Iceland is a country of extreme contrasts and dramatic landscapes. Hailed as the land of fire and ice, it’s home to vast glaciers, active volcanoes, and – of course – spectacular waterfalls. As we journey through Iceland’s rugged terrain, we’ll encounter cascades that roar with thunderous might and others that gently flow down in delicate veils of mist.
Each waterfall we visit, from the most renowned to the least familiar, tells its own unique tale of geological transformation and the relentless power of nature. These breathtaking spectacles, with their striking beauty and sheer scale, reveal the enduring dance between water and earth, a testament to the forces that have shaped and continue to shape this remarkable island nation.
In this article, we’re exploring some of the best known waterfalls in Iceland, along with some not-to-miss hidden gems. So without further “foss,” let’s begin our exploration of these liquid wonders, and delve deeper into the heart of Iceland’s best waterfalls.
Gullfoss is one of the most colourful waterfalls in Iceland in more than one sense. Its name translates as the “Golden Waterfall,” while it flows along the “white” or “Hvita” River. While classed as one cataract, it is in fact split in two. The first drop is a gradual stepped affair of some 36 feet. Then, the river arcs over a short distance, producing the second fall, a 65-foot plunge, at a different angle. The effect is something of a zigzag. Finally, it’s an incredibly powerful waterfall, its average flow rate being 4,000 cubic feet per second. For perspective, that’s over three Olympic swimming pools every minute.
Stretching almost 100 feet across and crashing down 39 feet, Godafoss is a spectacle of hydrological might along the River Skjalfandafljot. The “God” in Godafoss is an enticing reference to the historic importance of this most symbolic of Icelandic waterfalls, although academics disagree as to its exact provenance. One story is that in the year 1,000, lawspeaker Thorgeir Ljosvetningagodi used the powerful cataract to dispose of the final official Norse statues as a testament to the country’s conversion to Christianity.
It’s the most powerful waterfall in Iceland and among the most potent in Europe, seeing five Olympic pools’ worth of water, some 6,800 cubic feet, plummeting over its edge every second. Dettifoss is an icon among Icelandic waterfalls, a vast frothing deluge of silvery water. Located in the northeast of the country, it spans some 330 feet within Vatnajokull National Park, its drop measuring around 144 feet.
The abundance of truly spectacular waterfalls in Iceland means that even extraordinary cataracts can be overshadowed. The Waterfall Selfoss is one such fall. This cacophonous collection of thunderous plunges is truly a force of nature and yet rarely sees the limelight. The reason? Location, location, location. Travel just four thousand feet further on the river Jokulsa a Fjollum and one finds Dettifoss.
Thanks to their immense power, the waterfalls of Iceland are not, as a rule, conducive to being admired from beyond their watery flow. The 200-foot Seljalandsfoss Waterfall is an exception, with a footpath behind it offering an alternative view of its silky stream as it plunges down.
There are several falls along the Merkja River, but Gluggafoss has to be the most memorable. Its name means Window Falls, and the reason becomes “clear” on sight. Over time, the rushing water has carved holes and tunnels into the soft rock behind the cascade, creating ‘windows.’ As the water flows down, it pours out of these windows, creating a unique and picturesque scene. A geological consequence of two different types of rock making up the land, the sheer oddity earns it a place as one of Iceland’s best waterfalls.
A curtain of water flanked by green hills, Skogafoss is one of the best known waterfalls in Iceland. It forms where the River Skoga encounters a 200-foot drop, at the bottom of which char and salmon are plentiful. Rainbows are a common sight here, and, if legend is to be believed, they may just lead to treasure buried under the waters.
Glymur, until recently recognized as the tallest waterfall in Iceland, is a true marvel of nature. With an impressive drop of about 650 feet, it presents an awe-inspiring sight as it cascades dramatically into a serene canyon, lined by lush green moss and framed by rugged cliffs. Located in the western part of the country, not far from Reykjavik, the majestic sight of Glymur, coupled with the stunning natural surroundings, is a testament to Iceland’s extraordinary geological diversity and beauty.
What’s believed to be the tallest of all waterfalls in Iceland was only discovered in 2007. While studying glaciers in Austurland, surveyors came upon a gargantuan cataract, since named Morsarfoss. Located under – and indeed springing from – an active glacier, Morsarfoss is inaccessible, making accurate measurement difficult. Even more so given its end is obscured from view. The current estimate puts it at 785 feet tall.
As the waters of Svartifoss freefall 80 feet in Vatnajokull National Park, they do so before a formidable backdrop worthy of Game of Thrones. Svartifoss means Black Waterfall and it gets the name from the tall basalt columns that form geometric clusters along its cliff face.
Waterfalls of Iceland
From the lesser-known Waterfall Selfoss to the star power of Gullfoss, Icelandic waterfalls are some of the world’s most extraordinary natural wonders. They stand as testament to the country’s fascinating geological past and present, their ceaseless torrents a reminder of the powerful forces that shaped the country.
These waterfalls also tell a story of Iceland’s vibrant culture and history. They’re tied to tales of ancient gods and legends, of pioneers and adventurers, and of the changing beliefs of a nation. Whether cloaked in the ethereal glow of the Northern Lights or glistening under the summer sun, these waterfalls capture the imagination and leave an indelible impression on locals and visitors alike.
Yet, they represent only a fraction of the natural treasures that Iceland has to offer. From its rugged highlands to its stark lava fields, from its icy glaciers to its black sand beaches, this land is a paradise for those who seek the beauty of nature in its purest and most dramatic forms.