Many people who come to Iceland on vacation have a short 5-day or 7-day itinerary. This usually gives them just enough time to explore Reykjavik, soak in the healing waters of the Blue Lagoon, and explore popular areas like Vatnajökull National Park and Reynisfjara in the south or Snaefellsnes Peninsula in the west. While it’s no secret that south Iceland is the most frequented part of our small island, those who never head north are missing out on some of the country’s best highlights. The north is home to Akureyri (known as Iceland’s 2nd city), the Diamond Circle sightseeing route, Húsavík (the whale watching capital of Iceland), and many more enchanting places and exciting things to see and do. One of my favorites is the Diamond Circle, so let’s see the main stops along the route. Tourism in Iceland doesn’t need to be restricted to the south, why not branch out during your trip?
I would recommend taking a longer vacation to Iceland (if possible) just so that you have enough time to travel around the country’s Ring Road without feeling rushed. There is so much to see in our beautiful country, and a shorter trip just won’t do it justice. Having said that, let’s assume you’ve opted for a longer Iceland itinerary (something along the lines of two weeks) and you’ve got some extra time to explore the north and the Diamond Circle route. What are the main stops along the circuit what should you see and do?
Main Stops Along Iceland’s Diamond Circle Route
While there are some places that can be considered “extras” along the way, the main stops along the 162 mi (260km) route are usually whale watching base Húsavík, the powerful Dettifoss waterfall, the beautiful turquoise Lake Mývatn with its surrounding nature baths, the bubbling Hverir geothermal area, the horseshoe-shaped Ásbyrgi canyon, Vesturdalur valley and its striking rock formations, the charred lava fields of Dimmuborgir, the desolate Krafla volcanic fields, and the exquisite Goðafoss waterfall. I know this sounds like a lot, and you’re right. That’s why I recommend taking the time to explore this unique region of northeast Iceland. You’ll be exposed to the elements of water and fire as well as some of the best scenery Iceland has to offer.
- The Town of Húsavík
- Dettifoss Waterfall
- Lake Mývatn
- Hverir Geothermal Area
- Ásbyrgi Canyon
- Vesturdalur Valley
- Dimmuborgir Lava Fields
- Krafla Volcanic Fields and Caldera
- Goðafoss Waterfall
View the main stops on Google Maps to orient yourself.
Suggested 5-Day Diamond Circle Itinerary
Given that there are so many things to see and do along the Diamond Circle route, many visitors will take four to five days to explore the area. It’s probably easiest to use Húsavík and Lake Mývatn as your bases and do a series of day trips to the region. Additionally, many tour operators leave on excursions from these two places, so if you’re looking to book a tour, then Húsavík or Mývatn are likely your best bets. So what’s the best way to travel on the circuit and see its highlights? Here is our suggested Diamond Circle itinerary:
Day One: Begin With Húsavík As Your Base
Start out in Húsavík with a whale watching tour and a visit to the whale museum. Húsavik is considered the whale watching capital of Iceland, so when in Rome, right? This quaint Icelandic town overlooks the Skjálfandi bay, and after a day out at sea, take a walk around town to breathe in the fresh air The lighthouse is quite lovely and is the perfect stop after you’ve eaten in one of Húsavik’s marvelous restaurants.
If you still have some energy after your long day out, take a quick hike up Húsavíkurfjall mountain for amazing views of the water of the bay and the town. Don’t worry; I’m not asking you to scale Mt. Everest. It’s just over a quarter mile to the top (417 meters at its peak), so it’s perfect for a short hike. For the less active among us (guiltily raises hand), throw on your swimsuit and take a soak in one the hot pots that Iceland is so famous for.
Spend the night in Húsavik and set off bright and early in your car for the next day of your Icelandic adventure.
Day Two: Ásbyrgi Canyon, Vesturdalur Valley, and Dettifoss Waterfall
The immense Ásbyrgi Canyon sits adjacent to the Jökulsárgljúfur National Park on its northern side. One of the unique characteristics of this natural wonder is its unusual horseshoe shape. This is caused by an 82-foot tall (25 meters) rock formation called Eyjan that sits in the middle of the canyon. The canyon is three times as long as it is wide, so Eyjan (“island” in Icelandic) makes it looked like a massive squished horseshoe. Legend has it that this is also the capital of huldufólk, Iceland’s hidden people or elves.
Continuing along the Diamond Circle route, you’ll find the majestic Vesturdalur Valley. The main attraction here is the unusual basalt rock formations at Hljóðaklettar. Volcanic activity in the area has produced bizarre shapes that resemble honeycombs, waves and stripes. You’ll see the most notable ones by following the trail that goes past Jökulsá á Fjöllum.
The last stop of the day is Dettifoss waterfall. This powerhouse has a few different claims to fame. Many refer to it as Europe’s most powerful waterfall due to the sheer volume and force of its careening waters. It bears the affectionate nickname “The Beast” (in contrast to Sejlandsfoss, known as The Beauty). And movie fans may also recognize Dettifoss as the setting of the opening scene of Ridley Scott’s cinematic masterpiece Prometheus. Stop here and see the power and majesty of Dettifoss waterfall for yourself.
After your first real day exploring the Diamond Circle, it’s time to head back to Húsavík for the night. If you’ve got some extra time on the return trip, then swing by Tjörnes and Kelduhverfi to explore the striking fissures and witness parts of the earth is cracking apart. If you have planned your trip to Iceland in summer, there’s also a lighthouse at Voladalstorfa with nesting Atlantic puffins. They are Iceland’s cutest bird and the country’s unofficial mascot.
Day Three: The Rugged Shores and Sapphire Waters of Volcanic Lake Myvatn
It’s about an hour’s drive from Húsavík to Lake Mývatn. Once there, you can hike and explore the shores of this beautiful, turquoise-hued volcanic lake. Make your first stop the visitor’s center in the town of Reykjahlíð on the northeast side of the lake. Next, explore the Eldhraun lava field on the northern side. Visit the craters, hiking trails, swamplands, and wetlands of the area. This is an ideal spot for bird watching as many species come here to nest by the thousands. Today is a more relaxing day on our Diamond Circle itinerary as tomorrow we’ll visit some of the lava fields and volcanic landscapes this area is so famous for. Get a good night’s sleep in Mývatn. Tomorrow is a big day!
Day Four: Krafla Volcanic Fields, Hverir Geothermal Area, Dimmuborgir Lava Fields
Krafla Volcano and Crater Lake
Krafla is both a volcanic area and home to caldera created during an eruption. This area has a caldera called Viti (“hell” in Icelandic). You may have seen pictures of its vibrant blue hue or bathers hopping in for the ultimate Icelandic experience. The Krafla volcano system still has heat flowing beneath the surface and is responsible for geothermal power in the area.
Hverir Geothermal Area
This is one of my favorite parts of the Diamond Circle. Here you’ll find an otherworldly landscape of colorful rocks, bubbling mud puddles, and hissing steam vents. The barren landscape truly does look like something from another planet. The large amounts of geological activity mean that angry liquids simmer and percolate just below the surface of the earth’s crust. It smells a lot like sulfur, so be ready to plug your nose.
Dimmuborgir Lava Fields
This is the last stop of the day. The lave field at Dimmuborgir features unusual rock formations. These natural sculptures were formed by volcanic eruptions and lava flows around 2,300 years ago. They resemble “ Dark Citadels” or “Dark Castles” as they are sometimes called. After finishing up here, head back to Mývatn for your last night in the geological hotspot.
Day Five: Finish Up Your Diamond Circle Itinerary with Goðafoss Waterfall
You’ll want to start your morning partaking in some of the outdoor activities near Lake Mývatn. You can go horseback riding through lava fields, visit the pseudo craters at Skútustaðagígar, or get in any birdwatching that you didn’t before.
Be sure to visit Iceland’s Waterfall of the Gods, Goðafoss, as you head back north. These falls have a fascinating story and are linked very closely to a significant event in Iceland’s 1,000-year-plus history. Once you arrive in Húsavík, there are plenty of opportunities for more outdoor activities such as fishing, hiking, or golfing. And if you didn’t do so on your first day, be sure to spend some time with Iceland’s beloved whales. You can also opt to just relax on your final night in Húsavík.
Hidden Gems of the North: Itinerary for Iceland’s Diamond Circle Route
Well, you did it! It’s been short but intense few days. You’ve seen a lot and hopefully visiting the Diamond Circle has been one of the highlights of your Iceland trip. You’re now ready to continue exploring and making your way around Iceland’s Ring Road. I really hope you are happy with your decision to get slightly off the beaten path and come to northeast Iceland.