Is an ice cave experience a must-do activity on your upcoming Iceland adventure?
Whether you’re starting from square one or you’ve already put in some research, you will soon find that planning the kind of ice cave excursion you want requires the help of a local expert.
At Ice Guardians, we’re leaders in adventure trips and courses in Iceland.
We’ve put all the knowledge we’ve gained from exploring Vatnajökull National Park into this Ultimate Guide to Visiting Ice Caves in Iceland.
Keep scrolling down to find all the information you need for an unforgettable experience.
And if you still have any unanswered questions for us when you finish this guide, please feel free to get in touch.
To start, it’s important to distinguish between different types of ice caves.
First, there are glacier ‘ice’ caves which the effects of wind, water, geothermal heat, or structural cavities form in, on, or under glaciers.
Put simply, then, these are ‘caves’ made from ice.
Conversely, the other type of ice cave is a rock cavern with permanent/perennial ice formations inside.
Quite literally, then, caves of rock with ice inside them.
In this guide, we will focus on glacier ice caves, the most famous of which are found in Europe’s largest ice cap by volume — Vatnajökull National Park.
However, it is not possible to reach these spectacular caves on your own.
But there’s good news! This national park is essentially our backyard, and we know it inside out.
Read our Vatnajökull Iceland Guide after this to familiarise yourself with this incredible region.
Given the changing nature of ice structures, the location of a glacier cave will have an impact on the kind of ice you can interact with.
For example, there’s glassy blue ‘crystal’ ice, aerated blue or white ice with millions of air bubbles trapped inside, and ice interspersed with layers of volcanic ash.
The elevation of glacier ice caves will also affect the ‘blueness’ of the ice.
Generally speaking, outlet glaciers at lower elevations will have more blue ice than glacier caves in the upper regions of ice caps.
So, for example, the outlet glaciers of Vatnajökull and Mýrdalsjökull (west of Vatnajökull) are at lower elevations than those based on Langjökull (northwest of Vatnajökull and Mýrdalsjökull).
As such, Vatnajökull’s outlets are home to some of Iceland’s best blue ice formations.
What’s more, caves at higher elevations typically require the use of a snowmobile or superjeep for access.
However, it’s also common to use superjeeps for access to lower-elevation glaciers as they’re ideal for navigating the rocky forelands.
Visiting an ice cave is an active adventure, so there’s always going to be a certain amount of effort involved.
But by choosing the level of difficulty that suits you best, you will have a more enjoyable and memorable experience.
We have listed the difficulty categories below. They are based on a generally fit person in reasonable physical condition with no major medical conditions.
These excursions take around 3 hours in total and generally do not include a significant hike on a glacier.
Tours based out of Vík, known as the ‘Katla Ice Cave’, fall into the ‘short and easy’ category.
This trip is famous for its fascinating cavernous formations which show a history of volcanic eruptions layered in the glacier ice.
Expect to see a stunning mix of blue, white, and black ice here.
At the time of writing, this tour is available year-round.
The tours based out of Skaftafell usually visit a small ice cave feature along with easy hiking on Falljökull, the famous ‘Falling Glacier’.
Falljökull is well known for providing amazing opportunities to view ice terrain despite being such a short hike.
The tours based out of Jökulsárlón ‘Glacier Lagoon’ and Hali both visit the west and east of the outlet Breiðamerkurjökull.
In recent years, this cave has typically been known in eastern Iceland as the ‘Sapphire Ice Cave’.
Check out our partner tours to come face to face with the glassy blue ‘crystal’ ice — which is up to 1,000 years old — that has made this region so famous.
With all these tours, you can expect to spend anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes in the cave, with the rest of the trip spent gearing up and driving to and from the glaciers.
These adventures take around 3 to 5 hours and are typically those based in Skaftafell.
You may visit the same small ice cave feature as the shorter tours, or a cave further away on a 5- to 6-hour tour.
Here, you will see the spectacular sight of bubbly aerated blue and white ice intertwined in a swirly marble-like pattern.
Operators based out of Jökulsárlón ‘Glacier Lagoon’ and Hali run these tours on Breiðamerkurjökull.
On these excursions, you will visit the Sapphire Ice Cave and at least one other cave/tunnel feature on the glacier.
These tours vary wildly depending on the size of the group and the average experience that the people in it have with outdoor activities.
However, you should expect to be on the go for 6 hours or more.
On these adventures, there’s far more focus on the hiking aspect, combined with a short visit to an ice cave, either in Skaftafell or Breiðamerkurjökull.
On request, Ice Guardians can customise caving and hikes to your group’s needs, from adventurous rappelling into caves to hiking with short cave visits.
We don’t offer a standalone cave tour ourselves. We prefer to embrace remoteness on our excursions, and the spirit of exploration that comes with such adventures
Discover more about the possibilities of a custom ice cave tour in Iceland.
When it comes to clothing and equipment, your tour operator will provide all the technical and safety equipment you need.
Boots and waterproof jackets (sometimes pants) are usually available for rent by the guiding company. This is the case with Ice Guardians.
However, it’s always good to travel in Iceland with waterproof clothing at the minimum, regardless of the time of year and activities you plan to enjoy.
Gloves are an absolutely essential item. In fact, one of our mantras is, ‘the more gloves, the better’.
Cycling through two to three pairs of gloves is not only common, but also comfortable, especially if it’s raining or even just damp.
Action and 360° cameras are perfect for glacier cave tours as you surround yourself in this unique icy world.
Our own guides will recommend the best angles to shoot from and point out interesting detailed features.
Tripods are typically not ideal because the popular caves are often crowded.
It’s always best to check with your guide before setting out because it’s largely tour dependent.
Open tours are designed for groups, so if you’re keen to take photos in and around ice caves, we recommend opting for either a photography tour or a private excursion.
At Ice Guardians, we always aim to only briefly visit these busy caves on our tours.
We encourage you to come on an exploration with us to seek out caves that may be further away or more difficult to get to.
But they come with the reward of seeing formations that few others will ever witness.
There are numerous ice cave tour operators, so it can be confusing to know which one to book with. This is especially true if it’s your first time visiting one.
As of winter 2022/23, there have been approximately six major ice cave operations over three ice caps in the South of Iceland.
Of course, every traveller will have their expectations for an ice cave visit.
But these are inextricably linked with other factors like personal interests, physical fitness, use of vehicles, and the length of the experience. At Ice Guardians, we are highly experienced in finding, maintaining, and venturing into glacier ice caves.
Both professionally and personally, we nerd out on this stuff and genuinely love sharing our passion with guests.
We encourage you to get in touch and let us know what you would like out of a tour.
From there, we can provide the best option and logistical solutions which encompass different glaciers and locations away from where larger operators go.
If you are looking for shorter, easier cave tours we recommend booking with our trusted partner tours on our website.
We hope this Ultimate Guide to Visiting Ice Caves in Iceland has inspired you to turn your dream of exploring Vatnajökull into a reality.
Browse our range of adventure trips and courses in Iceland to find out more about the thrilling adventures waiting for you here.
And remember, you can always contact us with any questions and requests you have during the planning process.