Lake Myvatn is one of Iceland’s most varied natural sites. The area is full of amazing natural geological features, active volcanic sites and is a bird-watching haven.
It was one of our favourite places on our family road trip around Iceland’s ring road. Lake Myvatn is definitely one of the top things to see in Iceland, with lots of hiking and exploring to be done. We’d encourage anyone thinking of visiting Iceland to put Lake Myvatn on their itinerary.
If you’re travelling with your family, it’s also possible to see many things here with small kids and it’s a great and practical way to get them interested in geography.
Take a look at some of the fabulous things to see at Lake Myvatn.
What to see at Lake Myvatn
As you may know, Iceland straddles two tectonic plates: the Eurasian plate and the North American plate.
Lake Myvatn sits right on top of the rift between the plates. This means lots of volcanic activity and interesting geological formations created over centuries of eruptions found near to the lake. The lake itself is not necessarily the main attraction; there aren’t any watersports or sailing as the crystal clear waters are more of a wildlife sanctuary.
We’d recommend taking two days to explore the area around Lake Myvatn. However, if you don’t have that long you can see lots of the major things in one day, especially if you’re travelling in summer.
Hverir Geothermal area
I’ll get straight to my favourite place at Lake Myvatn. Hverir geothermal area is one of the most active parts of Lake Myvatn, and it’s really like stepping onto another planet. Our kids found it fascinating.
Hverir’s landscape is a stark contrast to the picturesque surrounds of Lake Myvatn. It’s just a 2 minute drive from the lake itself. As you drive over the hill from the lake, the greenery melts away to reveal a barren, multi coloured, steaming landscape.
At Hverir you can walk right up to fumaroles; volcanic vents which belch sulphurous gases furiously into the air. Try not to breathe too deeply – it’s pretty noxious stuff.
Multicoloured lichen grows on the scorched red ground around the vents. These lichen must be the hardiest plants in Iceland. Nothing else survives here.
Follow the path around the lichen beds, where you’ll see that there are also bubbling mud pits. Again, you can get very close to the craters where you’ll be hypnotised into watching the mud bubbles swell and then burst.
An assault on the senses Hverir may be, but what a fantastic place for kids to experience a volcanic landscape!
Walk on smoking lava at Krafla
The volcano Krafla is the most active area around Lake Myvatn. You’ll see the road to Krafla opposite Hverir’s car park. Car parks for Krafla’s attractions are a few miles or so up the road on top of the mountain.
The last eruption here was in 1975 – 1984 when a fissure opened and lava intermittently flowed out of the cracks for several years. Still-smoking black lava has bubbled over the landscape in Krafla’s caldera, and you can walk among the flows looking for active vents. This volcanic area is called Leirhnjúkur.
You’ll also find a couple of sulphurous steaming pools, similar to those at Hverir.
There are boardwalks and paths through the lava fields and there are several long hiking trails in the area. Stick to the paths if you don’t want your shoes to melt!
Nearby Leirhnjúkur is a crater, Viti (which means Hell). Set in a barren but colourful hillside, Viti’s surprise is the sapphire blue lake at its centre. It’s extremely photogenic.
A half hour’s walk will lead you all around the crater and there’s another, smaller lake behind and more geothermal features. If you don’t fancy the walk (we didn’t) it’s still a pretty place to take a look.
After you’ve visited Viti and Leirhnjúkur, take the road back down towards the lake for the rest of your sightseeing, making one quick stop on the way.
All the geothermal energy released by Krafla’s fissure has been put to good use. It might not sound interesting but do take a pit stop in the power station on the road to Krafla. There’s a video in English and a few displays showing how the power is harnessed.
And, more importantly, free coffee.
Grjótagjá (or Jon Snow’s Cave)
Hidden inside a tiny crack in a lava flow, Grjótagjá is a subterranean hot pool made famous for inspiring a scene from Game of Thrones. You know the one, when Jon Snow breaks his Night’s Watch oath by spending some, ahem, private time with Ygritte.
Once you’ve clambered down the rocks to the pool, you’ll realise that most of the scene wasn’t actually filmed here – the cave is far too cramped.
Also spoiling the fun, you’re not actually meant to bathe in the pool. It’s about 45°C in the water but can sometimes be hotter if there’s lots of volcanic activity. However it’s an interesting place and definitely worth a peep!
Climb Hverfjall volcano
For stupendous views of the area, the summit of Hverfjall can’t be beaten. Hverfjall is a dark grey cone rising ominously out of the surrounding grassland.
An hour’s hike will take you up and around the crater. In contrast to Viti, there is no lake inside this crater, just remnants from the immense blast that decapitated the mountain.
You won’t be spending much time looking in the crater anyway – the view of Lake Myvatn is too good!
Dimmuborgir lava formations
Image credit: Navin Rajagopalan, Flickr
Formed from an apocalyptic lava flow around 2000 years ago, the lava formations at Dimmuborgir are unique. Dimmuborgir translates as “dark citadel” which is apt as walking through Dimmuborgir is a bit like walking through an eerie stone city, in Mordor perhaps.
There are several dark fairytales and legends about Dimmuborgir’s otherworldly inhabitants which kids will love. Murderous trolls are rumoured to live inside some of the lava pillars. Tread carefully.
You’ll find several different trails through Dimmuborgir. One of the best routes is about an hour long and takes you to The Church, a circular gap in the rock which you can walk through.
Höfði: Iceland’s forest
From a fantasy city to a fairytale forest: just along the road from Dimmuborgir is the small wooded area of Höfði. Iceland doesn’t have many forests so this area is quite special for Icelanders. Höfði is on a rocky peninsula that juts out over Lake Myvatn.
Follow the winding paths through the trees to some gorgeous viewpoints over the lake. There’s also a clearing in the middle which could be an ideal place for a picnic.
As you walk through the forest, it’s easy to imagine all sorts of fairytale creatures hiding in the greenery; a more gentle way to fire kids’ imaginations than those malevolent trolls in Dimmuborgir.
From Höfði you can also see beautiful lava pillars, Kálfastrandavogar, towards the south part of the lake. You could walk down to these formations too, if you’d like a closer look at them.
On the southern tip of the lake are a series of miniature craters. There are no magma chambers underneath these pseudocraters, even though they look just like lots of tiny volcanoes in a row. Instead, these were created when lava flowed over wet ground and trapped steam exploded out from underneath.
You can walk on trails over the pseudocraters and get another perspective over Lake Myvatn. There is also a turf farmhouse nearby that you can look at, although you can’t go in.
Bird watching by Lake Myvatn
Lake Myvatn is well known for its birdlife as well as its amazing geology.
You don’t need to be an ornithologist to enjoy spotting the different species of ducks, geese and other birds who flock to the lake. Kids will enjoy seeing who can count the most different types.
For a closer look at birds, try the Bird Museum which houses Iceland’s largest private collection of birds (erm, stuffed ones rather than live). Its exhibits are interactive which will appeal to children, and the museum is situated at the lakeside so you can get a great look at the birds from the restaurant.
Lake Myvatn Nature Baths
Image credit: jbdodane, Flickr
Billed as a cheaper, less crowded answer to the more famous Blue Lagoon, Lake Myvatn’s Nature Baths could be exactly what you need after a day or two exploring Lake Myvatn’s attractions. The volcanically heated water is a perfect way to soothe your weary limbs!
You don’t need to book a ticket months in advance, just turn up and it will cost between 3800 – 4700 ISK depending on the season. Children under 12 go free.
We had planned to take a dip here too but after such a packed day exploring, the kids basically passed out in the car so we had to take them back home to Akureyri. At least we managed the Blue Lagoon before we left Iceland.
Know before you go
How to get to Lake Myvatn
Lake Myvatn sits in the north of Iceland, just by the ring road, so it’s easily found. You’ll probably smell the volcanic activity before you see it!
There are several different car parks near the various attractions so it’s easy to move from one site to another. Many places are signposted but we used google maps to find the exact spots for some places.
You won’t be able to take a day trip from Reykjavik to Lake Myvatn, it’s too far; about 6 hours on the ring road. If you don’t have a car then you can take a tour.
If you want to get there quickly then flights operate to Akureyri from Reykjavik.
Safety and getting around Lake Myvatn with small children
Some areas of Lake Myvatn are more suitable than others for small kids.
The boardwalks at Leirhnjúkur volcanic area made the going relatively easy, and you could probably get a pushchair along them. Hverir is all on flat ground but the fumaroles aren’t roped off. The walk around Hofdi is fine for small kids, although there are a few steps.
If you plan on hiking around the craters then beware of slippery and uneven ground. It’s not wise to take small kids into the Grjótagjá cave – it’s a scramble over rocks to enter, and you don’t want them slipping into the pool. Obviously make sure you all stay on the paths as some of the volcanic areas are really hot and not fenced off with anything more sturdy than a bit of string.
We found that using a toddler carrier was better than trying to wrangle a pushchair over uneven ground.
Where to stay at Lake Myvatn
Lake Myvatn has several accommodation options in the local area, from high end hotels to guesthouses and campsites. The nearest town is Reykjahlið where you’ll find a helpful tourist information office and a supermarket.
Booking as far in advance as possible is recommended. If you can’t stay overnight at the lake (we couldn’t) then Akureyri, Iceland’s second city, is an hour away and has lots of choice. We stayed in an AirBnB in Akureyri.
Husavik is a smaller town, also about an hour away. If you’re planning on whale watching too then Husavik could be a good option.
Where to eat at Lake Myvatn
The best, and most unusual restaurant at Lake Myvatn is probably Vogafjos Cowshed Cafe. Yes, you can eat in a cowshed. You can also drink fresh milk from the cows, and even watch them being milked. Not to be confused with The Slaughterhouse restaurant from The Simpsons.
If you are travelling around Iceland on a budget (as we were) you will probably be looking for a good picnic spot. We stopped at a viewpoint overlooking Lake Myvatn just before the summit of the hill that takes you to Hverir volcanic area. From here we could see the lake and Hverfjall mountain, as well as the thermal baths and some steaming ground. The only downside was the volcanic air which didn’t really help to build up an appetite.
Have you been to Lake Myvatn? What was your favourite part?