The Diamond Circle Travel Guide
South side of Iceland has it’s very famous Golden circle but it is often forgotten that the north side has their own round trip called the Diamond Circle. For anyone driving the full Ring road, you will spend time around Lake Mývatn so let’s start there.
Campsites Points of interests Hot Springs/pools Crossroads
There are a few campsites around lake Mývatn and you can camp in any of them with your camper van. Depending on what route you take, the Diamond Circle is roughly 260km/162 miles long. Some parts of the road can be a bit rough but with proper speed management, it’s easy to drive any of the routes.
Diamond Circle – The Short version
If we start with the shorter version of the Diamond Circle, counter clockwise, you’ll start by driving east on the Ring road. From Reykjahlíð you drive east 25.8km/16 miles and make a left turn at crossroads 1 on to road nr:862. This road and the other road east of the river (road nr:864) that feeds Dettifoss and Hafragílsfoss are usually the roughest ones up here so watch out for rocks and pot holes. During winter these roads close easily so make sure they are open before driving off.
After 10km/6.2 miles you will arrive to the side road leading to the west parking lot for Dettifoss waterfall (crossroads 1b). Drive with care to the parking lot and follow the signs to the waterfall and enjoy the powerful nature. Dettifoss is Europe’s most powerful waterfall and have been featured in many movies, the biggest one might be Prometheus.
500m³/17.657ft³/second pummels over the edge. An amazing amount of glacial water passes this canyon. It’s 45m/147.6ft high and 100m/328.1ft wide. One cannot be anything but amazed to see this volume of water move so violently down the canyon. The water comes from Jökulsá á fjöllum which gets its water from Vatnajökull glacier which in turn is very rich in sediments so the color of the water is very brown.
When you have visited Dettifoss and continue north you will come to another side road to the right side (crossroads 1c). It’s a 20km/12.4 miles drive there and there you will find the beautiful campsite in Vesturdalur. From there you can also walk to the rock formation called Hljóðaklettar. Around this area you will see many strange rock formation. They were created when a glacier was passing over the molted lava and crating explosions some 8000 years ago. There are many enjoyable hikes in this area and the campsite will not be as crowded as around Lake Mývatn.
When you head north once more, you will reach Crossroads 1d where you either take a left to continue on the Diamond Circle but we strongly suggest you take a right turn and continue just under 2km further. There on your right side you will arrive to the entrance to wonderful and amazing Ásbyrgi, one of the absolute biggest destination in North Iceland.
According to Norse mythology, the colossal, horseshoe shaped canyon that Ásbyrgi is, was formed by a hoof of Sleipnir, the god Odin´s eight-legged horse, is 3.5km/2.2 miles long and 1.1km/0.7 miles wide. Ásbyrgi is also the capital of the Elves in Iceland if you read the Icelandic sagas..
Inside the canyon, there are many hikes to explore. In the southern part of the canyon is a small pond called Botnstjörn. There is a flock of green-winged Teals that settled there. You may also encounter Ptarmigan, Gyrfalcons and Arctic Fox inside Ásbyrgi.
The canyon is splitt in two by a huge cliff in the middle called Eyjan, the island and you can trek to the top from the campsite. From there you will have a lovely view over the canyon. This is a 5km/3.1 miles hike with a bit of uphill hike.
This leg of the trip joins the longer version of the east part of the Diamond Circle.
When you continue in on road 85 in a northwest direction you may want to stop by the massive beach and walk around the driftwood from Siberia. On a good day it’s absolutely beautiful to hike around there and take in the vast views in all directions.
To enjoy the views even better keep driving on the road until you come to Hringsbjarg. (25.8km/16 miles from Ásbyrgi). Keep your eyes open for the sign for it is easy to miss when you come from the south. (see map) Hringsbjarg is a 60m/180 ft tall cliff with an observation platform on the east side on Tjörnes peninsula, with a stunning view of the endless plains of Kelduhverfi county, which divide Tjörnes and Öxarfjörður. From April to mid August you’ll see Puffins here as this is an established nesting area for them.
The area from Hringsbjarg, around Tjörnes to the west side is almost uninhabited and only offers you spectacular views over Öxarfjörður and the northeast corner of Iceland, weather permitting of course.
When you have reached the northern tip of the peninsula and driven a few kilometers, you’ll arrive at Mánárbakki folk museum. The museum sits around black and white turf houses and showcases Iceland of a bygone era, focusing on the 20th century. There you’ll find an array of stuff people had around them back in the day. This museum is also the site of a Northern Lights Research Centre. Further on road 85 you will also find Tjörnestá, a small peninsula with a lighthouse. It’s a short walk there with incredible nature.
There are roads here and there taking you closer to the ocean but we don’t know the conditions of them so if you want to explore, drive with care and enjoy the stunning views.
When you start driving south on road 85, you will see more and more of houses. From Mánárbakki museum to Húsavík, you have a 22km/13.7 miles drive ahead of you on a road that improves the closer you get to Húsavík, the biggest town on the Diamond Circle.
In Húsavík you will find anything you might need. They have an excellent swimming pool, hot springs, shopping, restaurants and not to forget, Húsavík is the whale capital of Iceland with plenty of different tours and companies to choose from. They also have a car museum that might be interesting for some.
Just south of Húsavík, you have a little pond (see map) called Kaldbakslaug. You can swim there for the water is warm and, to add a bit of oddness to it, there are Gold fish swimming there due to the previous owners have dumped them there.
5.5km/3.4 miles south of Kaldbakslaug you’ll come to a crossroad. It’s clearly marked with a sigh saying “46 Mývatn”, pointing on to road 87 (crossroads 3). This is where the long vs short version of the Diamond Circle splits up once more.Take a left turn here to continue doing the short Diamond Circle route.
After a 11km/6.8 miles drive, you’ll have the smallest and maybe the cutest little swimming pool called Heiðabær swimming pool. From here you have a 34.8km/21.6 miles leisurely drive back to Lake Mývatn where you have concluded the Diamond Circle, the short version. That’s a 197km/122.4 miles long drive and if driven nonstop, it’s just over 3 hours.
Diamond Circle – The Long version
If we start off in Reykjahlíð once more, continue east, passed crossroads 1 and drive 36.5km/22.7 miles to your left turn (crossroads 2). The turn is well marked with signs saying “Ásbyrgi” and “Dettifoss”. It will come up very soon after you have passed the bridge over river. Again this road, as the west side of the river too, can be a bit rough and might be closed during winter so drive with care and all will be fine. It’s a 31.1km/19.3 miles drive to the road leading to the parking lot for checking out Dettifoss waterfall from the east side (croosroads 2b).
Just over 2km/1 mile north of this crossroad, you have the neglected Hafragilsfoss Waterfall (2c). Another stunning waterfall which requires a small hike and doesn’t have a dedicated parking lot (see map). If you decide to check it out, make sure you park your camper van away from the road but remember, off road driving is forbidden in Iceland.
Roughly 23km/14.3 miles north you’ll come to a crossroad where you have to turn, take a left turn and continue to Ásbyrgi canyon, a short 4.5km/2.8 miles drive before you make a left turn.
Now you are on the same road as when you drive the shorter version. When you you come to the crossroad south of Húsavík where you make a left turn for the shorter version, you continue to drive south on road 85.
Goðafoss – The Waterfall of the gods
From Húsavík to Goðafoss is a 54km/33.6 miles drive on road 85. When you come to the crossroad where you have to turn, make a left turn and continue 4km/2.5 miles east. Before you cross the bridge, you’ll have a road to your right leading to the main parking lot for Goðafoss but you have a choice too to pass the bridge, turn right after the bridge and park your camper there and hike to the east side of Goðafoss. Here you can also buystuff, get some food and what not.
Goðafoss meaning the waterfall of the gods, got its name when the lawspeaker Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði made Christianity the official religion of Iceland. It is said that when he returned from Alþingi, Þorgeir threw his statues of the Norse gods into the waterfall and hence the name.
Goðafoss is 12m/36 ft tall and 30m/90 ft wide. The river is fed by melting water from the glacier Vatnajökull and ends in Skjálfandi bay.
When you are done with Goðafoss, continue east, driving 10km/6.2 miles until you have to make a right turn to continue on the Ring road. Soon after you have turned, you’ll arrive in the village of Lagaur where you’ll find a great swimming pool, campsite and a gas station too of course. Just south of Laugar you have another wonderful little campsite which have been spoken highly of by one of our CamperStories competitors.
When you continue south you will arrive at the last crossroad (nr:7, see map) and your last choice for the Diamond Circle. If you take a left turn, you’ll drive north of Lake Mývatn, you will pass plenty of small craters but you will do that too when you take the south route. If you continue straight on to road nr:848, you’ll pass the famous Skútustaðargígar craters. From thereon, it’s just a short drive until you are back to Reykjahlíð and have then concluded the longer version of the Diamond Circle. A 260km/162 miles trip which, if driven nonstop, would take you just under 4 hours.
What to do around Lake Mývatn
Around Reykjahlíð there are many very impressive places to check out. The closest one must be the hot spring Stóragjá. A small little hot spring you have to look for and then put on your swimwear and climb down a ladder to get to it. Crystal clear water with perfect temperatures. Check the map where to find it but you will have to look for it fir it is well hidden.
Dimmuborgir, meaning Dark cities or Dark castle, is an area with stunning rock formations. It lies just south of Reykjahlíð (crossroads 8). There are paths to walk on around there so it’s an easy hike among fantastic lava formations created when a massive lava tube collapsed some 2300 years ago. There you’ll find all shapes of small caves, lava pillars, cells and what not to explore there. In Norse mythology it’s believed Dimmuborgir connects to hell and in the Norwegian Christian lore they believe Satan landed there when he was thrown our from heaven. The Norwegians used to call the place “The Catacombs of Hell”.
A huge crater just northeast of Dimmuborgir. There are 2 ways to reach the rim of the crater and you must keep to the marked paths when visiting this surreal crater. To repeat a cliche, you’ll think you are on the moon.
Hverfjall aka Hverfell is a tephra cone or tuff ring volcano and erupted some 2500 years ago. It’s a short drive south from Reykjahlíð. Just drive south a few minutes until you reach crossroads 9 (see map).
Námaskarð & Hverir Geothermal Area
You’ll pass this area when you drive east from Reykjahlíð. A fantastic area to discover. It’s a very surreal place for you’ll have holes bubbling, hissing and boiling all over and the smell of sulfur lies thick in the area. When exploring the area, keep to the well marked paths so you won’t accidentally walk into a pit and burn your foot.
If you hike up the mountain above the area, you’ll have an excellent view over the whole area and up on the mountain top, you’ll also have strange looking puddles and steam coming out between rocks
Viti crater (Viti meaning hell) was born in a very violent fashion in 1724 when Magma exploded and created a 300m/1000ft wide crater and was the start of fires that lasted for 5 years. For over a hundred years Viti was nothing but a large bubbling mud pit but has now changed its character and is now a calm, green lake.
To get there you drive east from Reykjahlíð and take a left at crossroads 10. The road is good to drive on and you can hike around the whole crater which takes about 40 minutes. It’s a 15km/9.3 mile drive to Viti. When in the area, make sure to visit Krafla too, a geothermal plant with odd shaped buildings.
Around Lake Mývatn
- Hike up the 524m/1719ft high mountain Vindbelgur and enjoy the tremendous view from there.
- Drive around the lake or rent a bike from Reykjahlíð and bicycle around it. It’s about 38km/23.6 miles around the lake.
- Taste the traditional Hverabrauð, a very dark bread baked in geothermal heat. Delicious with smoked Arctic Char (bleikja) or smoked lamb called Hangikjöt.
- Visit Sigurgeir´s Bird Museum.
- Enjoy a sightseeing flight from the local airport in Reykjahlíð.
- Hiking on the many trails found in the vicinity.
The Diamond circle and the area around Lake Mývatn has so many places to see and visit and these places are just the big ones. If you zoom in on the map above, you’ll see more places you can visit. The Diamond circle & Lake Mývatn are places in North Iceland you should enjoy at your own pace, drive around at your own speed and just enjoy the stunning places you will see.
Happy exploring! #GoIceland
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