Europe is known for its breathtaking natural beauty, and one of the most awe-inspiring natural features on the continent is its waterfalls. From the towering heights of Gullfoss in Iceland to the hidden gems of Croatia, Europe boasts a wide variety of cascades and cataracts.
In this article, we explore some of the best-known waterfalls in Europe, starting with the tricky matter of identifying the highest one.
The Highest Waterfall in Europe
Determining an empirical fact such as the identity of the highest waterfall in Europe seems like a simple task. And yet, almost every source has a different answer. There are numerous reasons for this uncertainty, chiefly that it’s actually pretty tricky to measure waterfalls. There’s also no official method of doing so. Other factors that hinder the process include that natural features change over time, and that many European waterfalls have been altered for use in producing hydrological power. And all this is without getting into the issue of whether a waterfall includes those under the sea, in which case the Denmark Strait wins hands down at 11,500 feet. Having said all of that, there are a handful of falls that are amongst the tallest.
It is in the county of Romsdal in western Norway that one finds two such cataracts. The glacier-fed waters of Vinnufossen, also known as Vinnufallet, rush down somewhere between 2,772 and 2,837 feet, roughly twice the height of the Empire State Building. Along the way, there are three tiers and the falls spider out in a network of streams. Just over a mile away, Skorga may also be the highest waterfall in Europe at between 2,834 and 2,870 feet. Mattenbachfälle in Switzerland is another oft-mentioned contender, listed alternately as having a height of 2,775 and 3,083 feet.
Rheinfall | Switzerland
At 75 feet tall, Switzerland’s Rheinfall or “Rhine Falls” is unlikely to be in the running for the title of highest waterfall in Europe, but it is one of the biggest. Indeed, with a width of almost 500 feet, it is thought to be the largest waterfall on the continent by area. What’s more, it’s also amongst the most powerful, flowing at a staggering average of 21,000 cubic feet per second in summer. Iceland’s majestic Dettifoss waterfall is another of the waterfalls of Europe renowned for its incredible might. Meanwhile, the widest waterfall in Europe is the Venta Rapid, or “Ventas Rumba” as it is known in its native Latvian.
Staubbach Falls | Switzerland
Some of Europe’s best waterfalls can be found in the Swiss valley of Lauterbrunnen, where 72 cataracts are located. Of these, Staubbach Falls is a firm favourite and its name offers clues as to why. Staubbach Falls, or Staubbachfall, roughly translates as “dust stream,” an allusion to the atmospheric mist that surrounds it in the summer months.
Krimml Falls | Austria
The torrent of Austria’s Krimml Waterfalls diving 1,247 feet looks more like a plume of smoke than liquid. Racing down at a rate of 200 cubic feet per second over three tiers, it’s a show of sheer force. Also known as Krimmler Wasserfälle, they are located in Hohe Tauern National Park.
Plitvice Lakes National Park | Croatia
In the UNESCO-inscribed Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia, the plants, algae and mosses have created one of the most breathtaking examples of waterfalls in Europe. Specifically, the calcium carbonate deposited in the water by this mass of greenery has produced a hard porous rock called Tufa. The Tufa has then formed walls in between which are a series of turquoise lakes, all connected by waterfalls. The same geological process created the picturesque Kravice Falls in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Marmore Falls | Italy
One might not expect an artificial creation to feature as one of Europe’s best waterfalls, but Marmore Falls or “Cascate delle Marmore” is a worthwhile exception. This is not just because it is probably the highest artificial waterfall on the continent, but also because it’s an historical marvel dating back to Ancient Rome. And the Romans were not aiming to create a cascade, but to divert the Velino River from populated areas so as to reduce mosquito related diseases. Over time, man’s intervention paved the way for Marmore Falls.
Trümmelbach Falls | Switzerland
Some of the best waterfalls in Europe are found underground. Nowhere demonstrates this better than Trümmelbach Falls in the Swiss canton of Bern. Said to be Europe’s largest accessible subterranean waterfalls, these ten thunderous cataracts drain three vast glaciers, shaking their mountain with the force of their waters rushing at some 100 cubic feet per second. And they’re not the only ones. Cascate del Varone are a duo of waterfalls near Lake Garda. Not only are they located within a cave, but in a vertical one that they carved into the limestone over the course of some 20,000 years.
Skógafoss | Iceland
If Skógafoss looks familiar, it may be from one of its many on-screen appearances, such as on Game of Thrones or Vikings. This Icelandic wonder is one of the most famous waterfalls of Europe, revered for its vast and roiling wall of water. It is part of the iconic trail known as the Diamond Circle, as is Godafoss, another imposing waterfall. It’s believed it was at Godafoss that the medieval lawspeaker Thorgeir Ljosvetningagodi Thorkelsson threw away statues of Norse gods upon making Christianity the country’s official religion.