Selfoss & Dettifoss
Adventurous Eco-Friendly Iceland

Top 5 Waterfalls in Iceland

Text "Top 5 Waterfalls in Iceland" above an image of a fantastic waterfall in Iceland

It’s hard to think of visiting Iceland and not instantly start planning your epic tour to see as many beautiful waterfalls as you possibly can. “Foss” is a common word seen on my Iceland itineraries, since it’s the Icelandic word for waterfall. Our first trip to Iceland, we were worried we might get tired of foss after foss. I will tell you, we didn’t. They are all so unique and absolutely spectacular. 

As a general reminder, a poncho or waterproof layers are highly recommended when visiting waterfalls. Especially if you want to get close to them. These awe-inspiring feats of nature are powerful and create a mist that feels like a rainstorm. Based on time of year, you may also want to think about bringing crampons. Remember, waterfalls produce a lot of mist and in the winter, that mist turns into ice. I’ve seen many people fall just from the slipperiness of the mist on a summer day. Better to be over prepared, when possible.

Also, please obey the signs. Too often, I see tourists ignoring the signs and either putting themselves in dire situations just for a photo or trampling protected land just for a photo or well, you get the point. Listen to the signs and don’t ruin it for the rest of us.

And now? Here you’ll find my list of top 5 waterfalls in Iceland. And if you’re lucky, I may give you a bonus waterfall just because.

5. Gullfoss

You’ll find Gullfoss on a number of top waterfall lists for Iceland. It’s a relatively short drive from Reykjavik (less than 2 hours by rental car) and it’s on the very touristed Golden Circle sightseeing route. Gullfoss is definitely one of the most, if not the most, visited waterfalls in Iceland. That being said, it deserves its place on this list. If Gullfoss looks familiar, it’s probably because you recognize it from shows like Vikings and even animated Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Gullfoss, or “Golden Falls”, is located in the canyon of the Hvítá river in southwest Iceland. It is typically most people’s first waterfall visit upon arriving in Iceland. As waterfalls go, it’s not particularly difficult to drive to or to get to once on site. You can park at the car park close to the visitor facilities (where you’ll also find free bathrooms) and then walk onto a boardwalk that takes you to a great overlook of the falls.

Gullfoss is unique in a couple ways. First, it’s a waterfall you view from above. That definitely helps in the awe department. Second, it features two different drops in succession of one another. The upper drop has a height of 36 ft whereas the lower drop has a height of almost 69 ft.

This waterfall is open year round, but not all viewpoints will be accessible during the winter. It is public and free to visit. Also, if you have to use the restroom, stop at the visitor’s center, since it’s free. Otherwise, you will need to pay to use the public restroom, which is common in Iceland. Don’t worry, they take credit cards!

4. Seljalandsfoss

Seljalandsfoss is another world-renowned waterfall, seen often on top lists and in beautiful photographs. It’s conveniently located close to the Ring Road, less than 2 hours south of Reykjavik and about 45 minutes north of Vik. You might’ve seen Seljalandsfoss before and not even realized, since it’s been prominently featured in many movies, TV shows, and music videos, such as The Amazing Race (season 6) or the first episode of season three of Star Trek: Discovery, “That Hope Is You, Part 1”.

Seljalandsfoss is part of the Seljalandsá River, which originates underneath the Eyjafjallajökull glacier. The meltwater from the ice cap rushes over these ancient sea cliffs and creates quite the spectacle. The volcano under Eyjafjallajökull glacier is the same one that erupted in 2010 and not only caused quite a commotion for European airports but also helped grow Iceland’s tourism industry significantly.

This almost 200 ft (60m) tall waterfall is unique because there is a pathway that allows you to walk 360 degrees around. Yes, you can take a path and walk behind Seljalandsfoss. And while it’s a particularly wet experience, it’s one you just have to experience for yourself. Waterfalls are powerful and being so close to one, in a cavern, shows you just how impressive this waterfall is. The noise alone is deafening. And make sure you have flash capabilities, because photography in this cavern will be dark! This waterfall is open year round, but not all walkways will be accessible during the winter due to ice. If iced over, the pathway behind Seljalandsfoss will be closed. It is also public and free to visit, but parking will cost you 800 ISK (Icelandic króna).

3. Skogafoss

If one Icelandic waterfall were to rival Gullfoss in terms of how well known it is, it would be Skogafoss.  Approximately 2 hours from Reykjavik, about 20 minutes from Seljalandsfoss, and 30 minutes from Vik, Skogafoss is situated fairly close to the Ring Road, as well, which really helps with how accessible it is. Skogafoss is very recognizable, especially since you’ve seen it on your screen so any times. Vikings, Game of Thrones, Thor: The Dark World, and possibly most famously, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Skógafoss is located on the Skógá River near the small village of Skógar, south of the Eyjafjallajökull glacier volcano. Like Seljalandsfoss, Skogafoss’ falls are also descending over former sea cliffs since the coastline has receded about 5km. There is also a hidden treasure legend, which only adds to the intrigue. Supposedly, Þrasi Þórólfsson, one of the first Viking settlers of the region, buried treasure in a cave behind the waterfall.

At almost 200 feet (60m) tall and over 80 feet (25m) wide, Skogafoss is intimidating and breathtaking. It’s also one of the biggest waterfalls in Iceland. Due to the massive amount of mist Skogafoss produces, rainbows are very common on sunny days. Double rainbows are pretty common, as well. Skogafoss can also be seen from overhead by walking up an exhausting 527 steps to an observation platform. Once there, you’ll see folks starting and ending one of the best hikes in Iceland, Fimmvörðuháls pass.

Skogafoss is open all year long, but be cautious during winter. All of that mist combined with snow and rocks means it’s extremely slippery. It is public and free, except for the bathrooms which are occasionally free, occasionally for pay.

2. Gljúfrabúi

Partially hidden behind a large cliff is Gljúfrabúi, only a short walk away from Seljalandsfoss. This used to be a fairly secret location for locals only, since it’s hard to see unless you know it’s there, but travelers and bloggers have made Gljúfrabúi a more popular waterfall destination. While this waterfall isn’t popularly seen in pop culture, you’ll find it across many Iceland-focused posts about waterfalls because it is so captivating.

Gljúfrabúi is actually located on the Gljúfurá or “Gorge River”, which is a spring-fed river much smaller than its better known neighbor. A stream, the Gljúfurá, runs through a cleft in the cliff, and those who wish to approach the falls must do so by wading through these waters.  While the walking path from Seljalandsfoss isn’t that far, about a 10 minute walk, once you arrive at Gljúfrabúi, you’ll understand why it stayed hidden for all of these years.

Gljúfrabúi or “Gorge Dweller”, also known as Gljúfurárfoss, or “Gorge River Falls”, is a little over 130 ft (40m). This powerful fall cascades down into a deep gorge that can’t be seen unless you wade into the gorge behind the cliff wall we mentioned earlier. After a few minutes of wading in the Gljúfurá, you’ll be able to see behind the cliff wall and really hear Gljúfrabúi.

A huge boulder sits right in front of this fall, creating quite a spectacle. This boulder is climbable, but also very slippery. This really is a 360 degree experience, since you’ll be covered in mist from the waterfall, while surrounded by moss-covered walls and black lava. As you look up, you’ll see sky since there is an opening to the cliff walls toward the top of the fall. You can also climb the rock wall to get a better view from the top, but I’d be cautious, since this can be a dangerous climb.

This waterfall is open year round, but not always accessible during the winter due to ice and extremely cold stream water. It is also public and free to visit, but parking will cost you 800 ISK (Icelandic króna) since you will have to park at the Seljalandsfoss parking lot.

1. Selfoss & Dettifoss

OK, is this technically two waterfalls in my top spot? Yes. But hear me out. If you are visiting one, you are definitely visiting the other. (Seriously, you really should).  Selfoss is often overlooked in comparison to Dettifoss when truthfully, I see them as a package deal. These waterfalls are approximately an hour from Myvatn (and about 7 hours from Reykjavik), so they make a perfect stop if you are already exploring the north. They’re also fairly conveniently located about 30 minutes off the Ring Road. Also, if you recognize Dettifoss, you may be a Prometheus fan.

Selfoss and Dettifoss are both waterfalls in Vatnajökull National Park in Northeast Iceland. They are both on the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river, which flows from the Vatnajökull glacier. They also both have a fairly grey water due to a fairly sediment-rich runoff. And as a quick note, definitely don’t accidentally make your way to Selfoss the town because you will quickly realize you’ve made a 7+ hour mistake. There are parking lots on both the east and west sides of the falls. They definitely offer unique perspectives. My preference was the east side for both falls, but I definitely recommend checking both out if you’re up for a bit of a hike.

Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in Iceland. It is also said to be the largest waterfall in Europe in terms of volume discharge, having an average water flow of 193 cubic metres per second. This fall is 330 ft (100 m) wide and has a drop of 144 ft (44 m). Selfoss is also 330 ft (100m) wide, with a much shorter drop of 36 ft (11 m). Dettifoss is one of the most raw, awe-inspiring things I’ve ever experienced. The power it produces shakes the ground. The noise? Deafening. It was mesmerizing and intimidating and I definitely held my daughter tighter while there.

On the other hand, Selfoss might be smaller and less powerful, but it is so much more beautiful. It’s elegant and absolutely breathtaking. We watched the sunset behind Selfoss before making the trek back to the parking lot.

While Dettifoss and Selfoss never technically close, the road to get them will be based on weather. Be mindful of the terrain while walking to both of these locations. It’s rocky and definitely slippery as you get closer to the falls. Both parking lots are free, as are the bathrooms.

BONUS: Dynjandi

I couldn’t finish up a list of top waterfalls without adding Dynjandi, the pride of the West Fjords. The top fall is approximately 100 m tall, and 30 m wide on top, expanding to 60 m at the bottom. There are 6 other falls you can get a clear view of while exploring Dynjandi. If you want to get up close to this wedding veil waterfall, it will require a bit of a trek. Want me to share more info about Dynjandi? Comment and let me know.

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