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Glacier lagoons in Iceland: Jökulsárlón and Fjallsárlón

View over Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon with lot of floating icebergs in the lagoon. Öræfajökull glacier and Breiðarmerkurfjall mountain in the background.

Iceland’s glacier lagoon, Jökulsárlón, is one of the most popular sights in the country. Most travellers will find themselves there at some point – or wish they had been able to visit. But did you know it’s not the only glacier lagoon in this part of the country? A short drive away, Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon is still one of the south coast’s hidden gems, yet it shares many characteristics with its more famous neighbour. Let’s take a look at both places and find out why you need to include them both in your itinerary.

Majestic Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon lives up to the hype

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is firmly on the beaten track when it comes to touring Iceland’s gorgeous south coast. Even in low season, you’ll find other cars in the parking lot when you pull off the ring road. This place isn’t a hidden gem by any stretch of the imagination! Yet, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t come here – just don’t expect to have it to yourself. The lagoon can be seen from the main ring road, therefore most travellers stop there. 

The lagoon is large, but it’s dwarfed by the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, which is an outlet glacier for the even mightier Vatnajökull. Why’s that important? Well, this is no ordinary lake: travellers flock here in their droves, lured by the chance to see a slew of icebergs bobbing around. If you’re lucky, you’ll also catch sight of seals frolicking in the water, which is an added bonus.

Floating icebergs close up, on Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. Öræfajökull glacier in the background.

Jökulsárlón

It’s possible to see all of this from the lake shore, just steps from where you parked the car. But the chance to get even closer to the glacier and its icebergs is a tempting one. In summer, visitors can take a tour in an amphibious vehicle that’s capable of travelling over land and water. The season for smaller Zodiac boats is a little longer, the tour is faster and gets you closer to the snout of the glacier.

Most travellers combine Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and Fjallsárlón Lagoon  with a visit to the Diamond Beach. This stretch of volcanic, black sand wouldn’t stand out from Iceland’s other great beaches save for one thing: the icebergs that wash up onto it. These chunks of ice that were once attached to the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier get knocked around by the waves – in stormy weather they can be especially violent. The place is just as compelling in calm weather, when the sun’s rays hit the surface of the ice to dazzling effect.

Seductive Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon is an overlooked jewel

Inflatable boat sailing around icebergs on Fjallsárlon glacier lagoon, with giant Fjallsárjökull in the background.

Fjallsárlón

No one’s disputing the attractiveness of Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, of course, but sometimes places can become victims of their own success. Gorgeous though Jökulsárlón undoubtedly is, it’s often very crowded which can detract from the natural beauty and the experience of its visitors. The good news is that just 10km further west, you’ll find Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon, which tends to be significantly quieter. Fjallsárlón cannot be seen from the main ring road so people tend to miss this beautiful attraction on their travels. 

If you’re happy to make the small sacrifice of not being able to walk directly from the glacier lagoon to Diamond Beach, what you gain is the chance to discover an overlooked jewel. The drive from Fjallsárlón to Diamond Beach is about 10 minutes so visiting before or after is easy. Fjallsárlón is a little smaller than its neighbour, but that can be a huge plus. Coupled with the fact that it has fewer visitors, it feels much more intimate as you get out onto the water. The towering glacier and the rugged mountain ridge framing Fjallsarlon makes each visit a worthwhile experience. The distinctive heart shaped Fjallsjokull crawls into the lagoon making Fjallsarlon every photographer’s dream with everchanging icebergs floating around.

Small icebergs floating in distance on mirror smooth Fjallsárlón glacier lagoon. The Fjallsárjökull glacier is in the back view and descends into the lagoon.

Fjallsárlón

Summer versus winter – which is best?

As at Jökulsárlón, it’s possible to take a boat trip out onto Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon. The season runs from April until October, or as long as the weather permits. Visitors don special jackets to protect them from the elements before spending around 45 minutes exploring the lagoon, icebergs and getting a good look at the glacier itself. The tour goes all the way up to the glacier wall, or as it is safe to go. Witnessing a glacier calving or hearing the ice crack is a mind blowing experience some get to experience. On occasions seals can also be found in Fjallsarlon, swimming around or lazing  on icebergs.

If you’re marking a special occasion, there’s an option to upgrade to a luxury version of this tour. A private boat will take you to a secluded island where you can appreciate your surroundings as you sip champagne and nibble on canapés. This is surely the kind of thing the phrase “hidden gem” was invented to describe.

In winter, though, you can’t get onto the water. That’s because Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon freezes over as the temperatures plummet. Nevertheless, the sight of frozen lakes with a backdrop of mountains is worth any traveller’s time. 

If you’re lucky enough to be here at this time of year while there are clear skies and plenty of solar activity, the appearance of the Northern Lights will be the icing on an already delicious cake. Contrasting with the snowy mountains and bouncing off the ice, the chance to witness the vivid colours of the aurora borealis is a massive tick on anyone’s bucket list.

Add on an ice cave visit

The presence of sizable glaciers in this part of Iceland should get winter visitors excited, for stepping inside a glittering ice cave is one of Iceland’s most jaw-dropping activities. These natural beauties typically become stable enough to visit around November time; by March or April, rising temperatures signal an end to the season. 

While tours have operated from Jökulsárlón for a number of years, this is a new venture for Fjallsárlón, launching in late autumn 2023. Clamber aboard a specially-modified vehicle for the short transfer via a super jeep track to the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier. Kitted out with helmets and spikes to give you a better grip, you’ll set off on a short hike to the cave entrance in the company of an experienced guide. 

Inside is nothing short of breathtaking. Slack-jawed, you’ll take in your surroundings. Squeezed under immense pressure, the ice is a striking blue. Ripples in the surface of the cave’s walls and over its ceiling tell the story of meltwater and erosion, as nature crafts a different yet equally stunning landform every summer. For the ultimate adventure, upgrade to the Alone in a Hidden Ice Cave tour which takes you to a cave that’s reserved for the exclusive use of Fjallsárlón guests. Now that’s something that truly gives you bragging rights!

If you’re making a day of it, you’re going to need some food

Neither Jökulsárlón nor Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon are situated close to urban areas – of course that’s a big part of the attraction. But if the thought of having to faff around making a packed lunch fills you with dread, help is at hand. Usually at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon you’ll find a couple of food trucks. One does a trade in lobster rolls smothered in tasty remoulade sauce while it’s worth joining the queue in front of the other for some piping hot fish and chips.

At Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon you’ll find Frost Restaurant, open daily year-round. Its picture windows overlook Vatnajökull glacier, which is of course a very good reason to linger. Meanwhile, if you can drag yourself away to the buffet counter, there’s a varied menu of reasonably-priced soups, sandwiches and hot dishes, followed by a decadent cake or skyr will satisfy you whether you’re after a quick snack or a more hearty meal. In a country which doesn’t skimp on drama when it comes to nature, Iceland’s glacier lagoons have the wow factor in spades. If you really can’t choose between Jökulsárlón and Fjallsárlón, why not do them both? We say stop af Jökulsarlon and take the picture but join Fjallsarlon´s tours for a more personal and private experience. No matter what time of year you come, be sure to visit and tell your friends!

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