For most travelers, the visit of an ice cave in Iceland is the highlight of their Winter trip. This is why many want to make sure they visit the "right one". Below is my guide to help you choose the best Iceland ice cave tour option for you, depending on your criteria (location, access, time, groups..). I wish you a magical experience!
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What is the best ice cave in Iceland - short answers
Best Iceland ice cave tours - my answer
In the rest of the article, I will try to answer all your questions about ice cave tours with photos. But if you just want a quick answer to which one to choose, here is my opinion:
- If you are on Winter self-drive road trip, I would choose the Jokulsarlon Tour by Guide to Iceland. This may not be the most impressive of the blue caves, but if conditions permit you will get to see both a blue cave and a black cave. In my opinion, black ice caves are even more fascinating - check out program and availability
- If you want a day trip from Reykjavik, I want to warn you that it will be a lot of driving. The caves are not close to the capital and after the main road, you still have to get to the glacier in a 4WD - If you don't want to drive, the best is to do a 2 day trip along the South coast which includes a cave - See the multi day tour options
- You have only 2 options in Summer: There is one natural cave that may remain accessible in Summer, depending on the weather conditions. It is at the Katla volcano under the glacier Myrdalsjökull, but it is a black ice cave - see details and availability - or you can visit the man-made ice tunnel of Lagnjokull. It does not have the beauty of a natural ice cave, but you will get under 40m of ice and snow and discover the glacier - book your tour here
- Ice cave tours do fill up, so book ahead of your trip.
Is it worth it?
The answer is yes, if you don't get your expectations too high by looking at professional photos.
There are 2 main things to remember:
- Ice caves disappear every Summer and they look for them at the beginning of Winter. Some may have the same name because they remain roughly at the same location, but caves are never the same from one season to the other
- A lot of impressive photos you will see were taken by professional that will do crazy things to get WOW shots with angles making things look bigger. Most ice caves are smaller than what you imagine when you see those photos. Plus like for the northern lights, the colors are more vivid on photos.
That does not mean it is not an exceptional experience. Because it is. I strongly recommend it. Walking under the ice, touching it, discovering the shapes and colors created by nature. It is one of my favorite memories. I think this is one of the best things to do in Iceland in Winter (see my best-of list).
What are my options in Summer?
Natural ice caves are only accessible in Winter, mostly between November and March.
There is one natural cave that may remain accessible in Summer, depending on the weather conditions. It is at the Katla volcano under the glacier Myrdalsjökull - see details and availability
In Summer, your only other option to get under the ice is the Ice Tunnel under Langjokull.
It is a man-made structure. To natural work of the water and some of the blue is created by lighting behind the ice... but it is still interesting in my opinion. The drive on the glacier with the 4WD truck offers stunning views. And you get to walk under 30 to 40m of ice in the deepest parts. No WOW moments, but a great adventure.
More photos after the planning tips.
Planning Tips - How to visit an Iceland ice cave
Best time - When are ice caves accessible?
- Natural ice caves are only accessible in Winter
- The traditional season is from November to March
- Why? - Glaciers are here year round but move. The weather needs to be cold enough so that the ice, and the caves, are stable enough to safely enter.
- You have only 2 options in Summer: one natural black cave and a man-made tunnel - see paragraph above for info
Location - Where are they? How far are ice caves from Reykjavik?
- There are no ice caves very close to Reykjavik
- They all require several hours of driving on Road 1 and then some time on a 4WD excursion to the glacier
- The most famous caves are around Jokulsarlon. Reykjavik to Jokulsarlon is a 5h drive and then there is at least 45min with the 4WD.
- Road closures can always happen due to snow and wind - check out the status on road.is
Need to rent a car for your road trip in Iceland?
You can choose from some great local companies!
- I selected Route 1 car rental (and paid entirely for it). I really enjoyed their service to drop and pick up the car, as well as all their advice before going on the road - Check out prices and car availabilities
- Otherwise you can compare the vehicles and prices from local companies on this practical website
Visit tips - Can you visit ice caves on your own?
- No, it is not possible to visit ice caves on your own - they are difficult to access and require safety gears and people to keep you safe
- However you don't have to book a trip from Reykjavik. If you are doing a road trip around Iceland, you can book your visit from Vik or from Jokulsarlon, directly joining the 4WD part.
- As you can see below, you need a super jeep and someone who know where the road is (the road gets way worst after the sign) to be able to reach the cave.
Visit tips - Are ice cave tours safe? How are the visits?
- The tours will only start when the weather conditions are cold enough for stability - For some caves they remove part of the ceiling and replace it with wood to increase safety.
- Everyday the situation is assessed in terms of temperature but also for the driving conditions to reach the cave
- You are provided with equipment to get inside the cave: spikes, helmet and flashlight. However people tend to leave the flashlights on and they may stop working so I recommend you also bring your own small flashlight
- Most tours are very easy - you drive up to the entrance - no walking required
- But a few tours are combined with glacier hiking, make sure to pick a tour that suits your fitness level
If you are organizing a road trip in Iceland in Winter, check out my guide to facilitate the planning:
Plan your perfect trip to Iceland in Winter!
- 6 easy-to-plan Maps
- 75+ pre-selected scenic locations
- Winter Accessibility + Planning Tips
- 115+ large photos to decide where to go
- GPS coordinates direct to the carparks
Glacier caves - What can I expect? Why is the ice blue or black?
Visits are weather dependant
Your tour operator will keep in touch on the day of tour. Conditions may not be suitable to visit the cave but they will only know at the last minute.
Your tour may be impacted by wind, storms and if it rains a lot for a few days.
This is the case for many things in Iceland in Winter. You have to come to your trip with the mindset that:
- every single thing you have the chance to see, because conditions are good, is a bonus point
- but knowing that you will not see everything
Access to the caves - difficulty
Every year the expert teams try finding the caves. Entrance will look different depending on the cave.
Some will have high ceilings while for others, you will have to bend. In the black cave I visited, the entrance was easy, but for those who wanted to explore further you had to ramp a little on our knees.
Overall they set it up so that it is not too difficult to access. In a blue cave I visited, they even shaped a staircase so that access was easier!
How do they form?
The ice caves are actually glacier caves.
Ice caves are formed when meltwater runs under or through a glacier. It melts the ice creating a cavern.
In Iceland, they are 2 main reasons for water to run:
- surface water melting in Summer and drained into crevasses
- ice under the glacier melting because of geothermal warmth.
The color blue
First of all, a lot of pictures show very vivid colors. I took photos with 2 cameras and the results are extremely different on my pictures.
But I can tell you that even though it is not as vivid, it is still pretty amazing and really blue!
So why is it so blue?
In a glacier, the ice is thicker and denser, as it has been compressed. It absorbs all colours of the spectrum except the colour blue, so that's what you can see.
The color black
I really enjoyed the black cave I visited. Sadly, I have not been able to take a picture of what the ice really looks like up close. So you will have to see it for yourself 🙂
It looks like a very shiny stones with incredible painting like waves. It is also difficult to explain.
The black is due to the volcanic ash mixing with the ice. We are, after all, on volcanic land.
At Jokulsarlon, some tours take you to both a blue and black cave if the conditions permit - check out program and availability
Jokulsarlon Ice Caves in Vatnajokull - natural + easy access
The most famous ice cave tours are from Jokulsarlon. This is because the location itself is famous, so this is an easy departure point to the caves in the Vatnajokull glacier.
You will see articles about the famous Crystal cave. Note that this cave has disappeared. Every year, they are looking for new caves. Sometimes they are similar to previous years, but sometimes they are completely different. Tour companies tend to pick impressive professional photos and beautiful names to make you book. You will not see what those photos show you. However it is still worth it!
You will find the departure points from the few companies running tours on the Jokulsarlon carpark. From there you will climb aboard a monster 4WD vehicle and head to the glacier.
Ice cave tours do fill up, so book ahead of your trip.
Tours normally take 3h (drive + visit + drive back)
Guide to Iceland Jokulsarlon Ice cave Tour
This is the one I opted for.
It is a small group tour. Only 2 companies go to the found caves.
If conditions permit you will visit both a blue cave and a black cave. This is why I love it!
Blue diamond, Sapphire and Crystal caves
The Blue Diamond and Crystal caves are 2 famous caves near Jokulsarlon.
The most famous ice cave photos were taken there. But the original caves have disappeared.
The tours claiming those names take you to new caves which have formed in the area. Every year will be a surprise, maybe another giant one will form. Who knows?
Just don't be stuck with the idea of seeing one with a specific name.
Note that if you are not driving, day trips from Reykjavik would be extremely long. I recommend booking a 2 or 3 day tour which include an ice cave. This is combined with the waterfalls, the black sand beaches and the Diamond beach.
Other ice cave tours
Skaftafell ice cave - hiking required
At the Skaftafell national park you can combine a glacier hike with the visit of a cave. This is great for a complete experience of a glacier. However the ice caves tend to be smaller and not as impressive.
The group is small and the tour takes around 4 hours.
You need a minimum of fitness to be able to enjoy this activity.
Vik / Katla ice cave
From Reykjavik or Vík you join a tour to the Katla ice cave (sometimes refer to the Secret ice cave).
This cave is normally accessible all year. You will enter at the edge of the glacier rather than on it. The cave has a mix of color, but a lot of black since it is at a volcano. Part of it does not have a roof, so it feels less like a cave.
Langjokull Ice Tunnel - available all year "Into the glacier"
Another "ice activity" you can enjoy both in Winter and in Summer is the Langjokull ice tunnel.
Just be aware that it is a completely different experience from the ice caves.
- The tunnel has been carved by man into the glacier (over 14months) and reaches a depth of 40m under the surface
- The tour will guide you through tunnels and into chambers. They have displays along the way to teach visitors about glaciers and the impact of the climate change
- It can be visited on a day trip from Reykjavik (often combined with the Vidgelmir lava tube and the Hraunfossar waterfall)
- You will reach it from Husafell inside a large 4WD truck driving to and on the Langjokull glacier
- It is easy to walk inside
- The tunnels are smooth and the ice does not look the same as in the natural cave. It has not been carved by water.
- There is a crevasse in the glacier that you can see from under - not something you can experience normally!
You can book your visit directly from Husafell - Get your ticket here
Or you can book a day trip from Reykjavik (I strongly recommend to book the combined tour with Vidgelmir) - check out program and book
Here are a few pictures from my tour:
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