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Vatnajokull National Park in Iceland

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As the largest national park in Western Europe, Vatnajökull is made up of smaller parks such as Skaftafell in the south and Jökulsárgljúfur in the north. As a result, the terrain varies vastly. It’s namesake, Vatnajökull glacier, is the largest glacier in Europe to be found outside of the Arctic circle. As well as the glaciers immense bulk, Vatnajökull’s landscape encompasses active volcanoes, powerful glacial rivers, mountains, canyons, waterfalls, wetlands and lush woodland. Since it’s creation in 2008, Vatnajökull National Park has grown to cover almost 14,000km2. That equates to 14% of Iceland as a whole. So if you want to see the best of what Iceland has to offer, you want to see Vatnajökull National Park!

Highlights 

  • Vatnajökull glacier is the highlight of the Vatnajökull National Park. Covering 8% of Iceland, it’s hard to miss. Subglacial lakes and hidden active volcanoes add to the mystery.
  • Hvannadalshnúkur is the highest point in Iceland. Hiking there is challenging, but the view from the peak is worth it.
  • Skaftafell National Park, nestled within Vatnajökull, offers a lush landscape with a more temperate climate and stunning scenery.
  • Dettifoss is Europe’s answer to the Grand Canyon. An immensely powerful waterfall that hurtles into a vast gorge, seeing Dettifoss is an awe inspiring experience that truly makes you feel your size.
  • Ásbyrgi is a gigantic, horseshoe shaped canyon steeped in Norse mythology.

Lowlights 

  • Only lowlands are accessible year round. Including Jökulsárgljúfur, Skaftafell, Heinaberg, Hjallanes and Hoffell. Highlands are only accessible by 4x4 during the summer months and early autumn.
  • Sudden changes in weather can become dangerous in remote areas.
  • The park is still improving its road system. Though much progress has already been made.

WHAT TO DO

Vatnajökull National Park is one of the national parks in Iceland
A Glacier lagoon in Vatnajökull national Park
  • A big part of tours in Iceland include tours to explore the different areas of Vatnajökull: on foot, by boat or by airplane.
  • Vatnajökull is a hiker’s paradise. It offers one of the best hikes in Iceland. For an easy hike trek up to Svartifoss waterfall or take on the ultimate challenge of Hvannadalshnúkur.
  • Adrenaline junkies can enjoy a day of riding snowmobiles.
  • Relax in a geothermal spa.
  • Take a photography tour into glacial caves, capture the Northern Lights or watch a sunset refract off the glacier.
  • Ice climb up a glacier wall or take an easier walk along the glacier.
  • Witness the variety of wildlife and domestic animals at Vatnajökull from reindeer tours to a farm zoo.
  • Set up camp during the summer months and truly connect to the great outdoors.

Opening Times

The park is open 24 hours a day. However, visitors centres in different areas of Vatnajökull National Park will have specific opening hours.

Permits

If camping with more than 10 tents, a permit is needed from a park manager. Otherwise, permits are only needed if you intend to make film or conduct research in the park.

Covering such a vast amount of the country, to visit Vatnajökull National Park is to visit Iceland. The variety of landscapes and activities on offer will truly leave any traveller speechless, no matter the age or inclination.

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