Fjallsárlón or Jökulsárlón: which glacier lagoon should you visit?
Have I ever mentioned before that I’m a true glacier addict? And that I can just sit and stare at a glacier forever? In case I haven’t mentioned it before, the word is out now. I’m probably one of the world’s biggest glacier geeks and I love it! Over the past decades I’ve seen a large amount of glaciers all over the world and found that Iceland has some easy accessible glaciers. Having been to Iceland no less than 10 times, I figured I’d seen it all, but during my most recent trip I finally went to see Fjallsárlón glacier lagoon, the little sister of famous Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. In fact, I saw them both on the same day and decided to make a comparison for you guys to decide which you should definitely visit as they are in fact quite different. Of course it’s the best idea to visit both, yet if you have little time, this article is perfect for you as it will tell you all about Fjallsárlón or Jökulsárlón – which glacier lagoon should you visit?
A little bit about Iceland’s glaciers and its lagoons
Both Fjallsárlón and Jökulsárlón glacier lakes stream down from the massive Vatnajökull ice cap, the second largest mass of ice in Europe. Vatnajökull National Park, which covers no less than 14% of Iceland, was recently added to the UNESCO World Heritage List and it’s the largest of its kind in Europe. Beneath the ice lay ten volcanoes and rifs and is one of the most spectacular natural areas in Iceland.
Where to find Fjallsárlón and Jökulsárlón
Both lakes are located on Iceland’s South Coast and make for a popular tourist destination. They are located about 5 hrs driving from the Icelandic capital of Reykjavík along the Ring Road #1 – the main road around Iceland. When driving from the west, the first one up is Fjallsárlón and some 11 kilometers further onwards you’ll find Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. Fjallsárlón is a bit further away from the main road, whereas Jökulsárlón and its icebergs can be seen directly from the road.
Jökulsárlón – an ever impressive ice lagoon
Out of the ten times I visited Iceland, I went to Jökulsárlón three times. The first time I went by bus from Skaftafell National Park, the second time I drove down from Hella on the South Coast. This last time, it wasn’t part of the plan but the weather looked gorgeous from where me and David were staying (in a farm nearby Selfoss) and we decided to go for it.
Each time I arrive at the Lagoon I’m swept away by it amazing beauty. The bright blue icebergs leave me breathless and wanting to stay there forever, observing, listening to the melting and breaking off the ice. If there’s one place I’d have to stay in Iceland for the rest of my life, it would be at Jökulsárlón.
Jökulsárlón – all you need to know
Jökulsárlón is definitely the most famous of the two glacier lakes. It has been featured in movies such as Die Another Day, Tomb Raider and Batman Begins which has also caused the popularity for this place to increase. The icebergs in the lake are often used for promotional purposes as it’s one of Iceland’s major tourist attractions and generally easily accessible.
It will however be busy. Very busy! I visited last winter and figured that, since it was winter time, it wouldn’t be too busy as it’s quite a drive from Reykjavík. Well, I was quite wrong: the parking lot was full with cars and buses and we had to use the overflow area on the other side of the road.
Yet it you can manage to see through the crowds, you will love Jökulsárlón. The ice in the lake, that streams down from Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, varies throughout the year. Each time I visited I saw a lot of ice but a friend of mine who used to guide tours in Iceland, told me that it can in fact also look rather empty and/or icebergs may be far away. These things can of course never be sure beforehand but trust me when I say Jökulsárlón is pretty even without massive icebergs. Plus you’ll have a big chance to see seals around here, so make sure to keep your eyes open. In the video in this article you can see one swim upstream in the river.
Jökulsárlón practical information
Jökulsárlón has quite a lot of tourist facilities. There’s a cafe as well as toilet facilities, a huge parking lot and boat tours. Those boat tours on the lake are only going in the months May through October and not during winter time.
From Jökulsárlón you can also do a 6 Hour Ice Cave Tour during which you’ll visit remote ice caves of Vatnajökull. Another great option to see more of the area is by going on a Crystal Blue Ice Cave Super Jeep Tour
As a bonus: Diamond Beach!
Just at the other side of the road you will find Diamond Beach, a large black sand beach where the icebergs from Jökulsárlón end up after they are swept away by the river. It’s a short walk from the glacier lagoon only and a nice add-on to your visit. Please be careful though as the waves are gigantic here and you wouldn’t be the first one being swept away by them …
Jökulsárlón can be visited from Skaftafell National Park or on an organized day trip from Reykjavík. It’s discouraged to visit by own vehicle from Reykjavík in one day because of the distance. It’s better to visit from Selfoss or even better Hella, which is a shorter drive away.
Fjallsárlón Lagoon – all you need to know
Fjallsárlón Glacier lagoon is also called the little sister of Jökulsárlón as it’s smaller and lesser known. I actually never got around to visiting until my recent visit, when we actually saw the sign indicating the direction to the lagoon. You cannot see Fjallsárlón from the road and need to drive up to the restaurant building. Here you can park your car and it’s about a five minute walk to get to Fjallsárlón.
After crossing a little hill you will get the first views of Fjallsjökull, the glacier that Fjallsárlón is streaming down from and soon after you’ll see the icebergs. You’ll immediately notice that it’s quite different from Jökulsárlón: it’s much smaller, the glacier is actually closer and the icebergs are not as massive.
However, the lack of other people made this truly special. There were no screaming folks here, no selfie sticks, no large groups … just a handful of other people who had taken the time to pay a visit to Fjallsárlón.
Practical information about Fjallsárlón
As mentioned this is definitely the smaller one of the two and therefor you’ll need less time as well. At the parking lot there is a small bistro which also functions as a visitor information center. As well as at Jökulsárlón you can make a boat tour daily in the summer months and on Mondays only in wintermonths. More information can be found here.
Fjallsárlón or Jökulsárlón: which is the best for you?
Well I guess it really depends on what you are looking for. If you want to visit the one icon, then it’s best to visit Jökulsárlón and enjoy it as much as you can. If you enjoy less people and don’t mind smaller icebergs, then visit Fjallsárlón. If you have enough time: visit both!
Conclusion and disclaimer
I personally really enjoy both glacial lagoons and can recommend visiting both. Even though it’s busy at Jökulsárlón and Fjallsárlón will most likely get busier over time, I would still love to go back over and over again. Note that this blog contains affililate links. If you book or purchase something through any of these links, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.
To which of these have you been? Which one was your favorite? Let me know in the comments!