If you’re planning a road trip around Iceland in winter, consider adding Lake Mývatn, Iceland to your bucket list. If you’re looking for affordable hot springs with a view or one of the game of thrones filming locations (hint: it’s near Lake Myvatn), Myvatn may surprise you. Keep reading for things to eat in Lake Myvatn and things to do in Lake Myvatn in winter!
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When travelling to Iceland, one typically thinks of visiting Reykjavik, the Golden Circle, or Kirkjufell, all on the western side of the island. However, on the eastern side of the island, where tourists more rarely travel, is an amazing small town called Myvatn that is well worth the journey. We visited Myvatn in winter while doing a road trip around Ring Road in Iceland and it was one of the highlights of the trip.
Myvatn is both the name of the town and the lake on which it sits. It is situated roughly halfway between the cities of Akureyri and Egilsstadir along Ring Road. Myvatn is in a volcanically active region, with an ancient volcano nearby, natural hot springs, vast lava fields, and sulfurous landscapes. It’s fierce beauty has also lead it to feature prominently in many Game of Thrones scenes, which makes Myvatn a great destination for Game of Thrones lovers.
Things to do in Lake Myvatn in winter
The Mud Pits of Hverarond
Heading west on Ring Road (from Egilsstadir to Akureyri), just before entering the town of Myvatn, one encounters a place to pull over on the side of the road to see the Mud Pits of Hverarond at the base of Mt Namafjall.
The entire area around Myvatn is rife with geothermal activity and at the Mud Pits of Hverarond, hot sulfurous water comes up through the ground and creates boiling mud pits that gurgle and spit. The entire field is an amazing otherworldly landscape with with pits of churning liquid, covered by a cloud of yellow (and very stinky) vapors. These pits are created by the Krafla volcano. This too can be visited (although it is a bit out of the way). It has a lake filled crater called Viti.
Be careful where you tread as you are likely to end up with very muddy shoes. Also, avoid setting foot in anything boiling, temperatures can be very hot. Still, one of the best places to witness volcanic activity up close and personal.
South of Myvatn is an ancient (and now dormant) volcano named Hverfjall. Huge eruptions from this volcano in the past has contributed to many of the unique geographical features of the area (see the Dimmuborgir and Grjotagja cave below). Hverfjall is a large conically shaped volcano, a tephra cone volcano to be precise. It dominates the view of south Myvatn. It’s viewable from the city of Myvatn!
As it is dormant, it may be climbed in winter with a professional guide although it’s generally not accessible in winter (the road leading there is closed in winter). We had heard that it was possible to climb Hverfjall in winter with mountaineering gear, but we cannot help you besides to enjoy the view of Hverfjall from a distance.
Iceland Game of Thrones Filming Location: Grjotagja Cave
Past eruptions from Hverfjall have created huge rifts in the earth spreading out from the base of the volcano. (insert picture) This scars in the earth are massive and can be climbed down into. They also hide many caves, the most famous being Grjotagja cave.
The Grjotagja cave technically sits on private land, but the owners do not mind visitors so long as they are respectful. The general location of the cave, which was used for Game of Thrones filming, is easy to find, but the entrance is a small hole in the ground hidden behind a bush. The entrance can be a bit tricky to find in winter due to the snow.
There is a rope into the Grjotagja cave to help descending the steep hole into the cave. Be especially careful in winter. The surrounding area has many large holes that can be hidden by snow. Check that the snow in front of you is on solid ground before stepping on it as you approach the cave. Otherwise, you could fall a few feet unexpectedly and injure yourself.
Inside is a hidden pool that is warmed by geothermal activity. In times past, locals used to bathe in it, but temperatures have risen enough that it is strongly recommended that you not bathe in it). However, feel free to feel the temperature of the hot springs (it’s hot). The cave is very cozy. It’s best to visit during the day as the cave is quite dark and there’s some natural sunlight that helps illuminate the cave. We found it quite dark, even with full daylight in winter.
Nearby crack (not part of the cave)
(Game of Thrones spoiler!) The cave was made famous as the scene of Jon Snow and Ygritte’s first romantic encounter. Fun fact: The actors did not actually film at this Iceland Game of Thrones location, but the editors took footage of the cave to serve as the “location” for their love scene. However, the cave is quite a popular attraction with Game of Thrones fans in the summer months and expect it to be very crowded. In winter, however, we had the place to ourselves.
Myvatn Nature Baths
On the eastern side of the town are the Myvatn nature baths. These facilities pump water warmed by the geothermal activity into beautiful stone pools. If you want to visit an off the beaten path hot spring in Iceland, this hot spring is much more affordable than the Blue Lagoon and much less crowded. Just be sure to bring your own towel as you’ll need to pay a fee. (Click for more tips on what to pack for Iceland
We enjoyed several relaxing hours there after dark, surrounded by snow, but warm in the pools. We bought beer to drink in the Myvatn Nature Bath and watched the steam rise and the snow fall gently. The place was not very crowded (unlike the more accessible hot springs near Reykjavik), and many of them were locals.
Be aware that by staying in for long periods of time can cause your blood sugar to drop quite a lot. If you feel dizzy afterwards, tell the staff and they will take care of you and provide you with water and food.
… I know this as I was really enjoying the warm water and my blood sugar dropped so much that I nearly passed out in the changing room. Eat before you get into the bath. 😉
South of the Hverfjall volcano is a vast lava field called the Dimmuborgir, formed by dried lava from one of the old volcanic eruptions. As with much of the Myvatn area, the place has an otherworldly feel. The snow can be quite deep around the Dimmuborgir in winter, so definitely have your snow boots on.
The Dimmuborgir also features prominently in Icelandic folklore and traditions. According to legend, the Dimmuborgir is home to the Yule lads. While their nature has evolved over time, in modern times, they are mischievous creatures that function much in the same way as Santa Claus.
There are thirteen of them, one for each of the thirteen nights before Christmas Eve. They are depicted as pranksters who do things like lick your spoons when you aren’t looking. During the Christmas season, members of the Myvatn community dress up as Yule lads and go hide in caves in the Dimmuborgir. Parents take their children to the Dimmuborgir to meet them (they have to shout a particular phrase for them to come out of hiding) and have an evening of pranks and small gifts.
Things to eat in Lake Myvatn Iceland
The ground all around Myvatn is quite warm year round from the geothermal activity. So much so, in fact, that it is used to bake bread. The famous geysir bread from Lake Myvatn is a rye bread made by burying wooden casks near a hot spring.
This bread can supposedly be purchased in several places in Myvatn, but we found it at the Myvatn nature baths. It is also quite likely that it can be purchased elsewhere in Iceland. While we did not see it for sale anywhere else, when we were in the western fjords at a farm the specialized in making Hakarl, they had it to eat while sampling the Hakarl. It is a very dense loaf with a strong flavor. It is an intense rye, with fruity tones to it. It is certainly not for everyone. Jacob enjoyed it, after getting used to it, but I didn’t.
Vogafjos (Cowshed Restaurant)
is a family run restaurant and guesthouse is located on the banks of the Myvatn lake serving traditional Icelandic dishes such as char and skyr. It also included some fare of their own invention, such as a tea made by herbs collected along the banks of Lake Myvatn. The food is farm to table.
While its Icelandic name is Vogafjos, it is also called the Cowshed Restaurant because the cows stables are in the same building as the restaurant. The cow stables and the tables are separated by windows so you can watch the cows (and they can watch you) while you eat. (You need to brave to order hamburger.) They have a lovely gift shop filled with artisanal goods.
Getting to Myvatn
We drove to Myvatn along Ring Road. It took us about two hours to drive there from Egilsstadir and four hours driving from Myvatn to Akureyri. However, we were driving in winter and after a day packed with activities, we left Myvatn well after dark and encountered bad weather.
We spent the night after in Akureyri which is one of the largest cities in Iceland. We discovered that it has an airport. Therefore, it is entirely possible to fly to Akureyri and organize a day trip to Myvatn via a tour company. Furthermore, it is very possible to spend the night in Myvatn. In addition to Vogafjos, there are several guest houses in the area to spend the night.
Have you heard of Myvatn?
Heading to Iceland in winter? Keep reading for more tips!