters or 1640 feet but the thickest part is 950 meters which is almost a whole kilometer. This variation in thickness massively adds to the wonder element of the glacier. This is a must-visit place if you are bored of the usual public spot in Iceland and want to experience something miraculous.

Dettifoss the most powerful waterfall in Europe

A Few Interesting Facts

The glacier is rapidly melting due to global climate change. The good part is it is not shrinking at an alarming rate like other glaciers around the world. Even in Iceland, glaciers such as Langjökull and Mýrdalsjökull have slowly started to melt.

The tallest peak in the country also lies beneath the snow layer of the Vatnajökull glacier. It is called Hvannadalshnjúkur and stands at a height of more than 2000 meters. Another astonishing fact is that the glacier hides in its wake some of the most active volcanoes in Iceland. The most noteworthy of them are Grímsvötn, Öræfajökull, and Bárðarbunga. Throughout the centuries, severe volcanic activities have taken place in the area. Many geology experts have predicted that several eruptions are yet to happen. Significant volcanic activity is speculated in the next half-century. Although it is based upon the winds, volcanic activities could result in major changes in terms of air-travel, agriculture, and the worldwide climate.

Dyngjujökull in the north is the major outlet glacier of Vatnajökull. In the south, Breiðamerkurjökull, and Skeiðarárjökull are the main outlet glaciers. The visitors can find the outlet glaciers to the west which include Síðujökull, Skaftárjökull, and Tungnaárjökull. 

There are many rivers that flow out of Vatnajökull. These rivers make some of the greatest and most beautiful glacial rivers in the country. The major rivers in the west are Tungnaá, Köldukvísl and Þjórsá. Jökulsá á Fjöllum and Skjálfandafljót are glacial rivers in the north. In the north east, you would find Jökulsá á Brú and Jökulsá í Fljótsdal. Mos of the glacial rivers are in the south including Jökulsá í Lóni, Hornafjarðarfljót, Jökulsá á Breiðamerkursandi, Skeiðará, Núpsvötn, Hverfisfljót and Skaftá.

boat sailing on Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon in south east Iceland

Activities for Explorers in Vatnajökull

The most suitable access to the glacier is from the south. Through the outlet glaciers, you can hike to the top. Öræfajökull is quite popular among hikers. Though the hiking is only doable in late April/May when the weather conditions allow. There are various tours available for glacier hiking and ice caving in the winter. From April to October, visitors have the option of snowmobiling tours on the vast Vatnajökull. From January to March, visitors can also take part in Snowmobiling & ice cave exploring on Vatnajökull.

Reaching Vatnajökull Glacier

It is easy to drive from Reykjavík to Vatnajökull. On Road 1, going east, you can drive out of town. Drive through Hellisheiði Heath and then down through Selfoss to the town of Hveragerði. You can continue along the same path as you did from Reykjavík before you reach your destination. The route is easy as there are no twists and turns. There are many amazing sights and attractions right by the road to have a look at. This includes beautiful waterfalls Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrabúi. Eventually, you will pass the black sand plains before the town of Kirkjubæjarklaustur is reached. At this point, you will begin to spot the first sighting of Vatnajökull.

Most of the travelers meet up for the tours in Skaftafell National Park or at Jökulsárlón. However, you can decide on another spot to meet fellow travelers in the area.

Jokulsargljufur canyon next to Dettifoss and Selfoss waterfalls

Vatnajokull Glacier on a map

Interesting locations in the area

Hotels & Restaurants

More Nearby Locations

Hveravellir geothermal area in the highlands of Iceland

Hveravellir Geothermal area & hot spring

woman swimming in Seljavallalaug natural swimming pool in south Iceland

Seljavallalaug: A Guide to the Geothermal Hot Spring

Aldeyjarfoss waterfall in the northern highlands of Iceland

Aldeyjarfoss Waterfall – The Basalt Beauty of the North

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