Haven’t explored any of Iceland’s incredible waterfalls yet? You’re in luck. Iceland’s nickname, The Land of Fire and Ice, gives you a guarantee that what you’ll find in Iceland is a lot of hot and cold natural beauty. Volcanoes, lakes, lagoons, and waterfalls abound, and these waterfalls are some of the most beautiful in all the world. With so many waterfalls to choose from, however, it’s important to know which ones to track down. Here are the ten best waterfalls to discover in Iceland.
This 65-metre-tall waterfall is one of the most wild and roaring in all of Iceland. The water doesn’t fall directly down but rather almost shoots out a little, falling in an arc. This means that you can actually follow the path behind the waterfall (though I do recommend you come prepared with a raincoat and a hood when you go).
Seljalandsfoss is one of the most popular and most-visited waterfalls in Iceland. This is partly because it’s so easily accessible from the country’s main highway, meaning all you need to get there is a car. You can even visit the Black Sand Beach after. This makes it a perfect place for families to visit.
While many believe Gullfoss to be the biggest waterfall in Iceland, it is actually half the height of Seljalandsfoss. However, Gullfoss waterfall is dramatic in a whole different way. When you visit, you’ll see how the water from the river almost disappears into a canyon.
Whereas visitors to Seljalandsfoss stand at the bottom and look up, when you visit Gullfoss you stand at the top and look down, watching the steam rise up and coat the surrounding grasslands in this beautiful gothic mist. It is also a part of the Golden Circle Iceland tour, making it a popular spot for visitors to take in the rugged natural beauty of Iceland.
Skogafoss is an enormous waterfall, equal in height to Seljalandsfoss and even wider. You can see it from far away and up close, giving you the chance to admire it from whatever angle and place you fancy. There’s a hill with stairs cut into the land (a total of 527 steps). It takes you alongside the waterfall from top to bottom, and gives you plenty of photo opportunities along the way as Skogafoss always remains in clear view.
Skogafoss is also one of the best waterfalls in Iceland for rainbow-spotting. It’s very common for visitors to glimpse rainbows climbing up and encircling the waterfall, adding even more spectacle to this beautiful place.
Any fans of Norse mythology might be familiar with the realm of Svartalfheim, land of the dwarves who live deep underground. Svartifoss shares the same name, with ‘svart’ meaning ‘black’. This name comes from the black rocks which surround this dramatic waterfall.
The rocks are actually hexagon-shaped columns of cooled lava, and in the summer they glisten and take on an incredible sheen. Locals have often commented on how these amazing lava columns remind them of the pipes of a church organ, and I agree. Seeing Svartifoss from below is one of the best views in all of Iceland.
The Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall is paired with its brother, Mt. Kirkjufell, one of the most staggeringly impressive mountains in Iceland. While not all that tall, it stands ominously alone, like Ayers Rock in Australia, and is one of the most popular tourist spots in Iceland.
When paired with its sister waterfall, Kirkjufellsfoss, the two make for some of the most staggeringly beautiful photographs that can be taken in all of Iceland. When you visit, make sure to stand with the waterfall to your left and the mountain dead ahead for the best photo opportunities. You may even get lucky at night and snap them with the northern lights.
As you might be able to guess from the name, Godafoss translates to ‘The Gods’ Waterfall’. It’s not difficult to see why it was given the name. While Godafoss may not be all that tall, its width of 30 metres forms a gorgeous crescent which wraps around the lagoon which it falls into.
The name also originates from the story of Christianity’s take-over of Iceland, when statues of the old Norse gods were said to have been tossed over the Godafoss waterfall. Today, this waterfall is simply one of the most spellbinding panoramic views in Iceland.
Also known as Gljufrafoss, this waterfall is one of the hidden gems of Iceland. It’s difficult to see or even find if you don’t know about it first.
The Gljufrabui waterfall is partly disguised by the rocks which surround it. But following the trail up to it will lead you into a cave at the base of the waterfall. Inside, you can watch as columns of sunlight filter in and illuminate the water as it plummets into the cave, and listen as the roar of Gljufrabui waterfall echoes off the walls of the cave. You’ll also find a staircase that allows you to get closer to the falls and see it from higher up.
One of the lesser-known waterfalls of Iceland is pretty off-the-beaten-path. Bruarfoss is found at the end of a beautiful hike near the Golden Circle, following the river which eventually leads to the waterfall.
What this waterfall lacks in dramatic flair, it makes up for in its unique appearance. The waterfall forms a perfect 360-degree ring, which stirs up foamy blue waters. And that’s why many Icelanders refer to it as Iceland’s bluest waterfall. The view of the waterfall, combined with the easy hike that it takes to get there, makes for one of the most relaxed natural experiences in Iceland.
Hraunfossar is not a single waterfall like most others, but rather a series of cascading falls all linked together across a lava field. Its name translates to ‘Lava Waterfalls’.
Because this area is made up of a collection of smaller waterfalls, it makes for a fantastic bit of personal exploration, as you make your way across the area and take in all the different views and perspectives. It’s found on the Golden Circle, so the lava field and Hraunfossar are popular spots amongst most of us visitors to Iceland.
Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall, not only in Iceland, but in all of Europe. You can imagine the incredible sound that this power creates as the water roars over the edge and into the canyon below which swallows it all whole.
Despite its incredible size and power, being the biggest waterfall in Iceland, Dettifoss is easily accessible for tourists. And that means: great views and photo opportunities are guaranteed. While not featured on the Golden Circle Iceland tour, it is on the sister Diamond Circle tour.
HOW TO VISIT ICELAND’S WATERFALLS
Given how much of Iceland is rugged wilderness, the best way to get around the country and see all of these waterfalls is definitely by car. The biggest pro in doing this is that you make your own schedule, and you can map out your own route in your own time, as I did. Luckily, two popular routes – the Golden Circle and Diamond Circle – will guarantee you see the best of what Iceland has to offer, including most of these ten waterfalls.
Read my post about planning an Iceland road trip.
The Golden Circle is a driving route which covers much of southern Iceland, beginning in the capital Reykjavik. Renting a car here in the capital is easy, and given how popular car rental is in Iceland, it’s quick and rental places are everywhere. Rental places often offer 4x4s and camper vans for those who want to be fully prepared. When planning ahead, the two most popular rental websites to visit are Sixt and Rentalcars, who even offer rental at the airport.
Once you have your car, The Golden Circle route will guide you to Iceland’s most popular waterfall: Gullfoss, as well as Hraunfossar. Beyond that, geysers, lakes, and mountains will also fill up the rest of your tour.
The Diamond Circle is the route which leads you across northern Iceland, and this is the route which will take you to Dettifoss, as well as several small towns, canyons, and Lake Myvatn.
If you’d rather not rent a car and get yourself around, Iceland also offers plenty of day tours for you to join. A great website for these is Get Your Guide; their day tours include the must-do Golden Circle and Diamond Circle routes, and will guarantee that you see the best of Iceland’s waterfalls.
TIPS FOR PHOTOGRAPHING WATERFALLS
The one piece of equipment everyone should have, aside from a GPS, when visiting the waterfalls of Iceland, is a good quality camera. So much of Iceland’s beauty is so staggering and so detailed that you really do want to make sure your camera is fit for purpose, that it will capture the full beauty of the falls in natural light and different weather conditions.
On my visit, I used my Canon EOS 750D. Combining this with my easily transportable tripod meant that I was able to gain long-exposure shots for the absolute best results. This is the ideal way to photograph the waterfalls, and you absolutely should if you can.
For best lighting, both sunrise and sunset will guarantee those golden colours and make the waterfalls themselves look the most alive and vibrant. Cloudy weather is not always your friend, but in Iceland is certainly can be as it adds so much gothic and dramatic mood to the already moody landscape. Fortunately, the falls themselves – especially Gullfoss – kick up enough steam and mist to provide those excellent gloomy shots that drip with dark atmosphere. Combining this with a sunset or sunrise setting, and you have a winning shot.
CHEAP FLIGHTS TO ICELAND
As most savvy travellers will already know, the go-to site for booking cheap flights, even last-minute ones, is Skyscanner. This site searches through hundreds of airlines to find you the absolute cheapest options for your chosen time of year. I use Skyscanner for all of my trips and they always find me the cheapest flights, without fail.
WHERE TO BOOK YOUR ACCOMMODATION IN ICELAND
Iceland is such an overwhelmingly popular tourist destination, with its low population and dramatic landscape begging to be explored. This means that they are very accommodating when it comes to hotels and hostels. You’ll find plenty of options, whether you’re a solo traveller, a couple, or a family.
Prices range wildly and I find that the best site to give me the widest range of options is Booking.com. With them, you’re guaranteed the biggest selections of hotels and hostels in Iceland. And many hotels allow you the option to book and cancel without charge if a better option comes along later on.
DON’T FORGET TRAVEL INSURANCE
Seriously, don’t ever forget it. Especially when exploring the wilderness of Iceland. It could and will save you. The best travel insurance comes from World Nomads, without a doubt. Their insurance policies are adaptive to your needs, and are amazingly affordable, especially for shorter trips. When I started using them for insurance, I was shocked at how affordable theirs is. Once you buy it, the weight off your mind is really massive.
ICELAND PACKING LIST
So you’re all booked and insured, but what do you need to take for a successful trip to Iceland? As mentioned, get yourself the best possible quality camera you can, as well as a phone with GPS for if you get waylaid on your road trip. Also wrap up warm (it’s not called Iceland for nothing). I recommend clothes that limit the effects of the wind, and shoes that are completely waterproof. That said, packing sun lotion is always a good idea, especially in summer. Iceland can be unforgiving with its sun at times.
Waterproof and windproof jacket
If you’re going to Iceland in the winter, it’s worth investing in a reliable waterproof jacket. I’ve had my white Helly Hansen snow jacket for almost 10 years, and it’s still just as great. An insulated parka would also do the trick. It just has to be waterproof – not water repellant.
Sturdy waterproof boots
I brought my trusty Salomon hiking boots, which have served me well on hikes in Peru, Slovakia and the Swiss Alps. What I like the most about them is that they’re waterproof and sturdy, which comes in handy when you’re walking on glaciers, icebergs or lava beaches. You know, just another day in Iceland.
Iceland is cold and windy, so you’ll need to pack a pair of ski pants. Not only will they keep you warm, they’re also convenient if you need to sit on the ground (for that perfect photo) or walk close to a waterfall (like Skogafoss).
A warm hat
While the most practical choice would be a balaclava, they’re not really the sexiest, are they. I wore my pom pom hat, which I also use during winter in Denmark. It protected my ears and head, which is all I can ask from a hat. Just make sure it sits fairly tight, so it doesn’t blow off in the wind.
And it should be warm and snug around your neck, so go for a wollen scarf.
Yes, even the gloves need to be waterproof. Otherwise, your hands will be soaked the minute you touch something covered in snow or ice. Make sure to buy a pair of waterproof gloves with touch screen so you can use your iPhone.
Lastly, you’ll need a pair of warm leggings to keep warm with maximum movability. I recommend this pair for women. They’re insulating and affordable.