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Steaming geysers, thunderous waterfalls, breathtaking canyons and vast lava fields – I saw more stunningly beautiful places in my week in Iceland than in any other country in such a short time. But my favorite place? None of those. My favorite destination was the place that puts the ‘ice’ in Iceland: Jökulsárlón, Iceland’s most famous glacier lagoon, and even more so Iceland’s Diamond Beach, just across the street from the glacier.
Iceland’s Diamond Beach
When I parked our car in the little car park right on the black sand beach, I understood immediately why it was called Diamond Beach. Like bright diamonds in different shapes and sizes, dozens of chunks of ice litter the beach, giant waves crashing against them, moving the smaller ones around, forcefully repelled by the bigger ones.Walking towards the water, I started seeing more icebergs floating around in the ocean, being tossed around by the waves as if they were merely paper boats and not bulky chunks of ice.It was a spectacular sight, and I don’t think there’s anything like Iceland’s Diamond Beach anywhere else in the world (correct me if I’m wrong!).The icebergs in the water are chunks of ice that have broken off the glacier and then slowly floated down towards the ocean, through the lagoon and the short river that connects the glacier lagoon with the open sea.The lagoon was formed by the receding Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, of which massive chunks of ice break off regularly. There are dozens of them floating in the lagoon before they slowly glide out into the ocean.Even though the sea is cold, the water here is warmer than in the icy lagoon, so the ice chunks are thrown around and smoothed by the waves, and eventually they are thrown back at the beach.You can’t help but wonder how old the ice is that has been washed ashore – these pieces had been part of the glacier for centuries!There aren’t two days when this beach looks the same. Every day, new chunks of ice arrive and others melt, and all of them are changing their shapes all the time during the melting process and the constant washing of the waves.
Jökulsárlón – the magnificent Glacier Lagoon
Back in the lagoon, in between the ice chunks, you can spot seals that make their way into the lagoon from the ocean, curiously inspecting the massive blocks of blue tinted ice.The light blue color of the ice was one of the most fascinating things about Jökulsárlón – the only other place I’ve seen ice like this was at Puerto Moreno Glacier in Argentina.You often only see a tiny fraction of the entire iceberg – the bigger part is usually underwater. Some of them are as big as small houses!Jökulsárlón translates to ‘glacial river lagoon’ and only appeared in 1935, due to the melting of Breiðamerkurjökull glacier. Over the years, it has become Iceland’s deepest lake, currently 814 feet (248 meters) deep. The lagoon has grown fourfold since the 1970s, to give you an idea of the current rate at which Iceland’s glaciers are melting.Jökulsárlón and the Diamond Beach are the one place in Iceland that I really want to return to – with more time to photograph this spectacle, ideally during the winter months, when the sun rises late and sets early. Because apparently, seeing this place during sunrise (the sun rises over the ocean) is even more magical.
Visit Jökulsárlón, Iceland: Practical information
How to get to Jökulsárlón from Reykjavik: There are organized tours from Reykjavik to Jökulsárlón (see below), but renting a car would be preferable, especially if you want to take your time to take photos. The drive from Reykjavik takes just under five hours (231 miles/372km), and from Vik, just over two hours (119 miles/192km).
If you’re driving Icleand’s Ring Road (Highway 1), you’ll pass Jökulsárlón anyway – the lagoon and the beach are literally a stone’s throw from the road.If you’re driving all the way from Reykjavik, plan some extra time for the drive because you’ll want to stop several times along the way to photograph waterfalls, black sand beaches and the breathtaking Icelandic scenery – trust me. It’s a lot of time in the car for a day trip, but it can be done, if you are pressed for time.When you visit Jökulsárlón, take into consideration though that in the winter time daylight is limited to six hours, so you’d be driving in the dark for most of the time, and roads can be icy. In the summer months you’ll be driving back to Reykjavik in daylight even if its 9 or 10pm! Also remember that in Iceland the weather is extremely unpredictable and can change rather quickly. Other things to consider: Be careful when you photograph the icebergs right by the water – the waves can be quite high and unexpected, and several people got their cameras wet (I almost lost my phone when a wave caught me unexpectedly, and both of us got wet feet!)During the summer months, you can take a boat ride across the lagoon. That’s something I’d definitely want to do when I return to Iceland (I will visit Jökulsárlón again, no question!). There are two kinds of boat rides – an amphibian boat (35-40 mins, ISK5,000/US$40), and a zodiac boat (45 mins, ISK8,500/US$69), that goes almost all the way to the glacier.There is a small café in the car park of the glacier lagoon – after a couple of hours of photographing or simply marveling at the lagoon and the ice bergs on the beach, it’s nice to be able to warm up with a cup of coffee or a hot chocolate.Allow about two hours to visit Iceland’s Diamond Beach and Jökulsárlón. If you’re a photographer, you’ll probably want to plan even longer than that. Make sure to dress accordingly, there’s an arctic breeze here, especially on the beach, that’s quite chilly.
It is possible to visit Jökulsárlón without a car! If you don’t feel comfortable driving yourself, there are several tour companies offering tours to Jökulsárlón. Check out these popular tours:
All images were taken on the Highlights Of Iceland self-driving tour by Icelandic Farm Holidays. Icelandic Farm Holidays provides you with a rental car and an itinerary for every day, but you can decide individually how much time to spend in each suggested stop, or add additional ones. Accommodation is provided in a mix of Icelandic farm houses, B&Bs and hotels.