Iceland's Diamond Circle with kids
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Why visiting Iceland’s Diamond Circle with your kids is a must
Iceland is a bucket list destination for most traveling families. It’s kid friendly, easy to get around and there are lots of things to do and see for every family member. Most travelers focus on the area around Reykjavik, the famous Golden Circle and the glacier area in south Iceland. But it would be a real shame to skip the north.
The northeast is one of Iceland’s most memorable regions. Specifically the magnificent 260km circuit known as the Diamond Circle. With birds flying over wetlands, Iceland’s most powerful waterfall and bubbling hot springs the Diamond Circle is a definite must do!
Diamond Circle vs Golden Circle
The Diamond Circle is the northeastern answer to the famous Golden Circle, but without the crowds. There are lots of reasons to self-drive Iceland’s Diamond Circle with kids and that’s why I present to you this complete guide for an epic road trip of the Diamond Circle.
What is the Diamond Circle
The Diamond Circle is a not to be missed loop route that’s starts at Goðafoss, about 30km from Akureyri. In 1994 a few locals from fishing town Húsavik decided that it was time to come up with a worthy alternative to the Golden Circle in the west. The Golden Circle was then and remains now the most traveled route of Iceland.
Five major natural attractions form the Diamond Circle. Earlier mentioned Goðafoss and Húsavik and also Mývatn, Dettifoss and Ásbyrgi Canyon. If you drive the loop route without stops it will take you about 4 hours, which makes it a great family road trip you can do in about 3 to 4 days if you take it slow.
Best time to travel
You can visit Iceland’s Diamond circle all year round, but not all sights can be reached. Húsavik and Mývatn are accessible all year round. Dettifoss can only be reached from one side. The other side is closed in winter and the rest of the year it’s only accessible with a 4×4. The road between Dettifoss and Ásbyrgi will also be partially closed in winter. If you want to see it all you should avoid the winter and road trip the Diamond Circle with a 4wd vehicle.
How much does a road trip to the Diamond Circle cost?
How much a road trip to the Diamond Circle cost depends on what you’re plans are. If you visit the waterfalls, it won’t cost a thing. Hiking around the sites in and around Mývatn and Ásbyrgi Canyon is also free. If you go to Húsavik and you stroll through the city center you might pay for parking (depending on where you choose to park, some places are free and others aren’t). But if you go on a whale watching tour things can get pricy.
Accommodation prices vary. There are some expensive hotels in Mývatn and nearby Reykjahlíð and also in Húsavik, but there are also some budget options.
Shop at the bigger supermarket chains like Bónus and Krónan instead of shopping at the smaller supermarkets at gas stations.
And lastly, when you’re traveling on a budget. Don’t go to a restaurant for lunch or dinner, but buy hotdogs, sandwiches and fries at the snack counters in gas stations. For about 10 euros per person you get yourself a mail and a (non-alcoholic) drink.
How to get around
If you don’t self-drive you can book tours to the Diamond Circle that depart from Akureyri. But I have to say that the best way to experience the north and the Diamond Circle is by renting a car or campervan and drive the loop route yourselves. And as I stated before the Diamond Circle is best driven in the late spring or summer, but not only because in winter not everything is accessible. The other reason is that there’s enough daylight to make the most of your day.
If you start your trip from Reykjavik with a rental car or campervan it will take 10 to 11 hours, driving only, to get to the first sight: Goðafoss. Follow the Ring Road (Route 1) and you can’t miss it. If you’ve got some time to spend in and around the Diamond Circle, because it is part of your ultimate family road trip through the land of ice and fire, take advantage of that. Take it slow and spend about 4 days here to see and experience all the Diamond Circle has to offer.
Because the Diamond Circle isn’t a destination, but a loop with lots of attractions along the way, it’s not possible to travel around by public transport. Most places are really of the beaten path, no public transport in sight.
Where to eat on the Diamond Circle
You’ll find many great restaurants in towns like Húsavik, Mývatn and Reykjahlíð. But you’ll also find hidden gems in the smaller towns along the Diamond Circle route. If you’ve found any that are worthy of visiting, let me know in the comments, so others can visit them.
There are lots of nice options in this cute fishing town. I’ll share two of our tips with you.
A nice restaurant near the harbor that serves anything from pasta, fish, meat and even dishes like tacos. They also have vegan and vegetarian options on the menu.
Fish & Chips
What could be better after a whale watching tour out on the windy and cold sea than fish and chips? You can find the restaurant with the fitting name Fish & Chips in the port. The portions are very generous, so come with an empty stomach. This will surely be a winner with the kids!
In and around Mývatn you’ll find lots of nice places to eat. The two following ones were our favorites.
This pizzeria is a little bit hidden. You can find it in Mývatn, right next to the lake at the grounds of Camping Vogar. They’re American style pizzas and they are tasty and very affordable
This small restaurant in Reykjahlíð can be found right next to the IcelandAir Hotel. It serves great fish dishes, but also homemade fries and hamburgers. Oh, and get yourself some pita bread with hummus on the side. The hummus is delicious!
Where to stay on the Diamond Circle
When you spend multiple days self-driving Iceland’s Diamond Circle with kids, you’ll need places to stay. We’ve stayed in both hotels and at campsites and here are our tips.
Hotels on the Diamond Circle
Here are some hotel tips for you. All these places can be found along or around the road.
We love the Fosshotels in Iceland. Clean rooms, nice decor, friendly staff and a nice buffet breakfast. Fosshotel Húsavik is no exception. They also serve a mean burger for dinner!
Icelandair Hotel Mývatn
Never knew that airlines own hotels, but that’s the case with Icelandair. And it’s a good one. We had a modern and spacious family room that was big enough to fit 5 king size beds (don’t worry, there were only two there). Don’t skip out on a dip in the hot tub outside.
Campsites on the Diamond Circle
Want to stay at a campsite? Don’t worry there are lots of options for you to choose from along the way.
Camp Boutique Original North
This is glamping to the max! You can get a nice family tent at this campsite in Húsavik with heat and bed warmers (very important!), clean facilities and lovely staff. Don’t skip their breakfast with locally sourced foods.
Vogar Camping in Mývatn is not just a campsite, but you can also stay at one of the 20 dorm rooms with shared bathroom or in one of the 8th rooms with a private bathroom. We didn’t stay here, so I can’t tell you anything about the quality of the rooms. We opted for the campsite. The spots are big and you can camp out here with your tent, motorhomes and campervans. They also have electric hook ups, hot showers and an indoor kitchen with dining room. And of course the added bonus when you stay here is Daddi’s Pizza!
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Things to see on Iceland’s Diamond Circle with kids
Let’s get into all the uniqueness that the Diamond Circle has to offer. Here’s the lowdown on the self-drive of Iceland’s Diamond Circle with kids. Most people drive up to the north from Reykjavik and after a visit to Akureyri, Icelands unofficial capital of the north the first of the four sights of the Diamond loop route is waterfall Goðafoss. It takes about 40 minutes to get to Goðafoss from Akureyri. If you drive the loop in winter it is advised to rent a 4wd vehicle.
Goðafoss means “waterfall of the gods”. It gets its name from the conversion to Christianity about 1000 years ago. It’s not a huge drop with its 12 meters, but it is pretty wide, about 30 meters and it’s shaped like a horseshoe. The waterfall makes you feel small while standing right in front and below it. This is only possible if you approach the fall from the East bank.
If you have some time take the short hike to the West Bank where you look down at the waterfall. You get a beautiful view from there. If you only have time for one side, let it be the East bank.
You don’t need more than 1,5 to 2 hours to check out both banks. We chose to drive up to Goðafoss waterfall from Akureyri early in the morning. This way we were ready at 12am and we could drive to the next sight Mývatn in 40 minutes to have lunch there.
While Mývatn is one of the sights of the Diamond Circle it’s actually a collection of many highlights in one area. Some refer to Lake Mývatn as part of the Diamond Circle, but that doesn’t do the area enough justice. Our advice is to spend at least 2,5 days in the area to visit as many of the natural attractions as you can. We believe that the Mývatn area is one of the most beautiful in Iceland. So let’s get into the things to do and see here.
The wetlands around Lake Mývatn are ideal to do one or more short hikes with the kids. The lake is a birdwatchers’s paradise, so check out which birds you can spot here and while you’re hiking you could all look out for them as a sort of game. Bundle up, because no matter the season, it will be chilly and windy here.
If you’re visiting the lake in the summer you should be aware of the midges. Freely translated Mývatn means Lake of Midges. They won’t sting you but they can really ruin your hike, so on a bad day (meaning: lots of midges) it might be better to skip the hike and enjoy the lake from some of the viewpoints around the lake.
Mývatn Nature Baths
An absolute must while visiting Iceland’s Diamond Circle with kids is Mývatn Nature Baths. And if you only have time for one thing while in the area of Mývatn let it be a dip in the geothermal baths here. It’s like visiting the Blue Lagoon, but without the crowds and with a friendlier, aka cheaper, price.
It was really relaxing to spend a few hours here and we could really use some relaxation after exploring the country while on an ultimate family road trip here. Our toddler loved it and was very zen, in fact we all were. So don’t forget to at this geothermal pool to your bucket list of things to do in Iceland!
Well hidden gem Grjótagjá is located close to Lake Mývatn. Enter the cave via a small opening right next to the parking lot and inside you will find a cave pool. It’s geothermally heated by volcanic activity underground. While you can dip your toes in some geothermal pools, this is not one of them. It’s boiling hot. But it’s definitely a mysterious and fun place to visit as a family and you can take great pictures because of the lighting that enters the cave from up above.
Game Of Thrones fans will recognize this cave as the place where the first love scene of Ygritte and Jon Snow was filmed. So if you’re kids are old enough to be fans, this is definitely a place they’d like to visit. Or maybe their parents will. That was the case with us.
Grjótagjá cave is located on private land, so please be respectful of the property, by using the appointed parking spots, staying on the pathway and cleaning up after you leave.
The Hverfjall Volcano and Crater, also known as Hverfell, can be spotted while on the parking lot of Grjótagjá. Its volcanic explosion crater is about a kilometer wide and about 140 meters deep. It’s a popular hiking destination with different paths that are accessible to the public. To protect the site some parts are prohibited, so please obey the rules to makes sure future generations can also enjoy this marvel.
The hike is easy enough for children ages 5 and up and they will enjoy walking around the entire circular crater as much as their parents will.
Leirhnjúkur Lava Fields
Another crater located next to Lake Mývatn is Leirhnjúkur. You can visit its lava fields and the crater itself via marked paths. You’ll be amazed by bubbling mud pools and steam coming from the vents.
Leirhnjúkur is part of the Krafla caldera, one of Iceland’s most active volcanic regions. In 1975 the largest volcanic eruption in Iceland’s recent history took place here. Eruptions and lava flows continued for nine years. Although the eruptions have stopped, the area is still very much active and hiking here is a cool experience.
If you’ve visited Iceland’s Golden Circle with kids, you’ve already visited Kerið crater lake. Víti, also a sight within the Krafla volcanic area, is even more impressive! It’s bigger and the water is brighter blue.
When you park the car and walk towards the crater lake, you’re already at the rim. It takes about an hour to walk around it. I wouldn’t advise you to walk down with kids under 10 or if you’re beginners. The further you get to the bottom the steeper and slippery it gets. Which also means that it’s not that easy to climb back up. There’s no railing of any kind you can use to help you.
After enjoying everything the Mývatn area has to offer, it is time to visit the 4th of 5 sights that make up Iceland’s Diamond Circle: Dettifoss. Known as one off (if not the) most powerful waterfall of Europe. It’s high up the list of the 10 best waterfalls in Iceland to visit with kids! Dettifoss is almost 100 meters wide and the sound is unlike we’ve ever heard. It’s louder than the rest of them and a true token of mother nature’s power.
You can get there via roads 862 and 864. If you don’t drive a 4X4 make sure to take the 862. The 864 is a former f-road only suitable for 4wd vehicles. The latter is partially closed in winter. So even if you have a 4wd, choose the 862 if you’re traveling during the winter months and late fall.
The Ásbyrgi canyon is part of Jökulsárgljúfur canyon, in the northermost corner of Vatnajökull National Park.
The scientific (and boring) claim about the origin of this canyon is that extreme and successive flooding lead to carve a formation out of solid rock. But this isn’t the tale you should tell your children to get them up and ready for the exploration of the canyon. So, let’s get into the magic.
Odin, magical horses and elves
Ásbyrgi can be translated to shelter of the gods. Why is that? Legend has it that this canyon came about when Odin’s steed placed one of his 8 feet on the ground, while riding across the sky. And who are we to say or think any different?
Needless to say, after reading this story, is that this canyon is shaped like a horse-shoe. Stone cliffs curve around a beautiful green gorge with basalt rock formations to enjoy along the route. When you see it, you’ll know it: something this magnificent could only be created by the gods. And at the very least it’s a great story to tell your kids, before entering the canyon.
And this is not the only interesting tale you can tell your kids about Ásbyrgi. Icelandic people believe that they share their country with the huldufólk, aka hidden elves. And they believe that this canyon is the capital of the huldufólk. Imagine hearing this story as a kid? I bet you couldn’t wait to check the canyon out and look for them. Who knows what you would find?
There are many trails you can hike. When you start at the visitors centre there are 9 marked trails you can choose from.
One of the easiest hikes leads you to Botnstjörn pond. This trail takes you through the woods and it ends with a viewing platform at the pond. It will take you about 1,5-2 hours to complete this hike.
This walk is especially fun with toddlers, because some of the rock formations look like the faces of trolls. And don’t forget to show your kids the plaque near the pond. It tells you the tale of a boy who fell in love with a girl from a different village. This was a forbidden love and a fairy told the girl in her dream that the boy had been turned into a beast. The beast is thought to live in the pond. But don’t wait around to see him. He will only show his head when the midnight sun shines on the cliff ;).
The town of Húsavík is the last place to visit while exploring Iceland’s Diamond Circle with kids. It’s a town with about 2200 inhabitants and is a beautiful fishing town.
Take a hike through this charming town and get treated to amazing coastal views all the while looking towards the arctic circle. On a dark winter’s night the chances of you spotting the northern lights here are good.
Húsavik is known as the whale watching capital of the world. But that’s a slight exaggeration, let’s go for whale watching capital of Iceland. Here you can book and start a whale watching tour and if you’re lucky you’ll spot minke whales, humpback whales and even the occassional blue whale or orca. May to September are the best months to spot whales in this area. If spotting whales is on the bucket list of your family, do it here!
If you’re not lucky enough to spot whales, you could always visit the whale museum. You’ll find 11 whale skeletons here and plenty exhibition rooms with documentaries and info about whales.
Before or after you visit Húsavik watch the movie Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga together. A comedy with Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams from 2020. Title song Húsavik was even nominated for an Oscar for best original song.
The song title kinda gives it away. The movie is about two musicians from Húsavik who are selected to perform at the Eurovision Song Contest as a contender for Iceland. The movie is a bit cheesy with some cringe-worthy moments, but it will make you smile and it’s a very sweet tale with lots of picturesque shots of Húsavik.
4 things to do on the Diamond Circle with kids
There’s so much more to explore along and around the Diamond Circle route, than it’s 5 official sites. So continue your road trip tour with kids and check out the following highlights!
Akureyru is also known as the unofficial capital of the north. It’s the second largest urban area outside of Reykjavik, with a population of about 19.000. Check out the city centre, eat fish and chips and visit the botanical garden.
Also, be sure to check out the red lights. They are heart-shaped. To all the selfie-lovers out there, if you want to snap a pic at a safe spot, head on out to Hof’s tourist information center where you’ll find one at a safe distance from traffic.
The Black Fortress, locally known as Dimmuborgir is another highlight you can find in the Mývatn area. When lava flowed across this area about 2.300 years ago, it passed over a lake, causing it to boil. The lava quickly cooled off and caused steam pillars that solidified and resulted in large stacks of rock and caves. That’s why it compared to a black fortress, it kinda looks like your walking the walls between castle towers.
We didn’t visit Dimmuborgir, because of some car trouble. Check out the pictures on Instagram or Pinterest and you’ll see it worth mentioning here!
Námaskarð is a magnificent geothermal wonder of hot sulfuric mud springs and steam vents. It feels like you’re on another planet when you walk through it. Memories of natural black rivers, black sand, bubbling pools and the intense smell of sulfur will stay with you forever.
The last waterfall is the neighbor of Dettifoss: Selfoss. This one’s also 100 meters wide, but only 10 meters high and like Goðafoss it’s shaped like a horseshoe. When you visit Dettifoss, make sure to also pay a visit to Selfoss. You won’t regret it and it will only take an extra 20 minutes walk.
That’s it, a complete guide to Iceland’s Diamond Circle with kids. Did this article convince you to explore this amazing area in the northeast of Iceland? Add the Diamond Circle road trip to your ultimate family road trip through Iceland. You won’t regret it!