Top 10 Must Visit Waterfalls in Iceland
So, you’re into waterfalls? You’ve come to the right place! Because of Iceland’s variety in landscapes, its rugged features, highlands, glaciers and mountains, waterfalls are found all over the country in nearly every imaginable shape, volume and form.
When you plan your visit to Iceland, make sure to include ample time to visit Iceland’s waterfalls.
How many waterfalls are there in Iceland?
That’s not an easy question to answer given the variety of what are technically considered waterfalls but at most they’re in the thousands, probably as many as 10,000. For purposes of a comfortably long blog post, we’ve picked our absolute favorites and we managed to narrow it down to an absolute minimum of 10. That’s the bare minimum of amazing waterfalls, each with their own characteristics and magical presence. Of our shortlist, no two waterfalls even remotely resemble each other. That’s saying something.
Are waterfalls free in Iceland?
Visiting a waterfall is a great free activity. You’ll probably have to invest in transportation and in the most popular cases you might be charged for parking but there are no actual entrance fees to these natural pearls in our landscapes.
Where are the most famous waterfalls in Iceland?
There are impressive waterfalls all around Iceland. The most famous ones are in the South, likely because they are along our roads most traveled and are subsequently the Instagram-stars of this show. The real record-breaking showstoppers are however Glymur in the West (highest waterfall in Iceland) and Dettifoss in the North (most voluminous waterfall in Europe) and then there’s Dynjandi in the remote Westfjords, arguably one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world (that’s our opinion and we’re sticking to it). If you’re circling Iceland and have time, here are our top pics, per region, of Iceland’s waterfalls.
Top Waterfalls in the South of Iceland
Gullfoss – 32m / 105 feet
What is the name of the famous waterfall in Iceland? The answer to this pretty popular question is probably Gullfoss. Why it’s the most famous waterfall in Iceland is a little more complicated. Gullfoss is neither the tallest or the most voluminous, but it probably is a record holder for most visited and photographed waterfall in Iceland. There are a few reasons for that. Gullfoss, or the “Golden Waterfall” as it translates into English, is one of the three main attractions on the popular Golden Circle tour in the South of Iceland. This tour, which used to be the basic Sunday drive for Reykjavik families back in the day, stops at Þingvellir (site of the ancient Viking parliament and UNESCO World Heritage Site), Geysir (the powerful geyser all the other geysers in the world are named after) and Gullfoss waterfall. But Gullfoss isn’t just a convenient stop on a popular route. It’s simply stunning. The steps along the gorge allow visitors to get very up close and personal, it usually adorns a rainbow crown in its mist, and Icelanders love it like a close family member. That’s probably because Gullfoss is historically very important to the Icelandic psyche. This waterfall came very close to be dammed in the early 20th century, was sold off to foreigners, bought back and became an emblem of conservatism, environmentalism and the fight for independence. While most Icelanders might not be able to pinpoint these exact reasons, we’ll go as far as claim that most of them would take up arms to protect it.
Seljalandsfoss – 60m / 197 feet
What waterfall can you walk behind in Iceland? You’re probably thinking of Seljalandsfoss. Visible from afar, this straight line of water pummeling down the side of Eyjafjöll, full of glacier water from the notorious Eyjafjallajökull, is an obligatory stop on Route 1. It’s not really obligatory but it should be. Seljalandsfoss biggest attraction is the fact that you can walk behind it which is as magical as it sounds. Adding to this otherworldly experience is the scenery surrounding this waterfall and if you want a really stunning experience and your all time most liked Instagram picture, make sure to visit at sunset when the sun hits the waterfall and lights up the mist as you stand behind it. Pro tip: don’t miss out on Seljalandsfoss’ baby brother, Gljúfrabúi, an enchanting waterfall set inside a narrow gorge, just a few minutes away from Seljalandsfoss. If ever there are elves in Iceland, they’ll be at Gljúfrabúi. You’ll know what we mean when you get there.
Skógafoss – 60m / 197 feet
Just a few minutes further on Route 1 after leaving Seljalandsfoss, you’ll find Skógafoss. Its no 1 claim to fame (and it has a few) is probably its insanely and perfectly picturesque form. It looks like something drawn by a technical engineer asked to produce a waterfall. Its second claim to fame is that this is likely Iceland’s biggest movie star, seen in Hollywood blockbusters like Thor and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and TV hits like Game of Thrones and Vikings. Its third claim to fame (for real), is that this is rumored to be the site where one of Iceland’s original Viking settlers, Þrasi Þórólfsson, hid his chest of gold. You’re supposed to see the gold glitter through the mist if you look directly at it. The legend says that in an attempt to retrieve the gold from behind the waterfall, treasure hunters were able to catch a grip of the handle of the treasure chest but when they pulled on it, the handle came off. This handle can be seen in the Museum at Skógar. Who are we to doubt its origins? If you’re in the red-carpet mood and want to see a real film star that will undoubtedly make your day and make you feel incredibly special, go on a date with Skógafoss.
Svartifoss – 20m / 66 feet
There’s no shortage of showstoppers and beauty queens in this blog but when it comes to awe-inspiring settings and a stunning presence, Svartifoss takes the prize, in our humble opinion. It’s not so much due to its volume, height or even form but its amazing surroundings. Situated in Skaftafell National Park, the hike up to Svartifoss is a short and extremely scenic experience. The vegetation is fairy-tale like and the backdrop is mountains, glaciers and the stunning glacier tongue of Skaftafellsjökull. But at the end of this little hike, you’ll find cliffs of columnar basalt, surrounding a pond that the waterfall plunges into. It feels like the setting of a fantasy or a children’s book. Take all the pictures. They will never fully capture that incredible landscape but it's worth a try.
Top Waterfalls in the West of Iceland
Dynjandi – 100m / 328 feet
The glorious Dynjandi is a sight not often seen by wandering tourists in Iceland. This is mainly because it’s situated in an especially remote fjord in the already remote Westfjords. Dynjandi cascades down the side of a mountain like the flowing long hair of a Disney princess. Its charm is only heightened by the fact that you can walk up to it which feels like you’re about to enter it somehow. Like most waterfall encounters, this one is both personal and hard to explain.
Hraunfossar – 12m / 39 feet
Hraunfossar (e. lava waterfalls – plural!) is a large series of small waterfalls that flow out from the green and mossy lava fields surrounding it and into the Hvítá river in Borgarfjörður. Hraunfossar are unique in that they do not emerge from any visible body of water but rather come out from what seems to be the surrounding bushes and greenery. They are enchanting to say the least and their otherworldly surroundings of Hallmundarhraun lava fields is an added bonus. Check out Barnafoss a short distance upstream for another famous Icelandic waterfall with its very own folklore.
Glymur – 198m / 650 feet
What’s the biggest waterfall in Iceland? If by biggest you mean the tallest, the answer is Glymur. It’s nearly 200m (650 ft.) tall and plunges down a narrow gorge. The good news is that it’s only a short drive from Reykjavik. The bad news is that it’s not the easiest hike to see it in its full glory. But for outdoor nerds and hikers, this may as well be great news. If a great scenic hike is your cup of tea, we highly recommend the Leggjabrjótur trail. This roughly translates as “leg breaker trail” but don’t worry. It’s very popular among locals and fairly easy although long. The trail takes you from Þingvellir National Park over to Hvalfjörður fjord and ends at the foot of the trail to Glymur which can be added to the larger day trip.
Top Waterfalls in the North of Iceland
Dettifoss – 51m / 167 feet
Waterfall enthusiasts, fans and nerds should put Dettifoss at the very top of their list of attractions in Iceland. Situated in a remote part in the north of Iceland, Dettifoss would have three Michelin stars if it were a restaurant. It is well worth the trip if it’s the only thing you came to see in these parts. 51m (167 ft.) high and 171m (560 ft.) wide, this is Iceland’s most powerful waterfall. It is also widely regarded as Europe’s most powerful waterfall, although different measurements and techniques and a fluctuation in glacial rivers make such claims a little hazy. Regardless, we’re going to go out on a limb and say that meeting Dettifoss in person, will be one of the most powerful experiences of your life and an absolute highlight of any trip to Iceland. The sheer power of this phenomenon is extraordinary and not lost on any visitor. There’s also something extremely enchanting about it and many people find it both alluring and uncomfortable. Keep in mind that this incredible show of force is made up of glacial water, powering through the rugged highlands from Vatnajökull glacier, the largest glacier in Europe. An encounter with Dettifoss is also an encounter with these primal natural wonders, and water that may have originally rained thousands of years ago. Dettifoss was a prominent star in the opening scene of Prometheus.
Goðafoss – 12m / 39 feet
Goðafoss is one of the most powerful waterfalls in Iceland, in every sense of the word. It belongs to Skjálfandafljót, a glacial river from Vatnajökull, much like its larger brother in the North, Dettifoss. The English translation of its name is “The waterfall of the Gods”. Let us explain (and bear with us): When Iceland’s Lawspeaker, Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði, was tasked with the incredibly difficult project of unifying Icelanders under one religion in the year 1,000, he eventually chose Christianity. Remaining believers in the old Nordic gods, were allowed to worship their heathen gods in secrecy. Þorgeir himself, had worshipped the old gods up until his ruling but as as how of good faith, he dumped his religious icons in Goðafoss upon returning home from parliament. Unlike most of the rather amazing written sources Icelanders have about their history, this one isn’t very good and probably made up if we’re honest. But Goðafoss undeniable has a religious aura about it. Worship what you will at home but you can’t help but worship mother nature in these parts.
Top Waterfalls in the East of Iceland
While we’re only listing one large waterfall for this region, we’d like to point out that all along the narrow fjords, valleys and the towering mountains of East Iceland, you’ll see hundreds, if not thousands of waterfalls as you drive along these scenic routes. This is a different part of Iceland than the south. Geologically older, colder and in many ways, much more dramatic. If elves rule the south, trolls inhabit the east. That’s all to say that we’re big fans of the East and encourage everyone to journey to this region, waterfall fans included.
Hengifoss – 118m / 386 feet
Roughly 30 minutes away from Egilsstaðir, the largest town in East Iceland, you’ll find the trail leading up to Hengifoss. Hengifoss is remarkable for a number of reasons. For one, its sheer height is breathtaking. The 118m drop is a showstopper to say the least. Second, Hengifoss has carved out its own amphitheater, revealing colorful layers of different geological deposits in the process. The result is stunning hues of red, yellow and blue and as a result, Hengifoss always feels like royalty, gowned in glorious attire. The hike from the parking lot is somewhat steep but not terrible difficult and absolutely worth your time.
Like we said, we’ve tried to limit ourselves to our top ten favorites (and snuck in a few extras along the way), but if you travel even a short distance in Iceland, you’re sure to come across a waterfall in the wild. Some have huge historical significance, like Öxarárfoss where women were executed in the Middle Ages. Others are part of their own unique geological setting like Glanni in Norðurárdalur or Rjúkandi in Jökuldalur. And then there’s the more remote showstoppers like Hjálparfoss and Háifoss in the highlands. That’s just to say that there’s no shortage of amazing waterfalls in Iceland and we encourage you to seek them out if you have time. PLAY flies to Iceland from 22 destinations in Europe and 3 destinations in the USA so book your cheap flight to IcelandLink opens in a new tab today.