You probably heard of The Golden Circle. It is the most traveled route in Iceland and often the very first one most people take upon arrival. However, if you are driving up North, get off of the Ring Road for a bit and explore the Diamond Circle.
The Diamond Circle is a 250 km route that circles around five breathtaking spots that are one of my personal favorites in the whole island – Goðafoss & Dettifoss waterfalls, Myvatn Lake, Ásbyrgi canyon, and, now world-famous, the town of Husavík.
If you start the Diamond Circle by leaving Akureyri, the first stop will be Goðafoss or Húsavík. It doesn’t really matter where to start. If the weather allows it, my tip is to skip driving through a tunnel and take the roads 83 and 84 around it. It will add ±15 minutes to your drive, but the views of the mountains are majestic and a lot more fun to drive than through a tunnel. Bonus point – you won’t have to pay the toll. But let’s talk about Goðafoss.
Goðafoss (or the Waterfall of Gods) is 30 meters wide and 12 meters high waterfall in the North of Iceland. There is a myth that in the year 1000, Icelandic lawspeaker Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði threw statues of Norse gods into this waterfall once he decided that Christianity will be the official religion of Iceland. If you ever find yourself visiting Akureyri church, look for a stained glass window illustrating Þorgeir carrying a wooden statue to Goðafoss.
There are two parking lots from each side of the river leading to the waterfall. Whichever side you choose to park, I would recommend taking time to walk around both sides. Look out for short paths along the riverbank that might lead to little caves and water pools (unless they’re closed and signs clearly indicate that). Also, there is s small café – souvenir shop right next to it if you want to take a break and grab a quick bite or a cup of coffee.
Mývatn area is a popular get-a-way destination among Icelanders. No wonder why – there are so many things to see and do in such a small area! Actually, so much so that I might have to write a separate blog post just about Mývatn (so keep an eye for that).
If possible, drive around the whole lake. You will see everything from giant lava rock formations, to pseudo-craters, to hot springs and volcanos. The whole area looks… unworldly. Since the unwritten rule when traveling in Iceland is to take as many chances to jump into a pool or bath as you can, Myvatn Nature Baths is a great choice.
Important public service announcement: if you are traveling in the summer, I’d recommend having a head net to protect yourself from clouds of little black flies, also known as midges. Especially if you are planning to hike on one of many paths around the lake. We don’t have mosquitoes here in Iceland and midges do not bite. There’s so many of them around the lake and it gets annoying pretty fast. Otherwise, you will have to get somewhat creative to avoid swarms of flies in your face.
Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in Europe and one of my favorite places on the island. Even though the new road was opened last fall and made Dettifoss accessible for more cars, you may not be able to see it if you are traveling in winter (as well as late fall/early spring because let’s face it – Iceland has only 2 seasons – winter and a mild spring). That’s what happened to me a couple of weeks ago. We were traveling there at the beginning of April and, unfortunately, both roads leading up to Dettifoss were closed due to dangerous conditions. Always check the road conditions road.is and adjust your travel plans accordingly.
It is hard to find words to describe what it feels like to stand so close to this massive force of nature and the whole experience is quite humbling. Maybe that’s why it is one of my top places to see in Iceland. Once you there, walk a little bit up the river, and you will find another beauty – Selfoss waterfall.
If you drive from Dettifosss towards the next stop – Ásbyrgi, you can stop by Kirkjan, aka Hljóðaklettar, cave. The road continues along the Jökulsárgljúfur canyon. There are many paths to walk around both sides of the canyon, and if you have time, I recommend stopping, getting out of the camper, and walking around as much as you can.
Another place where one might feel small is Ábyrgi canyon. There are two ways to explore it (and I recommend both): from above and from down below. If you choose to see it from the bottom, you can either leave your car at the visitor center and take a hike, or you drive almost to the very end of it. However, it is a very narrow, winding road, and many trees and bushes are blocking the view, so drive carefully and look out for the oncoming cars.
There are so many paths in this area that it is easy to lose track of time and keep wandering around endlessly. This attraction is also part of our Happy Challenge – a carefully selected top 20 places that every happy traveler should see. If you want to take your time exploring the Diamond Circle and split it into 2 or more days, this might be a good spot for an overnight stay because a great campsite is right there in the canyon.
Húsavík for a long time was known as the whale watching capital due to a very high success rate of whale watching trips. Last year Husavík became world-famous because of a 2020 Netflix movie, “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga.” Whether you start your Diamond Circle in Husavík or end it here – it is a great stop where everyone will find something to do.
For Happy Campers who want to see some whales, our friends at Gentle Giants are there waiting, ready to take you to the sea (psst, they are also offering a discount for Happy Campers). I, personally, like to end my Diamond Circle there, usually by having dinner in one of the restaurants overlooking the harbor and afterward going to soak in water while enjoying the views of the fjord at the GeoSea baths or one of the local pools.
How long will it take to drive the Diamond Circle?
Well, let me answer your question with another question – how much time you have? 1 day? 3 days? 5 days? A month? The short answer is – if you can take as much time as possible to circle around. There are plenty of campsites along the way (you can check out our map for more info), so you can find places to spend the night. As I already mentioned a couple of times, all of these places are surrounded by numerous walking paths that lead to hidden gems, but exploring them might take time. Is it possible to do it in one day? Yes, but you will have a lot less time to spare at each of the destinations.