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.
Dimmuborgir was formed by an eruption. 2.300 years ago from Ludentarborgir and Þrengslaborgir craters, rows lava flowed here first forming a pool right here, in this area of 2km of diameter, then draining in the direction of lake Mývatn. Steam rose through the molten lava and cooled it, leaving behind high pillars, twisted towers and dramatic structures of coagulated rock.
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.
More hiking routes can be found here.
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. Attached to the café is a public toilet and a souvenir shop.
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.
Either take road 85 or road 87 from Húsavík and drive south. Road 87 is very picturesque in summer as it leads through black lava sand fields which stand in stark contrast to the purple clouds of lupines. However, road 85 is better maintained in winter so check the actual road condition at road.is before you take off. Depending on where you come from take road no 1 to the eastern shore of the lake, turn on road 848 until you reach the sign pointing at the parking lot of Dimmuborgir.
More information can be found on the homepage of Mývatn.
GPS: 65°35’30.1″N 16°54’45.5″W