There are approximately 269 glaciers across Iceland and it's hard to choose favorites. Some of these massive ice caps are hiding active volcanoes, while others are tranquil glacial tongues, sending ice out into a lagoon waiting to be photographed by the passersby.
With the presence of glaciers comes great hiking, snowmobiling, skiing, and ice-climbing opportunities. All of the following glaciers have plenty of activities and sights to keep you coming back for years to come. After all, Iceland and its glaciers look completely different depending on the season.
The largest glacier in the country, Vatnajökull covers 8 percent of Iceland. Aside from being beautiful to look at, there are a number of spots that take place on the glacier: you can hike on it (most tours and trails begin in Skaftafell), take a boat tour of the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, and—if you're visiting between November and March—you can explore the glacier's ice caves. There are a number of active volcanoes that hide underneath the glacier's surface, as well as Iceland's highest peak, Hvannadalshnjúkur.
Known as "The Long Glacier" to locals, Langjökull is the second-largest glacier in the country, right behind Vatnajökull. While you can ski and hike the glacier, snowmobiling in the area is much more popular. Langjökull is located in the Highlands, meaning it's incredibly hard to access during the winter when the F-roads are often closed. During the summer, you can reach the glacier—or at least get close to it—by either driving on Kaldidalur road (which begins in Þingvellir National Park and ends near Husafell) or the Kjalvegur road, which begins near Gullfoss and ends through the Hveravellir geothermal area.
If you remember anything about a volcanic eruption in Iceland, it was most likely the scene at Eyjafjallajökull in 2010. The eruption halted air travel over the country for six days while the air was thick with ash and debris. The volcanic glacier is located along the southern coast of Iceland and its waters are responsible for fueling the gorgeous Seljalandsfoss waterfall. If you want to know more about what it was like to live in the area during the most recent eruption, head to the nearby town of Hvolsvöllur. There you'll find a visitor's center that shares the story of Þorvaldseyri—a local family-run farm that was destroyed by the eruption's aftermath (mainly floods, lava, and ash build-up).
Head to the westernmost tip of Snaefellsnes Peninsula and you'll find Snæfellsjökull, the very namesake of this diverse region. If you happen to be in Reykjavik on an especially cloud-free day, you can sometimes spot the peak of the glacier from across the bay. If it seems like a tranquil setting, just remember that there's a 700,000-year-old stratovolcano—basically a cone-shaped formation made of layers of ash, pumice, and lava—resting beneath its ice.
The area surrounding Snæfellsjökull has become a tourist haven becuase of its quaint fishing village aesthetics. Given it's close proximity to Reykjavik—it about a 3-hour drive from the capital—it makes for the perfect day trip from the city. The glacier has a solid place in history, as well, specifically the Saga telling the tale of Bárður, the "guardian spirit of Snæfellsjökull who was said to be half-human and half-troll.
Breiðamerkurjökull is technically a glacial tongue projecting from Vatnajökull, but it's also the reason you see so many crystal-blue icebergs throughout Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, which therefore solidifies its spot on this list. The real intrigue of this ice formation is how the smaller chunks break off and become icebergs—and how long it takes them to embark on their journey. After a piece of ice breaks off of Breiðamerkurjökull, it will float for up to 5 years in the lagoon. Once it's smaller, it will make the pass through the lagoon and on to the sea. The only catch: Many of the ice formations end up across the street on Diamond Beach, where they'll melt or float off again.
The closest you can get to Breiðamerkurjökull is by joining a glacial lagoon kayaking tour. Not only will you get once-in-a-lifetime views and the chance to see a few friendly seals, but you'll get to experience the glacial tongue in all of its glory.
Iceland's fourth-largest ice cap, Mýrdalsjökull, can be found in the Highlands. This glacier isn't know for its ample skiing or hiking trails, but more so for the explosive volcano that lives underneath: Katla.
You can ice climb and hike on the glacier in some areas; Sólheimajökull—one of Mýrdalsjökull's glacial outlets—is a good place to start if you want to take in views of the Katla's mask. There are also other tours that include Mýrdalsjökull on the itinerary, mainly for snowmobiling, ice caving, and helicopter sightseeing tours.
North of Mýrdalsjökull in the Highlands, you'll find Torfajökull. There are a number of hikes that will bring you to the glacier's peak. If you're looking for some of the best hiking Iceland has to offer, head to the nearby Laugavegur Trail. The real treat when it comes to this glacier is how it got its name. We can thank Torfi Jónsson for fleeing to the Highlands in 1493 to avoid the plague. It was Jónsson who inspired this naming since he settled near the volcano once he reached the Highlands.
Another glacial outlet of Vatnajökull, Svínafellsjökull is one of the most popular places to take up glacial hiking, thanks to its strange, dagger-like ice formations. At one point, Svínafellsjökul was its own national park, until was absorbed into the larger Vatnajokull National Park. There are plenty of tours that will take you to the glacier, but you can also access it via the Ring Road. From Reykjavik, travel east along Route 1 for 4 hours. From there, you take a left turn onto Route 998, which brings you to a parking lot flanked by a visitor's center.
Known as "Falling Glacier," Falljökull is an outlet glacier branching off of the Vatnajokull icecap. The one thing you can't miss if you're visiting this glacier is watching the ice plummet down the mountain and into the ocean. This is a great region to hike, as it gives travelers a front-row view of the many landscapes the country has to offer. Check out the nearby Graenafjallsgljufur and Storalekjargljufur canyons while you're in the area, as well.