Updated: Jan 17
It is quite easy to get distracted by the beauty of nature our country is so famous for. So much so that we tend to forget the fact that many sites and landmarks have a past and a story linked to them. When traveling in Iceland by campervan, one can enjoy the stunning views of the land. But if we also can learn some history, it will be easier to understand the local culture. That is the case of Goðafoss waterfall in Iceland, which is not only an impressive cascade but a place where the destiny of a whole country changed course forever.
What Causes Waterfalls?
Waterfalls are the result of erosion. The water of a river is continuously wearing away the rock and soil along its path. The water ends up finding a way to get through, and due to gravity, the water eventually falls vertically. Depending on the volume of water flow, it can come in the form of either waterfalls or cascades. Waterfalls have a higher amount of water falling per second. And that’s the case of Goðafoss.
Waterfalls are such a mesmerizing display of Mother Nature’s creation. I love spending time sitting by an Icelandic waterfall and simply listening to the rushing sound of the water as it falls over the cliff. It is very relaxing, and the soft din feels like a lullaby that could send me to sleep. Most people prefer to listen to the sound of raindrops hitting their windows. But of course, I descended from the Vikings. I prefer thousands of liters or gallons plummeting over a cliff edge. Texas isn’t the only place where everything is big. And waterfalls are definitely one of the best things to do among Iceland’s sightseeing highlights when camping.
Iceland’s Waterfall – Goðafoss
If you are a loyal reader of this blog or you happen to know a bit of Icelandic, you may already know that any word ending in –foss means waterfall. Maybe Icelandic isn't that complicated after all? The Skjálfandi River is the one that feeds this pearl in the northern region of Iceland. The waterfall has a curved shape, and the water flows on an old lava field. This lava field is 8,000 years old, and some fragile moss and vegetation has grown on it. The contrast of colors, the powerful, roaring noise of the stream falling and the lava formation in the surrounding area make it a point of interest.
It’s a stop on the much larger Diamond Circle route, along with Dettifoss, the largest waterfall by volume in Iceland. Goðafoss is not the only waterfall in the local area, but I dare to say it is the most impressive one. The same river feeds these four waterfalls and cascades: Aldeyjarfoss, Ullarfoss, Barnafoss, and Hrafnabjargafoss. Goðafoss is 12 meters (39 feet) high, and 30 meters (98 feet) wide. Its name translates to “Waterfall of the Gods”. Let's discover the fascinating story behind where its moniker comes from.
The Waterfall of the Gods
Goðafoss played a significant role in the history of Iceland. As most of you may already know, this Nordic Iceland was colonized by the Vikings. These tribes believed in the old Norse religion and mythology. They were polytheistic and had a vast pantheon of gods, chief among them Odin, Thor, and Freyja. This religion was practiced in Iceland for centuries and then came the year 1000.
Iceland was under the rule of the Norwegian King Olaf Tryggvason who embraced Christianity in his country, and he also wanted Iceland to follow the same path. Icelanders were not about to give up without a fight. But because the Nordic island was scarcely populated back then, in the end they had to. The king blocked all commercial routes to and from Iceland. Icelanders could not fish on Norwegian waters. Food and provisions were limited, and people started to starve. Tensions were rising, and a solution to the issue was needed more than ever.
A Historic Change
At the Althingi, the world’s oldest parliament, the most influential chieftains and leaders met to find a way to end to all of this conflict. Þorgeir Þorkelsson was elected as a mediator. After considering the pros and cons and thinking about the consequences, Þorgeir decided Iceland should embrace Christianity. He only asked for a couple of conditions in exchange. They were that Icelanders could still eat horsemeat, paganism could still be practiced at home, and infanticide would still be permitted. The legends say that Þorgeir also decided to make a grand gesture as a symbol of this new decision.
To commemorate this new chapter in the history of Iceland, he dramatically threw his pagan gods over the cliff of the historic waterfall we're talking about. And this is where Goðafoss got its name: the Waterfall of the Gods.Don’t worry about the whole infanticide thing. Thankfully, once the church firmly settled in Iceland, it was no longer permitted.
How to Reach Goðafoss
This impressive waterfall is just 34 km (21 miles) away from Akureyri, Iceland’s unofficial capital of the North. If you are traveling across Iceland in a camper rental, you only need to drive for about half an hour on Route 1, Þjóðvegur bound. You will then see the turn off to Goðafoss, and you will arrive at a public parking lot. You’ll need to walk just a couple of minutes to get to the waterfall.
Things to Do - Goðafoss Waterfall
Some places are more than meets the eye. This remarkable place has witnesses how a whole country changed its destiny with a single gesture. Throwing the old Norse pagan gods over the cliffs of Goðafoss represented leaving the past behind. The future of Iceland was in the hands of Christianity by that time. Now, when you come and travel in Iceland and visit Goðafoss, you will not only be impressed by the beauty of the scenery. You will also remember the significance of this waterfall in Iceland’s history.