Feel the ground shudder beneath you at Europe’s most powerful waterfall, capture the northern lights over a cascade or hike behind a torrent of water at a spectacular waterfall
When the sun shines on Gullfoss, the fall glints with gold – which helps explain why its name means golden waterfall in Icelandic. The natural wonder is also situated on the popular driving route known as the Golden Circle, an hour and 40 minutes’ drive inland from the capital of Reykjavik. While this makes it easily accessible, it also means you won’t be the only one there. Still, its beauty – it drops 32m into a narrow gorge – makes a visit worthwhile.
If you’re looping Iceland’s Ring Road by car, make a pitstop at Seljalandsfoss, an hour and 45 minutes’ south of Reykjavik. It’s best visited on a sunny day, as you’ll get wet following the slippy path into the cave behind it. From the cavern, you’ll feel spray on your face as you’re rewarded with views of a plain dropping into the sea. Meanwhile, at night, the 60m-high waterfall is illuminated with floodlights – so if you’re an amateur snapper, don’t forget your tripod.
Just a 20-minute drive from Seljalandsfoss, Skogafoss on the south coast also sees its fair share of visitors. That said, there’s never a bad time to visit the 60m-high cascade. For serious romantics, nothing beats gazing at the sunrise as it peeks over the falls, which you and your beau will probably have to yourself. Alternatively, go later in the day to chance your luck with seeing a rainbow, or later still to watch the sunset or northern lights swirl above the waterfall.
While not particularly tall or wide, few waterfalls are as dramatic as Svartifoss, which is located in Vatnajökull National Park in the south east of Iceland. The name – which means black falls in Icelandic – refers to the basalt columns that frame it, which resemble the pipes of an organ. The dramatic formations inspired Hallgrimskirkja church in Reykjavik. To access the falls, it’s a four-hour drive from the capital, followed by a 30-minute hike.
At 228m high, Morsárfoss is Iceland’s tallest waterfall. It’s also one of its newest, as it emerged in 2007 after a glacier melted in Vatnajökull National Park. Of course, its remote location is part of its appeal. To see it up close you’ll need hiking experience and a knowledgeable guide, as you’ll have to trek over an unpredictable glacier wearing a safety harness and using crampons and ice axes. But that’s all part of the adventure, right?
Only intrepid travellers make it to the east coast of Iceland, but Hengifoss rewards those who do as it plummets 128m from a plateau into a gorge. The waterfall is a 30-minute drive from Egilsstaðir, followed by a 50-minute uphill hike. Hengifoss is admired for its height as well as the cliffs that surround it, as they are made from layers of oxidised iron in clay sandwiched between black lava. On a sunny day, the cliffs look like the stripes of a tiger’s fur, while moody skies make them look like the crater of an active volcano.
Fans of Ridley Scott’s 2012 sci-fi film Prometheus will recognise Dettifoss, a 100m-wide waterfall which is more thunderous than New Zealand’s Huka Falls. Dubbed ‘the beast,’ it is Europe’s most powerful waterfall; as it crashes into the river below, you can feel the ground shudder beneath your feet. Wild and remote, its north east location is far from the capital, although it’s just an hour and 20 minutes’ drive from the whale watching town of Húsavik.
Nicknamed the waterfall of the gods, Goðafoss certainly feels blessed with beauty, particularly when you see the northern lights spiralling like a whirlpool above it. Photographers keen to snap a mesmerising photo of the lights above the 30m-wide fall should visit in winter, when the area is dark for 22 hours of the day. The falls are just a 30-minute drive from Akureyri in the north of Iceland, which is one of the best places in the world to see the lights.
Small but mighty, Kirkjufellsfoss packs a punch when it comes to beauty. While the falls themselves aren’t especially high or wide, they are prized for their location, as the 463m conical Mt Kirkjufell looms next to them. You can find Kirkjufellsfoss on Snaefellsnes Peninsula in the west of the isle, a two-hour, 20-minute drive north of Reykjavik.
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