Your Guide to Caves in Iceland: The Ultimate Ice and Lava Caving Experience
Updated On: April 27, 2023
Exploring new places in new countries is one of the best experiences one could ever do. We’re always eager to discover history and heritage and observe sights we rarely see back home. When you are heading to the land of ice and fire, you should really see the caves’ actual works of ice and fire. Caves in Iceland are among the dazzling natural wonders that aren’t everywhere to be found.
Ice and lava caving is one of the prominent activities in Iceland that most tourists are eager to experience. This experience takes you on a journey where you witness the inner workings of nature. And, we promise, it is one that you will never forget.
You don’t really need to be an advanced hiker to embark on this journey. Many tour companies ease the process for people of all fitness and stamina levels. We have gathered the most popular ice and lava caves in Iceland that you should discover. Take a look at this magnificent list and decide for yourself which destination suits you best.
Brief Introduction about the Different Caves in Iceland
Well, maybe now you have developed a complete picture of why Iceland is known as the land of ice and fire. Apparently, actual volcano eruptions and ice melting have formed the beguiling caves that we see today. They also give us deep tunnels into which we can embark on an adventurous journey. We’ll provide more profound insight into the formation of these caves later on.
What you need to know is that you can never venture into these caves without professional guidance. You can only access these caves by booking a spot with one of the tour companies in Iceland. The companionship of trained professionals had made the process accessible by people of all levels. You don’t really have to be a skillful hiker to make your way through the caving experience.
Explore the Freezing Ice Caves in Iceland
When it comes to ice caves, you will almost always find them at the foot of a glacier. And, since glaciers cover a relatively large portion of the land, there are quite a several caves to discover. These caves make for mystical scenes that are vehemently photogenic. Ice caving is an authentic experience to remember for a lifetime.
Have you ever wondered how these caves formed? Due to the constant change of climate, geothermal heat is an occurring process that causes the glacial ice to melt. When meltwater forms, it starts making its way down, creating a hollow that we know as a cave.
Not only are these caves mesmerizing, but they also change appearances over the seasons. This means every time you visit the same cave; it is always a different shape and a new experience. Definitely, winter is the best season to visit the ice caves, from November through mid-March. It has to be cold enough outside for the caves to be stable.
There is even no access to them during summer, for the warm temperature causes the glacier to melt. The constant collapses, and melting that occur during summer make it dangerous to be in there.
Thus, if you’re visiting in winter, here are the most popular ice caves in Iceland to explore during your stay:
Vatnajökull Ice Caves
Vatnajökull is the largest ice cap in Iceland, specifically, and in Europe, generally. At the foot of the Vatnajökull glacier, many ice caves form every year during the freezing seasons. It’s important to note that many glacier caves are temporary. You may visit a cave one year and return the next to find it gone.
However, ice caves are sure to be formed every year by the Vatnajökull glacier. It may not be a similar cave that existed before. Yet, two caves that remain intact for most of the time are found beneath the Vatnajökull glacier, with the names Crystal Cave and Anaconda Ice Cave.
The Crystal Cave was the largest one known in the Vatnajökull glacier during the winter season of 2011 and 2012. Its name described the shape of the cave that resembled a crystal dome. It’s hard to say whether the same cave is still there or if a similar one is forming in the exact location. But, you can book an ice caving tour with a reputable company, and they’ll surely take you to the right places.
Blue Diamond Cave
Glacier caves come and go, as we previously stated. Blue Diamond Cave was one of the most famous caves in Iceland during its appearance in 2016-2017. The cave was one of those that formed at the Vatnajökull glacier. It was deemed relatively small compared to the previous ones, yet it received a bustling hype.
The catch about this cave was that it was rather a horizontal one. It earned this name, given the dominance of the magnificent blue color over the place. The shimmering glacial nature made the cave seem as it was full of diamonds and other sparkling treasures.
Unfortunately, this cave has disappeared into thin air. No one knows if it will ever form again throughout the next winter. Yet, hopes are flying high that a similar one would come out of the grounds or even a cooler one.
The Waterfall Cave
The name of this cave is sufficient to have drawn tourists from every corner of the globe. It was one of the large caves of the Vatnajökull glacier that lasted for almost three years, from 2015 through 2017. This cave earned this name in specific for having a small river traveling through it, creating splendid waterfalls.
It was not of a large size, yet it possessed a scenic appearance that left the visitors spellbound. The coursing river was a great addition to the already splendid cave. It was among the popular caves in Iceland during the years of its existence.
Langjökull Ice Cave
Just after the Vatnajökull glacier comes the Langjökul glacier in terms of size. Langjökul glacier sits in the western part of the Midlands, where it feeds several waterfalls, including the most popular ones in Iceland.
Langjökul natural ice caves were the hype of tourism during 2016 and 2017. The glacier had a magnificent blue ice cave that sat at its foot. It was one of the most hypnotizing natural ice caves in Iceland. However, the cave was quite thick and unstable, so visiting was forbidden until it disappeared.
Natural ice caves in Iceland are known to form the largest glaciers every year, and the Langjökul glacier is no exception. But since natural caves are not of a stable nature and cannot always be found, a man-made ice tunnel happens to sit at the Langjökul glacier. It mimics many natural caves in its ambiance, but it definitely is quite different in so many ways.
Tours are made into this artificial tunnel, where visitors get to learn about the history of glacial ice and its formations. You get to that cave riding in a huge truck where it drops you at the opening of the Ice Tunnel. Interestingly, the man-made glacier houses a chapel where many people choose to announce their marriages.
The Northern Lights Cave
Besides the incredible caves in Iceland, other natural wonders occur on the frozen lands, including the Northern Lights. Also known as the aurora borealis, this extraordinary phenomenon is another wonder to chase in Iceland during the winter seasons. One of the previously-formed natural ice caves was named after the dancing lights.
The Northern Lights Cave was quite popular among the tourists during the year it existed and was open. It earned that name as the ceilings of the cave had an icy texture that resembled the flickering lights of the aurora. While this cave no longer exists, we hope that a kindred one forms in the near future.
Sapphire Ice Cave
Sapphire Ice Cave was a tremendous cave that existed as part of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, which stems out of Vatnajökull. That cave sits opposite where the renowned Crystal Ice Cave used to. Interestingly, not only is it one of the fascinating caves in Iceland, it also managed to survive the high temperatures of summer.
Sapphire Ice Cave is a significantly large one that a subglacial channel aided in its formation—stemming out of a river that runs under the glacial allowed fewer changes to happen upon this cave. Hiking through the ideal blue colors of the cave will leave you hypnotized and in awe. It’s an authentic icy experience that you will never forget.
Katla Ice Cave
Another cave that doesn’t vanish during the hot days of summer is the Katla Ice Cave. It’s one of the most prominent caves in Iceland that witness several tours every season. The Katla Cave sits at the foot of the Katla Volcano. This cave is probably used to the heat that summer doesn’t seem to form a threat upon it.
Among the distinct features of this ice cave is the existence of black color. Yes, you read that right. The ice inside this cave has a black color that resulted from the volcanic ashes uttered from the volcano above. Fortunately, Katla Ice cave is also the only cave that you can access all year round, even during summer.
Perlan’s Ice Cave Exhibition
Here is some great news to those who may not be suitable for them to visit caves in Iceland during winter. The Icelandic capital city of Reykjavik embraces a large exhibition of those caves. Recently, the Glacier and Ice Cave Exhibition opened in Perlan, being the first indoor ice cave in Iceland as well as the whole world.
This exhibition aims to teach visitors about the history and formation processes of glacial caves. They give you a glimpse into how these caves feel or look from the inside. It is still a magnificent experience but can’t beat visiting an actual ice cave completely crafted by nature.
Tour the Tantalizing Lava Caves in Iceland
When someone says Iceland, sceneries of spacious plains with snow covering all over are the images that come to one’s mind. Yet, ice caves are not the only surprises of nature that you get to see. Lava caves are also a surprising element that will be a great addition to your fantastic trip.
Visiting caves in Iceland is a one-of-a-kind experience but exploring a lava cave is a whole different story. Thanks to the country’s geological hotspot, tens of volcanic systems remain active, forming the lava caves beneath the grounds. These caves are the result of thousands of years where numerous volcanic eruptions took place.
Volcanic eruptions result in these caves when a river of hot lava courses on the surface of the Earth then gradually cools down. A tube-like crust starts to form in multiple layers, reshaping the lava tunnels that we see today.
Within these hidden chambers of dry lava lie layers of geological history and magnificent sceneries. They call upon nature enthusiasts from all around the world to come and unravel their mystery. Here are some of the most popular lava caves in Iceland to discover:
Vatnshellir Lava Cave
Snæfellsjökull National Park is an ultimate tourist attraction in Iceland that requires a visit once you land on the frozen island. It houses several monuments and iconic landmarks, including some ice and lava caves. The Vatnshellir Lava Cave is one of the most prevalent caves in Iceland that is almost 8000 years old. It’s home to multiple layers of hardened lava, illustrating the raw beauty of caves.
Spacious fields of lava surround this cave, which makes it go a little unnoticeable. However, it is hard to resist exploring its depths once you unravel its existence. The Vatnshellir lava cave takes the caving experience to different levels. There is so much to see and learn once you are inside the magma chambers.
Located right beneath the Leitarhraun Lava Field in southwestern Iceland, Búri Cave is one of the most beautiful lava caves in Iceland. It was discovered only in the 90s although it is almost 5000 years old.
Once you enter the cave, you will be amazed by the colorful elements it features. The chambers of the cave are home to several lava rock formations that accentuate the space. There are also stalactites and stalagmites that add an eccentric beauty to the chambers. During winter, the unique ice formations create magnificent patterns that are extremely photogenic.
Thrihnukagigur Volcano Cave
Among all the caves in Iceland, reputable travel agencies have ranked the Thrihnukagigur volcano cave as a must-see attraction. Reaching this volcano cave is quite easy since you can take a bus from Reykjavik to drop you there.
This cave is a literal chamber of magma that resulted from the eruption of the now-dormant Thrihnukagigur volcano. It is totally safe to explore and tour inside this cinder cone that erupted some thousands of years ago.
When you reach the Thrihnukagigur volcano cave, an open elevator welcomes the visitors and lowers them down to the magma chambers. The thousands-year-old eruption deposited multiple minerals that shine in dazzling colors of brown, green, and red. Lava caving is definitely the ultimate experience for nature enthusiasts.
Lofthellir is one of the alluring lava caves in Iceland where you can embark on a journey of a lifetime. The cave is situated near the famous Lake Myvatn, and its confinement of natural ice sculpture is what makes it stand out. Ironically, this lava cave houses the largest ice sculptures that are utterly crafted by nature.
This lava cave has been around for almost 3500 years. However, it was only discovered in the 80s post an earthquake incident that revealed its existence. As ironic as it sounds, you need to add sufficient layers of clothes when visiting this lava cave. The profuse ice sculptures create a chilly breeze that can leave you shivering in the cold.
While most caves in Iceland have their own allure, this one, in particular, stands out for its rare features. The Grjótagjá Lava Cave lies near the famous Lake Mývatn in the northern part of Iceland. Featuring a magnificent geothermal hot spring is what makes it unique. It’s among the very few caves in the whole country where you can find a hot spring inside.
Well, hot springs are a popular thing in most of the countries in the Arctic Circle but finding one inside a cave is a fascinating surprise. Unfortunately, the numerous eruptions that took place in the 80s made the water too hot to soak into. So, you are only allowed to visit the cave but not bathe in its tremendous thermal bath.
This lava cave made it to the big screens by being featured in one episode of Game of Thrones. It is also known for having been a hiding place for several outlaws, with Jón Markússon being the most famous. Legends have it that the guy escaped by hiding in that cave for years and using the hot spring for bathing before it became unsuitable.
Well, we have no idea why, among all the caves in Iceland, this cave has all of those names. However, Gjabakkahellir is the one most commonly used, and it’s also referred to as the Little Girl’s Cave. Anyway, Gjabakkahellir is a lava tube cave located in Thingvellir National Park. The cave is open on both ends, so you can walk directly through it and get out on the other side.
This magnificent cave features incredible patterns of stalactites in different colors and shapes. The rock formations also feature a wide array of various colors, creating a nice vista within the chambers of the cave. You will also find rocks scattered on the grounds of the cave. They have fallen from the ceiling during the lava’s cooling phase and added a nice touch of beauty to the cave.
Raufarhólshellir Lava Cave
The Raufarhólshellir lava tunnel is one of the most enchanting caves in Iceland to explore. It is also one of the most popular among travelers. The good news is that this cave sits only half an hour away from Reykjavik, the capital city. It may have resulted from the remains of pouring hot lava, but it still fills with ice during winter.
A wide array of bewitching colors spiral within the walls of this cave, forming a terrific scenery. Another feature of this cave is the beautiful lava remains that moss covers, adding a complementary greenery accentuation. Rock formations also happen to fill the place.
When icicles take shape during the cold months of winter, new sceneries come into existence. The reflection and glimmering nature of ice make the cave look even more stunning. No wonder the Raufarhólshellir lava cave is one of the prominent caves in Iceland, and missing it would even be considered a sin.
Since lava caves are always different due to the distinct circumstances in which they are formed, you’ll enjoy almost any lava cave you visit. This lava cave lies just a few minutes outside of Reykjavik. Being located somewhere near the capital city ranks it among the popular and easy-to-reach caves in Iceland.
Leidarendi Cave gives you a deep insight into the actual colors of raw elements. You will first-hand experience the flickering colors of iron, sulfur, and copper. They are presented through the walls of the cave, reflecting stunning shades of red, yellow, and green.
Being the largest lava cave tube, Viðgelmir is one of the most popular caves in Iceland. It’s also suitable for hikers of different levels, including total beginners. Viðgelmir is located in West Iceland in the Borgarfjörður area, where it sits on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Its location is quite accessible by most tourists and visitors.
This cave has been around since the age of the Vikings, and even some of their jewelry and remains were found during the 1993 excavation. Definitely, those items have been preserved, but the cave is open for visitors to explore with trained professionals.
The cave is provided with some artificial lights to display the unique features of its chambers. Some sources of natural light can break through at specific points, adding a nice array of sunlight. Viðgelmir Lava cave features splendid rock formations that shimmer in bright colors that mesmerize the beholders.
There are definitely multiple attractions to explore and visit. However, caves in Iceland are must-see attractions, and they will give you a caving experience you won’t find elsewhere.