Dark castles, dark forts, dark citadels… however you translate the word Dimmuborgir, it should give you some idea of the mangled forms that lie within. Twisted towers of coagulated rock breach the earth’s surface to form a lava field full of giant pillars, chimneys and tubes to scramble across. These dramatic structures never fail to impress and are one of Iceland’s most popular tourist destinations.
Quite literally like the icing squirted on the geological cake of Lake Mývatn, these rock formations are completely unique. The only other similar land mass known to exist being beneath the sea, off the coast of Mexico. They are thought to be the remains of a lava reservoir which formed above a lake. As it began to cool, the reservoir was released, leaving only the bizarrely shaped remnants you see today.
According to Icelandic folklore, Dimmuborgir is the home of a homicidal troll named Grýla, her third husband Leppalúði and their sons The Yule Lads. Though Grýla has psychopathic tendencies, the children aren´t quite so murderous, and are more mischievious than anything. Originally told as a scary story to stop children misbehaving, the Yule Lads have now been merged with the idea of Santa Claus. Children either get gifts or rotten potatoes in their shoes at Christmas depending on whether they´ve behaved well or not.
There is a range of hiking routes through Dimmuborgir taking anything from 10 minutes to 1 hour. The bigger paths will lead you to one of the most exciting rock formations, The Church, which has a large enclave you can walk through. There is also a longer hiking route leading from here to the top of the barren-looking Hverfjall volcanic crater. You can see this looming in the distance as you pass around the eastern side of the lake.
The Dimmuborgir cafe sells a hearty lamb stew and loaves of rye bread baked in the local geothermal vents. The relative altitude and easy parking makes this a great place to take photos across the lake aswell.
Dimmuborgir was recently used for scenes in HBO’s Game of Thrones, as a location beyond the wall in season 3. In addition to this, it’s the name of a black metal band from Norway.
To take the quickest route, head south from Húsavík, turning off onto road 87, keeping straight once you reach the first junction at Lake Mývatn and then following it around the eastern edge. This is about 45 minutes drive from Húsavík. It does involve a section of the road which is gravel, but it´s usually well maintained and not too bumpy, so absolutely fine for 2WD.
If you don´t have gravel insurance or weather is less permitting, there is an alternative route via road 845 which passes through Laugar.
View route map from Húsavík