Must-See Waterfalls in Iceland

With its rough landscape and precipitation-heavy climate, Iceland is covered with amazing waterfalls – many of them easily accessible along the ring road and a must-see on the obligatory trip around the island. The tour we did went counter-clockwise and therefore, the following waterfalls are in that order. Have you been to other amazing waterfalls missing in our list? Please let us know in the comment section below.

When leaving Reykjavík in South-Eastern direction and after passing the attractions belonging to the “Golden Circle”, you will get to one of the most impressive waterfalls – the Seljalandsfoss. It is unique due to the way it drops off a huge overhanging cliff and  as you can see in the pictures below, you can walk behind it. Since Seljalandsfoss is located very close to the ring road and under two hours from Reykjavík, you can expect several tour buses worth of people swarming the site during the day. Since we try to avoid having too many people in our pictures, we went there in the late evening and returned early morning for some more shots.

To fully appreciate how big Seljalandsfoss is, click the image to zoom in and try to spot the person on the stairs in the middle of the picture!

To fully appreciate how big Seljalandsfoss is, click the image to zoom in and try to spot the person on the stairs!

In the morning, the sun illuminates the cliff above the Seljalandsfoss from behind.

In the morning, the sun illuminates the cliff above the Seljalandsfoss from behind.

Walking around and behind a waterfall is something you can't do everywhere!

Walking around and behind a waterfall is something you can’t do everywhere!

It's wet in here. Couldn't look any more different than from the outside!

It’s wet in here. Couldn’t look any more different than from the outside!

Driving further east along the coast, it doesn’t take long to reach the next stunning waterfall. With its width of 25 meters and a drop of 60 meters, the Skógafoss is one of the biggest waterfalls in Iceland. It drops down from the Icelandic highlands to almost sea level. The site is very accessible, with a big parking lot and camping-site directly below its basin. You can climb up on top of the cliff in a matter of 15 minutes or so, thanks to a stairway to the right of the fall.

Skógafoss from below.

Skógafoss from below.

Walking up the path to the top of Skógafoss.

Walking up the path to the top of Skógafoss.

At the top of Skógafoss.

At the top of Skógafoss.

Svartifoss, the next waterfall is situated a few hours further East. Driving along the South coast, you can’t miss the huge glacier Vatnajökull (you really can’t, it covers 8% of the country). The Skaftafell Visitor Centre is a great starting point for glacier trips, ice cave excursions and hikes in the mountains of the Vatnajökull massive. The Svartifoss waterfall shown below lies a mere 30 minute hike above the visitor center on the south slope of the Skaftafell peak. Svartifoss drops in a half circle of black basaltic columns forming an impressive overhang.

The Svartifoss drops into an impressive circular gorge.

The Svartifoss drops into an impressive circular gorge.

Here we see the beautiful black basaltic columns that characterize Svartifoss.

The beautiful black basaltic columns characterize Svartifoss.

On our way up the east coast, or rather back and forth the unpaved roads along the fjords, we had to make a few detours before reaching Hengifoss: Our GPS suggested narrow mountain roads suitable only for 4x4s with high clearance, which we didn’t have. Since we couldn’t go over the mountains, we had to drive around them, which ended up being a detours of over 100km (note to self: upgrading to a 4×4 is definitely worth the money in Iceland!). Therefore, we arrived at Hengifoss after 9pm but still walked the 45 minutes up the hill to take pictures. Thanks to midnight sun, which beginning to set at the time we reached the waterfall, we still had fairly decent light – next time we’ll try to get up there in the morning, which our schedule didn’t allow for last time. As you can see below, it was still totally worth it!

The mountain around Hengifoss features a stunning variety of rock types.

The mountain around Hengifoss features a stunning variety of rock types.

Hengifoss

Sturdy shoes are advised if you try to come this close!

The red lines between the rock layers are one of a kind.

The red lines between the rock layers are one of a kind.

The next stop on our tour was the two waterfalls Dettifoss & Selfoss, both on the glacier river Jökulsá á Fjöllum, located in the Vatnajökull National Park. Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe, is more than 100m wide and the water drops 45m into the Jökulsárgljúfur canyon. Approaching from the East means driving over 20km on a rough and bumpy gravel road before getting to the car park (the park website has announced road improvements). From there, a trail leads down to the waterfalls, which will first take you to Dettifoss after about 0.5km. While the other side of the river is probably easier to get to, the view from the east side is much more impressive! Standing right next to the waterfall listening to the deafening noise of the running and falling water and looking down into the agitated, swirling waters is incredible. But careful, when the stones are wet – which they are most of the time, considering Icelandic weather – they are extremely slippery and since there are no barriers, walking too close to the edge can become very dangerous.

Dettifoss - the most powerful waterfall in Europe.

Dettifoss – the most powerful waterfall in Europe.

This is what 85 megawatts of hydropower look like.

This is what 85 megawatts of hydropower looks like.

In order to get to Selfoss, the second waterfall on the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river, you need to follow the trail upstream for about another 1.5km. Selfoss is a beautiful horseshoe-shaped waterfall. Despite a much smaller drop of only about 10 meters, it is none the less impressive and worth a visit. The trail leading there is a bit difficult though, and you need to watch your step. It leads you over rocks and through black sand and the trail markers are at times hard to spot – but since they only show you the easiest path, you’ll still get there if you don’t follow them precisely.

Selfoss is just a few hundred meters upstream from Dettifoss.

Selfoss is just a short hike upstream from Dettifoss.

Selfoss drops along a long diagonal cliff.

Selfoss drops along a long diagonal cliff.

When the river carries thawing water, the whole area in the front is under water aswell.

When the river carries thawing water, the whole area in the front is under water aswell.

At the very end of our trip, we drove to the town Grundarfjörður where Kirkjufellsfoss is located. This small waterfall is the featured image of a print advertisement for Iceland’s unique and beautiful nature. Seeing it in person was an interesting and at first rather disappointing experience since of course the waterfall looked nothing like the ad – not in terms of photo quality and colors but in term of where the waterfall is located with respect to the hill behind it and the road between the two. We set up our tripod in the exact same location and were able to recreate the perspective but more on that in another post!

Kirkjufellsfoss is a beautifull small waterfall just outside of Grundarfjörður.

Kirkjufellsfoss is a small but beautiful waterfall just outside of Grundarfjörður.

Kirkjufellsfoss cascades nicely over two smaller steps.

Kirkjufellsfoss cascades nicely over two smaller steps.

We hope you enjoyed the photos of the must-see Icelandic waterfalls. Feel free to comment below, we’d love your opinions and recommendations!

Of course, there are a lot more waterfalls in Iceland. We used the trip planning tool Furkot to plan our round trip. The following map is a template with many waterfalls you can use to plan your own Iceland trip:

Iceland Waterfalls

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