North Iceland is home to the beautiful lake region of Myvatn. With an area of 36.5 square kilometers, it is Iceland’s fourth-largest lake, although its size is just one of the qualities that attracts guests throughout the year. It is also home to some incredible geological formations, with a great flora and fauna and it is surrounded by many incredible sites.
After all, the lake is one of the main points of the Diamond Circle, the popular travel itinerary in northern Iceland.
There is only one small town in the Lake Myvatn region, called Reykjahlid. Here you will find basic services such as a gas station, a bank, a mini supermarket, a health center, a school, a swimming pool and a hotel. Numerous cafes, restaurants and guesthouses are also scattered along the shores of the lake and at some of the main attractions.
It takes about 6-7 hours from Reykjavik to reach the village of Reykjahlid, in good weather conditions. During winter, this journey may take longer, depending on the weather, but the Ring Road connecting the two settlements should be approximately always open.
Lake Myvatn is part of a tourist trail called Diamond Circle, which also touches the city of Husavik, canyon of Asbyrgi and Dettifoss waterfall.
The Diamond Circle is a famous 260-kilometre (162-mile) tourist trail in northeast Iceland, featuring its incredible number of natural attractions, picturesque settlements and fantastic landscapes. It is considered the northeastern alternative to the famous Golden Circle tourist trail, which is reached by travelling for forty minutes from the Icelandic capital, Reykjavik, and includes the three main sites of the Thingvellir National Park, Geysir Geothermal Valley and Gullfoss Waterfall.
The four main attractions of the route are Lake Myvatn, Europe’s most powerful waterfall Dettifoss, the horseshoe-shaped canyon Asbyrgi, and the fishing town of Husavik, best known for whale-watching.
The lake is world famous for its rich flora and fauna, due to the fact that the lake is quite shallow and has rich sources of food for birds. The name “Myvatn” translates to “Lake of midges” and probably flies are the first animal you’ll notice if you travel through this area in the summer.
For most of their lives they live as larvae at the bottom of the lake and serve as food for various species of fish, including a variety of trout and chars. These fish, in turn, feed the multitude of birds that inhabit Lake Myvatn. There are, in fact, 58 species of birds that frequent the area. You can spot the common owl, the wild swan, the wild falcon, the horned vase, the wild goose, the ash heron, the white-tailed eagle, the snow owl, the common rave, the common snipe and the royal german. In addition, more species of ducks gather in Myvatn than anywhere else in the world, with fourteen variations.
In this area there is an interesting bird museum, the Sigurgeir Bird Museum, which has a specimen of every Icelandic bird breeder that exists, except one: the gray phalanx.
In terms of flora, Myvatn is best known for its rare species of green algae called Klusktur, more commonly known as Marimo or simply Moss Balls. The algae grow in large green spheres with a velvety consistency. This species of algae has only been discovered in a few other parts of the world, including Japan, Scotland, Estonia and recently Australia. Around the year 2000 there were millions of these fluffy green balls in Lake Myvatn, but by 2013 almost all of them had disappeared. However, from 2016 there are new growth signs, so soon the lake will be covered again by Moss Balls. The species is protected, so if you see moss balls, leave them there!
Nomaskar / Hverir Geothermal Area
The pass of the Nomaskar, on Mount Namafjall, is an incredible and vast geothermal area, defined in the landscape by its seething fumaroles and brightly coloured clay, which is worth a visit on any trip to the region of Myvatn. Weet colors, sulphoric smells and steaming vapors, walking here will make you feel like you’ve entered another world. The children will be really fascinated!
You can spend hours marvelling at the contrasts of the colors and listening to the hissing and bubbling sounds of the earth: just make sure to follow the paths marked in this area, since the soil around the fumaroles is unstable and under it there is boiling water!
Hverir Geothermal Area is really a place not to be missed: the area is a colorful and extraordinary place for all nature enthusiasts and really gives you an idea of the power and energy stored in the Icelandic subsurface. Even on colder winter days, parts of the ground remain snow-free due to the heat of the terrain.
Dettifoss and Selfoss
The Dettifoss waterfall is with the largest waterfall in Europe in terms of volume: 500 cubic meters of water per second! Dettifoss is 45 meters high and 100 meters wide. There is also a nice hiking trail, a total of 34 km, that goes along the canyon from Dettifoss to Asbyrgi.
Dettifoss is really powerful, awesome. As you approach, the ground literally trembles under your feet. It’s loud, it’s thunderous, it’s tumultuous.
The waterfall is formed by the river, which is formed by the melting of the Vatnajakull Glacier. This mighty river has excavated the canyon and flows through it before ending up in the Arctic Sea.
One kilometre south of the mighty Dettifoss waterfall you can find Selfoss waterfall. Although Selfoss has always been in the shadow of Dettifoss, it is a great construction of nature, just as pleasant to visit. The height is only 10 meters, but the width is greater than Dettifoss. The visit is only half an hour’s walk from Dettifoss: both waterfalls share the same parking lots, both on the east and west side. If you’re visiting Dettifoss, make sure you don’t miss the beautiful Selfoss waterfall.
The right way to see Dettifoss and Selfoss
From Ring Road, two roads access Dettifoss and Selfoss: the 864 and the 862. Each offers a different overview of the two waterfalls, from the east and west respectively, and the ideal would be to walk both.
Route 864 runs from road n.85 over Dettifoss on the east side to road 1. This is a dirt road and the driving speed depends on the road conditions every time. Road 864 is closed during the winter period due to snow or rain (muddy road) and is not open until early summer (late May).
The dirt road 862 is located on the west side of the river. The road is passable for normal vehicles from Asbyrgi to Dettifoss. Until 2011 this road was classified as a mountain road (F-road) but is now passable as a dirt road. Conditions on gravel roads in Iceland may vary, so travellers are asked to be aware of road conditions and to inquire on Icelandic traffic sites as well as adjust driving speeds to conditions. From Dettifoss onwards south to Road 1 (Ring Road), on the west bank of the river, road 862 becomes paved and is easily accessible with all vehicles. However, this part is not in service from January until the beginning of April.
If you’re using Google Maps or a navigation system, remember to specify “west side of Dettifoss” or “east side of Dettifoss” to get the correct directions.
Driving times to reach the west and east sides of Dettifoss and Selfoss
Paved road on the west side (862): From Ring Road No.1, it takes 20 minutes (24 km) to drive the paved road to the west side parking lot.
Unpaved road on the east side (864): From Ring Road No.1, it takes 45 minutes (32 km) to drive the unpaved road to the parking lot on the east side.
From west to east: To drive from side to side, it takes a total of 1 hour and 10 minutes.
Dimmuborgir, or dark fortress, is an area covered with lava rocks just east of Lake Myvatn. It is often compared to a castle: columns that resemble towers, ridges that rise like blackbirds and caves that fall deep into the earth like underground. In the area there are several hiking trails, which last from a few minutes up to a few hours, suitable for people of all ages and abilities.
The shortest route is paved, so easily accessible even for those who are wheelchair-bound or for those who have difficulty walking or for families with small children and strollers. In about 10-15 minutes you get to the lavic formations. If you want to go a bit further, the trails turn into gravel or land and you can spend hours admiring the fascinating landscape.
There are several legends about this area: on the other hand it is easy to understand how people may have swapped rocks for mysterious creatures, especially considering that there is no trace through this rocky labyrinth and Iceland is often dark and foggy… Some stories even refer to Dimmuborgir as the gate of hell!
The location is a thermal cave hidden within Dimmuborgir, renowned for its unspoiled beauty and azure waters. It found its fame after being used in a love scene in Game of Thrones.
Fun fact: films and series shot in the Lake Myvatn area
Tree of Life (2011) The epic scene showing the creation of the Earth is shot around Myvatn, Namafjall and Krafla Caldera.
Prometheus (2012) Ridley Scott chooses the Dettifoss waterfall for the film’s initial images.
Oblivion (2013) The old Hrossaborg crater, located about 30 minutes from Lake Myvatn, is depicted as the remains of a giant baseball stadium. Other locations for the filming of the film included the Langjokull Glacier and the Jarlhettur Mountains.
Noah (2014) The film is shot throughout Iceland, including Lake Muvatn, Lake Kleifarvatn, the black sand beach of Reynisfjara and the Reykjanes Peninsula.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) Lake Muvatn, Krafla’s volcanic craters, and the bubbling mud pits of the City of Namaskar, were used to film an intense battle scene between the Empire and the Rebels.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) The mysterious planet Eadu, or as shown in the film, is actually a mix between Lake Myvatn, Krafla Volcanic Crater and Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach.
Fast 8 (2017) The eighth Fast and the Furious film was shot in a number of Icelandic locations, including the wonderful Lake Muvatn. One scene includes a car crossing the ice of Lake Muvatn!
Game of Thrones:
It is the site of the famous love scene between John Snow e Ygritte.
Another famous scene is in the third season in which Rayder’s military camp in Mance is built on an icy lava field. This place is actually Dimmuborgir. The area was again used in footage of the scene where Samwell Tarly and Lord Commander Mormont are attacked by White Walkers. Some of the footage took place in temperatures of up to -11 degrees Celsius.
Where to stay around Lake Myvatn
There are several hotels and guesthouses around Lake Myvatn, as well as a campsite and various cottages that can be rented out. Staying in a cottage or bungalow is perhaps the most authentic way to experience the Icelandic landscape: our path in the lake area starts and ends right in two cottage complexes, both really welcoming. Probably the facilities we preferred in our 15 days on the road in Iceland.
A perfect spot to visit not only the Diamond Circle, but also to discover Akureyri or take a hike to Godafoss. The small complex includes a total of 5 cottages, in two types, new, equipped, in a great location, with high-end services. The houses have been designed and built by Akureyri’s m2h’s ehf and are of the highest quality.
The largest cottages are two, both with two bedrooms. The largest room has a double bed, while the smaller room has bunk beds. In the loft there are also 4 comfortable mattresses. The living room has a leather sofa, Wi-Fi network, a flat-screen TV, a radio with DVDs and CDs, a table and chairs for 8 people and even dishes. The kitchen with a refrigerator and dishwasher is also included in the house. Outside there is a nice patio, with gas barbecue, table and chairs and hot tub (geothermally powered hot tub).
The smaller cottages are three, with living room entrance with sofa bed and a double room with single beds. The living area is equipped with flat-screen TVs, Wi-Fi network, DVDs and CDs, table and chairs for 5 people, dishes, hob with 2 fires, refrigerator, microwave. Again there is a large patio, with gas barbecue, table and chairs and hot tub (hot tub powered geothermally).
The cottages guarantee privacy and relaxation, are well spaced apart from each other and enjoy a stunning panorama overlooking many smaller waterfalls.
The reception system is very well organized: you can pick up the keys even if the owners, Einir Bjornsson and Guéfinna Sverrisdottir, are missing. You will find all the details in your envelope at any time you arrive!
Feraj’s Einishs ehf., ì Einarssta-um 2, 650 Laugar – phone: 865 4910 or 894 9669 – Mail: [email protected] – GPS: 65-44’29.54N 17-24’39W
Dimmuborgir Guesthouse is a family-run property that overlooks lake Myvatn and offers accommodations in cosy cottages and double rooms all year round.
Located along the shore of Lake Myvatn, this cozy-looking property is located 5 km from the village of Reykjahlid and 8 km from the geothermal pools of Myvatn Natural Baths. It is located 53 km from Husavik airport. The location of the guesthouse is fantastic for photographing the Northern Lights in the wonderful scenery of the lake.
At Dimmuborgir Guesthouse you can choose from a variety of accommodation options: there are 8 double rooms with private amenities and a shared kitchen and dining room, or 1 or 2 bedroom cottages with or without hot tubs.
Rooms have free Wi-Fi, desk, and panoramic views. 1-bedroom cottages house up to 4 people and come with patio, kitchenette and en-suite bathroom, heating, and have partial lake views. 2-bedroom cottages house up to 6 people and offer modern furnishings, as well as kitchen and living/dining areas. The newer units also have geothermal-powered hot tubs overlooking the lake.
Parking is free, the buffet breakfast is available in the room near the reception for an additional fee: it is absolutely advisable as local and homemade products are served, such as smoked lamb and trout right in the smokehouse family.
Children will enjoy not only an open, pleasant natural environment, but also a small playground, beautiful walks along the lake, with sighting of countless birds, boat rides.