On my third day in Iceland, I took the Ice and Lava Caves tour with Reykjavik Sightseeing. I didn’t even know what a lava cave was, let alone that Iceland had the largest man-made ice cave in the world. Well, now I do, and I thought you would like to too.
Langjökull – Into the Glacier
Langjökull, the second-largest glacier in Iceland is only a couple hours from Reykjavik, and makes for a great location to see some unique attractions. Our first attraction on our tour opened on the glacier in 2015 and is the largest man-made ice cave in the world. Run by Into the Glacier Tours, the tunnel is about 2600 feet long (500m, or 9 football fields in length), with several rooms branching off and illuminated by hundreds of LED lights.
The ice cave was 4 years in the planning, and the excavation of the tunnel took 14 months from March 2014 to May 2015. The ice that the tunnel bores through is only about 35 years old, which really surprised me. I thought the glaciers in Iceland dated back to the ice age. The tunnel is only about 75 feet (25m) below the surface of the glacier, which is roughly 10% of the total depth of the ice.
We all had coveralls and winter clothing on, and were issued a pair of crampons to keep from slipping on the ice. The temperature in the cave is just about freezing, which is several degrees above what it is on the surface of the glacier. Yet the cold doesn’t stop the cave from being a unique venue. Various events have been held in the ice caves, and there have even been marriage proposals and full weddings held in the “chapel.”
One of the more interesting features of the tunnel was the crevice toward the end. The crevices are formed when the glacier slides over a change in decline, and the ice cracks as it changes direction. They can be massive. The one crossing the ice tunnel was 120 feet deep and over 1000 feet long, although the exact length was unknown as it’s not something you want to go climbing through. There are also moulins, which are holes the ice drains through in the glacier. They can either run into a cave or down underneath the entire glacier, and getting out of one would be impossible. Talk about a pit of death!
Hraunfossar and Barnafoss
We had a stop between caves at two fantastic waterfalls. Barnafoss, or children’s waterfall, got its name from the urban legend of two boys who slipped off the rock bridge over the waterfall and drowned. The previous name of the waterfall was Bjarnafoss, or Bear Falls, but now another waterfall in Iceland has that name.
Hraunfossar is the second waterfall, although this one is quite unique. The water bubbling out of the Hallmundarhraun lava fields into the river Hvítá. Rather than a big waterfall, the cascades look more like those at Plitvice Lakes, except that these spill over the rocks instead of trees. The whole area was gorgeous (as is all of Iceland) with its vibrantly blue water. I loved the counterpoint that the snow made to the landscape, although I’ve also seen photos of the lava fields covered in green which would be nice to see someday as well.
Víðgelmir – The Ice and Lava Caves
To be fair, I had no idea what I was signing up for when I booked my tour. Víðgelmir was my first introduction to a lava cave. Lo and behold, it’s the largest lava cave in the world, just a few feet shy of a full mile long! As there is also ice in the cave, it’s technically classified as an ice and lava cave, thus providing the name of the tour.
Reykjavik Sightseeing has partnered up with The Cave Tours to explore the lava cave. We were all issued hardhats and given a short briefing of what to expect in the cave. Víðgelmir was originally formed over a millennium ago by the slow-moving lava of a volcano carving out a tunnel underground. Two holes near the beginning of the cave collapsed, allowing access to the tunnel. We all climbed the stairs into the first hole. When looking up through the second hole at a certain angle, it looks like a giant heart.
After descending all the stairs, we had to pass through a batch of giant icicles, and then we were into the big cavern. A wooden boardwalk was built through the cave, both for safety and to preserve the stalagmites and other features of the cave. As the lava had long since cooled, the temperature in the cave was freezing, similar to the glacier cave. You definitely want to dress warmly for the day!
The guide took us through the cave, describing all the different features and the history of the tunnel. My favorite part was learning of the inhabitants who used to dwell in the cave hundreds of years before. Not a lot of them, but the warm lava rocks at the bottom of the cave would have created the warmest shelter available at the time.
Whale Testicle Beer at Steðja
On our way back to Reykjavik, our tour guide decided to add an extra stop to the tour. Iceland happens to have a lot of breweries, and one of the best ones is Steðja. They’ve got thirteen beers that they brew to rigid German purity laws. Their range includes standard lagers, Oktoberfest brews, strawberry beers and Christmas specials flavored with ginger.
By far the most unique item they offer is – believe it or not – a sheepshit-smoked whale testicle beer! Yeah, we got a tester of that one too. Once I got past the gag reflex, I have to say it wasn’t that bad. Iceland is certainly known for its odd dishes – jellied sheep heads, sour ram testicles…okay, enough of that. So the testicle beer kinda fits in. If you still don’t believe me, here’s their video on how it’s made.
The official Ice and Lava Caves Tour ended after the Lava Cave, but since it was getting so late at this point, our guide decided to turn our day tour into a night tour, and we went off in search of the northern lights! We found them, which was my third day in a row seeing the display.
Our tour, which was supposed to end at 7 p.m., finally got back to Reykjavik after 1 in the morning. I certainly wasn’t complaining. The day was one great adventure after another, and I’m so glad to be part of it.
Interested in Taking the Ice and Lava Caves Tour?
If you’d like to follow in my footsteps, feel free to book your tour on Reykjavik Sightseeing’s website (or book with GetYourGuide below and give me a small commission with the affiliate link at no extra cost to you). The tour lasts 11 hours, and departs from Reykjavik at 7:45 a.m. from Reykjavik Sightseeing. They will pick you up from your accommodations half an hour before departure if needed. The price of the tour is about $380. You’ll want to book in advance, as they do sell out quite a bit.
Make sure to dress really warmly – base layer, warm clothes and waterproof jacket, pants and boots. Also bring some sunglasses, in case the sun happens to be out. I would also highly recommend investing in a good phone camera (Samsung Galaxy S8) or good DSLR to get some great shots in the low light conditions of the caves.
I have to say, the tour bus for Reykjavik Sightseeing is one of the best I’ve ever been on. There’s a GPS activated audio guide, which you hardly need with everything the on-board tour guide tells you. Each seat has a USB port to keep your phone charged, and the bus is blessedly warm.
Please note that the waterfalls, Steðja and the northern lights are not part of the regular tour.
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Other Activities in Iceland
Iceland is the most beautiful country in the world I’ve been to so far. There are hundreds of attractions around the country, of which I only saw a small handful. Here are some more adventures I went on while there, and a couple other articles I wrote to help you out.
- Why Iceland Didn’t Become My Favorite Country in the World
- How the Loft Hostel Made it Possible for Me to Visit Iceland
- Checking the Northern Lights in Iceland Off My Bucket List
- Is Visiting the Blue Lagoon in Iceland Worth It?
- Exploring The Game of Thrones Filming Locations in Iceland
Planning to Visit Iceland?
Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.
Disclaimer: My endless thanks to Trablin, Reykjavik Sightseeing, Into the Glacier and The Cave for inviting me on these amazing tours. As always, my views and opinions are completely my own.
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