Every year, millions of tourists visit the popular Golden circle near Reykjavik. It’s beautiful but can get very crowded. Did you know there is a Diamond Circle too? The Diamond Circle is on the opposite side of the island, in North Iceland. It’s near Lake Myvatn and Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest city and international airport. Waterfalls, canyons, geothermic hot springs, lava… the Diamond Circle has got it all! In this article you can read about the most breathtaking, must-see highlights of the Diamond Circle of Iceland, with references to more detailed articles about certain specific spots.
In this article
- Diamond Circle day trip
- Lake Myvatn
- Dettifoss and Selfoss
- Ásbyrgi Canyon
- Puffin watching
- Whale watching tour
- Vadlaheidargong Toll Tunnel
- Map Diamond Circle Iceland
- How to visit the Diamond Circle
Diamond Circle day trip
You can visit the Diamond Circle by car within one (long) day in summer. We did the Diamond Circle in counterclockwise direction. Although there are arguments too to do the Diamond Circle clockwise, especially if you would start the day with whale watching in Husavik. Or split the circle in two days and spend 1-3 in Lake Myvatn and 1 night in Husavik. Up to you!
Route Diamond Circle counterclockwise
- Reykjahlíð at Lake Myvatn – Dettifoss west 40 min (50 km) or east 70 min (70 km – gravel)
- Dettifoss east – Asbyrgi Canyon visitor center 40 min (30 km via R864 – bad gravel road!)
- Asbyrgi Canyon visitor center – Husavik 45 min (60 km via R85, excluding puffin stops)
- Husavik – Godafoss 42 min (50 km via R85 or 47 km via R85-R845-R1)
- Godafoss – Reykjahlíð at Lake Myvatn 40 min (49 km via R1)
Husavik, Godafoss and the Diamond Circle can also be visited from Akureyri, but then be careful of the toll tunnel (later in this article more info). And yeah, I simply did not like Akureyri so much.
Below map shows the Diamond Circle of Iceland. For a more detailed map with all specific highlights, accommodation, restaurants, etc. on this route, please check out the last part of this article.
The area around Lake Myvatn has a lot of sensational natural wonders that you can visit. Volcanic craters, lava fields, bubbling mud pools, hot springs… Spend your days exploring and hiking around the different sights as described in this detailed article. Finish the day soaking your sore muscles in ‘the Blue Lagoon of the North’. You might even see the Northern Lights! And even better: most of the sights around Lake Myvatn can be visited for free.
In the article Lake Myvatn: a complete guide with 18 sensational must-see places you can read more details about:
- The 18 places to visit around Lake Myvatn
- Maps & Midges
- Stuff to bring
- How to get there
- When to visit
- Where to stay
I would suggest to use Reykjahlíð on the northeast side of Lake Myvatn as the base for the Diamond Circle and spend 2-4 nights in or around that village. Alternatively you could stay in Husavik, or split in two.
- 1st day: arrival and visit first few places around Lake Myvatn
- 2nd day: Diamond Circle
- 3rd day: visit other places around Lake Myvatn (and departure, or)
- 4th day: departure, or if not seen all yet: visit remaining places around Lake Myvatn first
The longer you stay in one place (f.e. near Lake Myvatn), the more flexible you are in changing the schedule based on weather conditions, your mood, etc. On the other hand, in times of midgets (see specific Lake Myvatn article) you may not want to spend too much time here either.
Dettifoss and Selfoss
The Dettifoss and Selfoss waterfalls are definitely a major highlight of the Diamond Circle. Dettifoss and Selfoss are the most impressive waterfalls of North Iceland, perhaps entire Iceland. These waterfalls can be visited on the west (R862) and east side (R864), from both Lake Myvatn and Husavik. Each side has their pros and cons.
In the specific, extensive article Dettifoss and Selfoss, the most impressive waterfalls of North Iceland you will find:
- 862 vs. 864 road
- My visitor’s experience & tips
- Best time to visit
- Map & How to visit
After visiting the east side of Dettifoss and Selfoss, we went northwards and visited the breathtaking Asbyrgi Canyon. Be careful: on the east side, the R864 road between Dettifoss and the R85 near Asbyrgi is pretty bad. Not mountainous but big holes in and big rocks on the road, so tricky for flat tires in the middle of nowhere.
The R864 is usually only open in late spring and summer. For more details please check out the specific Dettifoss and Selfoss article.
If you picked the paved 862 road to the west side of the Dettifoss and Selfoss waterfalls, a benefit is that you can also visit Hljóðaklettar when heading further northwards. Hljóðaklettar are columnar rock formations, also known as echo rocks, located by the Jokulsargljufur canyon in Vatnajokull National Park.
The formations at Hljóðaklettar are basically left-overs of ancient volcanoes shaped by the Jökulsá River, which caused erosion. Only the interior of the crater is still there. But worth a pit-stop if you drive the R862.
Asbyrgi is a spectacular canyon in the shape of a large horseshoe bend with steep cliffs. Asbyrgi Canyon is also part of Vatnajökull National Park and the area is called Jökulsárgljúfur. A hidden gem you must see! When arriving, you will need to choose; whether you want to go walk on top of the gorge wall, or visit the canyon lake downstairs? We walked on top and it was a great adventure, physically challenging but worth it! If you are a happy camper, there is also a camp side here.
In the article Asbyrgi Canyon, the spectacular hidden gem of North Iceland you need to see you can read all information about:
- Pick your battle: walk on top or in the canyon
- What to expect and prepare for
- My visitor’s experience & tips
- Asbyrgi Canyon Visitor Center
- When & how to visit
- Distances & Map
After our walk on top of the gorge wall of Asbyrgi Canyon we were already pretty tired, and hungry! We drove westwards on the R85 towards Husavik.
Should you be driving the Diamond Circle between May and August, you may be lucky enough to see puffins on the cliffs of the northern coast of Iceland at the R85. When we were here in the second half of August, the puffins where unfortunately already gone. I guess it is a good excuse to re-visit Iceland.
If you are interested in watching puffins, I would definitely give it a try during the Diamond Circle. You’ll never know! Perhaps if puffin spotting is a priority of yours, you may prefer to do the Diamond Circle clockwise from Lake Myvatn or Husavik, or split the circle in two days. This puffin watching will require time. I’d suggest at least 1.5 hours for spot #3 alone.
This is a challenge if you want to walk the Asbyrgi Canyon gorge wall and do the Diamond Circle in one day. If you want more time for puffin watching on the Diamond Circle, you should consider camping at Asbyrgi Canyon or spending a night in Husavik.
Puffin spots at the R85
Seeing a puffin up close is very cool. They look so adorable! In between the canyon and Husavik, there are a couple of spots (from reliable resources) that I would recommend to check out in puffin season (for locations see map below). In order from Asbyrgi Canyon to Husavik:
- Hringsbjar viewing platform
- Öxarfjörður beach point of view and Skeidhoxl
- Voladalstorfa (with the lighthouse)
Regarding #3: on the fences at the field between the R85 and the lighthouse there are many signs not to park there. So I’d suggest to park Mánárbakki Museum (where is also a camping) and walk from there (20 min) to Voladalstorfa (at the lighthouse).
Despite the fact that we were too late to see any puffins (last week of August), we still enjoyed driving along the Atlantic north coast between Asbyrgi Canyon and Husavik. It reminded us a bit of the rocky coast lines of Scotland and Ireland. Gorgeous!
Husavik is a popular fishing village, about 55 km from Myvatn and 75 km from Akureyri. Since we did the Diamond Circle counterclockwise, we only arrived at Husavik around dinner time, too late for a whale watching tour. So we enjoyed a lovely dinner at Gamli Baukur, the oldest restaurant in town. Great food, excellent location with harbor view and reasonably priced. The fish soup and the grilled cod with barley risotto are highly recommended, very delicious.
Should you spend the night in Husavik, you may want to finish the day by relaxing your sore muscles in the pleasantly warm waters of thermal spa GeoSea. Otherwise, should you drive back to Lake Myvatn to spend the night there, or continue your journey westwards to Akureyri, you may want to make one last stop at Godafoss today, see below.
Whale watching tour
Together with Hauganes at Eyjafjörður (the longest fjord of Iceland), Husavik is one of the two main places to hop on a boat for a whale watching tour in northern Iceland. We were very excited to finally seeing some whales for real, after our failed whale watching attempt at Peninsula Valdes in Argentina a few years ago. There are so many different types of whales. We were hoping to see a humpback whale, minke whale and perhaps a killer whale.
Normally in high season, you will definitely need to make reservations for a whale watching tour as long in advance as possible to ensure a ticket. Should you want to combine a whale watching boat tour from Husavik with the Diamond Circle in one day, I’d suggest to book a morning tour, do the Diamond Circle clockwise, and continue eastwards from there. Or spend the night in Husavik and do the whale watching tour the next morning.
Due to COVID-19, Salka has discontinued all whale watching tours from Husavik until further notice. There are a few other companies, including one with speed boats, but those tours are significantly more expensive.
We chose not to include whale watching in Husavik during our Diamond Circle. We joined a whale watching tour a few days later from Hauganes, half an hour north of Akureyri. Hauganes is on the west side of Eyjafjörður, one of the longest fjords of Iceland. I promise to write about the whale watching experience soon.
Godafoss is located about 47 km south of Husavik and about 50 km west of Myvatn. It’s one of the largest waterfalls of Iceland, and considered as one of the most beautiful. The name Godafoss translates as ‘Waterfall of the Gods’. Godafoss is located at Skjálfandafljót, a glacial river that is one of the longest rivers of Iceland (180km). On the opposite side of below photo you can stand downstairs at the river and take photos from there too.
Godafoss is about 30 meters wide and 12 meters high. We found it interesting to see that the two main water streams on top of the Godafoss waterfall have different heights. There are two parking lots at Godafoss. Facing the waterfall, the parking on the left provides the opportunity to go down the stairs and walk up to the waterfall very closely. The parking on the right of the waterfall is mainly for bigger busses and provides frontal view of the waterfall from above.
Photography wise, it is best to visit Godafoss on a bright sunny day in the morning, as the water flow comes from the southwest. So ideal when you drive the Diamond Circle clockwise, as first thing in the morning. A good start of the day! Please take into account that we did the Diamond Circle in summer. This means long days, which makes it theoretically possible to visit Godafoss after an early dinner. Alternatively, you can visit Godafoss on another day, whenever you travel between Akureyri and Lake Myvatn.
Vadlaheidargong Toll Tunnel
Should you visit Godafoss from Akureyri, then you can choose to take or to avoid the toll tunnel Vadlaheidargong (Vaðlaheiði tunnel). When you simply follow the 1 road between Godafoss and Akureyri, or the 85 and 1 road between Akureyri and Husavik, you will pass this toll tunnel. For location see map below.
You can pre-pay the tunnel toll by registering your vehicle and credit card details via the Vadlaheidi Tunnel website. Then your credit card will automatically be charged every time you cross this toll tunnel. In case your vehicle is not registered through this website in advance, you can pay for a single trip within 3 hours (!) of driving through the tunnel. One-way charges when pre-paid or paid within 3 hours after passing:
- Car ISK 1500 (app. EUR 9.15 with the current exchange rate)
- Vehicles of 3.5 tons or more ISK 6,000 (app. EUR 36.65 with the current exchange rate)
If you failed to pay online in time, the toll charge will be billed to the rental car company with an added collection fee of 1000 ISK. A rental company like Europcar adds another 500 ISK on top of that. So after 3 hours you will have to count on ISK 3000 one-way tunnel charge for a car (EUR 18.32).
Tip: avoid the Vadlaheidi Toll Tunnel
You can avoid the Vadlaheidi Toll Tunnel hassle by taking a by-pass via the 83 and 84, which will add 10 min to your one-way travel time. That’s 40 vs. 30 min between Godafoss and Akureyri and 70 vs. 60 min between Akureyri and Husavik. Worth considering! This also counts when you drive on the 1 road between Myvatn and Akureyri, as this is the same road where Godafoss is located at.
So this might not be applicable on your day of driving the Diamond Circle when done from Myvatn (Husavik-Godafoss-Myvatn). But then probably the day before or after, when you came from or continue your journey between Myvatn and Akureyri (or Husavik and Akureyri).
Map Diamond Circle Iceland
How to visit the Diamond Circle
A rental car and being able to drive around yourself gives a lot of freedom and flexibility. You will be able to see more in a shorter period of time compared to public transport, and the airconditioning is a bit plus too! Just make sure it is insured all-risk and that you bring your EU or international driver’s license.
Personally, when it concerns renting a car, I would recommend Sunny Cars, an all-inclusive, worry free rental concept with affordable, fair prices, great service and no unpleasant surprises upon pick up or drop off. I am a big fan and use them all the time! In most countries the 2nd driver, free cancellation up to 4 hours in advance and all-risk insurance are standard included. Ideal, I use them all the time!
For additional information on where to stay and eat, when to visit, how to get to the area, etc. please check the article Lake Myvatn: a complete guide with 18 sensational must-see places.
Most people will fly into via Reykjavik (6 hours – 470 km from Lake Myvatn), others the smaller yet closer airport of Akureyri.
I hope that you liked this article and found it useful. Do you have plans to visit the Diamond Circle of Iceland? Please feel free to post any question you may have in a comment box below. Have you visited the Diamond Circle yourself already, please share any additional tips below.
We visited Iceland during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read all about our experience in the article How COVID-19 turned my promising Iceland trip into an odd soap opera full of information and tips.
Interested to read more articles about Iceland? Check out the Iceland Blog Archives! More articles will follow soon.
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Last Updated on 07/25/2021 by Flitter Fever