Iceland is home to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of waterfalls, many of which don’t even have formal names. Iceland falls into the subarctic climate category, characterized by abundant rainfalls and snow. Its location on the edge of the Arctic brings a high concentration of large glaciers, whose meltwater feeds many rivers and bolsters waterfalls when summer comes. Many Icelandic waterfalls are easily accessible while driving around the ring road, while others require a bit of hiking. They change with the seasons, sometimes frozen, sometimes more forceful, but always captivating. Here are our picks for those you really shouldn’t miss as you travel around Iceland.
Once, this splendid waterfall would have dropped down onto a beach. Now, it’s cut a path inland and occupies a position beside Iceland’s Route 1. As you approach from the car park, there’ll often be a rainbow across the falls – sometimes, if you’re really lucky, it’s a double bow. To the side of the falls is a metal staircase and from the top you’ll get more of a sense of that coastal setting. If you have time, a trail leads inland along the Skógar valley, where you’ll find a series of other falls.
Although not as big as its Icelandic counterparts, Brúarfoss has earned its place among Iceland’s top waterfalls and is a welcome break from the crowds on your Golden Circle trip. Whether amid snowy landscapes or surrounded by vibrant green shrubs, Brúarfoss is a sight to behold. Glacial blue rapids fall in countless small rivulets over the black volcanic rocks, forming a living painting.
The Westfjords are one of Iceland’s best-kept secrets, not made for fast travelling, and rich in natural wonders at every bend, such as the mighty Dynjandi. Dynjandi (meaning thunderous) is often compared to a wedding cake or a bridal veil, as it consists of seven tiered waterfalls. Also known as Fjallfoss, it’s topped up by water running off the Dynjandisheiði plateau. To reach Dynjandi, you’ll need to hike up past the others: Hæstahjallafoss, Strompgljúfrafoss, Göngumannfoss, Hríðsvaðsfoss, Hundafoss, and Bæjarfoss. As the name suggests, the thunderous roar of the water can be heard as you climb.
Located almost right on the ring road in South Iceland, this head turner is a dream to visit. Crashing down 60 metres over what was once a sea cliff, a narrow rocky path snakes up beside the waterfall and continues behind the curtain of water. Peer out from behind it and you’ll be looking at a view that’s captured the imagination of countless visitors and graced many a glossy magazine.
Goðafoss, the waterfall of the gods, is not only a place of sheer beauty but also the scene of the conversion to Christianity to the detriment of Norse Paganism, in year 1000AD. Ice-blue glacial water tumbles down from a height of 12 metres into a 30-metre wide arena. The falls can be seen from both sides. Cross the bridge so you can admire it from the two vantage points and pick your favourite.
Háifoss (high falls), 122 metres high, lies on the edge of the highlands in South Iceland. Together with Granni Waterfall, it offers a breathtaking view over a narrow gorge. The mountain track leading to the waterfall is rather bumpy and therefore only accessible with a 4x4, but once there, an easy-to-follow trail takes you to the top for that jaw-dropping panorama.
You’ll find Gluggafoss in South Iceland; it’s also called Merkjárfoss. Standing a little over 50 metres tall, it’s split into two main drops. The surrounding rock is riddled with holes and tunnels, and it’s these “windows” that give the falls its name. Once some of them were blocked by volcanic ash following an eruption of Hekla, but the flowing water has cleaned them out.
This impressive waterfall was once thought to be Iceland’s tallest until in 2011 someone hiked across a glacier and measured Morsárfoss. No matter: this one is still a sight to behold. You’ll need to be up for a bit of a hike, however. Follow the Leggjabrjótur (Broken Leg) trail, which involves hiking several steep sections and fording the river a couple of times. Trust us, it’s worth the effort when you reach the top: this 198-metre high waterfall is utterly magnificent.
Hraunfossar (lava falls) stream over 900 metres, out of a lava field from a past eruption of one of the volcanoes lying under the glacier Langjökull. Its glacial water appears turquoise one day and milky the next. However, what truly makes this waterfall worth the trip is its seasonal cycle: in particular, the brilliant colours of autumnal vegetation are a treat for the eyes.
Kirkjufellsfoss has only a short 5-metre drop, paltry by Icelandic standards. So why does it make this list? Location, location, location, that’s why. You’ll find it at the foot of Mount Kirkjufell Mountain, the iconic landmark of Snæfellsnes peninsula that has become a must-visit destination for photographers, in any season. The combination of Kirkjufell and the falls make for perfect picture postcards, be it illuminated by the midnight sun or covered with snow, under the northern lights.
Svartifoss (black falls) is located in the Skaftafell Nature Reserve in South Iceland. It takes its name from the tall black lava columns bordering it, which some say resemble a church organ. With a drop of approximately 12 metres, some would consider Svartifoss as a small waterfall, but what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in beauty. In the wintertime, snow and icicles add to the drama.
Aldeyjarfoss lies a little off the beaten track, in the upper part of the Icelandic highlands, where it drops from an ancient lava field formed some 9500 years ago. Aldeyjarfoss descends down a 20-metre drop into an icy cold basin, whose vivid blue is a stark contrast with the black basalt rocks and white foam. The basalt columns are someway reminiscent of Svartifoss Waterfall, despite their different proportions. The falls are accessible from both sides, each bank providing a special angle and countless photo opportunities depending on light conditions.
One of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls forms one of the Golden Circle trio. Topped up by meltwater from the Langjökull glacier, the Hvítá River crashes over two clefts in the rock before continuing on through the narrow, steep-sided gorge below called the Gullfossgjúfur canyon. You’ll need to share the view, as this place is firmly on the tourist trail, but there’s room for everyone to get a good look.
Dettifoss is one of the highlights of the Diamond Circle in North Iceland. One of the largest waterfalls in Europe, it sits on the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river, which is fed by Vatnajökull, the country’s largest glacier. A swirling torrent of grey water carries sediment over a drop in the rock – the noise is deafening and the sight is jaw-dropping. Continue along the river to see the much smaller Selfoss which itself tumbles over an 11-metre drop.
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This small waterfall is tucked out of sight beyond the Almannagjá gorge that’s at the heart of Thingvellir National Park. Continue along the trail past the Lögberg and after a kilometre or so, turn left into a serene valley. Wooden boardwalks allow you to get close enough to the waterfall to feel the spray on your cheeks.
Don’t be in too much of a hurry to leave Seljalandsfoss. Instead, walk inland and you’ll almost immediately come across a cleft in the rock. Peer through and you’ll see the unmistakable sign of a waterfall. To get a closer view of Gljúfrabúi, make sure you’re wearing wellington boots as you’ll need to wade through the water to reach it.
You have to earn the right to view this spectacular fall as it’s a 2.5-kilometre uphill hike along the gorge, but as a perk you get to see two splendid waterfalls in one. Halfway you can find Litlanesfoss Waterfall, commonly named Stuðlabergsfoss, which is a basalt column fall. Then you reach Hengifoss whose red clay layers testify of eruptions dating back to the Tertiary period. 128 metres high, Hengifoss is one of the highest waterfalls in the country; you’ll find it in East Iceland.
Like Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss has its own overlooked neighbour. This one is Kvernufoss, tucked away in a valley close by. It’s about a twenty-minute hike on flat terrain and once you’re there, you can walk partially behind the falls. Don’t confuse it with Kvernárfoss, which is over in West Iceland and worth checking out too – this time on horseback.
The name Þjófafoss translates as the “thief’s waterfall” and is located on Iceland’s longest river. You’ll find this pretty waterfall on the Merkurhraun lava field after driving a short stint on a gravel F-road. Once you reach it, there’s a handy viewing platform from which you enjoy an unobstructed outlook over the waterfall.
The legend associated with Barnafoss, the “children’s waterfall”, is tinged with sadness. According to Icelandic folklore, two children fell from a bridge as it collapsed into the churned up water below. Their distraught mother saw to it that the stone bridge was destroyed, leaving only nature and what you see today.
If you are researching interesting things to do and see in Iceland, you might want to read our article about our top 10 hidden gems and 9 stunning canyons in Iceland.
If you want to chase waterfalls in Iceland we recommend our Complete Iceland itinerary or the Around Iceland in 10 days tour.