For travelers driving around Iceland’s Ring Road, one of the must-see destinations is the Diamond Circle route. The circuit is made up of about a dozen natural wonders all concentrated close to Route 1 in northeast Iceland. The majority of tourists who come to visit this part of Iceland stay in the area for four to five days. There’s a lot to see here, and you’ll need an adequate amount of time to do everything. Húsavík and Lake Mývatn are the most popular places to set up base camp for your explorations. Let’s go counterclockwise around the Diamond Circle to hit all of the major attractions.
Our first stop is Húsavík, which is known as the whale watching capital of Iceland. The country boasts around 20 different whale species, and whale watching excursions are an extremely popular activity here. Some of the cetaceans swimming in and out of Húsavík’s tranquil Skjálfandi bay are minke whales, blue whales, fin whales, humpback whales, orcas, and harbor porpoises among others.
Heading south on Route 85 and then either Route 845 or Route 1 (the Ring Road), you’ll reach Goðafoss waterfall. The cascade’s name means “waterfall of the gods” and is a crucial turning point in Iceland’s history. According to legend, this is the spot where religious leader Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði threw the pagan idols of his Norse faith over the waterfall’s edge. This served as an overt gesture and a powerful symbol of his conversion to Christianity. The country embraced the new monotheistic belief system as its official religion, and it has been so ever since.
Lake Mývatn and Environs
Further east on Route 1 is Lake Mývatn. The turquoise volcanic lake is home to many different bird species that populate the surrounding wetlands and volcanic formations. All of the various waterfowl are an ornithologist’s dream, just make sure you pack the bug spray! Iceland may not have mosquitos, but this body of water is named for the small flies that buzz around its shores. Close to the lake are the mysterious, eerie volcanic arches, rock formations and “dark castles” at Dimmuborgir, the extinct Hverfjall volcano and crater, Gryólayjá cave, with its geothermally-heated waters, and the Lake Mývatn Nature Baths. These hot springs serve as the North’s less crowded answer to the extremely touristy Blue Lagoon near Reykjavik.
After you’ve made your way around Lake Mývatn, continue on Route 1 towards the Hverir geothermal area. You’ll feel as if you’ve stepped onto another planet when exploring this otherworldly terrain. The fiery oranges and reds of the volcanic landscape contrast with the greyish blue hues of scalding, bubbling mud pots and hissing steam vents. This martian-looking surface is one of the most unusual things you will encounter during your trip to Iceland. Just north of Hverir are the Krafla volcanic fields and Viti crater lake. The dark, uneven texture of the land comes from the dried lava of the Krafla volcanic system. Viti is a small crater lake not to be confused with the Viti caldera in Askja. The latter is the more famous, bright blue one that you’ve seen in all of those pictures. It’s located in the central highlands in Vatnajökull National Park.
As you start making your way north back to Húsavík, make sure you stop by Dettifoss, known as Europe’s most powerful waterfall. Affectionately known as “The Beast”, this massive cascade will fill you with a sense of awe and wonder. It was the setting of the opening scene of Ridley Scott’s cinematic gem Prometheus. Once you visit, you’ll understand the power and majesty that this rumbling water flow evokes.
Continuing north, you’ll visit the three final stops on the Diamond Circle route. First up is Ásbyrgi Canyon, the horseshoe-shaped natural attraction that offers magnificent views. Next, you’ll want to make your way to Vesturdalur valley. Interspersed between lush, green valleys are unusual rock formations like those at Hljóðaklettar. You’ll find strange shapes and patterns among the basalt rock formations such as honeycombs and swirls. Last up is the Tjörnes peninsula with its steep cliffs made from layers of fossils. On the eastern side, you’ll find colonies of puffins and other seabirds nesting here during the summer.
Main Stops on Iceland’s Ring Road: The Diamond Circle
Once you’ve made your way around the circuit, it’s time to return to Húsavík for some downtime. Hopefully, you took a few days to explore the area and were able to see and do everything on our suggested Diamond Circle itinerary. If you didn’t get the chance to do a whale watching excursion in Húsavík but sure to check that out. Safe travels, and we’ll see you next time for the final installment of our series on driving around Iceland’s Ring Road.