From epic cascades to gently tumbling falls, Iceland is awash with waterfalls of all shapes and sizes. There isn’t an official figure out there, but there are at least thirty that we could name. This abundance of spectacular waterfalls is all down to Iceland’s particular geographical and geological make up. The island’s North Atlantic location means that it receives more than its fair share of rain and snow. Whatever the time of year, there are frequent showers, and in winter there is often quite consistent snow or rain. All of this feeds the country’s many rivers as they find their way downhill to the ocean. Another significant factor is that around 10% of Iceland’s landmass is covered by glaciers. These ice caps are thousands of years old and slowly receding. As they melt, especially in spring and early summer, they add even more water to the scene. The rivers swell with the melt off and Iceland’s amazing waterfalls gain momentum. Here we share our top ten most beautiful waterfalls with you.
The beautiful Gullfoss Waterfall thunders down the Hvítá River not too far from Reykjavik. Along with the Þingvellir National Park and Geysir it completes the famous Golden Circle tour’s trio of attractions. It is truly a remarkable sight plunging down 32 metres over two tiers. Due to its unusual form it’s not possible to view the falls from below. Instead visitors view the narrow churning gorge from above. The name Gullfoss translates as Golden Falls and to see them sparkling under the Icelandic sunshine is a sheer delight. Even is you’re not following the full golden circle route, this is a must-see.
The monumental Svartifoss waterfalls is located in the Vatnajökull National Park in south-east Iceland. Its name, meaning Black Falls, comes from the impressive rocks that surround it. Huge basalt columns surround a 20-metre high free flowing drop in a distinctly architectural style. In fact, its horseshoe shape and dark columns inspired the design of the beautiful Hallgrimskirkja Church in Reykjavik. Svartifoss Visitor Centre is easily reached from the Ring Road route. It’s then an easy circular walk from there to the falls.
One of the jewels of North Iceland, Goðafoss is known as the Waterfall of the Gods. It has a strong connection to the Norse Gods, but is also important in the history of Christianity in Iceland. It is said that a pagan priest converted to Christianity and threw his pagan idols into the waters here. It's not the tallest waterfall in Iceland at only twelve meters high, but it’s the width that creates the impact. Arcing thirty meters around in a semicircle of free flowing falls.
Another North Iceland treasure, Dettifoss is found in the wild Vatnajökull National Park. This beast is the most powerful waterfall in the country with a colossal 500 cubic metres of water per second flowing across it. Witnessing its sheer power is an incredible experience. It is a little out of the way though and you’ll need a 4x4 vehicle to tackle the rough gravel road to the falls.
Dramatic Skógafoss is one of Iceland’s most well visited waterfalls. It’s a great stop if you are touring the south coast of Iceland or driving the ring road. Twenty-five metres wide and sixty metres high, this impressive falls is located on Iceland’s former coastline. Its huge curtain of water plunges directly down creating a constant spray. On sunny days you can see rainbows forming above the spray and the clack volcanic rocks of the river. The waterfall is beautiful to observe from below and an easy walk from the car park. For a little more challenge and a bird’s eye view you might like to climb the 500 or so steps to the top!
The Seljalandsfoss Waterfall makes for another beautiful destination if you are touring South Iceland. Here the water drops some sixty metres down from a cliff which once marked the edge of Iceland’s coastline. This is a really popular spot and it’s easy to see why. These unique falls have a pathway that loops right around behind them. So it’s possible to walk behind the falling curtain of water. If you don’t mind getting a little wet that is! The falls are lit up when the sun goes down and it really is a beautiful sight. On sunny days you might even catch a rainbow or two.
Also in West Iceland and just a short walk from Hraunfossar is Barnafoss Waterfall. The name translates as Children’s Falls and refers to an old Norse legend. It is a dark tale surrounding the collapse of a natural river arch. The story doubles as a fable that teaches children to obey their parents! These falls stand in contrast to the gentle meandering falls at Hraunfossar. Barnafoss’ narrow channel and subsequent churning and rushing waters are a lot noisier. There is a pedestrian bridge across the river so you can feel the rush up close and the waters are often a beautiful glowing blue colour.
Located in the Hallmundarhraun Lava Field in West Iceland, Hraunfossar is another stunning waterfall. Its appeal however is quieter, without any thundering cascades or statistics on height and girth. Dozens of cold water springs rise up from the ground and cascade down in a series of tiny rivulets to the waters below. This arc of waterways stretches for about 900 metres above the Hvítá River. Sometimes turquoise, sometimes a milky white, the falls appear to change colour depending on the season and the light. It’s a lovely sight and an easy one-hour drive from Reykjavik on route to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
With just a five-metre drop over three small channels Kirkjufellsfoss, which translates as Church Mountain falls, might not sound all that impressive. But it is the setting of the waterfall that makes it so special and probably one of the most visited in Iceland. Located on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West Iceland, the falls are backed by a sensational view of the epic Mount Kirkjufell. Iceland’s most iconic and beautiful mountain rises up behind the falls creating a stunning scene. Its pyramid like shape is irresistible to photographers and with the waterfalls in the foreground it really is spectacular. This might just be the most photographed falls in Iceland!
In the east of Iceland Hengifoss, or the hanging falls, is one of the highest waterfalls in Iceland. A slim stream of water drops a staggering 128 metres down from a high plateau into a stunning deep gorge. The surrounding rock formations have created layers of strata with red clay stripes running across the cliff face. The drive there through the beautiful Hallormsstaður forest makes for a stunning journey. The waterfall is a good hike from the parking lot heading uphill on the way in. It’s a 5km round trip with plenty of places to rest along the way. You’ll also encounter another waterfall on the walk. Litlanesfoss drops down over two levels and is surrounded by impressive basalt columns.