Travel Iceland

Driving the Diamond Circle in Iceland: Your Ultimate Guide


The Diamond Circle is North Iceland’s premier travel itinerary. Taking in the delightful village of Húsavík, the vast Lake Mývatn, and much more, it’s not to be missed if you’re travelling in Iceland.


While you can visit the Diamond Circle in a tour bus, the best way to experience the route is in a private car. It gives you the flexibility to spend as much time as you want at different destinations and provides a much more comfortable travelling experience.

In this guide, discover everything you need to know about driving Iceland’s Diamond Circle. You’ll learn where to visit, how long it takes, and how to plan your trip.

The Map of Diamond Circle Iceland

Dimond Circle Map

The Diamond Circle Attractions: Key destinations

The Diamond Circle showcases the top sights of North Iceland. Like the Golden Circle—its cousin in the southwest of Iceland—the Diamond Circle offers a breathtaking collection of volcanic phenomena and other natural wonders.

You’ll find the route about 30 km (18 mi) east of Akureyri, the “Capital of the North”. It’s really convenient, as you can tour the loop in a single day of travel from the city.

There are 5 main sights that you shouldn’t miss when travelling in the region—including waterfalls, a fishing village, and the mighty Lake Mývatn.

Below, we describe the sights as you’ll see them if you’re travelling clockwise from Akureyri. However, you can stay anywhere along the route and see the sights in a different order if that works best for you.

1. Húsavík

Húsavík is a fishing village on the shores of Skjálfandi bay. With its busy harbour, green or snowy hills behind, and colourful houses, it’s a postcard-perfect place to see.

But it’s a lot more than just its pretty looks. Húsavík is known as the “whale-watching capital of Iceland”, thanks to regular sightings of humpback, blue, sei, and fin whales, as well as orcas and dolphins.

If you’re a film buff, you might also recognise Húsavík from Netflix’s Eurovision movie. With its century-old wooden church and its calm streets, you’ll agree it makes a picturesque shooting location.

Asbyrgi canyon on the Dimond Circle in Iceland

2. Ásbyrgi canyon

One of the more surprising sights you’ll find in Iceland is Ásbyrgi. It’s an enormous horse shoe-shaped canyon cut deeply into the rugged landscape.

What makes it particularly surprising is that the canyon is filled with lush vegetation. As it’s protected by the high walls of surrounding cliffs, the deep bowl is sheltered from the wilder extremes of Iceland’s weather.

Consequently, you’ll find yourself walking through gorgeous green forest, criss-crossed by rivers and accompanied by spectacular waterfalls. It’s a really breathtaking place to see.

3. Dettifoss

Follow the route south from Ásbyrgi and you’ll arrive at Dettifoss. It’s known as one of the most powerful waterfalls in Europe, and you’ll hear the astonishing sound of its thundering waters as you approach.

The water rushes down from the Vatnajökull glacier as the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river, before falling 44 metres (144 ft) into the canyon below. If you’re going to visit just one waterfall in Iceland, Dettifoss could be the one to choose.

4. Lake Mývatn

Lake Mývatn is one of the jewels of North Iceland. It’s a vast lake formed over two thousand years ago by a volcanic eruption.

Since then, Mývatn has been one of the most biodiverse areas in Iceland, hosting many birds and fish. You’ll understand why these creatures choose this lake as their home. It’s an enormous, beautifully green part of Iceland.

Don’t miss the fascinating volcanic rock formations on your visit. The best known is Dimmuborgir, the “Dark Castles”. It gets its name as it looks like the ruins of an eerie ancient citadel.

5. Goðafoss waterfall

The final stop on your Diamond Circle tour is Goðafoss. While Dettifoss is known for its power, Goðafoss is better known for its natural beauty and compelling history.

It’s thought that the name Goðafoss either means “God’s waterfall” or “the waterfall of the goði”, i.e. priests. Folklore suggests that a priest threw his pagan statues into the waterfall before converting to Christianity, back in the eleventh century.

Whether this truly happened, we’ll never know. But it’s a must-see on your Diamond Circle route nonetheless.

How long does it take to drive the Diamond Circle in Iceland?

The Diamond Circle route is 250 km (155 mi) in length. If you were to just drive the loop from Akureyri, it would take you about 4 hours. However, like this, you wouldn’t have an opportunity to get out of the car and explore the sights.

That’s why we recommend spending at least a day travelling on the Diamond Circle. This gives you the opportunity to stretch your legs at each of the main sights, stop for lunch, and make sure that you have taken enough photos.

However, the Diamond Circle can reward a much longer trip. For example, when visiting Húsavík, you can take the opportunity to join a whale-watching tour. Or, at Lake Mývatn, hike through along the shore to get a deeper look at the area. By adding these to your itinerary, you can spend a couple of days at least on the Diamond Circle.

Alongside the main sights, there are also many other less-known sights to see. They offer an opportunity for you to see North Iceland off the beaten track.

5 hidden gems in the Diamond Circle

Along the Diamond Circle route, lesser-known sights include volcanoes, peninsulas, and stunning rock formations. Here are some of our favourites.

  • Námafjall geothermal area. Námafjall is an expansive area of bubbling volcanic pools and mudpots in an otherworldly orange desert. What makes it extra special is its height, at over 1,500 m (4,900 ft).
  • Krafla volcanic area. Visit Krafla to see the icy caldera (crater) of an active volcano. It’s a short walk into the hills from Mývatn.
  • Jökulsárgljúfur canyon. On the road from Ásbyrgi to Dettifoss, you’ll drive alongside the rocky canyon, Jökulsárgljúfur. A great place to stop is the Hafragilsfoss waterfall, on the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river.
  • Hljóðaklettar rock formations. Hljóðaklettar is a series of evocative rocky features in the form of caves and complex mounds. Their name translates as “echo rocks” for the eerie sounds they make when you’re nearby.
  • Tjörnes peninsula. At the north of Húsavík, Tjörnes is the wild peninsula that sticks out into the Atlantic Ocean. Come for the puffin colonies and the astonishing sea views.

There’s plenty more to see and discover, including hiking trails, photo opportunities, and more.

One unmissable experience if you’re visiting Iceland in winter is seeing the northern lights. Lake Mývatn, for instance, is a top place to see this display, as there’s very low light pollution. Similarly, the north shore of the Tjörnes peninsula promises unobstructed views.

Why drive the Diamond Circle?

Visit Akureyri, Húsavík, or even Reykjavík and you’ll see tour operators advertising organised trips around the Diamond Circle. If you want to meet like-minded travellers or you don’t want to drive, these can be a good option.

However, as fun as tours can be, they all have similar downsides. You’ll see the main sights alongside many other people, you’ll have to stick to the tour’s schedule, and there won’t be any opportunity to see other sights that aren’t on the tour.

Hire a car, on the other hand, and you’ll have the flexibility to manage your own trip. You can stop where you want, spend as long as you want at specific sights, and see the beauties of the Diamond Circle in comfort.

For anyone who’s interested in a deeper experience of the Diamond Circle, driving yourself is a no-brainer. Ultimately, it gives you the power to build your own trip in the way you want to travel.


How to plan your self-drive trip in the Diamond Circle

If you’re driving yourself on the Diamond Circle, there are some important considerations to bear in mind before you leave.

Here are 4 tips to ensure a fun, comfortable, and safe trip.

1. Choose a season to visit the Diamond Circle

Wherever you travel in Iceland, the seasons will determine the flavour of your trip and what you can get up to.

Summer is North Iceland’s most popular season to visit. It’s at this time of year that whales visit Skjálfandi bay near Húsavík. And it’s when you’ll see natural sights such as Ásbyrgi and Lake Mývatn at their lushest and greenest.

Summer is also the time when getting around in Iceland is easiest. The weather is typically drier, the winter snow will have melted, and highland F-roads will be open.

Meanwhile, winter is the perfect time to see the northern lights, as well as the volcanic features covered in snow. It’s a particularly beautiful time of year.

While the Diamond Circle is open all year round, if there are heavy snows some of the highland roads can be closed. That’s why it’s really important that you check the weather and road conditions before you set off, particularly in winter. You can do this at the and the Icelandic Met Office.

2. Plan your route in advance

Ideally, if you’re driving anywhere in the world that you don’t know well, you should take a look at the route before you head off. This will prevent any nasty surprises along the way—and you won’t have to look at your mobile as you travel.

On the Diamond Circle route specifically, there are 3 things to be aware of:

  • The toll road tunnel. If you’re driving to the Diamond Circle from Akureyri, you’ll likely pass through the Vaðlaheiðargöng tunnel on Iceland’s Highway 1 (i.e. the “Ring Road”). It’s the only toll tunnel in Iceland and you’ll need to pay for it online within 24 hours of your journey. Find out more in our guide to tolls and tunnels in Iceland.

  • Unpaved roads. All of the main sights on the Diamond Circle are now paved. However, if you want to visit one of the less-visited sights, you may have to drive on an unpaved road. For this, it’s best to hire a 4x4, which can take you on any road in Iceland.

  • Weather conditions. North Iceland tends to get less precipitation than the southwest area around Reykjavík. However, in winter it can still snow. If it does, you may prefer to avoid driving on more remote roads. Whenever you’re travelling in Iceland, always check the weather and road closures before you set off.

3. Hire the right vehicle for your journey

Your choice of vehicle is personal. Some people prefer maximum comfort, while others prefer an affordable option. When hiring a vehicle with Höldur, you can choose whatever kind of vehicle you like:

  • Electric vehicles (EVs). EVs are incredibly popular in Iceland, as they’re cheap to run. If you’re sticking to the paved roads on the Diamond Circle, this can be a great, eco-friendly choice. However, if you intend to go off the beaten track (literally, in this case), a more robust option is probably better.
  • 4x4 SUVs. Four-wheel drives are the right choice if you’re planning to drive in the highlands or on any unpaved roads. Most other vehicles are not suitable for highland driving at all.
  • Campervans. If you want to stay out beneath the stars, a campervan is a great option. At Höldur, we also offer 4x4 campervans, so you can travel wherever you want in your own self-contained accommodation.

Whichever you prefer, at Höldur we have a large range of vehicles to suit your trip. Explore your options here.

4. Pack everything you need for a comfortable trip

If you’re exploring the Diamond Circle in just a day, you’ll need to worry less about what to pack than if you’re on the road for a few days.

But however long your trip, there are some essentials:

  • Your phone. Your phone will be useful for navigating, checking the weather, and making calls in an emergency—as well as taking photos. It’s also useful for paying for parking in Iceland.
  • Your driving licence. If you’re stopped or you’re in an accident, you’ll need to have this with you.
  • Waterproofs and some spare clothes. Driving in wet clothes isn’t fun. Whether it’s raining or not, it’s smart to pack your waterproofs just in case—and a warm change of clothes to get you home comfortably.

  • A change of shoes. The ground can be wet, icy, or muddy. You’ll need some proper shoes to walk in the Diamond Circle. But you might want some more comfortable shoes to drive in.

This is by no means an exhaustive list—they’re just some essentials. You’ll likely want snacks, a charger, your camera, and any personal items too.

Husavik Whale Museum

Frequently asked questions about Iceland’s Diamond Circle

If you have another question about driving the Diamond Circle, you may find the answers below.

What is the Diamond Circle in Iceland?

The Diamond Circle is the premier travel itinerary in North Iceland. It’s a loop of 250 km (155 mi) taking in some of the most iconic sights in Iceland’s north.

Where is the Diamond Circle and how do I get there?

The Diamond Circle is in North Iceland, about 30 km (18 mi) to the east of Akureyri, the “Capital of the North”. From the city, you can travel along Highway 1 (the “Ring Road”) to reach the Diamond Circle.

If you’re travelling from Reykjavík, you have a couple of ways to reach the Diamond Circle. One option is to drive the Ring Road. The journey to Akureyri is about 400 km (250 mi) and takes about 5 hours.

Alternatively, you could fly from Reykjavík to Akureyri and hire a car from a Höldur car rental in the north.

What are the must-see sights on the Diamond Circle?

There are 5 major sights on the Diamond Circle:

  • Húsavík. This fishing village is the capital of whale watching in Iceland, as well as a beautiful place to explore.

  • Ásbyrgi canyon. A horse-shoe shaped canyon, Ásbyrgi contains one of the most beautiful forested areas in Iceland.

  • Dettifoss. Known as the most powerful waterfall in Iceland, it’s an unmissable natural sight.

  • Lake Mývatn. One of Iceland’s largest lakes and a biodiversity hotspot, Lake Mývatn was formed by a volcanic eruption.

  • Goðafoss, a natural wonder as well as an important historic sight.

There are many other lesser-known sights on the Diamond Circle too, including Námafjall geothermal area, Krafla volcanic area, and Jökulsárgljúfur canyon.

How long does it take to do the Diamond Circle in Iceland?

While the route itself can be driven in about 4 hours, most visitors spend at least a day touring the Diamond Circle. If you want to see whales or take a hike, you can spend even longer here.

Bear in mind that days in Iceland’s winter can be quite short. So, if you’re visiting in winter, it’s best to spread the route over two days.

Where does the Diamond Circle start?

As it’s a loop, you can start the Diamond Circle at any point on the itinerary.

Some people choose to do it from Akureyri, a bustling town with many restaurants and places to stay. Others choose to spend the night on the loop itself. For instance, there are accommodation options around Lake Mývatn, as well as in Húsavík.

Where is the Diamond Circle?

The Diamond Circle is in North Iceland, about 30 km (18 mi) east of the city of Akureyri. It encompasses the area around Húsavík and Lake Mývatn.

What is the difference between the Diamond and Golden Circle?

The Diamond Circle is North Iceland’s answer to the Golden Circle. Both are well-known travel itineraries, but with very different routes and destinations.

You’ll find the Diamond Circle in the northeast of the country, around the area of Húsavík and Lake Mývatn. Meanwhile, the Golden Circle is just outside Reykavík and it includes Gullfoss, Geysir, and Þingvellir National Park.

Is there a recommended direction or route for driving the Diamond Circle?

You can take the Diamond Circle route in a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction—it doesn’t make much difference.

Can you drive the Diamond Circle without 4 wheel drive?

You can visit the main attractions of the Diamond Circle entirely on paved roads. So, if you stick to the main route, you won’t need a 4-wheel drive. This includes the 862 road between Dettifoss and Ásbyrgi.

However, if you’re intending to travel on highland roads, a 4-wheel drive is highly recommended. In fact, most car rental operators won’t let you rent a 2-wheel drive if you’re intending to drive in the highlands.

How much does it cost to go to the Diamond Circle?

The Diamond Circle is largely free. There’s no ticket to visit the sights.

However, if you’re driving, you will need to budget for car hire, fuel, parking, and any overnight stays. If you’re coming from Akureyri, you’ll also need to pay for the toll tunnel.

When is the best time to visit the Diamond Circle?

The best time to visit the Diamond Circle will depend on your preferences and travel plans.

The summer is the best time to see whales from Húsavík, and it’s when the weather is better more generally. The long summer evenings—with the midnight sun—give you much more time to explore too.

On the other hand, in the winter, you’ll have the chance to see the northern lights and landscapes covered in snow. You’ll also have shorter days, though, meaning you might not fit everything you want to do into one day.

Why is the Diamond Circle an excellent place for witnessing the Northern Lights?

There’s no doubt that the Diamond Circle is a great place to see the northern lights.

Firstly, that’s because North Iceland is one of the driest regions in the country. This means fewer clouds, which give you a clearer view of the sky.

Secondly, North Iceland is much more sparsely populated than the south, particularly the southwest. As such, there’s less light pollution to detract from the aurora.

What are the cultural or historical sites I can visit along the Diamond Circle?

There are a number of cultural sights along the Diamond Circle. Most of these are in Húsavík, the largest village in the region

  • Húsavíkurkirkja. Húsavík’s church is one of the most picturesque in Iceland. It was built in 1907.

  • Húsavík Museum. Learn about the village and the surrounding area in this intimate space.

  • Húsavík Whale Museum. The village is primarily known for its whales, which you can learn all about at the Whale Museum.

  • Goðafoss waterfall. The story goes that a pagan priest threw his idolatrous statues into the river at Goðafoss before converting to Christianity.

  • Mánárbakki Museum. On the Tjörnes peninsula, you’ll find the Mánárbakki Museum, filled with local artefacts telling the story of the region.

How accessible are the attractions on the Diamond Circle for people with mobility issues?

Most of the paths on the Diamond Circle itinerary are mud, gravel, or rough ground. This makes it quite difficult for people with mobility issues.

However, accessible sights include the village of Húsavík and parts of Lake Mývatn.

What are the parking and restroom facilities like along the Diamond Circle?

There are parking facilities at all of the main sights in the Diamond Circle. You’ll find public toilets at Lake Mývatn, Dettifoss, Ásbyrgi, and in Húsavík.

What are some emergency contacts or safety information I should know about when travelling the Diamond Circle?

If you’re driving the Diamond Circle, it’s worth having some good sources of safety information with you:

  • Icelandic Met Office. This is the most reliable source for weather information.

  • The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration is the best place to find information about road conditions and closures.

  • is a service for visitors to Iceland. It includes up-to-date information about weather, road conditions, and more. You can also use it to tell emergency services in advance where you are travelling.

  • 112 is the phone number for all emergency services in Iceland. If you’re in trouble, call this number and you’ll be directed to the service you need.

  • +(354) 461 6000 is Höldur’s phone number. If you’re a Höldur customer, you can call if you have any problems with your vehicle.

What should I do in case of a car breakdown or emergency while driving the Diamond Circle?

Generally, phone signal is pretty good throughout Iceland. If you need any urgent assistance, make a call on your mobile.

In a breakdown or emergency, the best number to call is 112. The operator will put you through to the service you need, including roadside assistance.

If you’re a Höldur customer, please then call us on +(354) 461 6000.

Drive Iceland’s Diamond Circle with Höldur

The best way to see the Diamond Circle is by car. It gives you the flexibility, freedom, and comfort to make your visit extra special.

At Höldur, we help visitors to Iceland hire the vehicles that are right for them. Whether you want an electric vehicle, a 4x4, a camper, or a standard passenger vehicle, we can help. We’re the largest car rental operator in Iceland and the local Europcar franchisee, with over 7,000 vehicles in rotation.

Explore our range to book your vehicle. Then, start planning your trip to the Diamond Circle!