With its vast glaciers and monumental landscapes, Iceland’s natural wonders are many and spectacular. As well as ice fields and volcanoes there is another geographical phenomenon that really stands out here. From powerful torrents to lofty cascades waterfalls in Iceland take many forms. In this article, we will take you on a tour of some of the country’s most beautiful waterfalls.
Why do waterfalls feature so much in Iceland?
This small island up on the edge of the Arctic Circle very much feels the full force of the elements. The weather in Iceland is changeable, to say the least. It seems that every five minutes there is a new weather front rolling in. From rain showers in summer to consistent snow in winter. There is a great deal of water around in many forms. And that includes ice! Glaciers cover around 10% of the country’s landmass.
As Iceland emerges from the long winter months the snow and ice begin to thaw. This springtime melt releases a lot of water quickly into the rivers and streams. The waterways swell and Iceland’s waterfalls gain the full force of the elements. To see the waterfalls in Iceland at their most spectacular you should visit at this time of year. Here’s our top pick of the most spectacular waterfalls in Iceland.
This is one of Iceland’s most well-visited waterfalls. Located on the South Coast just off of the Ring Road. It has a sixty-metre drop from a high cliff that used to mark the edge of the coastline. What makes this waterfall so unique is that visitors can walk all the way behind the falling curtain of water. There is a pathway that loops right around behind the falls. From there you can see the water falling from up close.
The views beyond across the wide-open landscape are also stunning. In winter when the night comes quickly the falls are lit up with electric lighting. When the midnight sun shines in summer the views of the low sunlight catching the water is spectacular.
If you only see one waterfall in Iceland then it is very likely that it will be this one. Gullfoss forms one point of the famous Golden Triangle. This is a set of three incredible sights within easy reach of Reykjavik also known as the Golden Circle. Visitors to Iceland at any time of year can enjoy day tours around the famous Golden Circle.
The other two main attractions on the route are the Þingvellir National Park and the Geysir fields. Gullfoss translates as Golden Falls and they are a spectacular sight. The falls plunge down thirty-two metres over two wide tiers. They form a deep gorge that can only be viewed from above.
This is the highest waterfall in Iceland but a little more off the beaten path than the others described here. It is called the hanging falls and drops 128 meters down into a beautiful gorge. It is formed of a slim stream of water but is impressive none the less. It is located in East Iceland not far from the lovely Hallormsstaður Forest. If you are hiring a camper and driving the Ring Road with plenty of time it is worth the detour. The falls themselves are a short hike from the car park. It is about a 5km walk to loop around from the parking lot through some beautiful scenery.
Skógafoss is another dramatic waterfall on the South Coast of Iceland. Sixty metres high and twenty-five metres wide it is an impressive sight. Thundering down from a plateau to the river below the falls lie on the former coastline. Dark volcanic rock surrounds them and on a sunny day, you might see rainbows forming in the spray. The waterfall is a short walk from the parking lot and is best viewed from below. If you feel like a climb you can head up the 500 steps and take in the view from above.
This beautiful waterfall is particularly distinctive because of the rock formations that surround it. Tall basalt columns stretch out in a horseshoe shape around a twenty-metre drop. The name means Black Falls and its architectural form inspired the design of the Hallgrimskirkja Church in Reykjavik. The falls are located in southeast Iceland within the boundaries of the vast Vatnajökull National Park.
Godafoss or the Waterfall of the Gods is to be found in North Iceland. It is a very short detour from the Ring Road route. So if you are on a road trip around Iceland it is well worth pulling in for a walk here. The falls have some interesting stories to discover. They have a particular connection to both the Norse Gods and Christianity. They are only twelve metres high but reach around in an impressive thirty-metre semicircle.
Any guide to the Iceland waterfalls would not be complete without the mighty Dettifoss. This is the most powerful and biggest waterfall in the country. You will find it in North Iceland and it forms a part of the Diamond Circle route. Some 500 cubic meters of water per second flow over Dettifoss. The sheer force of the water flow makes it one of Iceland’s most amazing waterfalls. There is nothing quite like standing in its presence and seeing, hearing and feeling its tremendous power. The road to the waterfall is a little rough so make sure that you allow plenty of time.
Kirkjufellsfoss translates as Church Mountain Falls. It is a small waterfall with an impressive setting. Behind it rises one of Iceland’s most beloved and most photographed mountains. The rounded tip of Mount Kirkjufell with the waterfall in the foreground makes for a very special photo opportunity. If you can also catch the Northern Lights reflecting in the waters then you’ll have a picture worthy of framing. Kirkjufellsfoss is on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West Iceland. It is only about a two-hour drive from Reykjavik. So it makes a great short road trip if you are driving a campervan in Iceland.