Iceland’s Amazing Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon in Iceland

How to Visit Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

Jokulsarlon, Iceland

The landscape is full of broken icebergs, streaked blue and black, floating with the tide, occasionally breaking apart in a mighty crash. This is Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon in Iceland.

Jokulsarlon iceberg lagoon is Iceland’s deepest and most spectacular glacial lake, beloved by tourists, photographers, adventurers – even world-famous Hollywood super-spies.

If you visited this frozen landscape a hundred years ago, all you would have seen was ice. But then, the world started to heat up… thanks global warming!

Because of this increase in the world’s climate starting around 1920, the icebound edge of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier started to melt. The Icelandic word Jökulsárlón actually means “glacier’s river lagoon”.

Jokulsarlon lagoon forms part of Vatnajökull National Park, and has become one of Iceland’s most popular attractions.

Jokulsarlon Lagoon Selfie

King of the Ice!

Icebergs At Jokulsarlon

In less than a century, this vast frozen landscape collapsed into a mess of shattered ice & liquid that we see now — Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon.

A river soon formed, and found its way to the sea, pulling broken icebergs into the North Atlantic and sculpting unearthly shapes along its black-sand banks.

Every year, this fledgling glacier lagoon is made larger as icebergs break off Vatnajökull glacier, float around in the lagoon, and eventually drift out to sea in the summer months.

Jokulsarlon doubled in size between 1975 and 1998. It now covers 7 square miles – and is growing every year.

Jokulsarlon Lagoon Sunrise

Colorful Sunrise at Jokulsarlon

Iceland At Its Most Beautiful

Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon is a photographer’s paradise. I was in heaven during my visit in November. First and most obviously, the ice is jaw-droppingly beautiful.

Compressed glacial ice often turns glassy and a deep, luminous blue, and that’s best seen when the icebergs break and flip over.

You’ll see plenty of broken blue icebergs at Jökulsárlón – and the contrast against the white backdrop of the distant glacier and the black sand of the lagoon’s beach is truly other-worldly.

You may even see seals too. Thanks to that small river leading to the ocean, the lagoon is filled with fish, and seals regularly gather at the river mouth to feed, along with huge numbers of seabirds.

Jokulsarlon Lagoon Bridge

Bridge Over the Glacial River

Jokulsarlon Iceland boat tours

Boat Tours on the Lagoon

Glacier Lagoon Boat Tours

A tour company called Glacier Lagoon has been running boat rides at Jokulsarlon for nearly 30 years, ever since the world’s most famous super-spy James Bond himself made an appearance.

In the opening scenes of Roger Moore’s A View To A Kill (1985), the iceberg lagoon was used as a stand-in for Northern Siberia – and when news got out, tourists started arriving, as did boat tour services.

(In 2001, Jökulsárlón again doubled as Siberia for scenes in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – and in the same year, the James Bond crew returned to film parts of Pierce Brosnan’s Die Another Day.)

There are two types of tours to choose from. There is an amphibious boat ride (ISK 5500 / $55 USD) for a relaxing tour round the biggest icebergs, accompanied by guided commentary.

For the more adventurous, get fitted with a flotation suit and lifejacket and take a Zodiac (ISK 9500 / $95 USD) for much closer views of the ice, including right under the glacier’s edge if conditions permit.

Jokulsarlon Glacier Black Sand Beach

Ice Scattered over the Black Sand

When To Visit The Lagoon

Jokulsarlon’s boat tours only run between May and October, and outside of those months, Icelandic weather can get fierce – although bad weather can hit at any time, so it’s wise to always be prepared for white-out conditions.

The best months for good weather (and clear-sky photography) at the lagoon are July and August – but September/October can be a better time to visit Iceland because the tourist season has ended, prices are lower and there will be be less people around.

You’ll also have a better chance of seeing Iceland’s incredible northern lights!

Getting To Jokulsarlon

The Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon is hard to miss off the side of Iceland’s famous ring road (Route 1) – but it requires some planning to get out here. Rather than try to cram it into a single day, you should really plan for two days.

Rental Car

I visited while driving around Iceland’s Ring Road in a campervan from Happy Campers – it helps to have your own transportation because Jökulsárlón is pretty far away from major towns.

The trip takes about 5 hours from Reykjavík, provided you don’t stop along the way (which is almost impossible in Iceland, there’s so much to see!). Another service I’ve used in the past is called Sad Cars.

By Bus

Strætó Bus: Route 51 from Mjódd bus terminal (Reykjavík) to Jökulsárlón. It’s a 6 hour trip that starts at 1pm – and the next bus back is usually at 12:55pm the next day.

If you visit Jokulsarlon by bus, you won’t be returning the same day – and since accommodation at the lagoon is non-existent (see later), you’d have to be pretty adventurous to pick this option.


Another adventurous option, but hitchhiking in Iceland is pretty common and safe. How long it will take you to hitchhike here from Reykjavík just depends on your hitchhiking skills, luck, and how many stops you make.

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon Camping

Overnight at Jökulsárlón in my Camper Van

Best Places To Stay

I spent the night camped out at the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon parking lot in my Happy Campers van. There are no hotels, hostels or guesthouses at the lagoon itself. Höfn is the closest large town, about an hour away.

If you’re wondering where to stay in Iceland near Jokulsarlon, here are my recommendations:

Budget Accommodation

Vagnsstaðir Hostel – This is the closest hostel to Jokulsarlon, about 13 miles to the northeast.

Höfn Hostel – An environmentally friendly hostel with sea views, located an hour away in the village of Höfn.

Mid-Range Accommodation

Hali Country Hotel – This small hotel is a 15-minute drive from the lagoon, offering double & triple rooms and apartments plus a restaurant.

Hotel Höfn – Located in Höfn about an hour away, this hotel offers modern rooms with glacier & sea views.

Ice at Jokulsarlon Lagoon

Shiny Diamonds of Ice on the Beach

Jökulsárlón Travel Tips & Advice

  • Iceland in the summer can be surprisingly warm, but icebergs at Jokulsarlon lagoon give off waves of cold air you can feel on your face. Take a hat and a warm gloves, even if it looks sunny.
  • Watch out for the fiercely territorial skua seabirds that live in the area – if you get close to their nests, they’ll dive at you noisily until you back off!
  • Sunrise is the best time to photograph the glacier lagoon icebergs, not only because of great lighting conditions, but also because there are less tourists. Sunset is also good, but more crowded than sunrise.
  • During the tourist season, there’s a small café that serves a limited amount of snacks. But that’s about it.
  • Iceland’s incredible crystal ice caves are not far away from Jokulsarlon, so if you happen to be visiting in the winter, I highly recommend exploring them with a guide!

No trip to Iceland is complete without a stop at Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon, as you can see, there’s a good reason why it’s one of Iceland’s most popular natural attractions! ★

Traveling To Iceland Soon?

Don’t forget travel insurance! I’m a big fan of World Nomads for short-term trips. Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read more about why you should always carry travel insurance here.

Watch Video: Adventures In Iceland

(Click to watch Iceland Adventures with LifeProof on YouTube)

More Information

Location: Jökulsárlón, Iceland
Useful Notes: While Jokulsarlon is open year-round, the lagoon is often frozen over in the winter. Due to the summer heat, you’ll see the most icebergs in the summer months as ice calves into the lagoon from the glacier and floats out to sea.
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Iceland
Suggested Reading: The Little Book Of Hidden People

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Tips for visiting Jokulsarlon lagoon Iceland. More at
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Have any questions about Jokulsarlon Lagoon in Iceland? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase an item, I will receive an affiliate commission, at no extra cost to you. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

How To See (And Photograph) Northern Lights In Iceland

Northern Lights in Iceland

How To See The Northern Lights in Iceland

Photography Tips

Iceland is one of the best places in the world to see colorful lights dancing in the night sky. Learn how to find & photograph the amazing Northern Lights in Iceland.

Northern Lights In Iceland

Before I visited Iceland, I’d only witnessed the northern lights one other time back in college. The northern lights transfixed me for hours, watching this mysterious green glow of the magical aurora borealis dance over a high mountain range in Montana.

So trying to locate and take amazing photos of the northern lights in Iceland was a top priority for me — as it often is for many visitors to the country.

However many people don’t realize that this incredible phenomenon is elusive and unpredictable. Yes, even in a famous northern lights country like Iceland.

So to help you improve your chances for finding the northern lights, I wanted to share a few tips and photography techniques from my recent adventure in Iceland — and show you how I managed to get some great photos of this incredible natural phenomenon.

The Aurora Borealis

Northern Lights Iceland

Light Trails – 13 Seconds, f/4.0, ISO2000

How To Find The Northern Lights In Iceland

So why are the northern lights so difficult to see, even in Iceland? Well, it’s because there are many different factors involved.

For a perfect northern lights experience, you need a combination of dark skies, clear weather, and strong aurora activity. Ensuring that all these requirements come together takes some planning.

Find Some Dark Skies

For the same reason star-gazing is better when it’s dark out, viewing the northern lights is best in the dark too. Light pollution from cities & towns hinders the experience. Yes, you can sometimes see the lights from Iceland’s capital city of Reykjavik. However you’ll have more luck in the countryside away from man-made light sources.

Wait For Clear Weather

If the weather is overly cloudy, you won’t be able to find the northern lights. So pay attention to the weather forecast, especially cloud cover (infrared satellite maps help a lot). While you might still see some aurora lights if it’s only partly cloudy, you’ll have the best chance when there are no clouds at all.

Check out cloud cover conditions around the world on MeteoStar.

Aurora Forecast

Because aurora activity comes down from the sun in space, scientists are able to predict how strong it will be by looking at our sun’s solar wind, and the strength of the Earth’s magnetic field. The KP-Index ranges from 0-9 with ratings of 5 or greater considered solar storms. There are a few websites that specifically track it.

Iceland has a great site that predicts both cloud cover & aurora activity.

For worldwide aurora predictions, check out Space Weather Ovation.

Self-Drive vs. Group Tour

You should be able to go hunting for the northern lights on your own by renting a car in Iceland. Another option is renting a camper van, which allows you to camp out away from towns with light pollution.

Experience driving in snow is helpful if you’re visiting Iceland in the winter, as conditions can sometimes be very harsh. Big snowstorms are common.

I prefer exploring on my own, as it gives me the freedom to stay out all night or move locations on a whim.

However if you don’t feel comfortable driving in Iceland at night, there are plenty of organized northern lights tours available too.

Northern Lights Over Iceland

Iceland Plane Crash – 15 Seconds, f/4.0, ISO2500

Best Time To See Northern Lights

The best season to see the northern lights in Iceland is the fall/winter months from September to April. The absolute darkest months in Iceland are between November & February, but these months can also have the worst weather.

Remember that you need a combination of darkness away from towns, clear skies, and strong aurora activity to see the northern lights.

Witnessing Iceland’s northern lights during summer months is pretty rare, due to almost 20 hours of sunlight per day near the arctic circle.

The more time you spend in Iceland, the better your chances are of spotting the lights. If you’re only visiting on a 2 day stopover, you’ll need a LOT of luck to see them. I recommend spending at least 7 days in Iceland if you want to find the northern lights.

Even then it can be difficult. As an example, my photographer friend Ken Kaminesky has visited Iceland 5 times now and has still never seen them!

You also won’t see the northern lights if you’re bar hopping in Reykjavik. A primary reason why I was able to capture such great photos of the aurora borealis is because I stayed outside all night, for multiple nights, driving around searching for them. It takes some dedication.

What To Look For

Ok, a few more tips for finding the northern lights. While it may seem obvious, remember to look North! The lights dance along the magnetic bands of the arctic circle, so you need to keep your eyes North to see them.

Often the lights start off weak at first, slowly increasing in intensity. Weak aurora activity will look grey to the naked eye. Much like wispy clouds or fog moving in the wind. They can be easy to miss.

Aim your camera at the grey stuff and shoot a long-exposure photo (20 seconds or so). If those “clouds” come out green in your image, they aren’t clouds! You’re witnessing a weaker version of the northern lights.

The stronger the aurora activity, the brighter the colors will be.

The most common northern lights color you’ll see is green. However if you’re lucky, they can also be blue, red, and orange depending on which atmospheric gasses happen to be prevalent.

Northern Lights Iceland

Driving the Ring Road – 13 Seconds, f/4.0, ISO2000

Northern Lights Photography

Once you find the aurora, capturing decent images of it is a whole new challenge. Here are some tips to help you photograph the northern lights in Iceland.

Photography Gear

In most photography situations, the quality of your gear doesn’t matter too much. However for northern lights & star photography it does. Here’s a list of recommended gear you’ll want to produce some great low-light shots.

  • Full Frame DSLR with Manual Mode & High ISO capability
  • Wide Angle Lens (24mm or wider) with Fast Aperture (2.8 – 4.0 minimum)
  • Sturdy Tripod
  • 2-3 Extra Batteries

Check Out My Travel Photography Gear Here »

You’ll want a quality camera (brand doesn’t matter) with a large sensor for minimal noise at high ISO settings. A wide angle lens aids in photographing large landscapes with the night sky. A fast aperture allows the maximum amount of ambient light to enter your lens.

A sturdy tripod lets you shoot long exposures without producing camera shake. Extra batteries give you flexibility to stay out all night waiting for peak activity — plus cold weather drains them faster.

Focusing Your Camera At Night

Even with the best camera gear and knowledge of the optimal settings, without proper focus, your northern lights photos won’t come out crisp/clear.

There are a few different methods to for focusing your camera at night, but my favorite is to focus on a distant landmark (like mountains) on the horizon.

This is easier to do around sunset or blue hour with some daylight left in the sky.

Most cameras have an infinity focus setting (∞), but it’s not always accurate. Zoom in as much as possible and adjust the focus manually. Once you have it locked in, remember to keep “auto focus” off and don’t touch the focus ring.

Northern Lights Camera Settings

I’ve included my northern lights camera settings under each photo in this post to give you some examples. But generally, because the intensity of the light and amount of movement is constantly changing, you’ll have to experiment with settings throughout the night.

Your camera should be set in Manual Mode, giving you the power to change each particular setting on it’s own.

Most professional photographers shoot in RAW format rather than JPG, as it provides the maximum amount of information allowing for greater flexibility with post processing later.

You want to capture as much light as possible, so use the widest (fastest) aperture your lens has. I used F4.0 in these photos, but F2.8 is even better if you have it. To learn more about aperture, click here.

Depending on how fast the lights are moving, or how bright they are, you’ll want to adjust your shutter speed (exposure) accordingly. Anything from 10 seconds to 25 seconds is a good guess. The faster the lights are moving, the shorter the shutter speed should be.

The last setting you should adjust for northern lights photos is ISO. Increasing ISO allows your sensor to capture more light. The downside is that the higher your ISO is, the more sensor noise you’ll get, resulting in a grainy image. Settings around 2000 – 4000 should work best.

Northern Lights

Before Processing

Northern Lights

After Processing

Post Processing

Once you have a decent image, you can enhance your Iceland northern lights photos with post processing software. I personally use Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop, but there are others.

They all basically do the same things. How much processing you do is a matter of preference. Remember, art is subjective! You and I may not like the same things.

Post processing is a huge topic though, so I’ll just give you a super quick overview of what I did to enhance my northern lights images to really make them pop.

  • Adjust White Balance
  • Increase Exposure
  • Brighten Shadows
  • Brighten Whites
  • Darken Highlights
  • Increase Clarity, Vibrance, and Saturation
  • Adjust Curves
  • Noise Reduction
  • Sharpening

Happy Aurora Hunting!

My Iceland northern lights photography in this post was captured during late November over a 3 day window of clear skies and strong aurora activity as I drove around Iceland’s famous Ring Road.

The lights would usually start off weak, increasing in intensity over the course of a few hours.

The best shots were captured at peak aurora activity, which usually only lasted for about 10-15 minutes. Patience & dedication is soooo important for northern lights photography… you need to stick around long enough for the good stuff to present itself.

With a little planning, a lot of waiting, and a dash of luck, you too can witness this amazing natural phenomenon in Iceland called the northern lights.

Seeing them in person is a magical experience — there’s nothing like it! ★

Traveling To Iceland Soon?

Don’t forget travel insurance! I’m a big fan of World Nomads for short-term trips. Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read more about why you should always carry travel insurance here.

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Northern Lights in Iceland. More at
Northern Lights in Iceland. More at


Driving Iceland’s Ring Road
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Have any questions about the northern lights in Iceland? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.