When we were in Iceland we really wanted to go up North to visit the beautiful Lake Myvatn area, Godafoss, Akureyri, and other vistas in North Iceland. Since we were on a time crunch and didn’t think we would make the drive all the way up North, so we decided to do a tour with Air Iceland on their: Grand tour of Northern Iceland, which covers the Best of North Iceland. You hear a lot about Iceland Golden Circle Tour but you do not don’t hear much about the Iceland Diamond Circle Tour which covers the lesser-known route of Godafoss, Lake Myvatn, and the most powerful waterfall in Europe, Dettifoss with an average water flow of 633 cubic feet per second.
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Iceland Diamond Circle Tour
One morning we drove up from our hotel in Reykjavik to the domestic airport here Reykjavík morning and checked in for our flight at 6:45am. The flight was mere 40 minutes yet very scenic. Once we landed in Akureyri the guide was waiting for us and few others in the arrivals hall but we were then joined by couple more people who had been staying in Akureyri that night. A short while later we were on our way towards our destinations for the best tour ever!
Iceland Diamond Circle Highlights
While on the Iceland Diamond Circle tour you can visit:
- The town of Húsavík
- Dimmuborgir (Dark Castles)
- Jokulsarsgljufur Canyon
- Canyon of Ásbyrgi
- Hljóðaklettar rocks
- Lake Myvatn
- Krafla volcano
- Námaskarð (Fumarole fields of Hverarond)
- Europe’s most powerful waterfall Dettifoss
- The town of Akureyri
- and other vistas in North Iceland. It was one of our favorite tours we did while visiting Iceland.
The tour organized by SBA starts from the SBA-Nordurleid Bus Terminal at 07:50. We drove along the coast of Eyjafjorður, across the mountain pass of Vikurskard to the valley of Fnjoskadalur.
The first stop of the tour was the Godafoss waterfall, not only famous for its breathtaking beauty but also for its significant historic value related to the Christianisation of Iceland.
The story goes that a key Icelandic chieftain in the year 1,000 AD was trying to decide whether Icelanders would adopt Christianity. After deciding in the affirmative, he returned home and threw his images of the pre-Christianity pagan gods into the waterfall and, hence, the name for the waterfalls.
From Godafoss the tour continues through the valley of Reykjadalur to Skutustadir in the Lake Myvatn district. There we got to explore the regular shaped pseudo craters formed in a volcanic eruption approximately 2300 years ago. Most regular craters are formed when lava builds up around a fissure, these pseudo craters though were formed by gas explosions when melting lava flowed over pockets of water in the wetlands.
The lake had a lot of bugs called midges that are vital to the ecosystem. D had a busy time trying to swat them off!
The lake Myvatn is fed by nutrient-rich spring water and has a high abundance of aquatic insects (Chironomidae) and Cladocera that form an attractive food supply for ducks. Thirteen species of ducks nest here and depend on these aquatic insects for nutrients. Pretty flowers and big fluffy green moss balls can be found around the lake adding to the unique look of the lake.
We then drove along the south coast of the lake to Dimmuborgir, a lava labyrinth formed around 2300 years ago when a partly cooled lava lake drained out and left magnificent basaltic pillars and sculptures. Our guide pointed out several spots where the show ‘Game of Thrones’ was shot.
Dimmuborgir (Dark Castles)
The Dimmuborgir area (Dark castles) consist of a massive, collapsed lava tube formed by a lava lake flowing in from a large eruption. This place was the Games of Thrones setting for Mance Rayder’s wildling camp, we learnt. Some Icelanders even refer to Dimmuborgir as the Gateway to Hell since the rocks can be mistaken for mysterious creatures.
We could see the Krafla volcano from Dimmiborgir. Krafla includes one of the two best-known Víti craters of Iceland (the other is in Askja). The Icelandic word “víti” means “hell”. In former times, people often believed hell to be under volcanoes. The crater Víti has a green lake inside of it.
The next destination is the small village of Reykjahlid where you will have the opportunity to have lunch or buy snacks or lunch. I didn’t find many vegetarian options here so it was bread, butter and fruit for lunch for me while the rest of the family ate some sandwich from the store where we stopped at.
Námaskarð (Fumarole fields of Hverarond)
The tour continued east over the Namaskard mountain pass and we explored the fumarole fields of Hverarond (Námaskarð) where groundwater is heated by an underground magma intrusion. Sulfur deposits are brought to the surface and the area is characterized by a strong smell of sulfur.
After a short and easy walk around the fumarole zone, we drove on Highway 1 to the Dettifoss, Europe’s most powerful waterfall, where we entered the Vatnajokull National Park. From the parking lot, there is about 10 to 15-minute walk to the waterfall. We could see Selfoss in the distance there but didn’t have time to get closer to it.
Vesturdalur, Hljodaklettar (Echo Cliffs) and Asbyrgi
Next, we explored the Jokulsarsgljufur Canyon, 25 kilometers long and over 100 meters deep, formed in a catastrophic glacial flood after the last ice age. On our way along the canyon, we made short stops in Vesturdalur and Hljodaklettar (Echo Cliffs) before we make our way into Asbyrgi, a horseshoe shaped cliff formation.
The folklore states that Sleipnir, the eight-legged horse of Odin, stepped down there when passing by, forming the 100-meter high cliffs. On the other hand, scientists speculate that it was most likely formed by catastrophic glacial flooding of a river 8-10,000 years ago.
Asbyrgi is sheltered from the ocean winds and is therefore highly vegetated.
We stopped to look at the tectonic plate of America and Eurasia, it runs along the entire island
Did you know the water from the streams is Iceland are filtered through layers of Lava and pure and you can drink straight from the streams
After a stop in Asbyrgi we drove through the Tjornes fracture zone to Husavik, a small fishing and tourism village. Most whale watching tours start here, it was a quaint little town with boat bopping on the docks.
We then drove back to Akureyri while most of the passengers dozed off after quite a long day. We were back in the airport around 18.15 in the evening to catch the flight back to Reykjavik.
Arctic Coast Way Route
If you have additional time you can drive the (recently developed) route around the North of Iceland which is most commonly known as the Arctic Coast Way Route. It takes you through six peninsulas and covers 21 fishing villages from the start to the end of the Arctic Coast Way. Places like Skagafjordur (a geothermal area with excellent swimming pools and bathing) and Siglufjordur, a picturesque town on the Troll Peninsula.
You might want to plan for six days and five nights focusing on all the highlights of the north and plan for a summer trip. Driving Iceland’s Artic coast route in winter can be more challenging than in summer. The Arctic Coast Way is developed and owned by Visit North Iceland and was on Lonely Planet’s top 10 list of Europe’s must-see places!
IF YOU GO: Don’t miss seeing the Arctic Henge (Heimskautsgerðið) in Raufarhöfn, one of the most remote and northernmost villages in Iceland. Modeled after Stonehenge, the Arctic Henge is like a huge sundial, aiming to capture the sunrays, cast shadows in precise locations and capture the light between aligned gateways. GPS POINTS N66° 27′ 43.322″ W15° 57′ 46.950″
Additional Information for the Iceland Diamond Circle tour
Our tour organized by SBA in partnership with Air Iceland. In addition to the Northern Iceland, Air Iceland Connect offers flights to the Faroe Islands, Greenland, Aberdeen in Scotland and Belfast Northern Ireland and more.
We took an early morning flight from Reykjavik domestic airport to Akureyri and met our tour guide at SBA-Nordurleid Bus Terminal for the full day tour. Our guide was great, she is a school teacher and was very knowledgeable about the geography, culture and history of Iceland. She kept our kids engaged with all the information and occasional references to pop culture shows.
The van was small and comfortable and we got plenty of time at every stop to really take in the views and get our photographs. She saw all our gear and gave us some extra pointers as to where to get the good photographs from. She would always tell us exactly how much time we had in each place but was super punctual and followed the plan to the minute.
This is important when you have a flight back to Reykjavík the same day and so much of a packed schedule. I couldn’t believe we got to see so much of North Iceland on the tour. I highly recommend this tour if you want a break from driving but still want to visit the sights in North Iceland.
See a visual story of the Spectacular Sights & Adventures in Iceland
A few amazing Iceland Tours
From visiting the Game of Thrones locations to chasing Northern Lights, to seeing the lesser know Diamond circle tour in Iceland, you can find some amazing Iceland tours below.
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