In winter, Iceland is transformed into a world of ice and snow. Visitors can explore Europe's biggest and most formidable glacier here: Vatnajökull. A frontier experience — and part III of our "Extreme Places" series.
Warm jackets, gloves and hiking boots with ice crampons are part of the basic equipment for a tour on Vatnajökull. And a camera — because if you're out and about on the eternal ice of Iceland, you'll see spectacular scenery every few meters.
From gigantic glacier ridges and lagoons full of swimming icebergs to waterfalls fed by meltwater, the dramatic landscape, which glows in shades from radiant white to azure blue, seems almost magical.
A trip to these impressive surroundings can also be quite challenging. DW reporter Hendrik Welling has experienced this first-hand. He regularly explores extreme places for the series "Europe to the Maxx" on DW's magazine "Euromaxx". The tour to Vatnajökull was definitely his most difficult assignment because snowstorms can occur here at any time, especially in the winter season. Watch the video to get to know more about his adventure.
The Vatnajökull, located in the southeast region of Iceland, is made up of more than 3,000 cubic km (720 cubic miles) of ice. This makes it the glacier with the largest volume in Europe. If it were to melt, it would make the sea level around the entire world rise by about one centimeter. When Vatnajökull formed around 2,500 years ago, Iceland was almost completely covered in masses of ice. Glaciers have shaped the island, but today they are threatened by climate change. The first glacier on Iceland declared dead was in 2019.
In order to best preserve Vatnajökull, it has been placed under protection as part of a national park since 2008. Visitors can explore it with the help of guides: on hikes, ice-climbing adventures, or tours through the ice caves. These cavities in glaciers are formed by meltwater. The layer of ice that encloses visitors is up to several hundred meters thick, and you can often hear crunching from the inside of the glacier, which is constantly moving. The walls of the caves shimmer in various shades — from bright blue to violet and black — a beautiful spectacle that makes the camera or your smartphone particularly important to remember!
A tour through the ice caves of Vatnajökull is a truly unique experience. In spring, when the temperatures rise, the caves often collapse and disappear — but they reform anew the next winter, so there are always new and beautiful images to capture.
Address: Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland
Getting there: The national park is around 330 kilometers (205 mi) from Reykjavík in south-east Iceland. Guided tours to Vatnajökull are possible from Reykjavík or Skaftafell on the edge of the national park.
Hours: The ice caves are only accessible without placing your life in danger between November and March. All other activities on Vatnajökull are possible all year round.
Special tip: A unique attraction is the so-called crystal ice cave. Here the ice ceiling is so thin that the sunlight shines through it as if it were crystal.
Europe at its most extreme: the series "Europe to the Maxx" on DW's lifestyle and culture magazine "Euromaxx" makes Europe’s superlatives experiencable – from extraordinary architecture to spectacular landscapes to unique cultural phenomena. Accompanying the series, the book "111 extreme places in Europe that you shouldn't miss" was published in cooperation with Emons Verlag. An alternative travel guide, both informative and entertaining. For avid travellers, fans of Europe and anyone who likes to show off with unusual pub quiz trivia. Full of guaranteed record breakers!