Driving Iceland’s Diamond Circle in a Campervan
The Diamond Circle is one of Iceland’s driving routes located in the northeast of the country. Although it’s been around for a while, the route only officially opened in August of 2020. The circle contains some of Iceland’s biggest-hitting sights, including those inside Jökulsárgljúfur, those around Lake Mývatn, and Húsavík, the whale-watching capital of Iceland. There’s so much to see and do here, you’ll need to set aside at least 2 days to do it. Here’s how to discover the Diamond Circle in a campervan.
Leaving from Akureyri in the morning, the first stop on the Diamond Circle is Goðafoss. The ‘waterfall of the Gods’ is a beauty for sure. In the middle of a flat, rocky landscape, the riverbanks of basalt suddenly open, allowing the water to shoot over the edge in a near-perfect semicircle. The bright blue of the water clashes with the steely grey of the twisted basalt. It’s no wonder this is a favourite waterfall for many campers. Rumour has it that an Icelandic lawmaker threw his Pagan idols into the water after Iceland adopted Christianity in the year 1000, giving the waterfall its name.
Next up, make your way over to Lake Mývatn. This location in the northeast is where the black lava fields of the highlands give way to an oasis of mountains, volcanic craters, and a system of streams and lakes. The biggest of those lakes is of course Lake Mývatn, and there’s plenty to see and do around it; plan on spending most of your day here. Explore the tall lava field of Dimmuborgir, wander along the shores of the lake, scale the volcanic crater of Hverfjall, and delve underground to visit the hot spring of Grjótagjá. Beyond the mountain pass, there’s also the wild geothermal area of Hverir, and the volcanic system of Krafla where you’ll see steaming lava fields, a volcanic crater, and a geothermal plant powering the region. It also powers the Mývatn Nature Baths, the Blue Lagoon of the north.
Finally, make the drive towards Dettifoss along Route 862. This is the most powerful waterfall in Europe, but it’s not the size or width that’s impressive. Instead, it’s the incredible amount of water that buckets over the side every second – about 200m³ on an average day. There are plenty of different viewpoints to check out here, and a few paths also lead to more waterfalls north and south along the canyon. After you’ve had your fill, finish the drive along Route 862 to arrive at Ásbyrgi Canyon, where there’s one of the most scenic campsites in the entire country.
Wake up early for some incredible hiking in Ásbyrgi – this u-shaped gorge is one of the only of its kind in the world, and best enjoyed on foot. The entire canyon was created in a matter of days, with a huge glacial flood flowing down from Vatnajökull blasting out the basalt rocks and carrying them towards the ocean. It’s impressive to think about when you stare up at the walls of the canyon, which reach up to 100 metres in some places – it’s generally thought that it took only 3 days for the entire canyon to be created.
There’s plenty of great hiking to be done in the canyon, so if you have the time and energy, spend some time exploring along the rims of the canyon. For those who wake up late, driving down towards the bottom is still rewarding, where there’s a forest, a beautiful pond, and the tallest sections of the canyon’s wall. The weather is often much better here than elsewhere in Iceland, so keep some fingers crossed for some sun as well.
Whale-Watching in Húsavík
Rounding out the Diamond Circle is Húsavík. Not many know it, but a Viking landed at this spot in the year 870 – 4 years before Ingólfur Arnarson officially settled in Reykjavík. That Viking built himself a house (and called the location House Bay, or Húsavík) and stayed for a few months before sailing away again. As a result, this has a pretty good claim as being Iceland’s first settlement.
Nowadays, the town’s other claim to fame is that it’s Iceland’s capital of whale-watching. Whales frequent the shallow waters of Skjálfandi for its plentiful summer sunlight and bountiful feeding. As a result, this is the best place in the country to view Iceland’s largest animals, who often put on a show of jumping about much to the delight of those who sail out on the water to see them. Several different companies in town offer tours during the summer, with all of them boasting a 99% success rate. It’s a highlight of the Diamond Circle, and a great way to wrap up the route. From here, it’s an easy drive back to Akureyri.
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