Visit The Largest National Park In Europe For Incredible Glacial Views

In Christopher Nolan's "Batman Begins," Bruce Wayne is on a voyage of discovery to learn the skills that will help him clean up the crime-ridden streets of Gotham City. His journey takes him to the remote inner sanctum of the League of Shadows for ninja training, far across the daunting icescape of the Bhutanese wilderness. The menacing glacier we see in the scene is one of the most striking images in the movie, but it wasn't really shot in Bhutan. To find the perfect location, Nolan and his crew flew to Iceland where the Svínafellsjökull Glacier stood in for the mountainous South Asian country.

With its jagged ridges and fissures, Svínafellsjökull is an otherworldly sight that has become a real movie star over the past few decades. The majesty of the natural wonder has brought a lot of atmosphere and spectacle to big Hollywood productions like "Die Another Day," "Prometheus," and "Interstellar," not to mention HBO's smash hit show "Game of Thrones."

As awesome as the Svínafellsjökull Glacier looks on a giant IMAX cinema screen, it is just one small part of the immense Vatnajökull National Park, which took shape in 2008 when two smaller regions, Jökulsárgljúfur and Skaftafell, merged with the Vatnajökull ice cap to create a mega-park of over 14,000 square kilometers. That makes Vatnajökull the largest national park in Europe, and its unique natural beauty earned it a place on the list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 2019.

Vatnajökull National Park is great for glacier spotting

Located around 200 miles from Iceland's capital, Reykjavik, Vatnajökull National Park is unique because the geological forces that created it are still shaping the landscape today, allowing visitors to marvel at the conflict between intense volcanic activity and the might of the park's vast ice cap. From ancient volcanoes and lava fields to glaciers and ice caves, there is a spectacular array of scenery to discover across the entire region. Largely untouched by mankind (unless you count climate change, which is causing the glaciers to retreat) the vast diversity of the national park makes it an incredible destination to get away from the hubbub of everyday life and enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking, kayaking, snowmobiling, climbing, and horse riding.

Hiking is one of the most popular ways to experience the grandeur of the glaciers. There are several scenic trails in the park, ranging in difficulty from easy to challenging. The coastal Jökulsárlón route offers spectacular views of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier and swings by the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, where you can also spot seals, puffins, and other wildlife. At the other end of the scale, a more challenging trek takes you off the beaten path to the more remote Heinabergslón glacier lagoon. Or if you're a movie buff and fancy following in the footsteps of Bruce Wayne, put on the crampons and head out on a guided glacier walk across Svínafellsjökull.

Other ways to enjoy the glaciers in Vatnajökull National Park

Adventurous visitors to Vatnajökull National Park have many different ways to get up close and personal with the glaciers beyond. A guided kayak and glacier hike first takes to the water to navigate icebergs in Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon before heading out onto the Falljökull glacier for a panorama of the Vatnajökull ice cap and Hvannadalshnúkur, Iceland's tallest mountain. To feel like a character from "Game of Thrones" you could take a horseback riding tour, or if you prefer to act like a criminal mastermind's goon in a Bond movie, you can opt for another kind of horsepower by renting a snowmobile. Rock-climbing enthusiasts are also well-catered to with over 150 bolted routes dotted across the national park, including the most difficult in Iceland.

Your Icelandic glacier adventure doesn't just stop at outdoor activities. It can extend to the cuisine with traditional Icelandic delicacies such as fermented shark, sheep's head, puffin, or sour ram's testicles. Don't worry, most of the restaurants near the Vatnajökull National Park serve less exotic fare, often leaning heavily into locally sourced lamb and fish dishes. Most of the cafes and restaurants in the vicinity are pretty basic, but Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon is a good spot for a splurge. Sitting in the shadow of Hvannadalshnúkur, its stylish modern restaurant offers some excellent upscale takes on Nordic cuisine and international dishes.