Iceland has been called the ‘’Land of Ice and Fire’’ because they co-exist equally in this country. In actual fact, ice covers just 10% of this Island of contrasts, yet it has Europe’s largest glaciers.
The national population is a mere 330,000, with the majority living in the capital, Reykjavik, and its immediate hinterland. It is a young country geologically – fairly barren, with active volcanoes, black sandy beaches, and roaring water.
One of the things that it is known for is its waterfalls, and they are among the lovely natural features that visitors can enjoy. If you are starting to see Iceland as a country you would like to visit, here are 15 amazing waterfalls in Iceland that you should include on your itinerary.
1. Glymur, Botnsdalur Valley
Glymur, at 650 feet high, is the second biggest waterfall in Iceland. It is located on a fjord reaching inland just north of the capital, although it will take 90 minutes to drive there.
The two-hour hike is rewarded with a lovely setting – the waterfall as well as the immediate surrounding area. You will need good footwear for the hike because you have two hours trekking back as well.
The whole route is lovely, with rock arches, the Botnsa River, and the beautiful fjord, Hvalfjörður. At each turn, there is a photograph that you will feel you must take.
2. Hengifoss, Egilsstaoir
Hengifoss is arguably the most beautiful waterfall in eastern Iceland. It drops an impressive 420 feet. Water pours from a plateau down into a deep gorge.
There are two different routes either side of Lagarfljot Lak, that you can drive before you park.
The hike to ‘’Hanging Falls’’ takes around 50 minutes and you will see a smaller 100-foot waterfall – Litlanesfoss – on the way. The trek is largely uphill, though you can rest on one of the benches on the trail.
The red rock stripes in the immediate vicinity are a result of iron in the soil oxidizing.
3. Gullfoss, Hvítá River
Gullfoss waterfall is found on the Hvítá River, flowing from Hvítárvatn Lake and the Langjökull Glacier. It is just over 100 feet high, plunging in two stages – the second twice the size of the first.
The name means ‘’Golden Falls’’ and, seen in sunshine, it is spectacular. It forms part of the popular Golden Circle Tour and is definitely one of its highlights.
If you wish to visit it independently, it is a 90-minute drive from Reykjavik. A decade ago, it was in danger from speculators wanting to harness its power, but happily, those plans were halted.
4. Seljalandsfoss, Thorsmork
Located on the south coast, this beautiful waterfall is almost 200 feet high, the water cascading down from ancient cliffs into a pool.
Reykjavik is 90 minutes away by road, and the falls are close to the Ring Road. Seljalandsfoss lies on the Seljalandsá River that flows from the Eyjafjallajokull Glacier.
Its appeal is increased because you can walk behind it. That provides a great perspective but you will need some waterproof clothing or you will get soaked.
The trail closes in the winter because it is slippery and potentially dangerous.
5. Skógafoss, Skogá River
This waterfall’s fame is partly due to its accessibility – close to the Ring Road in the village of Skógar. However, that undervalues the wonderful waterfall you are going to see.
Just short of 200 feet high and 80 feet wide, it is very powerful. The rainbows – even double rainbows – formed by the spray make for a captivating photograph.
After parking, it is an easy walk to get close. If you are feeling energetic, walk up the 500 steps to get to the top. There is a lovely onward trail if you want an all-day hike.
6. Morsárjökull, Vatnajökull National Park
It is only relatively recently that this waterfall at the edge of Morsárjökull Glacier has been found.
It seems to have been formed by a slight rise in temperature and at 750 feet, it is Iceland’s highest. For many years, that honor was held by Glymer.
Part of Morsárjökull is found behind a snowdrift, with water cascading down into a deep hollow. If that part was added to its registered height it would increase by around 40 feet.
The National Park in which it is located also has the largest glacier and the highest mountain. The park is one of three in Iceland and is situated in the south.
7. Svartifoss, Vatnajokull National Park
The trail to Svartifoss waterfall starts at the Skaftafell Visitor Centre, where there is plenty of parking and the hiking trails are signposted.
It will take you about 45 minutes to reach this 65- foot waterfall; that includes the time you are bound to stop to look at three other waterfalls on the way – Magnúsarfoss, Hundafoss, and Þjófafoss.
Its name means ‘’Black Falls’’ because of the dark lava columns nearby which inspired an Iceland architect to design the famous Hallgrimskirkja (Church) in Reykjavík.
8. Bruarfoss, Gimsnes
The Bruara River flows in South West Iceland and Bruarfoss is a series of small waterfalls that remain a hidden gem and rarely visited.
There are many little quick running flows of water and the contrasting colors as they descend into the gorge make a stunning photograph.
It is nicknamed ‘’Iceland’s Bluest Waterfall’’ and, although small by Iceland standards, ‘’Bridge Falls’’ have captivated the many trekkers who have found them. They are named after a bridge that once stood across the top.
9. Kirkjufellsfoss, Snæfellsnes Peninsula
This small waterfall drops in three separate flows from a ridge on Helgrindur Mountain. It is often used promotionally to advertise Iceland with Mount Kirkjufell in the background; that is despite the fact it is short of 20 feet high!
Tourists to Iceland regularly come to capture that same photograph for themselves. Even better is capturing the Northern Lights above, but that is only in the winter. The midnight sun in summer offers an image that is almost as good. All in all, a lovely setting from any angle.
10. Aldeyjarfoss, Bárðardalur Valley
Aldeyjarfoss is not especially accessible and you will need a 4WD if you want to get there. It is 65 feet high with the glacial water dropping in a narrow band.
You are still 25 miles from the main road after your drive and you then head down a track to reach the valley.
Basalt columns create an amphitheater, with the waters adding greatly to the setting. The hike on the north side is the best for access to Aldeyjarfoss. On the south, the terrain is much rougher and you will need to take care.
11. Dettifoss, Jökulsá á Fjöllum River
Commonly referred to as ‘’The Beast’’, Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in Europe, never mind Iceland.
At 150 feet high and over 300 feet wide, it sends almost 200 cubic meters of water hurtling down every second. If you are close, you will almost feel the ground shuddering.
It was used to represent an alien land in the opening shots of the 2012 film ‘’Prometheus.’’ This glacial river is situated in the north of Iceland, flowing from the Vatnajökull Glacier. The access road closes in the winter because of the inevitable snow.
12. Goðafoss, Northern Iceland
The ‘‘Waterfall of the Gods’’ is just 40-feet high, but at over 100 feet wide, it makes for an imposing sight.
Its history includes Iceland’s conversion to Christianity in the early 2nd century. The pagan priest Þorgeir Þorkelsson, who lived near the waterfall, chose Christianity over paganism. He was also a lawmaker in the Icelandic parliament so he was a much respected and powerful man.
Paganism was still lawful in private but as a mark of his decision, he went to Goðafoss and threw his pagan idols into the waterfall.
13. Háifoss, Fossá River
This 400-foot waterfall is in the south of the island, near Hekla Volcano.
When it was discovered early in the 19th century, it was thought to be the highest in Europe, hence the name, which translates into “High Falls.’’
The smaller waterfall next to it is known as ‘’Neighbor’’ – Granni. They are two hours from Reykjavik heading east along the Ring Road into Þjórsárdalur Valley; the final 4.5 miles are only feasible in a 4WD.
You can hike this if you wish and your reward will be a series of stunning landscapes as you go.
14. Hraunfossar, Borgarfjörður
“The Lava Falls’’ are just 40 miles north of Reykjavik, around an hour by road. Clear water seems to emerge from the lava, a unique sight.
There are countless tiny streams coming out from springs, creating rapids that go down into the Hvítá river.
The best description of the waterfall is a low, wide arc of rivulets which cover a distance of almost 3,000 feet.
Unlike many other waterfalls in Iceland, there is a lovely view from the car park and a coffee shop opens in the summer. The waterfall has been protected now for over 30 years.
15. Barnafoss, Hvítá River
Barnafoss is a near neighbor of Hraunfossar and you can take the hiking trail to get close, with a bridge crossing the Hvítá River.
The name means “Children’s Falls’’ – so named because of an Icelandic saga which tells of two children disappearing after their parents had tracked them as far as a natural stone bridge at the falls. The presumption was that they had fallen in and drowned because they were never found. The mother ordered the bridge to be destroyed so that could never happen again, but in reality, it was more likely it collapsed naturally over time.