Eyjafjallajökull, or “island mountain glacier” in Icelandic, emerged as one of Iceland’s most famous attractions in March 2010, when the volcano underneath the ice cap reawakened after a 200 year slumber. The volcano has erupted somewhat regularly since the last glacial period, with the last eruption occurring from 1821 to 1823.
Besides the incredible footage of the recent eruption, this volcano is perhaps best known internationally for its difficult-to-pronounce name!
The glacier itself is one of Iceland’s smallest at 100 km2, but the mountain (1,666 m) can be seen from several kilometres away from Route 1 on a clear day.
VATNAJÖKULL NATIONAL PARK
Vatnajökull National Park is one of three national parks in Iceland, and it encompasses all of Vatnajökull—Europe’s largest glacier—along with a large swath of the surrounding area. In all, the park covers roughly 14% of Iceland’s landmass! It includes the Skaftafell and Jökulsárgljúfur national parks within its borders.
The Vatnajökull glacier itself has an area of over 8000 km2 , 8% of Iceland’s landmass. The glacier reaches 2000 metres at its highest point and covers many active volcanoes, including Grímsvötn, Iceland’s busiest volcano with several eruptions recorded in recent years (1996, 1998, 2004 and 2011).
The park’s diverse landscape was shaped by the region’s many powerful rivers, glacial ice and volcanic activity. Many of Iceland’s most awe-inspiring natural attractions can be found here, including the volcanoes Askja, Bárðarbunga and Grímsvötn, the Ásbyrgi canyon and the mighty Dettifoss waterfall in the park’s northern region; and the lush oasis of Skaftafell, the Eldgjá and Lakagígar volcanic fissures and Iceland’s highest peak, Hvannadalshnjúkur, in the southern end.
This national park is so large it is divided into four territories and includes five visitor centres: Skaftafell, Gamlabúð at Höfn, Skaftárstofa at Kirkjubæjarklaustur, Snæfellsstofa at Skriðuklaustur and Gljúfrastofa at Ásbyrgi. There are also many interesting hiking trails within the park, rated from easy to challenging, and trail maps can be obtained at visitor centres.
Always heed all signs and warnings when hiking and never stray from marked trails or paths.
Fjallsárlón is an iceberg lagoon at the south end of Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Europe. Throughout the lagoon, visitors can see floating icebergs that calve from the edge of the glacier. The icebergs are different shapes, sizes and colours, from jagged white ice, to smooth bergs blue in hue. Travellers can opt for an iceberg safari in a small boat, which allows up close and personal views of the glacier, icebergs and the unique surroundings.
Just west of Kirkjubæjarklaustur, the Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon has been hollowed out over millions of years by the Fjaðrá River. The walking path along the eastern edge of the canyon offer stunning views over the plains and glacial brooks below. The canyon is also noted for the curious shape of its rock formations, including one that looks like a finger, where legend has it a troll is buried.