The Diamond Circle in Iceland is a not-to-be-missed loop drive. It’s in the northeast of Iceland and combines some of Iceland’s most stunning natural attractions with coastal views looking towards the Arctic Circle…all without the crowds elsewhere in Iceland!
Northern Iceland’s Diamond Circle is well-worth a spot on your Iceland itinerary!
The great news is that veering off-the-beaten-path in Iceland is risk-free. The island country will take your breath away at every turn. The more you venture away from the popular Golden Circle sights closer to Reyjkavik, the more Iceland will reward you for your adventurous efforts.
Read on for everything you need to plan your time along the Diamond Circle!
Iceland’s Diamond Circle: A Complete Guide for an Epic Road Trip
I traveled to Iceland in May and drove the Ring Road. In all honesty, I spent a few days deciding if I should stay in southern Iceland and focus my time there. But, the more I researched, the more I wanted to visit the north of Iceland, too.
In particular, the Diamond Circle caught my eye because there were so many spectacular things to see and do in a relatively compact area.
Where is the Diamond Circle?
Located in the northeastern part of Iceland, the Diamond Circle includes popular base towns like Myvatn and Husavik. Akureyri is the capital of Iceland’s north and is just 50 miles west of Myvatn.
The absolute best way to get to this part of Iceland and explore the Diamond Circle is by car. The little public transportation there is in this part of Iceland doesn’t generally cater to visitors by stopping at touristic places or driving scenic routes like the Diamond Circle.
Car rentals are widely available at the Reyjkavik airport and will be the most convenient way to maximize your time throughout your entire trip to Iceland.
Camper vans are also quite popular to rent and allow you to live and sleep out of the van while road tripping in Iceland.
Iceland Diamond Circle Map
It’s always better to have a visual! This Diamond Circle Map is available for free at hotels and points of interest in the area.
Diamond Circle Route
If you’re driving Route1-Ring Road in a counterclockwise direction (what I did and recommend), then you’d turn right onto Route 862 to begin this loop drive and eventually get onto Route 85 until meeting back up with Ring Road. (Alternatively, you’d use Route 864 if you were planning to see the east sides of the Dettifoss and Selfoss waterfalls. More on this in a moment.)
If you’re coming from the opposite direction, you’d turn left onto Route 85 first to make your way up past Husavik and around the coast before heading south on either Routes 862 or 864.
The downside to this is you’ll be driving on the opposite side of the coastline, with the lane of opposite direction traffic potentially blocking photo opportunities and making turns to pull off a bit trickier.
Even though I was driving Ring Road in a counterclockwise direction, I continued on to Myvatn first and spent some time exploring the sights in and around town before staying at this Myvatn hotel for the night. The next morning I drove east towards Route 862 because Dettifoss Waterfall was to be my first stop of the day along the Diamond Circle.
What Kind of Car is Necessary to Drive the Diamond Circle?
You don’t need a 4WD to drive the Diamond Circle. Route 1-Ring Road, Route 85, and Route 862 are paved roads.
However, if you decide to visit the east side of the Dettifoss and Selfoss Waterfalls, you’ll need to drive Route 864 which is a rough, pot-hole marked, gravel road. I would only drive this particular route with a 4WD. You could easily bottom out with a low-to-the-ground car, not to mention suffer tire or window damage. This Iceland travel tips guide has more information about car types and driving in Iceland.
Past these 2 best waterfalls in Iceland, continuing on this road to Asbrygi Canyon, you’ll find the road conditions get worse from the previous section.
Also, keep in mind, Route 864 closes for winter and doesn’t generally re-open until summer. This website shows real-time information about Iceland roads, their conditions, and whether or not a road is open or closed.
ProTip: If you decide to drive Route 864, remember to factor in extra time. These rough, gravel roads often mean you can only travel at very slow speeds. Think 5-15mph. The distance may be short but the time spent driving can really cut into your Diamond Circle itinerary.
Diamond Circle Timing Logistics
At only 155 miles, you could certainly drive the Diamond Circle in a day. But, I’d recommend spending at least 1 night in the area if you can. There are accommodations in towns like Myvatn, Akureyri, and Husavik, as well as other guest houses and hotels in the area.
The Diamond Circle loop is best driven in the late spring and summer. You’ll have 18+ hours of daylight to drive and explore the sights along this spectacular drive.
Visiting northern Iceland is also best from mid-May to September because the winter snow will likely have (mostly) melted away.
Snow melts faster in the south of Iceland than it does up north. It’s not uncommon to have popular places like Skogafoss Waterfall and the Waterfall Way hiking trail above it turning green as plants come out of their winter slumber. While up north, the trail leading to the viewpoint on the west side of Dettifoss can be completely covered by a couple of inches of snow.
Where to Stay on the Diamond Circle
There are a few central points along the Diamond Circle on the northern coast of Iceland with hotels and guest houses. I recommend basing yourself in a town so you are closer to services like gas and food.
Depending on your Diamond Circle itinerary, more than 1 base may make sense. For example, you might choose to stay in Myvatn and day trip the Diamond Circle before finishing in Akureyri. Or you might choose to split the Diamond Circle over several days and use Husavik as a stop for the night before continuing on towards Akureyri the next day.
I stayed 1 night in Myvatn and then another night in Akureyri. This allowed enough time to visit the places along the Diamond Circle and in this stretch of northeastern Iceland, while still keeping my progress steady around Ring Road.
Sel Hotel Myvatn
This hotel is located right off Ring Road/Route 1 across from Lake Myvatn and the Pseudocraters. Dimmuborgir is a 10-minute drive from the hotel. If you’re lucky to have a room facing the road like we were, you’ll have beautiful views of the lake and craters.
The rooms are spacious, clean, and comfortable. A full complimentary breakfast with lots of options is served each morning and the hotel’s restaurant is open for dinner in the evenings. We ordered personal pizzas and loved them! There’s also a gas pump right next to the hotel which is perfect when you want to refuel before setting off for the day. If you have an electric vehicle, there are plugs available to plug in and recharge.
This upscale property is situated on the northern side of Lake Myvatn, in close proximity to Myvatn’s natural attractions. The hotel serves a full complimentary breakfast and offers dinner in the evenings. The large windows in the dining room and near the bar offer a great view of Lake Myvatn and the surrounding landscapes.
The modern rooms with comfortable beds offer storage and a seating area. Some rooms come with gorgeous lake views and outdoor seating space. As with most locations on the north coast of Iceland along the Diamond Circle, Fosshotel can be a great spot to watch for the Northern Lights in winter.
As you drive through Iceland, you’ll notice many Fosshotels. They are a well-known chain of hotels around the country. Husavik has one of those Fosshotel locations. The hotel is an 8-minute walk to Husavik Harbor, the place where Husavik whale watching tours depart and where you’ll find the Husavik Whale Museum and the town’s harborside restaurants.
The hotel offers free parking and a restaurant on-site. The rooms are cozy, yet modern. Some rooms offer views of the fjord and Skjalfandi Bay. In the mornings, breakfast is available.
This is my top choice in Akureyri! In fact, it was my favorite stay during my entire trip to Iceland. This small hotel is situated on a hill overlooking the beautiful bay and fjord. The town of Akureyri is just down the hill and across the bridge, about a 5-minute drive away. We quickly and easily ordered take-out from a restaurant in town and brought it back to the room.
The rooms are spacious and clean, with views overlooking the bay. Our room had chairs just outside meant for watching the sunset over the bay. (Unfortunately, we got a very cloudy day.) The complimentary breakfast was fantastic, with plenty of options. In particular, too, the owner was so kind and helpful. He talked us through a few questions we had about our day’s drive and also offered some local secrets about places to visit on Iceland’s north coast.
Hotel Kea by Keahotels
Situated in the center of Akureyri, Hotel Kea has a prime location for walking around the town. Free street parking is available from the hotel, along with a complimentary breakfast each morning.
The rooms are decent-sized, some with views of the church and town. There’s a restaurant on-site that serves dinner. The outdoor patio is a great spot in the warmer months to sit with a drink from the hotel bar.
Diamond Circle Best Things to See and Do
Myvatn and Lake Myvatn Area
In and around the village of Myvatn, there are several places to see and explore. Depending on how you plan your Diamond Circle itinerary, Myvatn can make a good place to spend the night.
I arrived in the Myvatn area just after noon and spent time visiting the sites listed below, taking advantage of the long hours of daylight.
Krafla Viti Crater
This crater, a few miles from Myvatn with a turn just off Route 1, was formed during a years-long volcanic eruption and explosion. What makes this crater different from others you may see in Iceland is that it’s filled with blue water. Combine this with the crater’s large size and the mountains and steam vents in the backdrop and you’ll yet again be in awe of Iceland’s magical landscape.
There’s a rim walk that starts just near Kafla Viti Crater’s parking area. The walk is easy and shouldn’t take more than an hour. You can also choose to walk down into a geothermal area beneath the rim. Be mindful of any signs warning against the heat of the geothermal area. They are to be believed!
Hverir Geothermal Area
If by this point Iceland hasn’t made you feel like you’re on another planet, this steaming, bubbling site will surely transport you. This active geothermal area is just off Ring Road, east of Myvatn. In fact, it’s an easy stop to make on your way to the Myvatn area.
This site sits below the Namafjall volcanic mountain, as part of the Namaskard geothermal area. The site is pocked with hot mud pits, vents that release heat from the depths of the Earth, boiling sulfur springs, and fumaroles. (Not to be mistaken for the much more delightful smelling profiterole.)
The site is free to visit, with a large parking area just off Route 1 (aka Ring Road). There is a ground loop you can walk which should take about 30 minutes. Just be sure to have some mints or a nose/mouth covering if you’re particularly sensitive to the smell of sulfur.
Myvatn Nature Baths
Many visitors rush to the popular Blue Lagoon outside of Reyjakavik, but Iceland has many places to enjoy a thermal bath including in the north! Given the high amount of geothermal activity in the Lake Myvatn area, it’s probably not surprising to find hot springs listed as one of the main attractions in the Diamond Circle area.
The lagoon at the Myvatn Nature Baths has turquoise, mineral-rich water that’s great for the skin, among other health benefits. It’s a great way to relax and rejuvenate (away from the crowds at the Blue Lagoon!) while taking in the gorgeous views of the Myvatn area. If you’re there at the right time, you can watch the sunset and then cross your fingers for a chance to see the northern lights dance across the sky.
Grjotagja is a cave used as a setting for Game of Thrones. The thermal springs inside the cave are too hot for bathing and unfortunately have been mistreated by visitors. The cave sits on private land so if you visit, please be respectful. Stay out of the water for your own safety and the natural beauty of the cave. And also remember to leave no trace. , the pseudo craters near Lake Myvatn, and Dimmuborgir, a lava field with other-worldly caves and rock formations.
Not far from Grjotagja and the eastern shores of Lake Myvatn, Hverfjall volcanic crater is hard to miss. It’s more than a half-mile wide and rises up 1,300 feet. It’s the result of a massive eruption thousands of years ago.
There are 2 designated trails to the rim of the crater. The hike to the top isn’t long but be prepared for a moderate climb with loose gravel. Once at the top, you can walk the entire perimeter of the crater. It’s roughly 2 1/2 miles around. However, the views are the main draw! You’ll be able to see over Lake Myvatn, Dimmuborgir, and the surrounding area.
ProTip: Bring trekking poles to help with the hike to the rim of the crater, especially for the way down which can be even harder on the knees. Plus, they’re bound to come in handy for other hikes in Iceland, too!
Iceland is full of places you can’t see anywhere else in the world. Dimmuborgir is no exception! This volcanic area was the sight of a massive eruption thousands of years ago. Today, what’s left behind are black lava rock formations and caves, with “the church” being the most famous lava creation. Over the years, plants have crept back to life in the mineral-rich soil creating an eerie landscape full of Icelandic folklore.
Dimmuborgir is located on the eastern side of Lake Myvatn, just a few minutes’ drive from the area’s hotels and services. It’s free to visit and walk the trails. The trails are well-marked with signage and mostly flat. A few of the walks take less than an hour to complete. The landscape is both beautiful and unearthly with the lake as a backdrop.
As with a few of the other natural sites in the Myvatn area, you don’t need a lot of time to visit Dimmuborgir. On longer days, you could visit even if you only arrive in the Myvatn area in the afternoon.
Nicknamed the Pseudocraters because they are crater-shaped formations but did not form as a result of actually being volcanoes. Still, they’re impressive to look at while you’re in the Lake Myvatn area and honestly hard to miss if you’re by the lake or driving through the Myvatn area. The pseudocraters are quite close to the road and have a parking lot. From the Sel Hotel Myvatn, I had a clear view of them just across the street.
There are some walking trails that will lead you around and in between the craters. As with so many natural phenomenons in Iceland, it’ll be hard to put your camera down! And, if you’re short on time, no worries. You can get a sense of the pseudocraters by walking the loop path in just half an hour or so.
This powerful waterfall is the second most powerful in all of Europe and truly one of the most impressive in all of Iceland. Dettifoss is more than 300 feet wide and drops almost 150 feet down into the Jokulsargljufur Canyon. Even if you can’t wrap your head around more than 6,000 cubic feet of water (44k+ gallons) falling every second, your feet will feel the ground quaking beneath them the closer you get to Dettifoss.
There are 2 sides to view Dettifoss. The west side of the Falls can be reached by Route 862 for most of the year. The road is paved and leads to a small Visitor’s Center and parking lot. From there, you can walk the trails that lead to Dettifoss. There is an upper viewing platform and a lower viewpoint. We were lucky to have a calm day when the winds weren’t blowing the mist and could clearly see Dettifoss from the viewing platform.
The lower viewpoint brings you closer to Dettifoss by way of a steep path. Know your limits and remember you must walk back up the trail to return to the parking area.
ProTip: You can also visit Dettifoss from the east side via Route 864. This viewpoint brings you thrillingly close to the Falls. However, the road is unpaved, rough, and open only at certain times of the year. Even in May the time of year I visited, this road was still snow-covered and closed. Check road conditions using the helpful websites listed below before setting out to visit Dettifoss to solidify your plan.
Just upstream from Dettifoss, you’ll find Selfoss, another beautiful Diamond Circle waterfall composed of numerous waterfalls spilling over rocks at various points forming a horseshoe shape. It’s wide in size like Dettifoss but the drops aren’t as tall. If you visit in the winter, some of the small pretty waterfalls along Selfoss’ flanks stop flowing. But, the larger area of waterfalls will flow in the distance.
If you’ve visited Dettifoss from the west side, it’s well worth the short walk down the paths to see Selfoss. As you walk back along the paths from Dettifoss towards the parking area, look for signage pointing towards Selfoss. Be careful as you follow the path parallel to the river. The Falls flow from many points as you approach so stay on the trail and watch for wet, slippery rocks.
You can also visit Selfoss from the east side. The trail is just as long from Dettifoss on the west side (about .6 of a mile) but with larger boulders that require some scrambling.
ProTip: Hafragilsfoss is another water downstream from Dettifoss. You can view these Falls from the east and west sides but it’s better from the east. There are signs as you drive away from the Dettifoss parking lot. Turn right (going north) back onto Route 862 and follow the signs. Keep in mind, this drive will take an hour, but will also land you close to the east sides of Dettifoss and Selfoss if you wanted to see those Falls from both sides. As before, check the status and conditions of Route 864.
If you choose to view Hafragilsfoss from the west side, the drive is just a few minutes from Dettifoss. However, the viewpoint is a few miles away from the Falls.
Looking out at this spectacular horseshoe-shaped canyon, you can’t help but marvel at the power of nature. (Admittedly, you’ll be doing this throughout your trip to Iceland.) The canyon is part of Vatnajokull National Park and spans more than half a mile wide and 2+ miles long. Perhaps even more impressive are the 330 feet tall cliffsides!
During the summer months, the insides of the canyon turn green from the trees that make up its center woodlands. Not surprisingly, this is also the best time to visit the canyon. There are hiking trails for all abilities and in a range of durations, including multi-day hikes. Even if you have only a short amount of time for your visit, plan to hike! It’s the best way to see Asbyrgi Canyon. Longer hikes lead to the popular Botnstjorn Pond at the end of the canyon. But, even shorter hikes come with great views of the canyon.
Here’s a map of the Asbyrgi Canyon hikes. The blue-marked trails like A2 and A3 are easy, while the red-marked trails like A4 and A7-9 are more difficult.
The Visitor’s Center is located just off Route 85 in between the northern ends of Routes 862 and 864. Route 85 is open all year, even in snowy conditions, although it’s always best to check road conditions first. There’s a turn from Route 85 onto Route 861 for a short section of road before reaching the parking area. Keep in mind, the Visitor’s Center is primarily open from May to October.
ProTip: As you travel on Route 85 towards Husavik, stop at the Hringsbjarg Cliffs scenic overlook. The observation deck offers information about the area and sweeping views of north Iceland. You might even get lucky and spot a Puffin if you visit during nesting season.
The seaport village of Husavik is on Route 85 of the Diamond Circle. It’s nicknamed “the whale watching capital of Iceland” and with good reason. The waters of Skjalfandi Bay in Husavik harbor are home to many species of marine life, including whales like the Humpback!
This Arctic Circle-facing town may be small in size but it comes with outsized value for your time. In fact, you could easily plan to spend 1 night in Husavik and pick up your Diamon Circle loop drive the next morning. Most visitors come to Husavik for the aforementioned whale watching. Quite simply, it’s a must-do in Husavik. My Husavik whale watching tour was easily one of my most favorite things to do in Iceland.
While in town, visit Husavik’s Whale Museum, with a full-sized skeleton of a Blue Whale, the largest mammal to have lived. The wooden church in town is postcard-perfect, as are the restaurants and shops lining the harbor. Gamli Baukur along the port has fantastic local seafood dishes!
You can even escape the crowds of the Blue Lagoon and, instead, relax in the Geothermal Sea Baths on the cliffs overlooking Skjalfandi Bay!
South of Husavik and west of Myvatn, the spectacular Godafoss waterfall plunges nearly 40 feet into the river below before winding its way through the canyon. What makes this “waterfall of the gods” so impressive is its horseshoe shape and falls that span roughly 100 feet wide.
Without question, Godafoss is one of the most beautiful sights to see in all of Iceland…a statement not made lightly on an island of immeasurable natural beauty. Even if you don’t plan to drive the entire Diamond Circle, don’t miss seeing Godafoss up close!
Getting to Godafoss is straightforward and clearly marked. Although if you’re driving in northern Iceland in the winter, you’ll want a 4-wheel drive vehicle and to always check the road conditions before driving. Godafoss is just off Ring Road about 35 minutes from Myvatn to the east and the city of Akureyri to the west.
There are parking areas and paths leading you closer to the falls for easy access. There are viewing points on both sides of the waterfall. If you have the time, take in the view from both sides.
North Iceland is a Must!
While other parts of Iceland continue to get the most love, northern Iceland, and in particular, the Diamond Circle has arguably some of the most spectacular sights in all of Iceland!
As you plan your Iceland itinerary, don’t miss the opportunity to spend a few days driving Iceland’s Diamond Circle.
Are you planning a trip to Iceland and the Diamond Circle?
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2 thoughts on “Iceland’s Diamond Circle: A Complete Guide for an Epic Road Trip”
Wow! A road trip around The Iceland Diamond Circle can be the best experience of a lifetime. The Krafla Viti Crater, the Hverir Geothermal Area, the Myvatn Nature Baths, and all the other attractions are just fabulous.
Thanks for reading, Madhura. Hope you have a great trip to Iceland.