Are you staying in Akureyri or the surrounding area and you are looking for something to do? Why not get in the car and head out on a drive on the Diamond Circle. Like the Golden Circle, the Diamond Circle has hot springs, waterfalls, and amazing scenery but is in the northern part of Iceland.
In this article, we will go over the five main sights on the route but will give you some hints for other cool sights and activities! Though you can go to most of the places mentioned, to get as much out of your trip we recommend that you spend two or three days exploring.
If you are heading out from Akureyri, the first part of your drive is only an hour long and it will take you to the lovely and small town of Húsavík, which is known as the must-go-to place for whale watching.
The bay is the home of many whales and there is nothing better than going on a boat ride to spot both whales and puffins. The beautiful area surrounding Húsavík is just a bonus on a good day!
Fun fact: the first organised whale watching trips in Iceland started in Húsavík back in 1994!
Take a look at the selection of whale watching tours here.
If you are the type of person who likes to visit museums, be sure to visit the Museum of Transportation in Ystafell and the Whale Museum on the Húsavík harbor. However, if you are just looking to relax in a unique place, GeoSea might be the perfect place. There you can enjoy the views of Skjálfandi bay in a natural seawater spa.
Ásbyrgi and Dettifoss area
Mostly caused by catastrophic flooding of the Jökulsá á Fjöllum (one of the most powerful glacial rivers in Iceland), Ásbyrgi is a horseshoe-shaped canyon and is one of the more popular travel destinations for self-drivers as it offers a variety of hiking opportunities, golf, and camping. The canyon is roughly 3.5km long, 1km wide and 100m deep.
Ásbyrgi canyon is only a 45 minutes’ drive from Húsavík and on the way, you will drive along the coast and it will be worth it stop for a picturesque view on Hringsbjarg rock formation. Perhaps you will spot some puffins and other birds hanging around!
From Ásbyrgi to Dettifoss there are two routes, but we recommend that you take route 862 instead of 864 as it is often more accessible and has a few hidden gems on the way. Please be aware that during winter it is important to check before heading out weather and road conditions! Same goes for hiking conditions as there is a nice hiking path between the canyon Hljóðklettar (e. Soundrocks) and the small waterfall of Hólmárfossar cascades.
When you head further down on route 862 you will soon reach the powerful waterfall Dettifoss on the west side. From there you can do a total of 2.5km hike to Selfoss waterfall and back. It is an easy route that almost everyone can do on a good day.
The many wonders of Lake Mývatn
Back on the road and you are heading out towards Lake Mývatn which is the home of many hidden places to see, some more accessible than others.
Right on Route-1, you have the geothermal area of Námaskarð and Hverir, known for their big and hot mud-pools that are constantly boiling. Surrounding the mud-pools you will see steam springs coming out of the ground, which you should never touch! If you want more volcano-related sights, we highly recommend a visit to Víti crater and Krafla caldera.
There you can see the aftermaths of big volcanic eruptions from the famous Mývatn eruptions in 1724 and lasted for five years. Víti and Krafla are just two of many craters and other remains from multiple volcanic eruptions on the Mývatn area.
Not far from Víti and Krafla you can take a stroll through Dimmuborgir (e. Dark Cities) which is an area with strewn lava rocks, hidden caves, and cliffs all surrounded by vegetation.
During summer, the area is covered in green and black which blend perfectly together, but in winter the lava field gets a wonderful snow coat. Perhaps while on your walk you will spot some Yule Lads which are rumored to have settled within the hidden caves and made it their home.
Finally, another must-see location in Mývatn is Grjótagjá which got famous in one memorable Game of Thrones episode which included John Snow and Ygritte bathing in a hidden cave full of warm water. Though we all want to explore the set of Game of Thrones, it should be noted that the water is warm and too hot to bathe in.
The last stop of the Diamond Circle is Goðafoss waterfall which translates into English as the Waterfall of Gods. Its name originates from the Viking chieftain threw his pagan idols into the waterfall shortly after ruling that the Icelandic nation should adopt to Christianity, implying he had himself taken up the faith. You can walk along the few walking paths by the waterfall to see various angles and get some great pictures on the historic site!
We also recommend reading: The Arctic Coast Way - What Is It Exactly?