Lake Mývatn is Iceland’s fourth-largest lake and a unique destination. It’s an environmental paradise with vibrant birdlife and natural phenomena, surrounded by geothermal heat and natural wonders. Mývatn has more species of ducks than any other place on earth and many other migratory birds. The Mývatn region has a myriad of exciting and beautiful attractions.
By the lake
On the way to Mývatn from Akureyri, stop at Goðafoss (the Waterfall of the Gods). The waterfall is not just a beautiful natural wonder. It’s also where local chieftain Þorgeir threw his carved idols of the Norse gods after ruling that Icelanders should convert to Christianity in 1000 AD. From there, travel south of Lake Mývatn to see the pseudocraters of Skútustaðir – a unique geological phenomenon. Stop by the bizarre lava pillars of Kálfaströnd en route to Dimmuborgir (Dark Castles), a set of lava formations that resemble an Elvish city – complete with a cathedral. This is one of the most popular places to visit in the north of Iceland, and there are marked hiking trails of varying difficulty. In December, the area is crawling with Yule Lads, Iceland’s 13 mischievous versions of Santa Claus. The Lake Mývatn route has great opportunities for bird spotting.
Moving west from Lake Mývatn, is Grjótagjá, a hot spring inside a lava cave, which featured memorably on the hit TV series Game of Thrones. Alternatively, guided tours to the fascinating Lofthellir lava cave are available – it’s so deep that the temperature’s always below freezing, resulting in ice stalactites.
Many places around Mývatn are affected by the geothermal heat in the ground below. Plants don’t grow there, but the ground itself takes on diverse colours and textures, even bubbling and steaming. From the lake, there’s a short drive to the geothermal area of Mt. Námafjall, with its bubbling mud cauldrons and steaming fumaroles, and the explosive crater of Víti (Hell) in the Krafla volcanic area. You can also take an hour-long hike around Leirhnjúkar, an 18th-century grotesquely beautiful lava field.
Jökulsárgljúfur National Park
If there’s still time left, you could enter the Jökulsárgljúfur National Park, where glacial rivers have carved great canyons in the land. They’ve created such gems as Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe. If you’re feeling remarkably ambitious, you could go all the way to Ásbyrgi Nature Reserve, a stunning horseshoe-shaped valley, far from civilisation, which, according to legend, derived its shape from the hoofprint of Sleipnir, the eight-footed horse of Óðinn.
Whether you make your day shorter or longer, you should end your day with a relaxing dip in the Mývatn Nature Baths – a geothermal pool with a unique mineral composition and a mountain view. The milky blue waters are reminiscent of the more famous water in the blue lagoon, and the views are no less gorgeous.
Last updated 8 May 2023.