Iceland Ice Cave Tours
Update October 2021 – A friend asked me the other night what I thought about traveling to Iceland right now. Honestly, I could barely contain my excitement. Why? Because November is the start of Iceland ice cave tour season! It also happens to be a wonderful time to see the Northern Lights!
The other reason for my excitement was that in terms of how they have handled the complexities of the pandemic, Iceland had been rather impressive. Their testing, vaccinating and ability to keep their economy running, has put them in a great position to safely welcome back visitors.
Even better, Iceland has made it very easy for qualifying vaccinated travelers to visit with no quarantine requirements upon arrival. Please see the current criteria for travelers here.
Iceland Ice Caves – Introduction
I think I first saw an Iceland ice cave on Instagram. I couldn’t believe that such a beautiful place existed that a mere mortal could visit (rather than one of those winter adventurers gracing the pages of Outside magazine).
The photos planted a seed for what would become our second trip to Iceland (and first during the winter season). Our timing looked perfect in that it would be just the start of Iceland ice cave tour season, as well as a new moon (potentially ideal for seeing the Northern Lights).
Now, as a family that is rather obsessed with unique adventures, we often seek out special experiences in nature. When I reflect back on this trip however, I would definitely list ice-caving in Iceland as one of our top experiences anywhere in the world. (And Iceland has so much more to offer too!)
Want to learn more? Please use the following menu to find what you need to know about ice cave tours in Iceland quickly. Want a little peek first? Start with this 2 minute ice-caving in Iceland video.
Ice Cave Tours Iceland Video (2 min.)
How Are Ice Cave Formed in Iceland
Sometimes called Iceland blue ice caves or crystal ice caves, the more technically correct term is an Iceland glacier cave.
These colorful caverns are formed in the summer months from meltwater draining down through the cracks in the glacier. The melting water weaves a path under the surface of the ice, eventually making its way out at the base of the glacier leaving the colourful ice caves.
One of the interesting things about Iceland ice caves is that they are constantly changing. Every ice cave season brings new or very different caves from the year before.
The Best Time to Visit Ice Caves in Iceland
Iceland ice cave tour season typically runs November to March (weather dependent). The tours can begin with the cooler weather when the caves become stable enough to visit.
Can You Visit Iceland Ice Caves On Your Own?
Ummm…no. Please don’t do this.
An important thing to know about heading out to explore an ice cave in Iceland is that you can’t just slap on a pair of crampons and venture out on your own. That said, of course some foolish people try this now and again.
For obvious safety reasons, you should book one of the many Iceland ice caves tour options. Now to be 100% honest, we are not tour people. For this kind of activity, however, you really want an expert guide. We set out to find the best tour company fit for our family of introverts.
Finding Iceland Ice Cave Tours
Disclosure: As I was planning this trip, Ryan Connolly, co-owner of the Iceland small group tours company Hidden Iceland reached out to me to see if we wanted to join them on a complimentary tour. His timing was unbelievable, but then again, so was the fit. We are not large group tour kind of people, and what their boutique service was right up our alley.
Hidden Iceland is dedicated to providing special and carefully curated Iceland small group tours and private, and self-drive tours. The owners all came from larger tour companies but felt there was space in the market for a niche, boutique tour company.
I have so many great things to say about our experience, but I always want to make sure that you read reviews from other travelers as well before making a booking. See Hidden Iceland Tripadvisor reviews.
GREAT DEAL ALERT – 10% OFF
If after you read this you decide to book a Hidden Iceland Small Group Tour, I would love to offer you 10% off with the Hidden Iceland promo code PINTSIZE10. Please note: due to the fact that their self-drive and private tours are already so well-priced, they simply can’t offer the discount on those options. That said, if you let them know Pint Size Pilot sent them, I’m sure they will sharpen their pencils on these specialized tours as much as they can.
Note: In 2020, Hidden Iceland’s 2-day Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon Tour and Hike was impressively voted #8 on the Multi Day Tours World List for the Tripadvisor Travelers’ Choice Awards.
Ice Cave Tour Iceland – The Experience
We joined Hidden Iceland on their Ice Cave Discovery Tour, which is a 2-day adventure from of Reykjavik that also takes in a ton of other great attractions in South Iceland including Jökulsárlón Lagoon, Diamond Beach, Seljalandsfoss and Skógarfoss waterfalls. As we had actually planned to self-drive South Iceland, we joined up with Hidden Iceland on day 2 of their itinerary for the Vatnajökull ice cave tour.
We spent the night prior to the tour at the lovely Magma Hotel which is about a 3.5 hour drive from Reykjavik (can be longer in winter conditions). I found this hotel after much research into family hotels in Iceland. It can be tricky to find a hotel room in Iceland for a family of four and this one also had breakfast included and wonderful dinner options (perfect after a long day on a glacier). See reviews for the Magma Hotel.
On the day of our tour, we woke early and hit the road for a 90 minute drive to join the group at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon – the meeting spot for most Vatnajökull Glacier tours and ice cave tours. After meeting Ryan and the other guests from Hidden Iceland, we then joined up with Local Guide of Vatnajökull to get set up with our crampons and other gear.
Hidden Iceland uses Local Guide of Vatnajökull for this part of their 2 day tour because they are experts on the Vatnajökull Glacier landscape. It is their guides who are out discovering the new caves before each season has started. In fact, several days before our tour, Ryan emailed us to see if we could meet a little earlier in the morning as a new ice cave had been discovered and he wanted our group to be the first of the day to see it. This is an important point to note because tours to the Vatnajökull ice caves have become extremely popular and the caves can get crowded.
We were then off in a van for a bit of a bumpy 30 minute ride, followed by a relatively easy hike of another 30 minutes to the base of the glacier. We then made a stop to put on our crampons for the 45 minute walk on the glacier to the cave. Naturally, it took most of us some time to get used to the crampons, but it was still all relatively easy. I know my kids were certainly most delighted with the ice picks – taking any opportunity to have a go at the glacial ice whenever we had a stop.
Once we reached the ice cave, we had about 45 minutes to explore before the next group arrived – getting all those nice pictures without a bunch of strangers in them. After the cave, we were able to enjoy beautiful views of Jökulsárlón Lagoon. The following photos will give you a better idea of what the experience is like.
Iceland Ice Cave Tours – FAQs
When can you see ice caves in Iceland?
Iceland ice cave tour season generally runs from the beginning of November to the end of March.
Where are the best ice caves in Iceland?
It is important to understand that just because a tour company advertises ice caves, doesn’t necessarily mean that you will see blue glacier ice caves like the ones shown in this post. The reason for this is that the term “ice cave” simply means a cave with some ice in it all year round.
The appearance of an ice cave can vary greatly so you should read the details of an ice cave tour carefully before booking. For example, there are some ice caves in Iceland that are in close proximity to active volcanoes and thus are more ashen in colour and there are also man-made ice caves that have been drilled into the side of a glacier.
The most stunning crystal or blue glacier ice caves are found within Vatnajökull Glacier or one of its outlet glaciers (Falljökull Glacier, Svínafellsjökul Glacier and the very difficult to pronounce Breidamerkurjökull Glacier).
How much time do you need for an Iceland ice cave tour?
While the activity of visiting an ice cave in South Iceland typically runs about 2.5 – 5 hours depending on the location of the cave within Vatnajökull National Park, you should plan on a 2 or 3 day adventure (self driving or as part of a tour). The reason for this is that the meeting spot for the tours (Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon) is a 5-6 hour drive from Reykjavik and is not something that should be rushed in winter conditions. There are also a lot of other beautiful sights to see in the region. We had 2 days and nights but I would have loved the luxury of another day.
What else is there to see in South Iceland?
In addition to the glaciers, there are also many more interesting places to visit in South Iceland. Our highlights included Jökulsárlón Lagoon, Diamond Beach, Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, Seljalandsfoss and Skógarfoss waterfalls. Take a peek at the photos below.
What to Wear for an Iceland Ice Cave Tour?
It can be cold and it can be wet. We essentially wore what we would wear on a ski mountain (layers, waterproof pants, waterproof jacket, gloves, warm socks, toque).
Our tour company provided us with crampons, a helmet, ice pick and harness (the latter 3 are precautionary only). We all wore some form of hiking boot or Sorel boot, but a hiking boot is best for the rocky terrain leading up to the glacier before your crampons go on.
While updating this post, I came across this cute video by Inspired by Iceland on how to dress in Iceland. As someone who had often not quite had the right clothing for our travel to the Nordic nations, I find it to be spot on. See it on YouTube here.
Can Kids Go on an Ice Cave Tour?
It depends on the company, and there are certainly exceptions, but in most cases kids need to be at least 10 years old for a glacier hike and 12-13 years old to visit a glacier ice cave. This is for reasons of safety and also endurance, as some of the best ice caves in Iceland (and the least crowded) can take some time to get to.
Note: I couldn’t wait for my kids to be old enough to do really interesting stuff like visiting an ice cave in Iceland, but if you have younger children, there are still tons of cool things to do in Iceland with kids. For example, on the same trip we decided to self drive the Golden Circle with some friends (their youngest being 3 years old).
Hidden Iceland also runs some Golden Circle small group tours (welcoming kids as young as 8) and offers the option of a private tour of the Golden Circle with much younger children (providing a car seat upon request).
Have a question about Iceland ice cave tours or have a story to share? Please comment below.