A GuideVenturous Guide

Why is


World Heritage

First visited by us on October 19, 2020
TL;DR: Vatnajökull National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it's a unique landscape. It's been formed by both volcanic fires and by glacier ice since the Stone Age.

The Land of Ice and Fire

UNESCO World Heritage

The Land of Ice and Fire

Why is Vatnajökull National Park a UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Land of Ice and Fire

The [acf field="site_name_seo"] Site is officially known as the Vatnajökull National Park UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also known as the Land of Ice and Fire. The [acf field="site_name_seo"] Site became one thanks to the incredible interaction between the cold and the heat over a very long time. Three different elements are working together. Well, two, and one side effect.

The Ice

At the centre of the [acf field="site_name_seo"] Site, you have the mighty Vatnajökull glacier (Ice). The snowfalls have there over the last 2500 years formed a gigantic ice cap covering the land. It's the largest glacier is Europe’s by volume. This despite losing more than 15% of it during the last 100 years. By size, it's with it 7676 km² the 2nd largest in Europe. That is if you count the Arctic island Novaya Zemlya 400 km off the coast in the north, north of Russia as Europe. The Severny glacier there is 20,500 km², more than twice the size of Vatnajökull. Some sources also put Austfonna at 7,800 km² ahead. It's another Arctic island in the archipelago of Svalbard, Norway. That is even more north than Novaya Zemlya.

The Fire

Beneath Vatnajökull, there are no less than seven active volcanoes (Fire). Two of these, Grímsvötn and Bárðarbunga are among the most active in Iceland. The oldest of the seven erupted some 10 million years ago and Bárðarbunga as recent as in 2014.

Iceland is the only part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge exposed above sea level. There the Eurasian and the North American continents are moving apart by about 20 mm yearly. Iceland was created by this movement. This rift movement giving birth to volcanoes, and the Vatnajökull glacier on top is what makes the Vatnajökull National Park so incredibly unique.

... and then there's The Jökulhlaup

From Vatnajökull, water constantly flows through glacial rivers towards the Atlantic Ocean. Moving, the glacier shaping, sculpturing, the land. Like a giant bulldozer, it's digging in and pushing up a glacial garden in front. During eruptions, volcanic heat melts the ice creating huge floods called Jökulhlaup. These repeating events have over the millennia created unique outwash plains, vast river systems and deep canyons. Areas home to groundwater animals that have survived since the Ice Age.

UNESCO's Top  1 Why

Vatnajökull National Park and all of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites are amazing per definition. The term UNESCO uses is that they are of “Outstanding Universal Value“. All the 1121 sites on the list have been carefully qualified and selected among the many suggested each year. In fact, the list of nominated sites is currently 1734 sites long. We, humankind, have though the United Nations together decided that we really should make an extra effort in saving, protecting and taking care of these wonderful sites. This because of their value to us, both now and perhaps even more for future generations. When qualifying to be included in this exclusive list there are 10 different categories that you can qualify in. You can qualify in more than one, most sites do. Vatnajökull National Park qualified in of them. It was selected to be included because of:
The coexistence and continuous interplay of an active oceanic rift on land, abnormally hot rock within the Earth's mantle, the atmosphere, and an ice cap that over the past 2.8 million years have changed both in size and extent makes the Vatnajökull World Heritage Site unique on Earth.
Natural Reason #8
Highlight Major Stage of Earth’s History
OK, so that is what UNESCO Themselves have to say about Vatnajökull National Park. That text has a tendency to be dry, dry, dry. We have actually shortened and changed it a little to be less dry and more readable. Now, with that settled it is time for us to tell you why we think you really should visit Vatnajökull.

Our Top 3 Reasons Why


The Ice - The Vatnajökull glacier is absolutely spectacular.



The Fire - The volcanic eruptions have created an out earthly landscape.



The Water - Jökulsárlón Lagoon and Svartifoss Waterfall.