Northern Lights dancing over geothermal area by Lake Mývatn

What makes lake Mývatn so special? What is there to do around lake Mývatn? What is special about the flora and fauna of lake Mývatn? What is the Diamond Circle? Read on to find out what makes the area surrounding Mývatn one of Iceland's most popular destinations.

In northeast Iceland you'll come across a beautiful lake, called Mývatn. This is Iceland's fourth largest lake, 36,5 km2 and it has around 50 islets or skerries in it. The lake is shallow, full of fish, interesting flora and rich birdlife. The lake and the surrounding area is a nature reserve, and a very popular travel destination for both locals and travellers.



And it's not surprising - the area is incredibly diverse, with impressive waterfalls, beautiful lake views, hot springs, steaming geothermal area, caves and craters!

Only one, very small, town can be found on the east side of the lake, called Reykjahlíð. Here you will find basic amenities such as a gas station, bank, mini supermarket, health care centre, school, swimming pool and a hotel. Various cafés, restaurants, hotels, guesthouses, summer cabins and a campsite are also scattered along the banks of the lake and by some of the main attractions.

Overview of lake Mývatn in north Iceland

Picture from Highlight of the North Tour

Mývatn is one of the highlights of the Diamond Circle, a popular tourist travel route in the north of Iceland, and arguably the most popular destination in north Iceland - competing with nearby town of Akureyri and the village of Húsavík, the whale watching capital of Iceland.

From Reykjavík, it is about a 6-7 hour drive to reach the small village of Reykjahlíð by Lake Mývatn, in good conditions. During wintertime that could take longer, depending on the weather and road conditions.

Read on to find out all there is to know about this spectacular natural attraction in north Iceland, and get tips on all the best locations to visit.

 

Content
  1 - What is the Diamond Circle?
  2 - Namaskard / Hverarond Geothermal Area
  3 - Dimmuborgir Rock Formations
  4 - Hverfjall / Hverfell Crater Mountain
  5 - Skutustadagigar Pseudocraters
  6 - Grjotagja Hot Spring Cave
  7 - Myvatn Nature Baths
  8 - Viti Crater in Krafla Volcano
  9 - Viti Crater in Askja Volcano
  10 - Dogsledding Around Lake Myvatn
  11 - Lofthellir Cave
  12 - Flora and Fauna at Lake Myvatn
  13 - Where to Stay Around Lake Myvatn?
  14 - Where to Dine Around Lake Myvatn?

What is the Diamond Circle? 

Goðafoss waterfall is a part of the Diamond Circle in the north of Iceland

Lake Mývatn is a part of a sightseeing route named The Diamond Circle, that also consists of the town of Húsavík, Ásbyrgi nature reserve and Dettifoss waterfall. Other attractions visited include Goðafoss waterfall and Hljóðaklettar rocks. 

For a brief visit of Lake Mývatn, that also takes in other major attractions in the area, you can go on a day tour of the Diamond Circle from Akureyri. This is suitable for those that have limited time in the area, and want to tick off all the major sights.

It's also possible to go on a day tour of the Diamond Circle from Reykjavík with a Flight.

Whale watching boat at Skjálfandi bay by the town of Húsavík

Copyright: Mahkeo from Wikimedia Commons

The town of Húsavík is known for being the whale watching capital of Iceland, and in its own right it's also a very picturesque and colourful little town, with beautiful views across the bay of Skjálfandi.

Ásbyrgi however is a lush green area in the shape of a horseshoe, said to have been formed by Odin's horse, Sleipnir. Nearby are the stunning Hljóðaklettar rock formations, with basalt columns pointing every direction.

The mighty Dettifoss waterfall is not far away from Lake Mývatn

Dettifoss waterfall is the most thunderous and powerful waterfall in Iceland, and a must-see for all visitors. The smaller, picturesque Goðafoss is also popular, located just between Akureyri and Lake Mývatn.

And at lake Mývatn itself, there are several interesting locations, including the geothermal area of Námaskarð, the towering lava rocks at Dimmuborgir, various volcanic craters and hot springs.

So the Diamond Circle is a great option for a day tour to see the varied landscape of North Iceland, however, if you have more time then it's recommended to explore the area closely surrounding lake Mývatn in more detail.



Namaskard / Hverarond Geothermal Area 

Geothermal bubbling crater near lake Mývatn in northeast Iceland

Hverir (Hot Springs) or Hverarönd (Line of Hot Springs) are situated within Námaskarð (Mine Crack) by Námafjall (Mine Mountain). The entire geothermal area of Námaskarð is a stunning site to visit. This is probably the closest you can feel like being on the planet of Mars without leaving planet Earth.

You'll see black rivers snake through red clay, as well as yellow, green, grey and blue mud pools, hear the sounds of hissing and bubbling fumaroles, sulfaratas and boreholes and smell the pungent sulphur air. Many visitors dislike the strong smell of this area, although some like it. 

Those that dislike it say it resembles the smell of rotten eggs, those who like it describe it as the raw smell of nature and geothermal activity.

Steaming fumarole at Námaskarð by lake Mývatn

Colourful steaming fumaroles and bubbling mud hot springs can be seen all around. But in return no vegetation is in sight, as the constant emission of somewhat toxic fumes has made the earth acidic and sterile. Although it's not recommended to inhale the sulphuric smell for hours on end, it's perfectly safe to breathe in the smelly air while visiting the area.

However visitors should be very aware of keeping to the paths in this area, the unstable earth with its boiling mud can easily burn and scold those that venture too far, and the nature would be left with footprints that will be imprinted in the earth for years to come.

This is one of the most impressive locations in Iceland, especially since the large spring water of lake Mývatn and its surrounding rich vegetation is to be found only on the other side of the Námafjall mountain. This is also really close by the central volcanic area of Krafla.

Dimmuborgir Rock Formations 

Dimmuborgir, or Dark Cities, in north Iceland have great hiking trails

Copyright: Arian Zwegers from Wikimedia Commons

Dimmuborgir, or Dark Cities/Fortresses, is an area of dark lava rocks just east of Lake Mývatn. In the area there are several hiking trails, from just a few minutes up to a few hours, suitable for people of all abilities.

The shortest route is paved, so easily accessible for those in wheelchairs or that have trouble walking. It's only about 10-15 minutes of walking and leads you to the holes in the rocks seen above. If you want to head a bit further, then the trails turn to gravel or earth and you can spend hours admiring the imaginative landscape.

There are several folk stories from this area, and it's easy to see how people could've mistaken the rocks for trolls, elves or ghosts, especially when it is dark or foggy and considering there used to be no trails through this rock labyrinth. One legend is that the Icelandic Yule Lads, or Santa Clauses - all 13 of them, live in the area.

One of the most famous stories about this location is that it's supposedly the entrance to hell, which inspired a Norwegian black metal band to take the same name; Dimmu Borgir.



Hverfell Crater Mountain 

Hverfjall or Hverfell crater that's by Lake Mývatn in northeast Iceland

Picture by Jesse.Hu

Locals disagree on the spelling of Hverfjall, and it can either be called Hverfjall or Hverfell. Both have the same meaning: Crater Mountain. It's very popular to hike up the mountain to the rim of the crater, and then walk all around it. The hike takes about 1 hour once you're up there, as the diameter of the crater is 1 km.

There are two permitted routes to get to the top of the mountain, the easier one from the parking lot right by it, and a more challenging one (that takes approximately 45 minutes) from Dimmuborgir.

Hverfjall crater and surrounding contrasts in lake Mývatn area

Photo from Diamond Circle Tour in North Iceland From Reykjavík with Flight

The mountain is impressive, and sticks out from the surrounding landscape, towering over green fields of mossy lava, but as it is only 420 metres tall, it is itself dwarfed by other taller mountains in the vicinity. Seeing as the mountain isn't very high, hiking to the top is not hard at all, and can be done by those with a low level of fitness and by young children - so it's a perfect family activity.



Skutustadagigar Pseudocraters 

Skútustaðagígar pseudo craters by Lake Mývatn in North Iceland

Photo from Northiceland.is

On the southern side of lake Mývatn lie Skútustaðagígar, that are a row of gorgeous pseudocraters. These pseudo craters were formed by gas explosions when melting lava flowed over the wetlands in the area. The area is protected as a natural wetlands conservation area.

Overview of Skútustaðagígar pseudocraters by Lake Mývatn

Photo from Lofthellir Cave Excursion from Lake Myvatn

There are hiking routes in the area, around the craters that will give you a fantastic view in every direction. This is also a very popular destination for avid bird watchers.



Grjotagja Hot Spring Cave 

Grjótagjá is a cave with stunning blue water near lake Mývatn in north Iceland

Photo from Lake Myvatn Sightseeing & Hot Springs Tour from Akureyri

The gorgeous blue, steaming hot water of Grjótagjá found its fame after being used in a steamy scene in Game of Thrones. The one where Jon and Ygritte, well, get steamy.

However, that scene had some altered scenery, with an added waterfall - and it's actually also forbidden to bathe within the water of Grjótagjá - mainly because the temperature is unstable and may well burn you! It's also on private property, so even if the water temperature does drop, you will need a permission to get in there.

Nonetheless, the gorgeous blue colour of the water, and the stunning setting draws in visitors to admire its beauty.



Myvatn Nature Baths 

If it's bathing you want however, then have a soak in the spa of Mývatn Nature Baths. This is the biggest rival to the Blue Lagoon in the south of Iceland, with similar opaque blue waters, with the optimal 38-39°C bathing temperature.

There is of course the stunning blue water, but also a sauna on site and good shower and changing facilities. In wintertime it's the perfect setting to admire the Northern Lights above, but the views are great on sunny days as well.



Romance at Mývatn Nature Baths in north Iceland

Photo from Highlights of the North Tour | Departure from Akureyri

As a bonus, the entrance fee is much lower than that of the Blue Lagoon, making Mývatn Nature Baths a preferred option for savvy travellers.



Viti Crater in Krafla Volcano 

Víti in Krafla is a beautiful crater lake in north Iceland

Picture by Jesse.Hu

Víti means 'Hell' and there are two of them in Iceland, Víti in Krafla and Víti in Askja.

Both Krafla and Askja are some of the most well known volcanoes in Iceland, and are an impressive sight to see. Both Víti are small lakes that are located at the bottom of a crater by each of the central volcanoes.

Víti in Krafla contains cold water, but is a stunning aqua blue colour, sometimes appearing more green. In winter it is often surrounded by snow, despite the hot geothermal areas nearby. It is located a short distance north of Námaskarð, about 10 km (6.2 miles) away.

Krafla is a central volcano and a caldera that's about 10 km (6.2 miles) in diameter, and 2 km (1.2 miles) deep. There have been 29 volcanic eruptions in Krafla in recorded history, the last one ended in 1984, after going on for 9 years. 

As a result there are stunning lava formations to be seen all over the area.



Viti Crater in Askja Volcano 

Askja caldera and Víti crater in the Icelandic highlands are accessible from lake Mývatn

Photo from Askja Caldera & Viti Crater | East Highlands Day Tour

True, Askja caldera and its sidekick Víti crater are far away from lake Mývatn (in the eastern part of the central highlands), but still are worthy of a mention here. That's simply due to the fact that most tours going to Askja and Víti leave from lake Mývatn, or nearby town of Akureyri.

Reaching Askja from Lake Mývatn takes approximately 3 hours in a car, and is only possible with 4WD cars during summertime.

Askja is a big volcanic caldera, covered by a large lake called Öskjuvatn. The lake is 220 metres deep, making it the second deepest lake in Iceland, after Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. A large volcanic eruption took place in Askja in 1875, one of Iceland's largest volcanic ash eruptions that lead to mass emigration from Iceland. Its last eruption was in 1961. The water covering the caldera used to be hot, but has cooled down and freezes over during winters.

That is however not the case with the lake in Víti, a much smaller crater lake that is hot enough to bathe in. It can even be too hot to bathe in in some parts, so enter it with extreme caution. The temperature of the water varies between 20°C to 60°C (68°F-140°F). 



The stunning lake in Askja and its warm crater pool of Víti

Photo from Askja Caldera Hike | Highland Adventure from Lake Myvatn

The name 'Hell' derives from the hot water and sulphuric steam and smell in the area, much like in other geothermal areas in Iceland. The water has an opaque light blue texture, not too dissimilar from the more famous Blue Lagoon. However, this natural hot spring has no changing facilities or showers on hand, resulting in most guests entering naked!

If you choose to enter the water, be exceptionally careful around the mud in the east side of the lake, that can be scolding hot and burn people. Additionally, be aware of the strong sulphur steam in the area, it's so strong that it has even made some people faint!

So 'Hell' is an apt name, but the surroundings are also spectacular, making this a once in a lifetime destination.



Dogsledding Around Lake Myvatn 

Dogsledding is possible in winter time near lake Mývatn in north Iceland

Picture from Siberian Husky Tour | Dog Sledding in the Myvatn Area

What better way to enjoy winter than to go dogsledding in gorgeous surroundings? Dog sledding is available from a farm just south of Lake Mývatn, from January until May.

Husky dogs prefer the cold weather, and love running in the snow - and this far north in Iceland there may well still be some snow up until May. You also have plenty of time to cuddle up with the dogs and pet them, so this is an ideal activity for animal lovers - and families with young kids, since the age limit for the dog sled is just 2 years old!



Lofthellir Cave 

Lofthellir lava ice cave in northeast Iceland

Picture by Regína from The Extraordinary Ice Sculptures in Lofthellir Cave in Mývatn North Iceland

East of Lake Mývatn is the beautiful Lofthellir cave. This lava cave has some beautiful ice formations within it - thus making it an ice cave. Be sure not to confuse that with natural glacier ice caves, that are totally different.

The beauty of this cave is in its contrasts, of the red lava rock ceiling and the white ice, with its hint of blue colour. Its ice formations are known for being some of the most varied, largest and most beautiful in all of Iceland.

This cave is about 3500 years old, and 370 metres long. The temperature inside the cave stays at around 0°C year round, and is not suitable for those with claustrophobia as some crawling is necessary to enter and to move around in some areas. Be sure to dress warmly before going, and only go with a tour guide, not on your own.

Conditions in the cave vary, and tours are only offered between May and October.



Flora and Fauna at Lake Myvatn 

Sunset over the stunning lake Mývatn in north Iceland

Picture from Lake Myvatn Sightseeing and Hot Springs Tour From Akureyri

Lake Mývatn is world known for its rich flora and fauna, largely stemming from the fact that the lake is pretty shallow and has rich sources of energy and nutrition. The name 'Mývatn' translates to 'Midges Lake' and midges are probably the first animal you'll notice surrounding the lake. You will most likely encounter a handful of midges depending on the time of year you go.

Note, these are not mosquitoes. There are two types of midges in Iceland, non-biting ones (called chironomids) and ones that are known to biting both animals and humans (simulium vittatum - also known as black striped fly or simply gnats).

They do not transmit diseases, but are mostly annoying. Although tiring, especially if there's a large amount of them (there is often quite a lot of them in June, but they live all around the year) they still play an important role for the rest of the flora and fauna of Lake Mývatn.

Lake Mývatn in north Iceland has a variety of fish

Photo from Lake Myvatn Sightseeing Tour with Flights from Reykjavik

For most of their lives they live as larvae at the bottom of the lake, and multiple fish species feed on them, including a variety of trout and arctic char.

However, Mývatn is mostly known for their rare species of green algae called Kúluskítur, more commonly known as Marimo or simply Moss Balls. The algae grows into large, green balls with a velvety texture. This species of this algae has only been discovered in few other locations in the world, including in Japan, Scotland, Estonia and recently in Australia.

Around the year 2000 there were millions of these fluffy green balls in lake Mývatn, but in 2013 almost all had disappeared. However, in 2016 there were signs of more of them appearing and growing - so hopefully the lake will soon again be covered with Moss Balls. The species is protected, so if you do see furry moss balls, please leave them undisturbed.

Plenty of ducks at lake Mývatn, a birdwatcher's paradise

Photo from Sigurgeir's Bird Museum

And of course there's also a rich birdlife around the lake, with 58 species frequenting it. Those include for instance Short Eared Owl, Whooper Swan, Gyr Falcon, Horned Grebe, Greylag Goose, Grey Heron, White Tailed Eagle, Snowy Owl, Common Eider, Common Rave, Common Snipe and Mallard.

A bird museum can be found in the area, Sigurgeir's Bird Museum, that has a specimen of every Icelandic breeding bird there is, except one; the Grey Phalarope.

Bird hides are available for bird watchers near the museum, and you may very well spot various species of duck, such as the Barrow's Goldeneye. Iceland is the only country within Europe where this particular species of duck breeds, and in fact there are at least 14 species of duck breeding at Lake Mývatn. Nowhere else in the world are there more duck species gathered in one place.



Where to Stay Around Lake Myvatn? 

There are several hotels and guesthouses around lake Mývatn, as well as a campsite and various cottages that can be rented out. Staying in a cottage, or a bungalow, is possibly the most authentic way of experiencing the Icelandic landscape. 

Icelandic people often own a small house in the countryside - so-called summer cottages. The more luxurious ones often have a hot tub and plenty of space, WiFi and televisions, but other ones may be much more rustic and may not necessarily have central heating, running hot water or electricity. So the choice is varied, depending on what you are looking for.

To have a look for a cottage that suits you and your party, whether you're looking for a romantic getaway or a family holiday, have a look through the variety of summer cabins on bungalo.com.

If it's a hotel you're after, then take a look at Hótel Laxá, Fosshotel Mývatn and Sel Hotel Mývatn

Other options include Dimmuborgir Guesthouse, Vogafjós Farm Resort, Hótel Reykjahlíð and Hlíð Camping, Cottages, Guesthouse & Campsite.



Where to Dine Around Lake Myvatn? 

Delicious dinner at Vogafjós restaurant by lake Mývatn

Picture by Nanna from Local Travels the Ring Road of Iceland: Northeast to Reykjavík

The area is small, and therefore there aren't that many options when it comes to food. If you have a special diet, you'd do well by stocking up on groceries in larger towns nearby, such as Akureyri or Húsavík. Reykjahlíð does have a small supermarket, but it may not have many vegan choices for example and the larger towns will have a wider variety of products to choose from.



However, if you're too busy sightseeing to make time for cooking, then you have a few options to choose from.

The hotels in the area all have good restaurants. Additionally there are a few other decent, and perhaps more affordable, options.

Daddi's Pizza serve tasty pizzas, Gamli Bærinn Bistro serves great burgers and other fast food and Kaffi Borgir that's right next to Dimmuborgir has a soup and salad bar, as well as the locally caught trout - the house special. My personal favourite is Vogafjós Cowshed Restaurant, a farm to table restaurant with ingredients coming from the area and serving mouth watering burgers and steaks.

As Mývatn is a popular travel destination, and there aren't that many places to choose from, then it's advised to make a booking beforehand.

What do you think makes lake Mývatn special? Tell us in the comments!