Majestic halls and narrow passageways, both can be created, found, and lost within a very short period in the ice caves of Iceland. You can experience bright-blue and almost translucent walls and ceilings, as well as 49 shades of grey, black, and white in these marvels. They are found all over Iceland, so it doesn’t really matter where you go, just remember to go there in the wintertime.
The Land of Fire and Ice is called so for a good reason. Iceland has both impressive volcanos and majestic glaciers, and when they both meet, wonderful things happen. Some of the many glacier and ice caves in Iceland are results of the meeting of these giants, and nothing you want to miss. Get to know everything you need to know in this article about Ice caves and where to find them.
What Are Ice Caves in Iceland?
First things first: an Ice cave and a glacier cave are not the same things. They share a lot of the same characteristics, but they have very distinct differences. Ice caves in Iceland are caves, just like any other cave made up of rock inside or underneath glaciers. Ice caves in Iceland have permanent ice in them to an extensive degree. This can be either completely frozen over walls, ceilings, and floors, or simply a frozen lake or some ice taps hanging from the ceiling.
The glacier cave Iceland has, are caves made of ice within the ice of a glacier, which is not permanent throughout the year. This means that if you go visit the glacier caves Iceland has, you are likely to come back another year and find that the cave is gone. If you visit one of the many ice caves in Iceland, however, you will most likely be able to visit them again for many years afterwards.
The glacier caves of Iceland regularly melt, collapse, or get filled up with water in the summer. This inspires us to explore these caves while knowing that this is a unique experience for this place with a time limit attached to it.
Real Ice caves usually don’t vanish due to seasonal changes, and you can be sure that there is at least one spot in that cave that is permanently below freezing temperatures. Ice caves in Iceland are often used synonymously as glacier caves. The glacier caves of Iceland are huge tourist attractions and often part of glacier hikes. However, they are only there during the winter months and rarely stay more than 2-3 years. This makes them unique in a sense, but impossible to keep good track of.
With that said, some actual ice caves in Iceland have also only lasted a couple of years. Even though the cave itself is made out of rock, the interior is filled with ice, which sometimes melts to fill the cave, or melts to block the entrance. You can easily make some glacier caves of Iceland a part of a shorter trip around the southern parts of Iceland.
Forming of Ice Caves in Iceland
Ice caves in Iceland are formed in different ways, but it differs little from most other caves. You will either have caves that have formed through some form of weathering down by water, slowly slithering through the mountain cracks, or you will have caves formed through violent actions like earthquakes or volcanic activity. Many impressive ice caves in Iceland are lava tubes from volcanic eruptions many centuries ago.
Glacier caves are formed every year. In the winter, the glacier slowly advances, growing in size and further pressing the ice underneath it. In the summertime, the glacier recedes and glacial rivers are formed from the large amounts of meltwater. These rivers often carve a path through the glacier, hollowing out something similar to internal piping in the masses of ice. When the wintertime comes, many of these internal paths stay as they were, just without the water, thus creating a glacier cave.
Best Ice Caves in Iceland
When you go to see the ice caves in Iceland, you will be met with a myriad of choices. Most of these will be tours in Vatnajökull, due to the easy access and overall popularity, but some will take you far off the beaten path on your own adventure with super jeeps and very experienced guides.
By far the most popular and well-known of the ice caves in Iceland is the Crystal Ice Cave in Vatnajökull National Park. Just like the majority of the ice formations close to this glacier, Crystal Ice Cave has clear blue ice that gets its bright and vibrant colour from the process of snow. Some parts of this cave have ice that is more than a thousand years old! It’s clear to see why this is one of the treasures of Vatnajökull.
Katla Ice Cave
One of the most memorable ice caves in Iceland is the Katla Ice Cave. Katla is the most active volcano in Iceland and has been connected to some of the eruptions in modern times. Eyjafjallajökull is the most recent example.
Katla lies underneath the Myrdalsjökull glacier and has created an amazing ice cave at the meeting point of fire and ice. In terms of looks, it is far from the Crystal Cave. The traces of volcanic activity can be seen in the cave walls with a mix of black debris, blue ice, and white air bubbles.
Fun fact: this ice cave was a part of Star Wars: Rogue One.
Kverkfjöll Ice Cave
This is probably the hardest one to reach of all the ice caves in Iceland that you can travel to. The ice cave is located in the northern part of Vatnajökull, which is part of the reason why it is so hard to reach. The interesting thing about this glacier ice cave of Iceland is that you can see a warm water river running through the cave. Due to the geothermal activity in this mountain range, you will be able to experience this unique phenomenon.
Langjökull Ice Cave
Among the best ice caves in Iceland with impressive interiors, Langjökull Ice Cave comes first in terms of its spectacular range of colours and intricate patterns. When you walk through this ice cave, you will not be able to keep yourself from admiring the “river” of bright blue ice running along the ceiling.
An interesting fact regarding this ice cave is that it is man-made. Icelandic entrepreneurs decided to create an ice cave into the Langjökull glacier, roughly 550 meters deep! This ice tunnel in iceland is estimated to last for up to 15 years without repairs.
Lofthellir Ice Cave
An amazing lava tunnel with permafrost and amazing ice sculptures can be visited in the northern part of Iceland. The tours start from the Mývatn area and take you by car and a 30-minute hike before you reach the cave. This is one of the really old ice caves in Iceland with an age of more than 3,500 years.
Svinafellsjökull Ice Cave
This is one of the glacier caves of Iceland that is easy to reach and easy to admire. The entrance is from the beach next to the lagoon, this is one of the ice caves in Iceland that you can’t miss if you get the opportunity to go.
Ice Caves in Iceland and Safety
The first rule of the ice caves in Iceland: do not enter them unless with a guide. These ice caves are constantly monitored and assessed from a safety point to ensure that no accidents occur. These caves can collapse under the wrong circumstances, and tour guides always make the proper assessments before they enter a cave. There are incidents of tourists dying in glaciers and Iceland caves when they ventured out alone, so keep to the guided tours.
The second rule of ice caves in Iceland: wear warm, protective gear, and make sure you have shoes that can give you sufficient grip on ice. Guides will provide the necessary protective equipment, so you won’t have to. It’s like going on the Jökulsarlon boats, but less open sky and more cramped space.
The third rule of ice caves in Iceland: be in the moment. The caves you visit might be gone tomorrow, so make sure to take it all in and enjoy yourself. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Go inside a glacier!
With that said, we think you are ready to go out and explore the ice caves in Iceland, or travel through the man-made ice tunnel Iceland has. Make sure to get your campervan to see these sights before they go away!