Updated: Oct 20, 2022
Goðafoss is an impressive waterfall and one of Iceland’s must-sees. It’s one of the stops on the Diamond Circle, a 190-mile-long route launched in 2020 as north Iceland’s answer to the Golden Circle. Although this part of the country remains off the beaten track for many visitors, the lack of crowds compared to places like Gullfoss and Skógafoss will make your visit all the more enjoyable. Rent your campervan and hit the road as there’s no way you’re going to want to miss Goðafoss.
How to visit Goðafoss?
Goðafoss is easily accessible from the Ring Road route – in fact, the car park is literally beside the main road. It’s only a half-hour drive east of Akureyri and equally convenient to reach from Húsavík. You’ll find it at the junction where the Ring Road intersects with Route 844, the Bárðardalsvegur Eystri road. As you can see the spray coming off the falls from the Ring Road, you can’t miss it – even without a Sat-Nav.
Handily, there’s an N1 petrol station and also a café which has a great view of the waterfall. It serves hot fast food like pizza and hot dogs as well as coffee, cake, and snacks. Alongside in the gift shop area, you can buy sheepskin rugs and items of clothing as well as the usual array of souvenirs.
Goðafoss’ incredible surroundings
Up in the north of Iceland on the Diamond Circle route, Goðafoss is one of two great waterfalls. The other is Dettifoss, which is the second most powerful waterfall in Europe, and the most powerful waterfall in Iceland. A jaw-dropping 500 cubic meters of water cascades over the edge every single second, a mess of gray water and debris picked up by the current.
It should come as no surprise, then, to learn that Goðafoss is the beauty of the pair, and the one worthy of the list of best places to visit in Iceland. This spectacular waterfall is actually comprised of two main cascades and several smaller falls. In all, its span measures about 30 meters, and its height averages out at approximately 12 meters, though parts of it are up to 17 meters tall. In contrast to Dettifoss, the beast, its water is pure and clear for much of the year, and you’ll be reaching for the camera as soon as you arrive.
Take in the view!
There’s not a lot to do at Goðafoss apart from admiring the falls, but they’re so pretty you won’t want to rush. Goðafoss sits on the Skjálfandafljót River, which you can approach from the two opposite banks. Most visitors take in the view from both banks. It doesn’t matter which you start from, as there’s parking on both sides and a pedestrian bridge just north of the Ring Road which connects them both.
However, most people will tell you that the eastern bank has the best view of the falls and the basalt rock alongside it – you can get pretty close to the top of the falls. You’ll also see some people clambering down the rocks to reach the water’s edge, but unless you are extremely surefooted, it’s not recommended to do so as it’s easy to slip and fall into the water. Don’t worry though! There’s a well-sized oval viewing platform so you don’t miss a thing.
On the western side, a graded path leads along the edge of the gorge. There are benches to sit on that offer an unobstructed view of the water tumbling down the rock face and of Hrútey, a rocky outcrop that divides the falls. The edge is roped off, as it’s a long way to fall, and you don’t want to go over it.
The Goðafoss waterfall in winter
Snow covers the rocky gorge and its surroundings in winter, contrasting with the clear water and the dark rock to make this one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the north of Iceland. Occasionally, the water itself freezes, forming long icicles which dangle photogenically over the water below.
Goðafoss waterfall is also one of the best spots in north Iceland to see the Northern Lights. That’s because:
It’s easily accessible from the Ring Road: it’s only a half-hour drive from Akureyri and a similar distance from Húsavík.
Goðafoss’orientation means that if you get lucky with a clear sky and strong solar activity, the aurora will be visible right over the falls and often reflects in the plunge pool below.
For stunning pictures, please visit our photography tips post.
Goðafoss wasn’t protected as a natural monument until 2020
Goðafoss Iceland was officially designated as a natural monument on June 17th 2020. The Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources, Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, visited the waterfall in person and made the official announcement. That increased degree of protection makes educating and supervising park rangers that much more essential.
It’s important to ensure that Iceland’s natural wonders, such as Goðafoss, are preserved for future generations. As tourist numbers have risen substantially in recent years, the pressure to look after Iceland’s natural landforms has become more acute. The waterfall’s increased status means that the flow of water to it must be maintained, and efforts must be made to ensure the geological characteristics of the area are conserved.
The waterfall is entwined with a key moment in Icelandic history
A thousand years ago, Iceland was experiencing a time of great political instability. Many Icelanders back then were Norsemen, and they followed the Old Norse religion, worshiping gods like Thor and Odin. Norway still exerted considerable influence, though Icelanders made their own laws and ran their own country.
Around 1000 AD, the King of Norway was Olaf Tryggvason, who had recently converted to Christianity. Throwing his weight around, he demanded that Iceland follow suit, and when they hesitated, he imposed sanctions and trade restrictions that had a terrible impact on the Icelandic nation.
Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði takes a step forward!
When the matter came up for discussion at the Althing, Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoðiwas, an Ásatrú priest (known as a goði) and the chief law speaker at the Althing, was tasked with deciding whether Iceland should ditch its pagan beliefs or not. If he didn’t make the decision quickly, it was likely Norway would invade. So, as the story goes, after careful thought and much prayer, he chose Christianity.
To emphasize his point, Þorgeir then traveled up to Goðafoss and threw the idols of the Old Norse gods into the water. The meaning of the name Goðafoss is thought to derive from that act. But no one can be certain exactly whether it should translate as the waterfall of the gods or the waterfall of the 'goði´.
The story behind the name isn’t the only legend associated with Goðafoss
Goðafoss falls crop up in more than one of Iceland’s famous sagas. This time, the tale concerns an outlaw by the name of Grettir the Strong. Grettir Ásmundarson is recorded as being an ill-tempered and belligerent man. Cursed by a shepherd, he accidentally sets fire to a hut, which results in the death of the occupants, forcing him into exile.
Living on his wit's end, estranged from society, Grettir the Strong travels to the north of Iceland to hide from his enemies. There, he manages to abseil down the cliff to hide out in a cave behind Goðafoss. The story was written down several centuries after these events were supposed to have taken place, so whether Grettir was actually there or not is a matter of conjecture. It makes for a good story though!
There’s a bonus waterfall downstream
Geitafoss waterfall, meaning Goat’s Falls, is undoubtedly overshadowed by its bigger neighbor, but it’s worth more than a backward glance. This waterfall still manages to drop about 6 meters down a chute, the turbulent water plunging dramatically into a gap created by a natural rock arch. It’s this white water that makes the sight of Geitafoss so captivating, even though it’s relatively small.
The rock arch at Geitafoss is called Hansensgat, named after a local pharmacist who tumbled in but managed to survive. A horse once fell in there too, and at one time, a farmer used to lower his sheep down, though the water has eroded the landscape in the intervening period, so it wouldn’t be possible to copy him now even if you wanted to.
If you’re planning to drive the northern stretch of Iceland’s Ring Road, then you should definitely book a campervan rental and consider adding a visit to Goðafoss to your itinerary. We absolutely guarantee that this mesmerizing waterfall will grab your attention and won’t disappoint you in any way!