Iceland’s a spelunker’s paradise but the good news is that you don’t need to be a cave expert yourself to enjoy discovering the country’s many and varied caves. There are coastal caves cut by the power of the waves, caves formed from collapsed lava tubes and of course, ice caves hidden beneath mighty glaciers. The hot springs of Grjótagjá cave are even featured in Game of Thrones, though be warned in real life the water’s far too hot for a dip – those scenes were created in the comfort of a studio. If you’re planning a visit to Iceland and want to include a cave tour in your itinerary, then here are a few of our top picks.
Ice caves vs. lava caves
In the land of fire and ice, you can also find two types of caves: ice and lava tunnels. But how do they differ?
Visiting ice caves is an extremely popular activity in Iceland. What makes it so unique is that each time you visit one of several ice caves in Iceland, it meets you with a different appearance. How does that happen? How are ice caves formed? They appear when water starts to melt through glaciers, creating small caves in the ice. Even though many ice caves are naturally formed, there is also a man-made ice cave in Iceland that can be visited all year round.
Lava tubes are different from ice caves but nonetheless spectacular. They’re formed after the volcanic eruption takes place. The hot lava streams until it cools down, becoming a crust. While the outer layer of it is hard, the molten lava inside still continues to flow. Once this stream passes through, it leaves an empty tunnel, also known as a lava tube or cave.
Glacier ice caves
Crystal Ice Cave
Among one of the most popular Iceland ice caves is Crystal Ice Cave. This spectacular natural wonder is located in Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Iceland. What makes this ice cave so stunning is its “glass ceiling.” The ice here is see-through, so when the light goes through it, it feels as if the upper part is made of glass. Besides its spectacular inside, the ice cave is also spacious, allowing approximately 100 people to visit it at a time. Because of its marvelous beauty, there’s no surprise that Crystal Ice Caves makes it to the list of top ice caves to explore in Iceland.
Katla Ice Cave
This natural ice cave is located in Kötlujökull glacier, South Iceland, near an active volcano Katla. While the volcano is still considered “alive”, its last eruption occurred in 1918. These eruptions had an impact on the cave. While on the Katla ice cave tour, you might notice that the appearance of the cave’s interior differs from others because of the black ash that’s “incrusted” into the ice. These ashes are actually the trace that has been left of volcanic activity. What also makes this ice cave so unique and loved by many enthusiastic travelers is the fact that Katla waits for its visitors any time of the year.
INTO THE GLACIER – LANGJÖKULL ICE CAVE
The big advantage of the Into The Glacier experience over tours of naturally occurring ice caves is that it’s not a seasonal attraction. Unlike the crystal caves, it’s possible to head inside Langjökull year-round. This extraordinary cave was the result of years of hard work from a crack team of architects, geophysicists, and engineers, bulldozing vast quantities of snow and compacted ice to be able to construct a tunnel right into the heart of the glacier. The experience of standing under such a great slab of ice – and a slowly moving one at that – will be a memorable one, whatever time of year you choose.
Lava caves in Iceland
Among caves in Iceland, there’s a spectacular lava cave – Raufarhólshellir. The length of this tunnel is 1360 meters. If you’re interested in volcanoes and what the aftermath of their eruption looks like, then Raufarhólshellir is a perfect place to witness that. An interesting fact about this place is that until the 1950s, you could find stalactites here. But the stalagmites started disappearing due to people’s interest and their travels to the tunnel, so now you can see very few of them. Once you enter the cave, you’re in a main tunnel that’s 900 meters long and 30 meters wide. If you raise your head, you’ll see a true eye candy – its ceiling has three columns pouring daylight into the tunnel. At the end of the tunnel, you’ll find three more tunnels that allow you to witness the beauty of lava cave formations.
Lofthellir lava cave
Collapsed lava tubes are a fairly common sight across Iceland but the 3500-year-old Lofthellir cave, located on the Búrfell lava field is a stand-out. It was revealed in the 1980s after a pilot flying over the lava field saw that an earthquake had caused the collapse of its roof. But that’s not the reason tourists are awed by this cave. Inside, the chamber is filled with a plethora of ice sculptures, collectively creating one of the most magical sights in the country. Be prepared to wriggle through some tight spaces if you wish to see this incredible natural phenomenon – this is not for the faint-hearted or those with mobility issues, but the rewards are immense.
The singing caves
There are several singing caves scattered across Iceland, but the most famous of them is Sönghellir, located on the Snæfellsnes peninsula. Its wonderful acoustics create echoes that have delighted visitors for centuries. When you go, you’ll become extra talkative – and tuneful – as you test out the sounds that bounce around the cave. According to legend, Sönghellir sheltered the family of 9th Century settler Bárður Snæfellsás. The spirit of this giant of a man is thought by some to guard the cave and protect those who enter.
Colourful Víðgelmir cave
This great cave is famed for its spectacular colors, created by minerals that run through the rock strata inside. It towers over 15 meters tall and is around 16.5 meters wide, making it the largest cave in the country. Once, the cave was inhabited: jewelry and fragments of bones dated by experts from the Viking era were found during an archaeological dig inside the cave in 1993. They’ve been removed for safekeeping, but what remains are the vivid colors of the lava, forming stalactites and stalagmites. You’ll find it near Húsafell, in west Iceland. Well-lit and with timber walkways installed, it’s a cave that can be accessed by the whole family.
With such variety, you can see why visitors to Iceland rave as much about what’s hidden from view as they do about what’s out in the open. Which will you choose?
Getting into glacier caves or exploring a lava cave ensures an unforgettable time in Iceland. On lava and ice cave tours, you’ll have an opportunity to learn how these two natural wonders form and what risks they bring. There are many caves in Iceland that just shock visitors with its magnificent beauty. So pick your destination, and let’s meet in one of these caves!