Vita has hiked glaciers in Alaska, climbed fourteeners in Colorado and is all about sharing her stories and promoting responsible tourism. These days she is often wandering the streets of Vilnius with a film camera in her hand or reading.
Iceland is well known for its many stunning waterfalls. They are as diverse as they are numerous, and they are all worth a visit. The sad truth is your trip probably isn’t long enough to do that. Don’t worry! We have compiled for you the ultimate list of the must-see Icelandic waterfalls, and we suggest that you try to see as many of them on your visit to Iceland.
Glymur, One of the Highest Waterfalls in Iceland
Glymur Waterfall is the second highest waterfall in Iceland at 198 meters tall. It is located in Botnsdalur, a lovely valley at Hvalfjörður Hvalfjorður), which is a deep fjord that reaches far inland just north of Reykjavík.
The waterfall is a one-and-a-half-hour drive from Reykjavík, but to get to Glymur Waterfall you need to do a two-hour hike, which is well worth it for the views since the waterfall and the area around it are stunning. It is not so easy to access, so don’t forget to wear good hiking shoes for this, approximately, 4-hour round trip.
The path will take you to the Botnsá river trails, where you will go through a spectacular rock arch and cross a crystal clear river. If you manage to go high up, you will have a wonderful view of the surrounding landscape, Hvalfjörður is considered to be one of Iceland’s most beautiful fjords.
Before 2007, the waterfall was ranked the highest of Iceland, but the experts have now discovered a higher waterfall at Vatnajökull glacier, Morsárfoss, this waterfall has a drop of 228m. This is the actual highest waterfall in Iceland!
Seljalandsfoss is on the South Coast of Iceland, and it is only about a one-and-a-half-hour drive (120km) from Reykjavík. To reach it you need to take Road 249 leading to Þórsmörk (Thorsmork), the waterfall is very near to the Ring Road. You can access this area from the farm of Seljaland.
The river which feeds Seljalandsfoss is, Seljalandsá, which has its origins at the magnificent volcano glacier, Eyjafjallajokull. This cascade is unique as you can walk behind the water flow and see the waterfall and the world from a new perspective. Bring your raincoat as you will get wet from the drizzle.
During winter, the path is closed as it gets too slippery and dangerous, but during summer you have a great chance to see a rainbow on a sunny day. Many colorful wildflowers bloom and vegetation thrives around the waterfall because the mist from the falls keeps everything moist.
Gullfoss, The Superstar of the Golden Circle
Gullfoss waterfall is a majestic waterfall on Hvítá, a glacial river. The river flows from the lake, Hvítárvatn and the glacier, Langjökull. Gullfoss is 32 meters high but it plunges in two stages (one of 11m and the other of 21m).
Gullfoss waterfall is on the famous Golden Circle route in Iceland, and it is only a 1.5 hour-long drive from Reykjavík. The name Gullfoss means Golden (Gull) Falls (Foss), and watching the Golden Falls in the golden Icelandic sun is truly amazing. It offers a spectacular view of the strength as well as the beauty of the untouched Icelandic nature, it is certainly one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country.
In addition to being a beautiful waterfall, Gullfoss has a strong history. In the early 20th century, many foreign investors wanted to harness the waterfall to produce electricity. Investors who indirectly rented Gullfoss from the original owners, Tómas Tómasson and Halldór Halldórsson, were planning to build a hydroelectric power plant, which would have totally destroyed the waterfall.
Sigríður Tómasdóttir, Halldór Tómasson’s daughter, was very strongly against the project, she walked to Reykjavík many times to further her cause, threatening to throw herself into the waterfall in protest, as the last hope. Finally, the project didn’t come to conclusion, thanks to Sigríður and her lawyer (who became later the first president of Iceland), Gullfoss was protected for the people of Iceland to enjoy. Nowadays, you can admire Sigríður’s memorial by the waterfall.
Svartifoss, the Black Waterfall
Svartifoss waterfall is in Skaftafell, Vatnajokull National Park. A very popular trail to the waterfall begins at the Skaftafell Visitor Centre, where you will find plenty of free parking. You will see signs of the different hiking trails here.
The hike to Svartifoss will take you around 45 minutes, including time for photo-stops, the distance is 2 kilometers. On the way, you will come across three other waterfalls which are well worth admiring:Magnúsarfoss, Hundafoss, and Þjófafoss.
Svartifoss means ‘Black Falls’, the dark lava columns that surround the waterfall inspired this name. They are the result of cooled lava and crystallizing molten rock. These unique basalt columns may look familiar, indeed the architect who created the famous Hallgrimskirkja (church) in Reykjavík got his inspiration from Svartifoss waterfall. Svartifoss is over 20 meters tall and it is free falling. Truly stunning.
Aldeyjarfoss in North Iceland
Aldeyjarfoss is a 20-meter-high waterfall with glacier waters flowing in a narrow fall, located in the North of Iceland. Only 90 kilometers from Húsavík, Aldeyjarfoss is worth a visit, but a 4WD is required if you are going on your own. You will have to drive 41 km each way into the Bárðardalur valley after you leave the main road (on roads 842 and 844), taking you off the beaten path.
The stunning view surrounding the waterfall will make you feel like you are in a fairytale world. Indeed, as the huge amphitheater of basalt columns welcomes the water flow, the sight is stunning. This is certainly one of Iceland’s most photogenic gems, thanks in part to its amazing symmetry.
Both sides of the waterfall are pretty, but the north bank offers even more impressive photo opportunities. On the north side, the hike to Aldeyjarfoss is beautiful and easier to access, whereas, on the south bank you would need to stumble down a rocky hill, but you will get the chance to see the whole of this round basin-like ‘rock-face’.
Goðafoss, the Waterfall of the Gods
Goðafoss waterfall, or ‘Waterfall of the Gods’ is around 12 meters tall but it has a width of around 30 meters, making it one of the largest and most imposing waterfalls in Iceland. It is located in the North of Iceland, under a one-hour drive from Akureyri, along the Ring Road by the farm, Fosshóll.
This waterfall is famous in the Icelandic Sagas, it is also connected with one of the most important events in Icelandic history. The conversion to Christianity in the year 1000. In those ancient times the Lawspeaker of the Icelandic Parliament of that year, Þorgeir Þorkelsson, lived only a few kilometers away from the waterfall.
He was then a Pagan Priest and was strongly wondering if the Icelandic people should keep practicing Norse Paganism or convert to Christianity. He decided in favor of Christianity and became a Christian himself, he didn’t forbid Pagans to practice their religion, though, but they were only allowed to do so in private. To make his decision official, Þorgeir went to Goðafoss, taking his heathen idols with him, and hurled them into the waterfall.
The Stunning Háifoss
Háifoss waterfall is one of Iceland’s tallest waterfalls, at 122 meters tall. The name Háifoss means ‘High Falls’ or ‘Tall Falls’, because of the size of the waterfall. This waterfall is on the river Fossá, it is located in South Iceland, close to Hekla volcano, at the entrance to the Icelandic Highlands.
Discovered in the first decade of the 19th century, it was thought to be the highest waterfall in Europe. The name stuck, even when other higher waterfalls were discovered later on.
Right next to this waterfall, flowing on a two million years old cliff, you will find another waterfall called Granni, which literally means ‘Neighbor’. Háifoss is a stunning waterfall that is a short two-hour drive from Reykjavík. Follow the Ring Road in an easterly direction, after passing Selfoss turn left (Road 30) then after 17 kilometers turn right (Road 32) and you will enter into Þjórsárdalur, a great valley.
You will then need to travel another 45 kilometers to get to the seven-kilometer-long mountain track leading to Háifoss, this is only accessible with a 4WD vehicle. You can also enjoy the hiking trail if you want to get some more exercise before you see the mind-blowing view.
Dettifoss, the Beast
Dettifoss waterfall, often referred as “The Beast” is not only the most powerful waterfall in Iceland but the most powerful waterfall in all of Europe. Each second, 193 m3 of water rushes through this 100-meter wide and 44-meter tall waterfall.
If you stand close enough to the waterfall you can feel the earth tremble beneath your feet. It’s amazing to feel the true power of nature so close to you. You, maybe, saw this waterfall in the opening scene of Prometheus (2012), in which it ‘stood in’ for an alien landscape.
Dettifoss is located in North Iceland, on the glacial river, Jökulsá á Fjöllum, which flows from the magnificent Vatnajökull glacier. Driving along the Ring Road from East Iceland, you can choose between the roads numbered 864 and 862, but only Road 864 is asphalted between Dettifoss and the Ring Road.
Both roads can be closed during winter due to snow and poor conditions. The section of Road 864 which leads from Dettifoss to Road 85 to Húsavík and Kópasker, is an extremely rough gravel road, which needs a 4WD vehicle. To get more information about road conditions, consult the official Icelandic road information website.