Iceland is known as the land of fire and ice for being home to both volcanoes and glaciers, but I think that they could easily add “roaring water” to that list because there so many amazing waterfalls there! I’ve complied a list of those that I visited on my short trip there, but there were also many that we drove by or saw from a distance that I also marvelled at. It’s such a treat to stumble upon a waterfall in the landscape as you’re driving through the island!
Gullfoss - literally ‘golden falls’ in Icelandic - is a powerful waterfall with enough flow to fill up 60 transportation containers in one second. That’s a lot of water! This was one of the first waterfalls that I saw on my trip, and it did not disappoint. Take the path that takes you up close to the waterfall. You’ll get to feel the strength of the falls through the visuals, the roar of the water as it cascades downwards, and the mist that the falls sprays up.
Tip: It gets quite windy near the waterfall. I recommend wearing some layers along with a waterproof outer layer as you’ll get a little damp.
If you’ve seen photos on Instagram of people standing below the underbelly of a waterfall in Iceland, chances are those photos were taken at Seljalandsfoss. Dropping 60 meters, Seljalandsfoss is a popular waterfall by the Ring Road. Because there’s a path that leads you behind the waterfall, you can experience it almost as if you’re looking out a window with a curtain of water rushing down in front you. It’s a pretty magical place - so magical in fact that while I was there, someone proposed to their girlfriend there. She said yes!
Tip: definitely walk the pathway to get behind the waterfall, but make sure you wear a waterproof jacket when you go because you will be walking into the splash zone. Tip #2: remember to pay for parking before you leave your car to explore the waterfall!
Keep walking left on the pathway past Seljalandsfoss and you’ll get to Gljufrabui. It’s not as big as Seljalandsfoss, but I liked that it looked somewhat hidden. From the outside, you’ll get a glimpse of the waterfall through a zig-zag shaped crack. Walk through the narrow passageway through the crack, and you’ll find yourself inside an open cave with the waterfall almost looking like it’s coming down from the sky,
Tip: waterproof shoes are a must! There are a few stones in the stream of water that lead you into the cave, but it’s easy to step into the water by accident, especially if it’s crowded and there are people trying to get in and out at the same time.
Fans of Games of Thrones will probably recognize Kirkjufell mountain. It was in the backdrop of a few episodes in season 6 and 7. At least that is what my googling tells me because I haven’t watched the series. Don’t judge me - I must live under a rock, I know! Across the road from this distinctively shaped mountain, there is a small waterfall named Kirkjufellsfoss. While not as striking as some of the larger waterfalls that I’ve covered on this list, Kirkjufellsfoss makes for a beautiful photo with Kirkjufell mountain in the background.
Tip: there is very limited parking at Kirkjufellsfoss and because of its beauty (and Game of Thrones fame), it gets very busy. If you are after that perfect shot with no one else in the frame, go either very early or later in the day.
I will remember Skogafoss as the waterfall with the many stairs. That’s not to say that it’s not an impressive waterfall, because it is! Falling over 60 metres, it’s a wonder to stand at the foot of the falls, taking it all in. But if you so choose, you can walk up the 527 steps to get to the top of the waterfall. If you read reviews on the falls, many people say that walking up to the top is a must, but I personally enjoyed the view from the bottom better. So if for whatever reason you’re not able to walk up to the top, don’t despair. You can thoroughly enjoy the falls from the bottom!
The top of the falls is also the start of Fimmvörðuháls trail. This is a popular hiking trail in Iceland which takes you past many waterfalls and the beautiful Hvannárgil Canyon. I did not attempt to hike it myself, but if you are interested, be sure to do your research on it first. It doesn’t look like the easiest hike, and you may need to prepare for it!
Tip: we ate supper at the Bistro Bar by Skogafoss and it was a tasty meal served with a view of the waterfall. We sat near a taxi driver who was there after dropping off a customer in Vik and he recommended the lamb, saying that it’s one of the best he’s had in Iceland! Tip #2: on the other side of the highway, there is a field of Alaskan lupine that has a cutout area that you can safely park your car in. It’s a great place to stop and take some photos of these pretty flowers!
Next up, we have the unique-looking Svartifoss (Black Falls). Framed by dark, hexagonal basalt columns, this waterfall is very recognizable, and is so interesting to look at.
Located within Skaftafell National Park, you’ll have to park your car at the visitor centre parking lot and pay for parking before you can see the falls. After you’ve parked, a short 30-40 minute hike will take you to Svartifoss. With an elevation of 140m, it isn’t too difficult, and you’ll not only get to see Svartifoss. You’ll also pass by a few other waterfalls on your way up - Magnúsarfoss and Hundafoss.
If, after marvelling at Svartifoss, you would like to keep hiking before heading back to your car, you have the option of continuing on the hiking trails to various points of interest. One loop is the Svartifoss - Sjónarsker - Sel - Lambhagi loop. At 5.3km long, you’ll see Svartifoss, a beautiful viewpoint at Sjónarsker, as well as some turf houses! If you still have energy and want to keep hiking, by the visitor centre, you’ll find the start of the walk towards Skaftafellsjökull, where you can admire this beautiful glacier.
Tip: I would recommend that you go to the Visitor Centre or check out the large trail map near the washrooms before setting off so that you can decide which hike you want to conquer!
Hraunfossar & Barnafoss
Last but not least, we have Hraunfossar and Barnafoss. Out of all the waterfalls that I saw in Iceland, these falls win the award for the prettiest turquoise blue water. And located under 2 hours from Reykjavik, this is an easy day trip from the capital!
I think you’ll spend some time just staring at Hraunfossar. It was fascinating to see the streams of glacial water falling from the edge of a lava field, into a beautiful blue river. It looked like the water was streaming out from the rocks themselves.
Barnafoss is right next to Hraunfossar and comes with a sad legend. With its literal translation being ‘children’s waterfall’, the story goes that there used to be a stone arch over the river. One Christmas, while the rest of the family went to church, the two children of the household disappeared. After returning from mass and realizing that the children had vanished, the family went looking for them, only to find their tracks ending at that stone arch. Seeing this, they realized that the two children had sadly drowned. Their mother did not want to see a tragedy like this happen again and had the stone arch destroyed.
I don’t think I’ve even scratched the surface when it comes to waterfalls in Iceland. I’m sure there are so many more amazing ones I have yet to see. That’s okay though, it gives me a reason to revisit Iceland one day in the future! If you’re interested in seeing any of these waterfalls on your visit to Iceland, below is map with these waterfalls plotted out.
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