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Driving Iceland’s Ring Road - Day 5: Exploring Lake Mývatn and second part of the Diamond Circle

Lake Mývatn is a shallow lake that was created by a large lava eruption about 2,300 years ago.  This area is still volcanically active and our tour will bring us to lots of volcanic landforms. 

The lake is a habitat for numerous water birds and especially ducks.


The name Mývatn can be translated to "the lake of midges" as mý means "midge" and vatn means "lake".  The name comes from the large numbers of midges which spend the summer over here.


For more detailed information incl. links to google maps locations, more reviews, website links, etc., check out our Iceland Highlights Purple Guide.

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Our Iceland Travel Guide has detailed information about the individual destinations, links to their locations in google maps, reviews and websites (if available).

Please see the Backpack & Snorkel Travel Store for more information.

Iceland Travel Guide Book Cover

Here are more Iceland destinations to explore:

Backpack and Snorkel Iceland Travel Guide cover showing Studlagil canyon
Backpack and Snorkel Iceland Travel Guide cover showing icebergs at Jokulsarlon
Backpack and Snorkel Iceland Travel Guide cover showing the Godafoss waterfall
Backpack and Snorkel Iceland Travel Guide cover showing the Fjadrargljufur canyon
Backpack and Snorkel Iceland Travel Guide cover showing a puffin
Backpack and Snorkel Iceland Travel Guide cover showing the Black Fortress at Dimmuborgir
Backpack and Snorkel Iceland Travel Guide cover showing the erupting Strokkur geyser
Backpack and Snorkel Iceland Travel Guide cover showing the Aurora Borealis

Visit Grjótagjá Cave and thermal pool that was shown on Games of Thrones

Grjótagjá Cave is a small lava cave with a thermal spring inside. 

It is mostly known from the Game of Thrones episode "Kissed by Fire" (season 3, episode 5) as a location for one of the most iconic love scenes.  Please don’t expect to see the waterfall in the cave as that was added on the computer.


The first known use of Grjótagjá Cave was in the early 18th century when the outlaw Jón Markússon lived here and used the cave for bathing.  The cave was used as a popular bathing site until a series of eruptions at nearby Krafla between 1975 and 1984 caused the water temperature to rise to almost 140F (60°C), making it too hot for bathing.  Over time, the water temperature has slowly decreased to 109-115F (43-46°C), but it is still too hot and entering the water is forbidden.


There are two narrow entrances to the cave.  But are just adjacent to the parking lot, but both require some climbing down into the cave and there is little space to climb around.  So, make sure to wear sturdy shoes.


After you have been in the cave, you can walk up to the right (if you look towards the entrance of the cave) where you can walk right up to a fault line.


The cave is located on private land.  Admission is free and the cave is always open.

Grjotagja cave in Iceland
Grjotagja cave in Iceland
Grjotagja cave in Iceland
Grjotagja cave in Iceland

Climb up Hverfell crater

Hverfjall, or, Hverfell is a cone-shaped crater which was formed by an eruption about 2,500 years ago.  The crater is about 0.6 miles (1km) in diameter and it is not round but a bit deformed at the southern end likely because of a landslide apparently that occurred during the eruption.


The rim of the crater is only accessible by two paths and it is not allowed to walk off these paths.  The most popular and easily accessible path is at the northwestern flank.  The second path is at the southern end, shortly before where the landslide occurred.


When you stand at the parking lot, walking up the steep path to the rim looks like a difficult undertaking.  With moderate fitness, it takes most people only 10-15min to get up there.  But you will likely be exhausted, so bring plenty of water and be advised there is little opportunity to sit down, unless you want to sit on the volcanic ash. 


If you still have enough energy left, then you can walk along the rim around the crater. 


Access to Hverfell is year-round and there is no admission fee.


Some people ascent in the northwest (like we did) and descend in the south and even fewer then hike on to Dimmuborgir, which is our next destination. 

On our trip, we will descend the same way we walked up (in the northwest) and then drive to Dimmuborgir which takes about 10min.

Hverfell crater in Iceland
Hverfell crater in Iceland
Hverfell crater in Iceland
Hverfell crater in Iceland

Explore the lava formations at Dimmuborgir

Dimmuborgir is a large lave field with unusually shaped dramatic volcanic rock formations and caves that make it one of Iceland's most popular natural tourist attractions. 

It was formed about 2,300 years ago when lava pooled over a small lake.  The water vapor that formed rose through the lava and then formed lava pillars and hollow chambers.  When the surface crust of the lava collapsed, the already cooled and solidified pillars remained.


The name Dimmuborgir reflects this in its name which comes from dimmu meaning "dark" and borgir meaning "cities", "forts", or "castles".


In Icelandic folklore, Dimmuborgir connects earth with the infernal regions and Nordic Christian lore claims that Dimmuborgir is the place where Satan landed after he was banned from the heavens.


You may have guessed it by now, Dimmuborgir was used as the background of Mance Rayder's wildling camp in Game of Thrones.


Dimmuborgir is open year-round and there is no admission fee and parking is free.


The park has multiple color coded trails.  You start with the purple trail that begins at the parking lot.  At the fork, our proposal is to go left and shortly thereafter go on the yellow trail to the left.  We definitely recommend exploring the dead-end trail to Hallarflöt that soon goes off to the right.

Back at the yellow trail, our recommendation is to continue on and then go left on the red trail which will bring you to Kirkja which is one of the highlights of Dimmuborgir.  You can then continue on the red trail and later on the purple trail to get back to the parking lot.

This trip is likely around 1.5 miles (2.4km).


When you get back to the parking lot, you can visit the restaurant, gift shop and restrooms.  You will need to pay for using the restroom or, if you buy something from the gift shop regardless how cheap it is, you can scan your receipt to gain free admission to the restrooms.

Dimmuborgir lava formations in Iceland
Dimmuborgir lava formations in Iceland
Dimmuborgir lava formations in Iceland
Dimmuborgir lava formations in Iceland

Hike up Vindbelgjarfjall

If you feel like climbing a mountain and have another 2-3h, then take the 20min drive to Vindbelgjarfjall.  Otherwise, relax for the rest of the evening at the Mývatn Nature Baths.


Vindbelgjarfjall is a 1763ft (529m) tall volcanic mountain north west of Lake Myvatn.  It is not a popular tourist destination and you may only see one or two other parties during your hike.

The trail is 1.5 miles (2.4km) each way and is marked with small yellow stumps.  First part of the trail runs through mostly flat land and takes about 30-45min.  Once you reach the mountain, the trail goes up with some steep sections. As with Hverfell, the ascend looks worse than it is and a moderately fit person should need 45min to 1h to the top from where you have spectacular 360 degree views of the Lake Myvatn area.


You will hike down the same way that you came.


Hiking up Vindbelgjarfjall should only be done from June through September when the weather is good.  There is no admission fee and parking is free, too.

After this hike, you have deserved a rest at the beautiful Mývatn Nature Baths which may remind you a bit of the Blue Lagoon.  The drive to Mývatn Nature Baths takes about 15min.

Vindbelgjarfjall in Iceland
Vindbelgjarfjall in Iceland

Swim at the Mývatn Nature Baths

Opened in 2004, Mývatn Nature Baths are man-made mineral-rich geothermal baths that draw from hot water from a depth of 8,300ft (2,500m). Like in the Blue Lagoon, the water in the 53,800sqft (5000m2) looks blue from the minerals in it, the pools are enclosed by black volcanic rock and the bottom is black volcanic rocks and sand.

The depth is about 4ft 4in (1.3m) and the temperature is around 97-104F (36-40°C).

The hot volcanic water in the Lake Myvatn area has a comparably high content of hydrogen sulfide and therefore jewelry from brass or silver should not be taken into the water as they may turn black.


Besides the thermal pool, Mývatn Nature Baths has a cafeteria and two natural steam baths in which sulphur-free steam brings the temperature to around 50°C and the humidity to close to 100%.


Need more relaxation?  Then buy an alcohol bracelet at the entrance which entitles you to 3 beers or 2 glasses of wine that a staff member will bring you.  This seems to be quite popular as we saw lots of adults with wine glasses.

Myvatn Natural Baths in Iceland
Myvatn Natural Baths in Iceland

Mývatn Nature Baths are open year-round, typically from noon to 10pm, but there are exceptions and January 1 is closed.  Admission is 5,700 ISK per adult, but there are discounts for teenagers, seniors, students and handicapped people.

Towels, swimsuits and bathrobes can be rented and there are private showers for everyone who does not want to shower in public.


For everyone who has not been at a thermal bath in Iceland, there are certain rules that need to be obeyed.  So, please read them carefully:

  • Shoes off
    Outside the changing rooms are shoe shelves where you have to leave your shoes.  Sometimes a plastic bag is provided.  Nobody will steal your shoes.  If you absolutely do not want to leave your shoes on the shelf, you can store them you a locker in the changing room.  But you must take them off at the shelf.
  • Get a locker
    A locker to store your belongings (including cameras and cell phones!) is included in the admission fee.  You will get the key, which is attached to an elastic band, when you pay admission.  You should put the elastic band around your wrist and bring it into the pool with you.   
  • Shower nude - without bathing suit
    This is probably the most important rule and some people claim that there is a shower police which is watching to make sure that you do it right!  This is not the case in my experience, but other visitors may call you out if you violate this rule.
    Showering in the nude and properly cleaning yourself is very important as the thermal pools are not or almost not chlorinated and bacteria that you bring into the pool by not obeying this rule could spread and infect many people. 
    If you are uncomfortable showering in an open space with other people, you can ask the staff if there is a private shower. 
    Once you hit the showers you have to properly wash yourself with the provided soap (some people bring their own) and without your swimsuit.  Obviously, your swimsuit should be clean, too.  Icelanders take swimming pool hygiene very seriously, so don't think of trying to skip the showers!
  • Leave your towel and shampoo in the shelves by the showers.  The shelves usually right before the showers.  You can also take your towel to the pool, if you feel like it.  Again, nobody will steal it.
  • Put your swimsuit back on and go to the pool
  • Relax in the hot pools.


This concludes Day 5 of your Iceland Ring Road Tour.

Myvatn Natural Baths in Iceland
Myvatn Natural Baths in Iceland