What Is the Diamond Circle in Iceland?
One of the most well-known attractions in Iceland is the Golden Circle tour, which sets out from capital Reykjavík and tours the Western central portion of Iceland. However, some of the most breathtaking sites in Iceland are located a little farther afield, in Northern Iceland, on the Diamond Circle.
This loop of attractions falls along a 240km path, and in recent years has seen more development of everything from roads to hiking paths, giving you even more access to the natural wonders of Iceland than ever before. Parts of the Diamond Circle were accessible only by 4x4 but newly completed roads and paths make it easier to see the sights.
At the same time, like much of Iceland's natural beauty, the lands and features are very well protected as conservation sites, allowing you to witness them while still keeping them protected for future generations.
Route 1, the Ring Road, intersects with the Diamond Circle and joins it for a while, so you can start your trip through the Diamond Circle from a few different stops, depending on how you arrive in North Iceland. That being said, many people begin their journey from Akureyri, which is 30 kilometers from the first stop on the Diamond Circle. This town, the fourth largest in Iceland, offers you a great place to begin your journey, as well as an opportunity to prepare for any camping or hiking needs you'll have in the wide, beautiful wilderness you are about to traverse.
For your first stop, you'll head east and begin the Diamond Circle with an impressive waterfall with deep historic significance to the country.
This beautiful waterfall provides more than just a gorgeous view, though that perspective is indeed breathtaking. Gođafoss is also famous as the place where famous Icelandic leader Ţorgeir Ljósvetningagođi threw the Norse statues of gods into the water, symbolizing the country's decision to convert to Christianity in the year 1000. From the thunderous water to the beautiful vapor that rises, you'll enjoy the experience of exploring this awe-inspiring waterfall as the first step in your Diamond Circle adventure.
Mývatn Lake and Natural Areas
Mývatn is a shallow , eutrophic lake situated in an area of active volcanism in the north of Iceland
Plan to spend plenty of time exploring the Mývatn region, a lake that offers a nearly unparalleled experience of Northern Iceland's flora and fauna. Considered a birdwatching capital of the world, there are a variety of locations where birds of many kinds are protected and therefore live in abundance. Ducks, in particular, flock to this location, given the rich freshwater seaweed and other good sources of food in the water.
There are many smaller sites within the area around Mývatn that you should plan to visit, some of which you may access via hiking trails while others can be approached on a self-driving or bus tour:
Höfđi: A gorgous rocky outcropping with views of local birds as well as the many inlets and parts of the lake
Skútustađagígar: Craters formed by gas explosions many years ago now form rich areas of wetlands where many birds are also to be seen
Grjótagjá: A Cave filled with hot water that once was used for bathing but is too hot to do so now. The water and rock formations are still beautiful to look at and think of the millennia of changes that have changed the face of Iceland!
Nearby, Hverfjall is a truly awe-inspiring explosion crater from a time when this area of Iceland was extremely volcanically active. In harsh contrast to the lush environment around the lake, this nearly-3000-year-old crater is incredibly large, 1000 meters across, and as deep as 140 meters, making it one of the largest of its kind in the whole world.
While you are in the area, explore Dimmuborgir, or the "dark cities", a lava rock landscape that is fun to explore, the impressive result of lava cooling in unusual formations. You'll never know what you find until you explore!
Iceland is a land of stark contrasts, from the icy heights of the mountains to the lush features of the geothermally-warmed forests and wetlands. Leaving Mývatn and entering the Námaskarđ area can feel like one of these stunning contradictions, as you enter this geologically-active area near the Krafla volcano system, you'll see stark mud craters, steam springs, and all manner of brightly colored mineral deposits created because of the volcanic activity in the area. The sulfur and other minerals mean that this landscape is rather stark and without vegetation, but the area is also beautiful in its own way. Variety is one thing you'll never run short of on the Diamond Circle or as you explore the rest of Iceland!
Between Námaskarđ and your next waterfall destination are the explosion crater Viti and the volcanic system of Krafla; keep an eye out as you journey for places to stop and explore these geological sites as well, since they are well worth the visit if you have the time!
Dettifoss waterfall is the most powerful waterfall in Europe
In the Vesturdalur Valley, the most powerful and stunning waterfall in all of Europe sends 500 cubic meters of water per second crashing a distance of 45 meters down, creating a deafening roar and a beautiful sight for visitors. This waterfall's location in North Iceland's beautiful rocky landscape only adds to the stunning looks, and it is here that you can consider taking a detour from a driving route to camp and hike: a 34 kilometer hiking path, for instance, can take you to the next destination on the Diamond Circle, and in good weather, finding a good spot to camp makes your Icelandic adventure even more rugged and intrepid. Stand in awe of the power of nature at Dettifoss, though, and don't miss out on the opportunity to wonder.
Have time to pause after Dettifoss? Stop by Hljóđaklettar, a beautiful rock formation that is part of the edge of the Vesturdalur Valley, or Hólmatungur, which is a beautifully lush area of rock formations, streams, and iconic Icelandic plant life. There is a beautiful hiking path between them, perfect for if your journey to this part of the Diamond Circle takes you here on a beautiful day.
Ásbyrgi Canyon in the Dimond Circle in Iceland
The sheer sides of this gorgeous canyon and the incredible woodlands inside the canyon makes for some of the most spectacular looks in the entire country. Lore has it that this canyon is home to the "hidden people" or elves that are part of Iceland's folklore, and that Odin's eight-legged steed Sleipnir formed the canyon by putting his foot down and pressing the earth down. It's no wonder that so much legend surrounds this canyon: the stunning sheer rock faces would inspire anyone to contemplate how they could possibly occur. Like so many other sites in Iceland, the wonders of Earth's geography are front-and-center even as you enjoy a beautiful, idyllic day in the gorge.
Want a stop-off between the canyon and your next destination? How about a stunning view of the sea from the top of a cliff? Visit Hringsbjarg cliff, where you'll be able to see black sand beaches, gorgeous mountains, and sea all at once. This area is perfect for a picnic lunch or dinner before driving the rest of the way to Húsavík.
Húsavík Whaling Town
Whale watching from Húsavík
After many visits to natural wonders, you might be craving the creature comforts of a town, and Húsavík is a great place to lay your head, get a bite to eat, and also explore opportunities for cultural knowledge and whale watching. Húsavík is actually the oldest settlement in all of Iceland and is famous for the nearly two dozen varieties of whales accessible in the nearby waters of Skjálfandi Bay. The town has a whaling museum and The Museum House at Húsavík, as well as an amateur theater group, choirs, and instrumental groups. Dive into life in Húsavík for a few days, and don't miss out on a whale watching boat trip where you might get a glimpse of a Blue Whale, the largest species of whale in the world.
Learn More About Diamond Circle and Other Destinations in Iceland
While these five main landmarks are the highlights of the journey, don't be afraid to extend your trip by stopping at smaller sights along the way or spending an extra day or two in Húsavík or Akureyri, enjoying the cultural locations, excellent food, and beautiful atmosphere of North Iceland. You'll never find a place with more otherworldly beauty, geological marvels, or excellent accommodations for visitors.
What's more is that the people of Iceland bring much of the iconic value of a visit here. While one can marvel at natural sites and enjoy a trip out into the bay to see whales, visiting with a guided tour can bring additional context and beautiful storytelling that helps you see how the Icelandic people have been shaped by their commitment to the fierce beauty of their lands. Get to know North Iceland more deeply when you take a tour.Want to make sure you see everything there is to see on the Diamond Circle and all around Iceland? Contact us to learn even more about all the Iceland has to offer and how to see the most treasured gems of our country; we recommend one of our self-drive tours for a Diamond Circle adventure!