Updated: Sep 21
When it comes to dramatic waterfalls Iceland has more than its fair share. Great rivers rush through the landscape creating many thundering falls. From the highest to the widest to the one with the greatest volume of water cascading over it. Each one is truly spectacular in its own unique way.
But why does Iceland have so many amazing waterfalls?
The wealth of waterfalls in Iceland comes down to the simple fact of geography. The island sits high up in the North Atlantic Ocean not so far from the Arctic Circle. This means that it is subjected to some serious weather! Tumultuous storms bluster through on a regular basis. So the country is regularly dowsed in rains that then turn to snows in the colder months.
As you're probably aware there are also many glaciers in Iceland. In fact, these creeping frozen giants cover much of the island’s landmass. As the ice melts in the warmer season it feeds the rivers. These then gain momentum as they head for the sea. Resulting in Iceland’s many epic waterfalls. With all this ice, snow, and rain Iceland really does receive an inordinate amount of H2O in its various states.
So which are the biggest waterfalls in Iceland?
Here come the real record-breakers in Iceland. The stars of the show! We will also look at some of the other exceptional waterfalls around the country. So if you’re planning a camper van road trip you can seek out at least some of them.
The most powerful waterfall in Iceland
For sheer volume of water passing through Dettifoss is the out-and-out winner. In fact, this is the most powerful waterfall in all of Europe and it is simply astounding to behold. More than just an incredible sight the immensity of the falls can be physically felt. Long before you reach it you will hear the thundering and rushing of the water. Then as you draw closer you’ll feel the spray and the breeze that the falling water creates. Even if the sky is blue make sure you wear your rain jacket as you will be getting wet!
In terms of location, Dettifoss Waterfall is a little off the beaten path. It lies in the north of the country. A far less visited region than South Iceland. However, if you are taking a road trip around the Ring Road you will pass quite nearby. If short on time then another popular way to see, it's to rent a vehicle in Iceland’s north. You can then drive your rental camper around the spectacular Diamond Circle. Similar to the Golden Circle in South Iceland this is a sightseeing route around the north that includes the waterfall.
To get to the waterfall you will need to drive down a slightly rough gravel road. So take your time but definitely don’t skip it! This waterfall is one of the most impressive in the country. It has in fact been incorporated into several films including Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. That’s how epic it is!
The highest waterfall in Iceland
This is quite an interesting one as it has in fact changed relatively recently. Up until around 2010, Glymur Waterfall was thought to be the highest. Its single slim plume of water plunges an impressive 198 meters down. But then all of a sudden there was a new waterfall on the horizon. Morsárfoss in the glacier-bound eastern region of Iceland took over the title quite decisively. Measuring in at a maximum of around 240 meters is definitely higher. Because of its position amidst a moving glacier, it has proven quite tricky to measure it precisely.
Unfortunately, there is little chance for most visitors to see Morsárfoss up close. This is because it lies deep within the Vatnajökull National Park. Getting there would entail a dangerous mission across a moving glacier. It can however be seen reasonably easily from a distance. There are several hikes from around Skaftafell where you can get within about 6km of the falls. Even so, you will need a pair of binoculars to get a good look.
Glymur waterfall is also only accessible on foot. But this is a much safer albeit slightly challenging hike. You will need to hike for between 3-4 hours in total through all sorts of terrain. So you should have a reasonable level of fitness and experience to attempt it. As always when hiking in Iceland you must come prepared. Set off on your hike in plenty of time and let someone know your plans. Wear proper hiking boots and all-weather gear and take water and snacks with you. There are of course no shops where you’re going!
Hiking to Glymur is exciting and well worth the payoff of seeing the falling plume of the waterfall. Not to mention the stunning scenery on the route. The waterfall lies in Iceland’s southwest. The starting point parking area is about a 45-minute drive from Reykjavik so it makes for a great day trip. Alternatively, you could tie in the hike with a road trip to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula just beyond.
Other unmissable Waterfalls in Iceland
Goðafoss waterfall lies in northern Iceland just a short detour off of the Ring Road route. With a twelve-meter drop it is one of the lower waterfalls in the country. However, it makes up for its lack of height with some serious girth. The waterfall stretches for some thirty meters around in a horseshoe shape.
It really is a beautiful sight and well worth the short detour if you are driving the Ring Road or exploring the north. Unlike the last two Godafoss is located right next to the visitor parking area. So there’s no need for a long hike to appreciate it.
Skogafoss is another southern Iceland gem. Again it is a perfect place to visit if you are driving the southern Ring Road. Here too there is easy access from the car park. So there’s no need for a long hike to appreciate this beauty.
The waterfall is impressive at sixty meters in height and twenty-five across. The falling water cascades down in one continuous line. In fact, the cliff here once marked the edge of Iceland’s coastline. The water plunges straight down into the river below. At its base, the black volcanic rock makes for a spectacular contrast to the white water. If you are keen on a hike you could climb the steps up for an aerial view.
Gullfoss is another one of the greats. This one lies on the famous Golden Circle sightseeing route in South Iceland. As such it is well visited and has some serious wow factor. Here the great waters of the Hvítá River plunge down over two tiers into a narrow churning gorge. At 32-meters it is by no means high in comparison to many. But is very powerful with an impressive volume of water thundering over its wide double tier.
Again this is an easy one to reach and can be visited year-round. It is one of a trio of the most visited sights in all of Iceland. So it is both incredibly impressive and very accessible. Easily reached on a day trip from Reykjavik or incorporated into a longer road trip. There is a lovely campsite nearby so if you are hiring a camper van or motorhome it is ideal.
This lovely waterfall lies in south Iceland along the coast-hugging Ring Road. It is quite unique in that it is possible to walk all the way around the waterfall. A pathway remarkably leads all the way behind the falling curtain of water and out the other side! This creates some spectacular views out through the falling water to the landscape beyond.
The path is only accessible in the summer months as it becomes too dangerous in winter. Even so, care is needed when following the pathway as it can be slippery. Seljalandsfoss Waterfall is easily accessible and just a short walk from the car parking area. At night there are even lights illuminating the falls and it is a favorite spot for sunset watching. If you’re visiting you might also like to seek out the lovely Gljúfrabúi Waterfall hidden just nearby… Ask around!