The Land of Fire and Ice allows visitors to explore incredibly interesting and contrasting terrain. This includes magnificent canyons such as Asbyrgi Canyon. Asbyrgi Canyon promises a glimpse into the power of nature, an abundance of wildlife and outdoor activities, as well as its fair share of legend.
So, if you’re curious to learn more about this famous Icelandic landmark, read on. We do a proper deep dive into one of the country’s most famous canyons.
What is Asbyrgi Canyon?
As the name suggests, Asbyrgi is a canyon, but this might not be the dusty type of canyon you’re used to. Asbyrgi lies in the shape of a horseshoe and during our warmer seasons, the canyon is filled with plenty of water and lush green vegetation.
This 3.5-kilometer canyon also has extremely high cliff “walls” that reach up to 90 meters high. The canyon also has its own little cliff island in the center of the canyon called Eyjan (which, fittingly, translates to ‘the Island’).
How was Asbyrgi Canyon Formed?
Although there are still some mysteries surrounding the formation of Asbyrgi Canyon, the general consensus is that the canyon is yet another result of being the Land of Fire and Ice.
After an eruption by one of the Vatnajökull Volcanoes, there was major glacial flooding as melted glacial water swept across the landscape, carving a pathway in the ground. One of these pathways that came to be was Asbyrgi Canyon.
Where is Asbyrgi Canyon in Iceland?
Asbyrgi Canyon can be found in our famous Vatnajökull National Park here in the North of Iceland. It is roughly 541 kilometers from the capital city of Reykjavík, so you won’t be able to do a day trip from there.
The closest bigger cities are Akureyri (the so-called capital of the north) which is 153 kilometers away, Egilsstadir (the so-called capital of the east), and a mere 60 kilometers from Husavik (the whale capital of Iceland).
Although staying at any of the latter cities will make a day trip possible during the warmer months when there is an abundance of daylight hours, we highly recommend that you make Asbyrgi a stop along a road trip since the canyon is located conveniently close to one of our most popular road trip routes, the Diamond Circle.
How to Get to Asbyrgi Canyon
You have three options when it comes to visiting Asbyrgi. You can get there via:
A Guided Tour
There are plenty of local tour operators and guides here on the island that can take you to Asbyrgi Canyon. These guided tours can take place as a day tour, a multi-day holiday package, or a custom-made private tour. Whichever you choose will rely on your personal preferences and your budget. These tours will generally depart from the bigger cities here on the island.
Since Husavik has its own domestic airport, you’ll be able to fly into the city and then either rent a car to drive the short distance to Asbyrgi or take the bus.
This will always be our recommendation as this allows you to not only properly explore the island but will have you stay in full control of your time and itinerary. And with Asbyrgi situated so close to the Diamond Circle route, a road trip is the order of the day.
When is the Best Time to Visit Asbyrgi in Iceland
Asbyrgi is located in the North of Iceland, where the weather tends to be much harsher than the rest of the island. Not only can this make outdoor activities challenging, but road conditions are also severely impacted with certain roads generally kept closed throughout the colder months of the year, whilst others can see sudden road closures.
For this reason, we recommend any exploration of the northern region take place during the warm summer months of the year (June to August). Just take note that this is also considered peak season here on the island, and any bookings (accommodations, transport, tours, etc.) will need to be made well in advance.
The Legend Behind Asbyrgi Canyon
The legend regarding Asbyrgi involves its creation, and according to folklore, it had nothing to do with flooding. The Nordic god, Odin, is said to have an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir which he uses to traverse around the worlds.
During one of these excursions, Odin got too close to the earth and one of Sleipner’s hoofs touched the ground, creating the horse-shoe-shaped canyon we see today. But this is not where the mythology surrounding Asbyrgi ends.
It is also believed that Asbyrgi is the capital city of the Icelandic Elves, and that their homes can be found in the Asbyrgi cliffs. That is also why you need to treat this area with the utmost respect to avoid incurring the wrath of the Hidden Folk.
Things to Do at and Around Asbyrgi Canyon
You will find plenty of exciting things to do and see at and around Asbyrgi Canyon. These are just a few things you can consider adding to your trip itinerary:
Go Bird Watching
The canyon is a favorite amongst bird watchers, with many different species calling the canyon home. For example, the small lake inside the canyon that’s called Botnstjörn is a well-known spot for the Eurasian Wigeon and the Northern Fulmars to nest.
This is yet another favorite activity in the canyon. And you don’t need to be an avid hiker with fitness levels through the roof to join in the hiking fun. There’s a wide variety of hiking trails at the canyon that range in difficulty levels and distance, so you’ll always find one that suits you.
You can try the Botnstjörn Trail that’s an easy 1.5-kilometer hike that will allow you to do some of the bird watching at the lake we mentioned earlier. Or you can opt for a moderate hike like the Jökulsargljufur Trail, which is 8 kilometers long. Or you can take on an ultimate challenge such as the Holmatungur Trail that’s a 24-kilometer adventure not for the faint of heart.
Visit Dettifoss Waterfall
Dettifoss Waterfall is so close to Asbyrgi that there actually is a 2-day canyon hike that has Dettifoss as one of the attractions along the way. Dettifoss is one of the most impressive waterfalls in Iceland, and officially the second most powerful waterfall in all of Europe. Standing 45 meters high and an astonishing 100 meters wide, these gushing waters are not to be missed.
Go Whale Watching in Husavik
Husavik is not called the whale watching capital of Iceland for nothing. And whilst you are almost guaranteed to at least see a few of our gentle giants on a whale watching boat tour from Husavik, you are almost promised a whale watching extravaganza if you take a tour during our official whaling season (from May to September).
During this time, you’ll also be privy to some of the migratory whale species that call Iceland’s coast home for this period each year. Some of the whales you might spot in our waters include Orcas, Minke Whales, Humpback Whales, and even Blue Whales (the biggest species of whale in the world!).
Take a Dip in the Myvatn Nature Baths
The island is notorious for all its hot springs, as the volcanic activity heats up our underground water supply. Whilst some of these hot springs can still be enjoyed in their natural and original form, others are utilized in manmade geothermal pools that are open to the public.
One of the most renowned geothermal pools here in Iceland is the Myvatn Nature Baths. As these pools have all sorts of added amenities and facilities on-site, there is an entrance fee applicable, so budget accordingly.
Where to Stay Near Asbyrgi Canyon
With so much going on at and around Asbyrgi, many opt to stay over for a night or two so they can properly explore everything the area has to offer. And near Asbyrgi you will find a wide variety of accommodation options to suit every personal preference and budget. You can opt for a touch of luxury and book at a hotel such as Hotel Myvatn or Fosshotel Husavik.
Or you can stick to your creature comforts whilst going a bit more affordable by booking a stay at Dettifoss Guesthouse. Alternatively, you can rent a campervan in Iceland and book a camping spot at the Asbyrgi Campground. The latter probably being the most budget-friendly option whilst camping in the ultimate comfort.
Asbyrgi Canyon; a Must-visit Canyon in Iceland
Whatever takes your fancy - whether you’re an avid hiker, bird watcher, lover of history or mythology, photographer, you name it – Asbyrgi has it all and then some. Rent a campervan in Iceland and start your Diamond Circle adventure with Asbyrgi as a stop along the way.
And don’t forget the myriad of added extras that can be found in the surrounding area. Iceland is known for its natural wonders and landmarks that can take your breath away, and Asbyrgi Canyon most certainly can.