Mývatn is a gorgeous lake in the northern part of Iceland. It is known for its abundant bird-life and for being home to the largest population of midges (!!!) in Iceland. Despite that, the lake and its surroundings is extremely pretty and should be high on the list of attractions to visit in the north of the country.
Mývatn literally translates into „The Lake of Midges“. Near the lake, there are midges everywhere you look – at least in the summer. According to Icelandic folklore, the lake ia actually the work of Satan. Apparently, he was angry at God for having created such a beautiful world so he decided to destroy the sun by urinating on it. He somehow failed this mission and urinated somewhere on North Iceland, and that‘s how Lake Mývatn emerged!
But Satan‘s doings aside, Lake Mývatn is absolutely stunning in every way. The lake is shallow and serene and there are 40 little islets on it, most of which are clearly visible from the shore. There are also plenty of beautiful attractions nearby, such as Skútustaðagígar Pseudo-craters and Dimmuborgir.
Mývatn in autumn. Unsplash/Richard Dorran.
In my opinion, spending one or two days exploring all the attractions around the lake is ideal if you‘re in the area. The lake is a short drive from Akureyri (the largest town in the northern part of Iceland) or Húsavík (a lovely town famous for whale watching). It can also be a part of a road trip itinerary, such as the Diamond Circle.
In this article, I will tell you about my favourite places around Mývatn. Unfortunately, they are not accessible by public transport so hiring a car is highly recommended. Unless you‘re an extremely ambitious hiker or cyclist.
Dimmuborgir is the name of lava formations that cover a large area west of the lake. They emerged more than two millennia ago, when the crater row of Lúdents- and Þrengslaborgir erupted. The field has a large network of walking paths which give you an opportunity to explore the formations up close.
As you can see from the pictures below, the lava has taken unusual forms, resembling sculptures rather than rocks. Dimmuborgir is in fact a very unique geological phenomenon - similar lava formations have only been found at one site in Mexico and on the ocean floor.
It is easy to access the area by car. There is a parking lot close to the field and the walk from there isn't too long. However, the paths around the field can be icy or filled with snow. Make sure to check the weather conditions before planning your visit.
Here you can find a 3D map with all the walking paths in the area. If you're planning to cover most of the area on foot, you can expect to spend 1,5–2 hours there (including stops for pictures and snacks).
So what on earth are pseudocraters? The answer is not clear cut, since scientists are not yet certain about how exactly this weird geological phenomenon is created. Essentially, pseudocraters are geological formations that resemble shallow craters. The Skútustaðagígar Pseudocraters are the only ones of its kind in the country. Similar formations can be found only in Hawaii and on Mars.
There are two walking paths in the Skútustaðagígar area (1,5 kilometres and 3 kilometres long). The shorter one is accessible for wheelchairs and pushchairs/prams. For those who are interested in birds, I recommend visiting in the spring. The area is home to a plethora of species, such as loon, arctic tern, horned grebe and the nordic phalarope.
Skútustaðagígar Pseudocraters seen from above. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
If you feel like pausing sightseeing for a little while, Jarðböðin á Mývatni is fantastic spot to relax and unwind. Its characteristic milky blue colour derives from high levels of silica and other minerals that can be found in the geothermal water and therefore it resembles the iconic Blue Lagoon.
Although the facilities there are currently quite nice, the Mývatn Nature Baths will become even more luxurious in a couple of years, since renovation is about to start very soon. Remember to bring a towel and a swimsuit, otherwise you'll have to rent it.
Photo: Mývatn Nature Baths@Facebook.
Hverir is a geothermal area 4 kilometers east of Lake Mývatn. The area, which consists of fumaroles and mud pools, is characterised by orange and mustardy yellow colours, a very potent sulphurous smell and numerous columns of hot steam.
Due to an abundance of mud and sulphur in the area, Hverir looks totally different from the landscape surrounding Lake Mývatn. The ground is barren and orange, dotted with grey mud pools. It is safe to walk around the area, but you have to be very cautious. The mud pools are very hot so be careful not to step into them.
Grjótagjá is a rift filled with geothermal water, inside a cave located a few kilometers east of Lake Mývatn. It used to be a popular bathing spot some decades ago, but the temperature of the water started to rise and eventually got too hot. Unfortunately, it is currently forbidden to bathe in the rift.
It is nevertheless a very beautiful spot and well worth visiting if you're in the area. Game of Thrones fans may recognise the rift as it was the setting for one of Jon Snow's and Ygritte's steamiest encounters.
Midges? Are they a huge problem in the destinations mentioned in this article?
Not really. The midges tend to stay very close to the lake, and as most of these attractions are located a few kilometres away, they aren't as much of a problem there. However, it's a good idea to bring a mosquito head net if you intend to spend a lot of time near the lake.
When is the best time to visit?
The summer, in my opinion. It's the brightest and the warmest season here in Iceland, which means that getting around is just way easier. Winter is beautiful too, but if you opt for the colder seasons, you have to keep in mind that roads may be closed and the attractions may not be as accessible.
Is it possible to sail on the lake?
No. It´s forbidden to sail on the lake as it would disrupt the birdlife in the area.