Although Iceland's nickname is the Land of Fire and Ice, I have a suggestion for another name. I personally think it should be called the Land of waterfalls. That's because there are over 10,000 cascades on our tiny Nordic Island. With so many Iceland waterfalls to choose from, it can be hard to know where to begin. Not just because of sheer numbers, but also the fact that there are so many different categories.
What is the largest waterfall by volume in Iceland and it's most powerful? Or the most beautiful and breathtaking natural highlight that you absolutely must see?
Best waterfalls in Iceland
So how many waterfalls in Iceland are there? Did I really say over 10,000? Sounds pretty impressive for an island half the size of the UK. Well, you read that correctly. Iceland has over 10,000 waterfalls due to all of the melting snow, ice, and runoff from the country's multiple glaciers.
There isn't really one most famous waterfall in Iceland because there are many that are well-known for different reasons. It's better to have a list of the best waterfalls in Iceland and then you can choose the ones that most appeal to you. The favorite and most visited Iceland waterfalls among tourists are:
Let's explore these famous waterfalls in Iceland in-depth.
Gullfoss waterfall: Iceland’s golden falls
Gullfoss waterfall is usually one of the first waterfalls in Iceland that people encounter. This isn't because it's particularly big or has some other claim to fame. It's still quite impressive nevertheless.
The reason is that it's the Golden Circle Iceland waterfall. This popular tourist route is usually most people's introduction to the country's natural wonders.
Gullfoss waterfall in Iceland has not one but two drops and the second careens straight into the Hvítá river canyon. During the summer the light of the sun makes its flowing waters have a golden hue. This is what gives Gullfoss its name, which translates to “golden waterfall” in Icelandic.
Seljalandsfoss waterfall Iceland: The Beauty
Of all the famous waterfalls in Iceland, this one has a particular distinction. Its nickname is The Beauty because it's considered one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland. Some even say it wins the prize for the country's most beautiful. I think once you visit, you'll find it hard to disagree.
It's also the Iceland waterfall you can walk behind. There's a footpath on the side that leads to a small cave hidden behind the rushing waters. You're very likely to get sprayed, so make sure you pack your rain poncho and cover up your camera with plastic.
This is the first of two Iceland South Coast waterfalls as you make your way along the Ring Road (Route 1). Seljalandsfoss waterfall will surely be a highlight and an unforgettable part of your Iceland campervan trip.
Skógafoss waterfall in South Iceland
Skógafoss waterfall is the second of the South Iceland waterfalls you absolutely have to stop by between Reykjavik and Vik. There are others along the way, but these two are at the top of the list of Iceland’s best waterfalls.
Skógafoss has quite an interesting story. The cliffs of this cascade actually used to be the coastline. Thanks to glacial activity, it has moved further out and now sits around five kilometers (three miles) away. There's also an observation platform from which you can look down and see the falls’ typical double rainbows.
And if you're feeling adventurous, why not see if you can find the secret treasure chest of Skógafoss waterfall in Iceland? According to legend and local folklore, the treasure is hidden behind the falls.
Svartifoss: Iceland's black waterfall
Svartifoss waterfall is Iceland's famous black waterfall. A unique combination of geological features makes Svartifoss stand out from the rest. As far as I know, it's the only basalt column waterfall in Iceland and this is part of what makes it so special.
The hexagonal columns of black volcanic rock on the cling to the steep, vertical cliff face. This causes the cascade to look like it's flowing over a natural pipe organ. Natural wonders like this and the rock formations at Reynisfjara beach are so unusual that they've even inspired Icelandic architecture. Icelandic state architect Guðjón Samúelsson emulated these volcanic structures in the facade of Reykjavik's Hallgrimskirkja.
Godafoss waterfall Iceland: The waterfall of the gods
This destination is yet another place with stunning views and a fascinating history. Godafoss waterfall in Iceland is known as the waterfall of the Gods thanks to its place in the story of Iceland's conversion to Christianity.
Back in the days of the Viking settlements in Iceland, the country practiced a polytheistic religion based on a pantheon of Norse gods. Iceland's most powerful chieftains and lawmakers held an important meeting at Iceland's Althing (parliament) in 1000 AD. They were trying to decide what to do about an escalating trade war with their Scandinavian neighbors. The kings of Norway and Denmark had already converted to Christianity and were pressuring Icelanders to do the same.
In the end, Iceland’s leaders decided that it was in the country's best interests to embrace the new religion. Iceland became a Christian nation and has been one ever since. In a bold and dramatic gesture, one of the leaders present at that fateful meeting decided to show his dedication to the new faith. He threw his statues the old pagan gods over the edge of Godafoss, thus giving it the name the waterfall of the Gods.
Kirkjufellsfoss: Game of Thrones Filming Location
This beautiful Iceland waterfall is one of the most photographed in Iceland. Juxtaposed against Kirkjufell mountain, it makes for the perfect photo. You'll also recognize it from Game of Thrones. It's the mountain that the Hound saw in the vision in the fire. Later, he and Jon Snow crossed it on their journey northward to do battle with the Whitewalkers.
Dettifoss waterfall: The Beast
Last but certainly not least is the powerful Dettifoss waterfall. As opposed to Seljalandsfoss waterfall, known as The Beauty, Dettifoss has an entirely different moniker. Icelanders lovingly refer to it as The Beast due to the sheer force and impressive output of its water flows. As the largest waterfall by volume in Iceland its low, constant rumble will have you trembling.
You might even recognize Dettifoss from the movies. If you are a fan of Ridley Scott, you'll recognize this as the Iceland waterfall in Prometheus. The film's magnificent opening sequence showing alien origins was filmed here. It's a fitting location for a truly epic event.
Iceland waterfalls: The best and most famous
You may have noticed that the waterfalls all have “foss” at the end. This is because the word “foss” means waterfall or cascade in Icelandic. So now when you visit Gulfoss, Skógafoss, Dettifoss, or any of the other major waterfalls in Iceland, you’ve got a little bit of Icelandic knowledge.
This is by no means a comprehensive list as there are thousands of other areas of Interest scattered all around the island. Öxarárfoss in Thingvellir National Park, Dynjandi in the Westfjords, Haifoss near Hekla, and Gljúfrabúi “hidden” waterfall all spring to mind.
And if you want to see the largest waterfall in Iceland, you'll have to head inland. Morsárfoss is the tallest waterfall in Iceland and is located in the Skaftafell. You don’t need to drive on an F-road to access the 240 meter (787 foot) cascade, but you will need a guide. It’s in a hard to reach area and there is a glacier crossing .
When you finish your trip, let us know your favorite among the best waterfalls in Iceland.