Taking a bit of a rest on our intensive Icelandic road trip, we decided to spent 2 nights and one full day in Mývatn, a lake-side area in Northern Iceland. There were plenty of options for activities! As it turns out 1 evening, 1 night, and 1 morning would have been enough, but we added a day trip to Akureyri and had an amazing day!
After a day of driving from Seyðisfjörður in the east, doing a short hike near Egilsstaðir, and visiting Dettifoss, our family was ready for some time of relaxation. Our first order of business upon a mid-afternoon arrival in Mývatn was to visit the Mývatn Nature Baths!
Set in the middle of a very active geothermal area, it is lovely to soak in a nice and warm pool. The pool is man-made, but made to look quite natural. The water is reasonably warm 36°-40°C (97°-104°F), and it’s heavily mineralized, almost soapy – feeling a bit like a large epsom salts bath.
To use Iceland’s mineral baths, you’re required to shower and scrub without your swim suit, which was a little bit of a shock to our boys’ American sensibilities. They provide some nice shampoo, conditioner, and body wash, although I think I may have been mildly allergic to it. While most of the showers were out in the open, there were two showers with privacy curtains in my changing room. If you are shy, use those, but most people skip them.
The cost isn’t cheap: adult/13-15/child 5700 ISK ($46)/2700 ISK ($22)/free.
If you are traveling with kids, this seems to be one of the few baths that allows very young children, although given the temperatures you may want to think twice about bringing a baby.
However, after the Blue Lagoon, it is probably the most famous hot spring in Iceland, which makes it an excellent travel destination! The water is slightly alkaline, which is supposedly have really good health benefits. Just don’t wear silver, copper, or brass jewelry, or you will discover that it is tarnished when you leave.
Having booked fairly last minute, there were not a lot of good options for hotels in the Mývatn area. Fortunately the Sel Hotel was still available! Our room was quite large and had awesome views of the lake!
Even better, breakfast was included and the restaurant has reasonable prices (for Iceland) and tasty food for dinner, and a nice breakfast with an Icelandic flair.
Evening Stroll by the Lake
After dinner, we decided to take a stroll by the lake. There were two possible paths: the popular crater trail that takes you by the Skútustaðagígar pseudo-craters or the bird trail that takes you by the lake.
Wanting to see the lake a bit better, we opted for the bird trail, saving the pseudo-craters for later.
We quickly discovered the meaning of the word Mývatn: the lake of midges. If you don’t know what a midge is, picture a large gnat or a very annoying fly that doesn’t bite. Now picture thousands of them flying around your head! The weird thing is that even if you leave a door or window open, they don’t seem to come inside. We didn’t believe it until we sat down next to an open window for dinner. The outside of the window was covered with flies, the window opening was swarming with them, but not a single fly came more than an inch away from the window. I told you they are weird!
In the morning we started to think about where to go as we left to see the major Lake Mývatn sights. First up was Dimmuborgir, which had some really fascinating lava structures!
Note that the paths are NOT well marked. There are some stakes on most paths that show you which color trail you are following, but you will come to an intersection and wonder where you are going. We met one person who was having difficulty finding the parking lot and all of us tried to remember landmarks from that point forward. Remember this as you store away your list of travel tips!
Once we got a feel for the area, we decided to head back to the car before we got completely lost.
Our next stop was Hverfell, a volcano that erupted 2,500 years ago.
If you haven’t already noticed from the photos, it should be clear from the one above that much of the area is quite barren. Apparently that alkaline water from the Mývatn Nature Baths that is so delightful to bathe in, is not so great for plant life.
While you can walk the entire rim of the crater (3.3 km), we found it more pleasant to simply hike the very steep path to the top, snap a few pictures, and walk back down to our car. Similar to our experience at Dettifoss, the barren landscapes didn’t appeal to us as much as they might to others.
Hverir, located right next to the Mývatn Nature Baths, was our next stop. The smell is quite strong, but you are guaranteed some interesting geothermal activity like the boiling mud pits below.
The colors of the landscape are quite interesting due to various mineral deposits. Again, this probably contributes to the lack of vegetation in the area.
One interesting thing to know about Iceland is that most people do not need hot water heaters. They simply pipe the hot water from the geothermal pools directly to your home! While this gives your hot water the nice alkaline properties for bathing, it can also make your water a bit stinky and give it a bad taste. Fortunately, the cold water is well water and both smells and tastes perfectly fine. If your kids complain about the smell of the shower water, simply encourage them to use lukewarm water and they will be much happier.
Krafla Power Plant Visitor’s Center
The final stop of the morning was the Krafla Power Plant Visitor’s Center. They have a small museum showing the history of the power plant.
We skipped most of the informational displays, and instead watched an approximately 10 minute video showing how the area erupted in lava in the 1970’s while they were building the power plant, as well as showing how they harness the geothermal activity and turn it into electricity. Adults and slightly older kids will love it!
As we drove back to the main road, the kids understood the purpose of both the small huts and the visible pipes. Fascinating!
Lunch in Reykjahlíð
It was approaching lunchtime, so since we had a large breakfast buffet at our hotel, we decided to stop at the nearby supermarket in Reykjahlíð and get some savory bakery items rather than a large lunch at a restaurant. Yum!
Day Trip to Akureyri
At this point, we could have seen some of the more minor sights around Mývatn, but all of us were a little sick of the flies, so we decided to head into Akureyri and visit the Aviation Museum, which one of our boys really wanted to see.
For more information on what we did in Akureyri and nearby, stay tuned for our next post!
Upon our return to our hotel in Mývatn, we decided to rest a bit and then get dinner in our hotel restaurant. Delicious!
This was followed by an evening walk through the Skútustaðagígar Pseudo-craters.
To our surprise, it was quite windy, which seemed to keep the flies away. What a pleasant surprise!
Our family trip will continue to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in the west!