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Húsavík in Northern Iceland
Photo: Húsavík, Northern Iceland.

Iceland’s Diamond Circle: A Guide

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What is the Diamond Circle in Iceland?

The Diamond Circle showcases some of northern Iceland’s magnificent waterfalls, geothermal, and volcanic sites. It consists of Goðafoss waterfall, Mývatn lake, Dettifoss waterfall, Ásbyrgi canyon, and Húsavík fishing town. The Diamond Circle itself can be completed in a day, as the driving distance with Akureyri as a starting point is about 224 km [139 mi]. The total time will vary based on the time spent at each site. Guided excursions and tours are available, but you can also choose to explore The Diamond Circle independently, at your own pace. The roads connecting the Diamond Circle are paved.

We will start in Akureyri, the third-largest city in Iceland, with a population of 20,000. The 390 km drive to Akureyri from the capital area is quite simple, as you drive on the same road the whole way- Route 1 or the “Ring Road” as it’s often called.

Goðafoss Waterfall

From Akureyri, you will continue on Route 1 for about 34 km [21 mi] before turning right towards Goðafoss.

On the sightseeing platform, you can take in the panoramic view of this 12 m [39 ft] high, 30 m [98 ft] wide waterfall that runs from the glacial river Skjálfandafljót. Goðafoss waterfall is a historic site in Iceland. In the year 1,000, Þorgeir Þorkellsson, the lawmaker of Iceland, had concluded that Iceland should become a Christian country. Believing in the Norse gods was still allowed, but that religion had to be practised in one’s home. He is said to have gone to Goðafoss waterfall (translated as “Waterfall of the Gods”) and thrown his heathen idols into the water.

Goðafoss Waterfall, Iceland
Photo: Golli. Goðafoss Waterfall in Iceland.

The geothermal area of Mývatn Lake

Return to Route 1, turning right to keep driving towards Mývatn lake. 30 km [22 mi], turn left to stay on Route 1, following the Húsavík/Egilsstaðir/Fuglasafn sign. Shortly, you will see the lake and can pick a stop of your choosing along the route- there will be several.

Mývatn lake was formed about 2,300 years ago due to a volcanic eruption. With an area of approximately 73 km2 [28 mi2], it’s the fourth-largest lake in Iceland. Mývatn lake is known for its rich birdlife and its surrounding geothermal area, including hot springs and mud pots.

You may want to experience the Mývatn Nature Baths for a relaxing stop. To get to the baths, stay on Route 1. Following the sign for Egilsstaðir, turn left to continue on Route 1. Follow the signs for Jarðböðin við Mývatn (Mývatn Nature Baths) and enjoy the beauty of this geothermal lagoon. This area also has a cafe where you can stop by for a snack.

Dettifoss Waterfall

From the baths, turn right to continue on Route 1 for 23 km [14 mi]. Then, turn left towards Dettifoss on Route 862 and follow the signs for Dettifoss. You will arrive at a parking lot. From the lot, there will be about an 850 m [0.52 mi] walk to the viewpoint. Dettifoss waterfall is the most powerful waterfall in Europe, with a flow rate of 193 m3 [6,815 ft3]. Dettifoss is located in Vatnajökull National Park, and its water runs from the glacial river “Jökulsá á fjöllum” directly from Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull. The waterfall is 44-45 m [144-147 ft] high and 100 m [328 ft] wide.

Ásbyrgi Canyon in North Iceland

Return to Dettifossvegur (Route 862) and turn right. When you approach the intersection of Route 862 and Route 85, turn right. Shortly, there will be a sign for Ásbyrgi canyon.

Ásbyrgi is a glacial canyon in the shape of a horseshoe. Like Dettifoss waterfall, it’s a part of Vatnajökull National Park. Ásbyrgi was formed due to a glacial flood from Jökulsár á fjöllum river during a volcanic eruption in Grímsvötn volcano. Ásbyrgi is about 3.5 km [2.2 mi] long and 1.1 km [0.7 mi] wide. In the middle stands a large 25 m [82 ft] high rock formation called Eyjan (The Island), emphasising the canyon’s horseshoe shape. Its surrounding cliffs are about 100 m [328ft] high. You can choose from several hiking trails with stunning panoramic views along the way.

Húsavík: Whale Watching Capital of Iceland

To get to Húsavík from Ásbyrgi, drive back towards Route 85 and make a left. The drive is 62 km [38 mi] long.
Húsavík is a small fishing town in Skjálfandi bay, with a population of about 2,300. It is home to The Exploration Museum, The Whale Museum and Húsavík Museum. The Húsavík Museum is a cultural centre displaying the historic exhibitions “Daily Life and Nature-100 years in Þingeyjarsýslur” as well as the “Maritime Museum”. This picturesque town is a prime whale-watching destination, offering tours to see some of the 23 species of whales. Húsavík has several restaurants and cafes with a beautiful view of the harbour.

Akureyrarkirkja Church, Akureyri Iceland
Photo: Akureyrarkirkja Church, Iceland.

Back to Akureyri

To return to Akureyri, drive south on Route 85 for 45 km [28 mi] until you hit Route 1. Make a right and continue for 30 km [19 mi] following the signs for Akureyri.

From the trembling power of Dettifoss waterfall to the tranquillity of Mývatn lake, the Diamond Circle is a great route to experience the distinct beauty of northern Iceland. It unveils the region‘s geological wonders of volcanic and geothermal areas, waterfalls, and cultural sites, making the trip an exciting adventure for any explorer.

 

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