Don’t just stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to.
If there’s one thing you (literally) can’t miss when you visit Iceland, it’s seeing one of the more than 10,000 waterfalls around the country. They’re everywhere—lining the Ring Road, hiding behind hotels, and popping up every time there’s a new water run-off in the area.
From panoramic falls to cascades surrounded by basalt rock columns, you won’t get tired of spotting these natural wonders, as each one is a little bit different—and each comes with its own history. Though there are so many to choose from, some are more majestic than others and worth seeking out.
Ahead, you’ll find 10 waterfalls that truly live up to the hype.
If you only have a few days (or even hours) in Reykjavík and want to get out into the wilderness, consider visiting Seljalandsfoss. Fed by a river that starts in the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, it’s the first major waterfall you’ll hit on the route to Vík, less than two hours from the capital by car. The charm of Seljalandsfoss is that you can walk behind the falls, but be extremely careful: The rocks and mud are quite slippery at all times of the year. And make sure to bring a waterproof layer if you plan on walking behind the waterfall. There’s no doubt at all that you will emerge much wetter than expected.
INSIDER TIPIf you’re looking for more of a hike and fewer crowds, cross the wooden footbridge and start down the gravel path to Gljúfrabúi. This smaller waterfall is often overlooked, given its location behind a rock face.
This waterfall can be found on the drive between Reykjavík and Vík, just past Seljalandsfoss. Skógafoss (named for the Skógá River that feeds it) is visible from the main road, and there’s a hostel and a restaurant within walking distance, which provides the perfect opportunity to fall asleep to its gentle (yet powerful) sound.
Expect to see some crowds at Skógafoss, especially around midday. This waterfall is less than a two-hour drive from Reykjavík, making it a perfect destination for day-trippers who want to hop out of the city for a short time. If you’re looking for the perfect view, climb to the top of the stairs that line the right side of the falls—there are more than 500, so expect a workout. Take care in winter and bad weather, as the entire area can get quite slippery.
You’ll encounter the largest crowds at Gullfoss, but the views are worth it. This panoramic waterfall is located on the Golden Circle route in Þingvellir National Park, less than two hours from Reykjavík by car. Gullfoss means “Golden Falls” and drops a total of 105 feet in two different “stages,” or sections.
The nearby Gullfoss Café is the perfect spot to grab a cup of coffee after you’ve been awed (and potentially soaked) by the waterfall’s display of mightiness. (Dress in layers, especially waterproof ones).
If you’re looking for another panoramic waterfall with fewer crowds, head northeast to Goðafoss. The “Waterfall of the Gods” hs an interesting history: After the priest, Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði decided that Iceland should convert to Christianity, he traveled to this waterfall to throw his idols of the Old Gods into the water. Ever since it’s been referred to as Goðafoss.
Compared to Gullfoss, there’s much more freedom to climb the surrounding rocks and find semiprivate viewing spots. This could be because Goðafoss is much less intense than its sister falls in Þingvellir National Park. You can kayak down the waterfall on various tours, something that’s fun just to watch.
Unlike many of Iceland’s waterfalls, Öxarárfoss is completely hidden from the road, despite being located practically on top of it. The 44-foot cascade may be tiny, but its surroundings will steal your heart. Just a 40-minute drive from Reykjavík, there’s a small parking lot on the side of Route 36 and a set of stairs that leads down into the canyon. There, you’ll find yourself between the two tectonic plates that make this place so special.
Legend has it that, on New Year’s Eve, this waterfall would run red with either wine or blood—revealing whether your year ahead would be full of prosperity or impending war. Some locals still celebrate the holiday with a toast near the falls, although no one has ever seen the water change colors in person.
The most powerful waterfall in all of Europe can be found at the end of a poorly maintained gravel road in North Iceland (about a seven-hour drive from Reykjavík). Dettifoss reportedly pushes 110,000 gallons of water to the ground every second, a power you can feel as you stand at its edge. On crashing below, the murky water throws up a mist that can’t be avoided, no matter which side of the cataract you’ve hiked to.
Take a quick walk further down the river to see Selfoss and Hafragilsfoss, two smaller falls that are much more tranquil.
Just getting to Glymur is a journey in itself. Set aside an entire afternoon for a visit to this waterfall, since it’s a 3½-hour round trip from Reykjavík, not including getting to the area. The drive itself only takes an hour, but then you have to hike through a cave, across a river, into a valley, and finally up to the second-tallest falls in the country before getting a true sight of Glymur—it’s an adventure, but pack a lunch and enjoy the journey. This is a favorite spot for many locals to visit and hike, as well.
Follow the yellow cairns to get to the falls, as there are other trails shooting off away from the waterfall path.
Drive past Vík and toward Hof, about four hours from Reykjavík, to find the trail to Svartifoss in Skaftafell National Park. This waterfall looks completely unlike falls like Goðafoss, Glymur, and Seljalandsfoss: Svartifoss is flanked by tall columns of basalt rock, giving the entire scene a geometric spin of sorts. And while the water may look inviting, don’t step into the basin below the falls; the riverbed is full of sharp rocks, a hidden danger amid otherwise ethereal surroundings. A marked trail leads from the park up to the falls, which makes getting there fairly easy.
This waterfall is as delicate and peaceful as Dettifoss is powerful. Hraunfossar is actually a series of falls, splayed out over a lava field spanning nearly 3,000 feet. The color of the water is stunning and changes daily: At times it’s crystal-clear or turquoise, at other times a creamy white.
Hraunfossar is an incredible place to take photos, and often less crowded than other falls. You can get in less than two hours’ drive north and slightly east of Reykjavík, just past Reykholt on Route 518.
At the northernmost point of Vatnajökull National Park, you’ll find Hrafnabjargafoss, formed by one of the longest rivers in Iceland. This waterfall is only accessible during the summertime, given its location off a gravel road in the Central Highlands, and if you go, make sure you have a vehicle with 4-wheel drive. The waterfall is especially scenic, with the Skjálfandafljót river wrapping around behind its spilling point.