We spent 2 and a 1/2 days in North Iceland as part of our 12-days Iceland road trip itinerary. This itinerary covers the best attractions of North Iceland, also known as The Diamond Circle of Iceland. If this is your first time visit to Iceland, then the Diamond Circle covers all the highlights in north region. Stay and food recommendations in Akureyri and Myvatn are also added at the end of the blogpost.
North Iceland makes for a unique experience and The Diamond Circle highlights the main 4 attractions of North Iceland. There is the beautiful town of Husavik, extremely popular for whale watching. Another must-do highlight in North Iceland is Dettifoss, Europe’s largest waterfall. Lake Myvatn area has many attractions – geothermal springs, volcano craters, a serene lake, lave fields and more. And finally, the remote Asbyrgi canyon, where very few venture. But if hiking in natural vistas is your thing, then make sure to include this in your North Iceland itinerary for 2 or 3 days.
If you have less than 7 days to explore Iceland and are a first time visitor, I would recommend to restrict yourself to Reykjavik and the Golden Circle nearby, West Iceland attractions and the Iceland south coast itinerary. Don’t get me wrong! It is not that the South coast is more scenic than the North. Just that it is more popular.
The Diamond Circle in North Iceland should definitely feature if you are visiting Iceland for 10 days or more. To get to North Iceland, it is best to rent a car and drive to Akureyri.
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Akureyri: Capital of the North
Akureyri, also referred to as the Capital of the North, is a charming town. It is the gateway to North Iceland’s main attractions. We reached Akureyri late in the evening from the Snaefellsnes peninsula and had little time to explore the town itself. It seemed quite buzzing with little galleries, pubs and restaurants. If you are spending a day in this town, you could consider many activities. Horse riding, a visit to Akureyri’s botanical garden and the iconic Akureyri church would all be interesting.
Akureyri makes for a good base for day trips to all the 4 highlights of the Diamond Circle. We chose to spend a night in Akureyri as Day 1 of our Noth Iceland itinerary. We left the town the next morning to drive to Husavik for the whale watching tour.
But, if you want to stay in Akureyri for the North Iceland highlights, browse through these tours starting in Akureyri –
Diamond Circle Iceland Route Overview
Akureyri to Husavik – Lake Myvatn – Dettifoss – Asbyrgi Canyon
One of the North Iceland attractions: Whale watching in Husavik
Husavik is also called the ‘whale watching capital‘ of Europe. This was the first Diamond Circle Iceland attraction that we covered. We had booked the 3-hour Whale Watching tour with North Sailing on Day 2 of our North Iceland itinerary.
Upon reaching the town of Husavik, we went to the North Sailing office close to the harbour. We got into warm overalls given by the tour company and boarded the sail boat. The ocean wind can be chilly even in summer time, so the overalls were definitely required. And then we headed into the bay with beautiful views of Cook mountains at the horizon.
I highly recommend booking a tour with North Sailing. Their staff was so competent in handling the wooden Icelandic schooner. The main guide passionately informed us about what makes Skjalfandi Bay so attractive for several whale species to come and feed. She informed us about humpback whales, how intelligent these gentle giants really are. She also pointed us in the direction of Grimsey island that we could see on a clear day. It was exciting to think how close we were to the Arctic Circle which runs through the Grimsey island.
The guide told us the habits and behaviour of puffins as we spotted several of them bouncing on the bay water. The main attraction however, were humpback whales. As we got deeper into the bay, first just one, and then several whales, came up for air.
Soon, the question, “Will we get to see a whale?” firmly got answered for everyone as the the gentle, friendly whales were clicked on everyone’s cameras.
Browse through some other whale watching tours:
One of the North Iceland highlights: The mighty Dettifoss
We chose to stay in Myvatn area for the remaining Diamond Circle attractions. The next morning, Day 3 of our North Iceland itinerary, we drove to the west side of Dettifoss.
This is the largest waterfall in Europe. The mighty waterfall is about 100 metres in width and creates a massive plume of spray.
The car park is quite close to the western side and the steps and railings make it easy to navigate to the waterfall. We didn’t visit the east side, though it gets you closer to the falls. However, the east side has no railings and one should be careful on wet, slippery rocks. A 4 km path ahead of Dettifoss takes you to Selfoss waterfall in the same area.
Diamond Circle attraction: Asbyrgi Canyon
Hiking Asbyrgi Canyon was my favourite part of the Diamond Circle in Iceland. We drove ahead of Dettifoss on the same road and reached Asbyrgi canyon. This horse-shoe shaped canyon sits on the edge of the Vatnajokull national park. My daughter had researched on the myth of this area as part of Icelandic folklore, and was quite excited to explore the canyon.
As per the myth, the canyon was formed after Odin’s eight-legged horse Sleipnir touched one of his hoofs onto the earth.
The information centre at Asbyrgi canyon has well informed staff. One of them gave us all possible hiking options: a drive and then a stroll on the canyon floor, an easy 1 km hike in the middle, a 8-km loop over the rim of the canyon (that we chose to do) that could be further extended. The rim hike gave us panoramic views all over the canyon. On the hiking trip, we saw the camping site on the lower ground and the trees that filled the grounds. Do note that while the trail is easy to hike, it gets quite windy and it is best to be careful on the edges.
The visitor centre also has a small but interesting information area which features the unique geology of Iceland and specifically, Vatnajokull area.
Lake Myvatn area: Namaskaro geothermal area
When we drove from Husavik to our farm stay, we encountered the calm Lake Myvatn, one of the highlights of the Diamond Circle. The area around Lake Myvatn has many attractions that can be all visited in a day. Do note that in summer time, the lake waters attract a large number of tiny insects that buzz around all over the surrounding areas. Quite annoying!
While Iceland has geothermal areas all over, including the popular Geysir geothermal area near Reyjavik, my favourite is the one in Myvatn. Hverir, or Namaskaro geothermal area, is a large geothermal valley at the base of Mt. Namafjall. We visited the geothermal area on Day 2 evening of our North Iceland itinerary.
The vivid red colours, the boiling mud pools, the sulphur crystals around the mud pools, all give it a other-worldly look.
There is a sharp sulphur smell in this area and it is not advisable to spend more than an hour here. We explored this area after the whale watching tour in Husavik. There is a marked path if you are keen to hike to the top of Mt. Namafjall, we chose to not do this.
Lake Myvatn area: More sites to visit
On the way back from Namaskaro, we came upon Myvatn Nature Baths. This is a natural geothermal spring, which is cheaper than the Blue Lagoon experience near Reykjavik. It is the best spot in North Iceland to relax. Dimmuborgir lave fields, with its gnarled rock formations, is another popular site close to lake Myvatn that is worth exploring. Game of Thrones fans should go the area and try to recognise it from Season 3.
There are a couple of other sights to explore in this area, which we did on Day 3, post our hike at Asbyrgi canyon. We first went to Grjotagja cave, a small lave cava near Lake Myvatn. When we went inside, we came upon a deep blue geothermal spring within the cave. It was not quite clear at first how to enter the cave, but we managed through a small opening. There is a signboard to not enter the hot spring.
And our next stop was the Hverfjall volcano crater. We had already climbed the Saxholar crater in Snaefellsnes peninsula earlier, but were keen to see the impressive crater of Hverfjall, which is approximately 1 km in diameter. There is a clear walking path that takes you to the top of the crater.
Here are the some of the best tours to explore Myvatn and surrounding areas –
Godafoss beyond the Diamond Circle
There are smaller attractions beyond the main Diamond Circle which are easy to explore. On our way back from Husavik, we stopped at Godafoss, or ‘The Waterfall of the Gods’. These falls have paved path both the west and the east side. You could cover the falls from either side in less than half an hour.
Food and Stay recommendations
We stayed at K16 Apartments in Akureyri for a night, located close to the Akureyri church. The apartment was quite spacious and makes for a wonderful choice for a family. We had passed by Strikid restaurant on our way to the apartment, but upon checking, it required a pre-reservation. We had a great dinner at Rub 23, a seafood restaurant with a wide selection of fish and sushi. If I had to re-do the Iceland itinerary, i would choose to stay in Akureyri for 2 nights and only 1 night in Myvatn. We did not get much time to explore Akureyri with only a night stay and the monring drive to Husavik.
At Myvatn, the next 2 nights were spent at Vogafjos Farm Resort. This is working farm with a large cowshed as part of the reception area. We stayed at a loghouse on the other side of the road. Whether you stay at the farm log house or not, do try the Vogafjos restaurant located inside the cowshed with a view of the Lake Myvatn. There is also a rustic, casual Daddi’s pizza nearby where we enjoyed a meal. Our lunch at Husavik was at a casual fish and chips place close to the North Sailing office. And we enjoyed our lunch at Veggur, a place we stumbled upon on our drive back from Asbyrgi canyon.
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Have you visited North Iceland? What has been your favorite destination or experience there? Share with us in the comments below.
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