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Gulfoss Waterfall is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Iceland. Just 1.5 hour's drive from Reykjavik, it's a must-see if you‘re traveling in Iceland. Read on to learn about this world-renowned Iceland attraction!
Gullfoss flows southward from Langjokull Glacier in West Iceland. An ideal icon in the hearts of Icelanders, the falls are a favorite destination for locals and tourists alike.
It quite famously drops down into a canyon over two tiers. The first drop is 11 meters and the second 21 meters.
GP N64° 19′ 38.220″ W20° 7′ 8.135″
Gullfoss sits in the middle of the Golden Circle tour, which starts and ends in the capital city Reykjavik. It’s located about 120 km from Reykjavik and it takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes to reach the tumbling cascade. It's also just 10 minutes away from the Geysir Geothermal Area, which is another part of the Golden Circle Tour.
The fastest way to reach Gullfoss from Reykjavik is to travel southeast along the Ring Road (or Route 1). Drive about 29 mi (47 km) until you pass the small town of Hveragerði. About 6 mi (10 km) further turn left from Route 1 onto Route 35, which will lead you directly to the waterfall.
If you don’t want to drive by yourself, you can join one of our Golden Circle tours and leave all the planning to us. The tours visiting the Golden Falls take place throughout the year.
Parking Information: There are a few free parking options at Gullfoss. Just before you reach the area you can either turn right to the lower parking lot or continue on Route 35 to the upper parking lot, with a WC, a café, and a souvenir shop.
Two different viewing areas let you get up close to the Golden Falls. From the upper parking lot, a footway leads to the upper viewing area, which displays the higher part of the waterfall. As you approach the area, take a moment to listen, and you’ll hear the hissing sound of the waterfall before you see it.
Once there, feast your eyes on thousands of gallons (around 109 cubic meters per second) of water plummeting down into a narrow gorge. The views also show mountains and glaciers.
On sunny days, wait for the glistening rainbows to paint the rising haze above the cascade.
From the upper lookout, stairs lead down to the lower viewpoint (you can also access it from the lower parking lot), which allows you to get even closer to the falls and feel the spray. The view will make your jaw drop as soon as you walk into the area. Be careful and always supervise children, as the paths are often slippery.
In addition, there is a Gullfoss Visitors Center by the upper car park. There you’ll find a great, roomy café, which serves the traditional lamb soup and also hosts a gift shop.
Viewing Gullfoss is free of charge and it’s open year-round. If you’re visiting Iceland in winter, you’ll get to see the waterfall partly-frozen and glistening with ice. The upper viewing platform allows you to admire the mist-cloaked cascade and see the snow-dappled peaks to the north. However, the lower viewing area is closed in winter, as ice makes it too slippery and dangerous.
The roads that lead to Gullfoss are well-maintained throughout the year but can get a bit icy during the wintertime. If you don’t feel confident, you might want to consider joining a Golden Circle tour with an experienced driver. As the paths near the waterfall can be slippery, we recommend bringing sturdy shoes, preferably with ice spikes.
Earth’s most breathtaking natural wonders usually form over thousands of years and Gullfoss is no exception. Geologists believe that the waterfall was formed by fierce glacial floods at the end of the last ice age.
The continuous flow of the water eroded parts of the earth and played an important role in the formation of the waterfall. Today one of Europe’s most powerful waterfalls plunges down into a narrow gorge reaching heights of up to 70 m (230 ft).
Pay attention to detail that the canyon goes transverse to the tumbling cascade, which is quite uncommon in the world of waterfalls.
One famous story illustrates the importance the Icelandic landscape has in locals' hearts and minds. In the early 20th century, the government considered to tap into Gullfoss' resources as a source of hydrolectric power. It was a subject of much debate and controversy. When a buyout was attempted, the landowner of Gullfoss, Tomas Tomasson famously said: “Ég sel ekki vin minn” or "I will not sell my friend." Tomas' daughter Sigríður Tómasdóttir further protested the waterfall's exploitaton. She even threatened to jump into the waterfall.
In the 1970s, Gullfoss was designated a protected natural reserve so future visitors could enjoy the beauty and grace of the waterfall for ages to come.
In the early 20th century, Gullfoss was almost destroyed when a group of foreign investors attempted to dam the Hvítá River for a hydroelectric power project.
During that time, the cascade was owned by the local farmer, Tómas Tómasson. He refused to sell it to them, saying “I won’t sell my friend!” Nonetheless, foreign investors managed to rent the waterfall and had plans to use a loophole in the rental agreement which would allow them to build a power plant.
Tómas’ daughter, Sigríður Tómasdóttir, was determined to save the waterfall and took legal action against foreign investors, which prompted protests to save the falls. She traveled to Reykjavik many times on foot, a distance of over 62 mi (100 km), and even threatened to throw herself into the falls.
In the end, Sigríður lost the legal battle but her persistence and courage earned her public favor. In the meantime, foreign investor's plans fell through due to the lack of money. The waterfall was donated to the nation and remains a protected area today.
You’ll find a stone memorial to Sigríður close to the base of the staircase that leads to the upper level. Her memory is highly respected and she is often seen as Iceland's first environmentalist. Interestingly, the lawyer that helped Sigríður, Sveinn Björnsson, became the first president of Iceland in 1944.
It’s no surprise that the most famous waterfall in Iceland has captured the attention of artists worldwide.
Gullfoss was featured in the music video for the single Heaven by alternative rock group Live. Also, the tumbling cascade briefly appears in the popular TV series Vikings.
The adventure comedy film Land Ho! tells the story about ex-brothers-in-law who travel through Iceland and attempt to reclaim their youth. One of the stops they make is at the soul-stirring Gullfoss.
There are a plethora of great accommodation options nearby the Golden Falls. Here is a useful list to help you find the right place.
Cabins and Cottages