The Iceland word “Gullfoss” translates as the “Golden Falls” and is one of the highlights on the Golden Circle Tour. It is only Golden sometimes in soft Arctic sunlight, the rest of the time it is frothy white. Gullfoss can be icy for 6 months of the year. This dramatic location is about two hour drive from Reykjavik, but only 10 minutes drive from Geysir.
Gullfoss waterfall is the largest waterfall complex in Europe. The huge waterfall is fed my the Hvítá river which runs from the central Iceland glaciers. The water plunges down a three stage cascade until it cuts through a mighty canyon. The Hvítá river then runs to the coast and through the town of Selfoss. Just standing close to Gullfoss, it is easy to be in awe of nature’s forces. Gallons of glacier melt water cascading into a canyon.
Sigríður ‘s Fight
Due to the relentless fight of one Icelandic woman, Gullfoss remains one of Iceland’s unspoilt attractions. Sigríður Tómasdóttir is rumoured to have stopped Gullfoss becoming a Hydro-electric station by threatening to throw herself into the falls. A stone stands at Gullfoss as a memorial to the woman who saved Gullfoss Waterfall.
The best light in winter is around 1PM from the lower car park. In summer the best time is 6AM from the lower part of the footpath. In good conditions a double rainbow can be photographed. It is rewarding to experiment with shutter speed here – try a range from 1/4 to 1/125. Both long and short focal lengths can achieve pleasing results. From the fence at the lower carpark, a 50mm lens frames the waterfall beautifully.
The access on the falls is limited to a path which runs down the side. This path is normally closed in the Winter because it becomes super slippery. There are ways to gain access to better angles on the edge of the canyon, but these have been closed for safety reasons. There are also higher view-points if you follow the stairs up to the higher plateau. The falls are very dangerous and have claimed a few lives over the years. usually it is an adventurous photographer trying to get a better vantage point and slipping into the falls – never to be seen again.
As you can see, I have many more photos from the lower levels. I like to capture intimate details or fill my frame with the waterfall. On the upper plateau, I often see photographers with telephoto lenses. The views are really good and worth the extra hike. The upper plateau also has a Restaurant and gift shop. It is possible to do a Snowmobile tour from Gullfoss Waterfall. Be aware that the tour offering ice-caves will take you to a man-made tunnel in the glacier.
Golden Circle Tours
All Golden Circle tours include Gullfoss Waterfall, as well as Geysir & Thingvellir National Park. The tours listed below depart from Reykjavik and are 7-10 hours.
Private Golden Circle Tours
Recommended for photography because you can spend more time at the best locations.
Minibus Tours to Gullfoss
Save a bit of money and see the main sights (including Gullfoss Waterfall) with these Golden Circle minibus tours.
Snowmobile from Gullfoss Waterfall
Note: the snowmobile tour from Skjól departs from a campsite between Geysir and Gullfoss waterfall.
How to find Gullfoss waterfall
If you are on an Iceland Self drive, Gullfoss waterfall is worth a visit. Route #35 will take you from north of Reykjavik, around Iceland’s largest lake (Thingvallavatn) and through the Thingvellir National park. The route continues through the village of Laugarvatn and onto Geysir. Gullfoss waterfall is just 10 km past Geysir.
There are two carparks at Gullfoss. The lower carpark is poorly signposted, but the road down to the waterfall continues straight, when the main road bends sharply to the left. The upper carpark is clearly signposted and is on the right, shortly after the sharp bend. Both viewing levels can be accessed from either carpark. Glacier activities depart from the upper carpark.
Where to Stay
Gullfoss waterfall is drivable from Reykjavik, but if you want to spend more time in the area, it could be worth booking an overnight stay near the waterfall. This way, you can enjoy the glacier activities that depart from Gullfoss or maybe catch the northern lights there.