Nature in Iceland is nothing short of breath-taking, and waterfalls are not an exception to this. According to some estimations, there are more than 10 000 of them in Iceland alone, but only a few hundreds have a name – which is already a lot. You’ll notice that their name usually ends with -foss… and that’s because it simply means “waterfall” in Icelandic!
When I visited Iceland at the end of February, our trip focused on the Golden Circle (a very popular route that takes you to three of the most popular natural attractions ) and the South Coast, as we knew the rest of the island could be inaccessible because of the weather and snow. Luckily, that’s where most of the main “touristic” spots are located, and the fact that it was in the “off” season also meant that there were far less people around and we could enjoy all the sights fully with sometimes no one around at all. So, here are my favourite waterfalls from our tour, each with their own specificities.
In the Golden Circle
Let’s start with what is probably the most iconic waterfall of them all. It is part of the Golden Circle and is without doubt a highlight of every trip to Iceland. It is made of two different waterfalls: a short one, then a bigger one, flowing in a large canyon and displaying all of nature’s energy and power. It is still accessible in winter, though the platform that you have to climb on to see the waterfall can be very slippery. What surprised me the most about this one was how strong and huge it was. It is not a surprise that this is Iceland’s most visited waterfall!
Located in the Thingvellir National Park, in the Golden Circle, this small-ish waterfall is beautiful all year round, with its plunging pool dotted with big rocks that create an additional movement of water. It is known to freeze completely in winter and when we went there, it was partially frozen, with an impressive and intricate curtain of ice and water flowing under it. I had never seen anything like that before and it is truly impressive!
Faxafoss or “Faxi”
Even though it is not as big and powerful as the others, I have to mention this one because it is the first waterfall I saw in Iceland and I was really impressed! It is located on the Golden Circle, so it is quite easy to make a detour there when going to see Skógafoss. It is definitely not as high as the other ones I’ve mentioned here, but it is much wider, and it just blends in perfectly in the surrounding nature. You can walk around the area overlooking the serene waterfall and just enjoy the stunning views and the rumbling sound of water.
On the South coast
Located on the way from Reykjavik to Skógafoss, Seljalandsfoss is another tourists’ favourite. You can see it from the road and the vision of it will undoubtedly leave you speechless. Its strong flow of water reaches the plunge pool, then peacefully flows out in tiny little rivers that you can hop over or cross on a bridge, making it very enjoyable to just walk around the area.
This waterfall is also famous because you can walk behind it, but it is sadly not possible in winter as the snow builds up around it and it gets very slippery. It is however still worth checking out, because you won’t have as many people around, and also because of another waterfall nearby…
This “hidden” waterfall is located only a short walk from Seljalandsfoss and is often overlooked by tourists. From Seljalandsfoss, you’ll notice a sign indicating the way to it, and then at one point you’ll see a narrow opening between the rocks, with a stream coming from it. That’s where Gljúfrabúi is. In winter, the path to go there can be quite slippery (maybe inaccessible depending on the amount of snow and ice), and then you’ll basically have to walk on big rocks in the little stream if you don’t want to have soaking wet feet.
This waterfall is probably one of my favourites because you get to stand right in front of it, almost under it. It is really an exhilarating and unique experience, and it was definitely one of the highlights of my trip! Just be sure to wear waterproof clothes and shoes!
This is another very popular and beloved waterfall, which is easily accessible in winter. It is located a few hours away from Reykjavik by car and close enough to allow you to go in one day or to add a stop in your South-coast itinerary. It is a must-do for everyone visiting Iceland for more than a few days.
It is one of Iceland’s biggest waterfalls, and because of its width, you’ll most probably see a rainbow each time the sun comes out, making it even more magical (see the main picture of this post)! You can also admire it from above through a pathway with many steps – that can be really slippery or even inaccessible in winter. When you climb the stairs, you’ll have a beautiful view on the surrounding countryside, and there is also a nice hike you can do if you follow the river.
Located really close to Skógafoss, Kvernufoss is a beautiful waterfall that is also often overlooked. To reach it from Skógafoss, you have to go towards the nearby Skógasafn museum, walk on a little path, hop over a fence (it is allowed), then walk through a valley, and the waterfall will be at the end of it. This takes around 30 minutes I’ll say, and it is also accessible in winter.
When we went there, we were completely alone, and only saw a few people coming when we were leaving. The snow was starting to melt in some places, so we could also walk behind the waterfall, which offers an incredible point of view. For these reasons, and the peace and quiet of the surroundings, this is also one of my favourite waterfalls, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone visiting!
I haven’t seen this waterfall, but it’s still making the list – as a bonus item – because it seems stunning and completely unique. The reason why we didn’t see it, even though we really wanted to, is because the path was completely frozen and really slippery, and we didn’t have proper equipment for it. It is located in the Skaftafell National Park and you can reach it by hiking a 5-km trail from the Skaftafell visitor centre.
What makes this waterfall unique are the hexagonal basalt columns surrounding it, their dark colour creating a strong contrast with the water coming down. It is also known to have inspired the architect that built the Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavík!
Do waterfalls freeze?
Well, this will depend on the time of the year you’re visiting and, of course, of the size of the waterfalls. It is unusual for waterfalls to freeze, especially the large ones with a strong flow of water. However, some waterfalls can freeze partially and you’ll then see both an intricate detail of frozen water and droplets with gushing water streaming beneath it. During our visit (end of February – early March), we only saw one partially frozen waterfall, in the Thingvellir National Park.
One of the things that stuck with me the most from my trip to Iceland is how strong and powerful nature is, and waterfalls are the perfect example of this. On top of the ones I have mentioned – some of them being really famous and others not so much – you’ll also probably encounter a few of them while driving around, and the vision of it will definitely enchant you, as it is something really unique!
Do you have a lot of waterfalls in your country? Have you heard about these ones?
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