The Best of Iceland’s Diamond Circle
Updated: Sep 2, 2019
The Diamond Circle is a ring of beautiful sights in Northern Iceland. It may not be as well known as the Golden Circle in South Iceland but it is easily as impressive. If you’re looking for adventure and a slightly more off-the-beaten-path experience then North Iceland is for you. In this article we will look at the highlights of the Diamond Circle route. We will also explore how to visit it and when is the best time to travel there.
Highlights of the Diamond Circle in Iceland
Within the expansive borders of the Vatnajökull National Park you will find one of the most impressive waterfalls in Iceland. Dettifoss Waterfall has to be experienced to be believed. The falls are approximately 100 meters high and 45 metres wide. They are one of the most thunderous and powerful waterfalls in all of Europe. The river and the falls here are fed by a glacial river that flows from the mighty Vatnajökull Glacier. On a sunny day you can see the spray for miles around as the water droplets glint in the sunlight. Seeing, hearing and feeling the power of the falls is an amazing experience.
Drivers should note that the road to Dettifoss is a rough one. It is one of Iceland's gravel road and will take about thirty minutes to negotiate so do give yourself plenty of time. The walk from the parking lot to the falls is about a mile. Take your raincoats with you as you can get thoroughly wet from the water spray. Especially if you want to walk down to the lower viewing platform.
Around Lake Mývatn
There is so much to see and do around Lake Mývatn and there is also a lovely campsite here. This makes it is a really good place to park up and spend a couple of days camping. You might be ready for it if you have been driving the Ring Road route from South Iceland. The campsite is right on the lake’s edge to it is a really tranquil and peaceful setting close to nature.
The main draw of the area is the Mývatn Nature Baths. It is a beautiful thermal hot spring amidst lovely surroundings. This is the Blue Lagoon of the north but without the hype and without the busyness. It is one of the largest hot spring pools in Iceland and is similar in size to its southern sister. You won’t need to book in advance here though and there will be plenty of space to stretch out. Perfect if you’ve been cooped up in your camper for a few days.
The lake area is also known as one of the premier bird watching spots in Iceland. There are an abundance of wetlands here where all sorts of ducks and other birdlife make their homes in summer.
Hverir Geothermal Area
This bubbling, boiling and steam-billowing geothermal area is a must-see. It is within a short drive of the lake but when it comes to the landscape it is another world. Its dry and dusty red plains look almost like a Martian landscape. Bizarre rock formations make it a fantastical place to explore.
Also within easy reach of Lake Myvatn is the lovely Grjótagjá Cave. Made famous by the TV series Game of Thrones this was the love nest of John Snow and Igritte. It is a magical spot with crystal clear waters that make the sunlight dance across the interior walls. It is steamy in more ways than one though. The waters here used to be nice and warm for bathing. Nowadays they are far too hot to even dip a toe in!
If you are exploring the Diamond Circle by rental campervan then the Asbyrgi Canyon is another good camping spot. It is a beautiful area with some great hiking and a good campsite. You may well like to stay in the area for a few days of tranquillity and nature.
It is a wide horseshoe shaped canyon about two miles long and one mile wide. The canyon walls rise up a dramatic 100 metres on both sides. There is a high island of rock cutting much of the canyon in two that makes it geologically very interesting. The canyon if forested by birch trees with some fascinating flora and fauna to enjoy. A short distance away you will find the Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon. Jökulsárgljúfur is an impressive glacial river canyon with even more excellent hiking to enjoy.
Whale watching from Húsavík
The small fishing town of Húsavík on the north coast is a centre for whale watching tours. As many as 23 different sorts of whales have been spotted here including Humpbacks and Blue Whales. Dolphins also frequent the sheltered Skjálfandi Bay. Boat tours set off from around April to September weather permitting. To see more of Iceland’s wildlife head just around the coast to the Tjörnes Peninsula. Hundreds of pairs of puffins nest in the high cliffs here.
The monumental ‘Waterfall of the Gods’ is just a short detour from the Ring Road. You can easily reach this horseshoe shaped waterfalls and it is a very short walk from the parking lot. It is linked to historical and religious events in Iceland as well as being a beautiful sight.
How to explore the Diamond Circle
The full route is about 200 km in total depending on which detours you choose to take. It can be driven in about four hours so day tours of the Diamond Circle would be possible but rushed. Ideally you would spend 3-4 days leisurely seeing the sights and camping along the way. If driving the Ring Road anticlockwise from South Iceland you could begin your Diamond Circle tour at Dettifoss Waterfall. Alternatively you might fly to the airport at Akureyri and hire a motorhome there. You could then set off towards the Lake Mývatn area and camp for a few days.
When to travel
The best time of year for a road trip in Iceland is the summer high season from June to August. You might also add the months either side of it depending on the weather. The shoulder season months of May and September can be excellent times for driving in Iceland. But you might also encounter some wild weather at this time of year. There is really no knowing for sure.
The wonderful thing about winter in Iceland is seeing the Northern Lights. And in the wilds of the north you will be far away from any light pollution. It is also possible to see the Northern Lights in very late August and September if you are lucky.
Driving in winter in the north can be very challenging though due to that wild Iceland weather and the road conditions. If you are a confident driver you could hire a 4 x 4 camper van or car. Otherwise you are better off joining a tour or saving this trip for the more settled months of the year.