Europe,  Iceland

Iceland: Waterfalls

Iceland is my favourite country I´ve visited. The wild, beautiful and raw nature gives me incredible energy. I can´t describe what I feel when I´m there but I will try to show you how I see this beautiful country. Let´s start with waterfalls. There are around 10.000 waterfalls in Iceland. One is more beautiful then the other one. I think I will never be able to visit all of them but here is the list of my favourite ones. (At the end you can find a map with the locations of the featured waterfalls).

1. Gullfoss

The 32 m high waterfall is located on the Hvítá river in the southwest Iceland. It´s a part of the Golden Circle, a famous day excursion from Reykjavík. The circle itself is named after the waterfall which translated from Icelandic means: “Golden Waterfall”.

We almost lost this waterfall in early years of 20th century. The area was indirectly rented to a group of English investors who wanted to build a dam on the River Hvítá and use Gullfoss to generate electricity.
The owner´s daughter, Sigríður Tómasdóttir, tried to stop this project and walked barefoot to Reykjavík. She also tried to safe the waterfall by threatening to throw herself into it. It didn´t help but in 1940 the investors failed to pay for the lease and the agreement nullified.

Later the waterfall was sold to the state of Iceland and is since 1975 a nature reserve.

2. Seljalandsfoss

I call this waterfall a shower. Why? Because after every visit I look like I would have just taken a shower. You can walk behind this falls. There is a very slippery path around. Take good hiking shoes, if you don´t want to fall down. I would also recommend to take your rain jacket (even if it´s a sunny day). Seljalandsfoss is part of the Seljaland River, that has its origin in the glacier of the infamous volcano Eyjafjallajökull.

Behind the water curtain you´ll find small and most importantly dry cave. From here you will have the most beautiful view on this waterfall. When you visit this place you can also experience seeing sunset through the waterfall.

3. Gljúfrabúi

When you walk further north from Seljalandsfoss you will find next waterfall hidden in a small canyon. Gljúfrabúi literally means “Canyon Inhabitant”. Here you should also wear your rain jacket. I slipped here and felt into the small river. Fortunately my shoes were waterproof so my feet stayed dry… That´s why it´s important what you wear in Iceland. 🙂

4. Skógafoss

My favourite waterfall in Iceland. I will never forget the moment, when I visited this waterfall for the first time. It was a sunny day and two rainbows showed up on the falls. It was so surreal.

You can climb the stairs and see the waterfall from above, or stay at the bottom and feel the power of the water. The path to my favourite spot is unfortunately closed. When I was visiting Iceland for the first time, there was a sidewalk, on the halfway to the top, to a hill from where you could see the waterfall from the side. I took there my favourite picture of Skógafoss.

This reminds me of Irish leprechauns who hide pot of the gold on the end of the rainbow. Anyway, there is a legend about a man who buried here a chest full of gold and treasures like the leprechauns hide their pot of gold. Or maybe the Vikings are the real leprechauns?

Þrasi Þórólfsson used to live in the Skógar area. He was a powerful and very wealthy man. When he was old and saw his end coming, he took a chest with gold and valuable goods and sank it in the water beneath the Skógafoss. For years the end of the treasure was seen in the water, but it was very difficult to reach it. Three men tried to pull out the chest and managed to put a hook on a ring from the chest but the ring broke off. It´s believed that the ring, hanging on the door of the church in the Skógar Museum is the ring from the lost chest.

There is also an Icelandic rhyme about the treasure chest:

"Þrasakista auðug er
undir fossi Skóga,
hver sem þangað fyrstur fer
finnur auðlegð nóga.“

In English:

"Þrasi´s chest is filled with treasures 
 under the Skógafoss,
 whoever goes there first
 finds riches enough"

5. Dettifoss

Dettifoss is not the highest waterfall in Iceland but for sure the most powerful. It´s also the second most powerful waterfall in Europe, after the Rhine Falls in Switzerland. Around 400 cu meters of water falls 44m down in the canyon before turning again into the calm river called Jökulsá á Fjöllum. This waterfall is not so easy to reach when you´re visiting Iceland only for a short time. Dettifoss is located in the Vantajökull National Park in the northeast of Iceland. It´s a part of the Diamond Circle, a day excursion starting from Akureyri. Last year I visited this waterfall for the first time and now I´m struggling to decide, if I like this waterfall more or less than Skógafoss.

You can see the waterfall from both sides of the canyon. The parking spots are 10-15 minute walk distance away from it. The road 862 on the west side is a tarmac road and you can use it all year long. You can see the fall from a viewpoint located near the edge. I prefer the east side of the canyon which you can reach with the gravel road 864. This side is more exciting but also more dangerous. One step in the wrong direction can cost you your life.

6. Goðafoss

Another waterfall on the Diamond Circle excursion. It´s directly on the Icelandic Ring Road. This waterfall has the most beautiful colour I´ve even seen by a waterfall.

The name of this waterfall means “Waterfall of the Gods”. It is believed that the name comes from a story about a law speaker. In 1000, Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði had to make a decision about Iceland´s religion. After long meditation he decided to choose Christianity as the official religion in Iceland. On the way back home from Alþingi (Icelandic parliament) he threw his pagan carvings of the Norse gods into the Goðafoss. It´s a nice story but I read that it´s a fabrication from the 19th century.

7. Kirkjufellsfoss

The last of my favourite waterfalls is named after Mount Kirkjufell, known by Game of Thrones fans as the Arrowhead Mountain. The mountain and the waterfall are one of the most photographed places in Iceland. You can find both in the north of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, located in the northwest of Reykjavik.

Last year I visited this waterfall for the second time. Usually places like this are very crowded. Due to Corona restrictions, many places were barely visited. It was good for me because, like here, no one disturbed me while taking photos. But it also made me sad. Many people in Iceland live from tourism. My guides in Iceland were always passionate about their job. Without them I wouldn´t know so much about Iceland. I hope the good times will come soon and we will be able to enjoy our life again…

Thanks for reading and your patience. Tell me in the comments which waterfall did you like the most.


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