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There may be many well-known waterfalls in Iceland, but none are quite like Gullfoss waterfall. Literally translated to the “golden falls” from Icelandic, these falls tumble down the rugged landscape into a cloud of mist that makes them appear as if they are indeed golden and sparkling.
Framed between tall canyon walls, the Gullfoss waterfall is truly iconic, cascading down 32 meters from the Hvítá river, created from the Langjökull glacier. In fact, Gullfoss can be considered two separate waterfalls as the water flows from two stages: a primary drop of 11 metres, followed by an impressive 21-metre drop.
This jaw-dropping sight is one that absolutely cannot be missed on your visit to Iceland. To ensure you make the most of your day visit to the falls, we’ve put together this guide with all the must-know information.
Gullfoss waterfall is an incredible sight, no matter the time of year you visit it. In the summer, you will most probably see rainbows reflecting in the falls’ clouds of spray. In the winter, you can stand beneath the Northern Lights and watch as the waterfall freezes into waves of ice as it meets the crevasse below. In fact, each season is so beautiful you will just have to come back again and again!
This waterfall is incredibly powerful, with about 140 cubic metres of water falling every single second in the summer months (this is reduced to about 109 cubic metres in the winter when the Langjökull glacier is more frozen). As such, you will probably get wet… very wet.
Be sure to wear the appropriate waterproof gear, such as a rain jacket, and consider bringing an extra pair of socks. Also be careful with your camera. Though this is one of the most beautiful photo spots in all of Iceland, you will want to take care that your camera doesn’t get too wet.
- Gullfoss’ mighty power has never gone unnoticed. In the early 1900s, an Englishman wanted to buy the falls from a local farmer to use its energy for a hydroelectric plant. The farmer, named Tómas Tómasson, famously declined, saying “I will not sell my friend!”
- Tómas Tómasson did lease the land to the Englishman but his daughter, Sigríður Tómasdóttir, loved the falls dearly. She successfully challenged the lease contract before any construction could begin. There is a plaque honouring her environmentalism at the top of Gullfoss.
- Hvita, the river that feeds Gullfoss, is full of tasty salmon.
- For the adrenaline junkies among out there, you can also go rafting down the Hvita and its surging rapids!
- The crevasse at the end of the falls is about 2.5 km long as is believed to have been created by huge flood waves following the end of the Ice Age. Because Gullfoss is so powerful, the valley is actually lengthened by about 25 cm a year due to erosion.
- Gullfoss gets its name, the ‘Golden Waterfall’, from its colour on a really sunny day. Because they are formed from melted glacial ice, the falls are full of sediments that give it a golden-brown colour.
If you are renting a car in Iceland, the route to Gullfoss is well marked as it is such a popular destination. Not far from the famous Geysir, Gullfoss is in the Haukadalur Valley, just over 110 km (70 miles) from Reykjavik. The journey should take you just over 90 minutes each way.
Gullfoss waterfall is perhaps the star of Iceland’s Golden Circle route. We’ve put together this basic itinerary for the route, ensuring you see all the top sights with plenty of time to spend at Gullfoss.
Leaving Reykjavik, head northeast and follow route 49 (Vesturlandsvegur) for about 35 minutes (40 km) until you reach Thingvellir National Park, one of the best national parks in Iceland. Be sure to stop here for a leisurely stroll through the park, including a visit to the Thingvellir Church and its stone ruins. You can also go snorkelling in the park if you wish to brave the cold water!
Hop back on the road and drive for another 60 kilometres (about 52 minutes) until you reach Geysir. Here you can have a taste of Iceland’s incredible geothermal activity, including the very Geysir that gave geysers in Iceland their name.
Stunning Gullfoss is just 10 minutes (9.7 km) down the road from Geysir. The moment you’ve been waiting for!
After visiting the falls, head south along the Golden Circle, driving for just over half an hour (46 km) until you reach Kerid volcanic crater. This volcanic lake is well worth the stop, with a parking lot located right next to the crater.
After visiting Kerid, you can decide to complete the Golden Circle and return to Reykjavik, or take a detour further south for a visit to the Southern Shore.
We recommend travelling through the Golden Circle at your own pace, spending as much time as you wish at each location. The entire circuit will take three hours to drive, not including stopovers. The area has so much to offer, so keep your eyes peeled for hidden wonders to discover!
Travelling to Iceland? Chat with a local travel specialist in Iceland who can help organize your trip.
Unnur Silfá Eyfells Travel Expert in Iceland
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Emma Magnússon Travel Expert in Iceland