Waterfall of the gods
Goðafoss Waterfall is my favourite Icelandic waterfall to photograph. This amazing Northern waterfall is easily in my top five of all Iceland locations.
1000 years ago, Þorgeir Þorkelsson Ljósvetningagoði decided after two days and nights of meditation that Iceland should practice Christianity as its main religion. Þorgeirr himself was a Pagan Priest, and declared that paganism could still be practised in private. In an act commitment to the new religion, he threw all his pagan idols into Godafoss waterfall and hence it became known as Goðafoss ‘Waterfall of the gods’.
How do I get to Goðafoss Waterfall?
Goðafoss is located in the North Central region of Iceland about 40 minutes drive from Akureyri and about 40 minutes from Mývatn. It is about 80 minutes drive from the Eastern side of Dettifoss waterfall. The famous waterfall is very close to the ring road so no diversion is necessary. This makes Goðafoss Waterfall easily accessible all year round.
I first saw Godafoss on my first road trip around Iceland. I was going around anti-clockwise. I camped at Myvatn lake after successfully cooking my evening meal on the hot-springs at Namaskard. I didn’t find much at Lake Myvatn, so I continued along the ring road. I wasn’t expecting to see the waterfall as I came down a hill. The horse-shoe cascade sat beautifully in the landscape and I felt like a real explorer.
Goðafoss waterfall is a large horse-shoe complex and the total stretch of cascading water is around 30 meters. The legendary saga character ‘Grettir the strong’ is said to have dove down into the falls and was able to swim to the caves behind the water Grettir was also famous for swimming across the Norwegian fjords, so this remarkable feat of diving behind Godafoss seems unbelievable for most people, but not Grettir the strong.
The main tourist spot is from a car-park on the Western bank, but if your cross the bridge you can access the Eastern side where it is possible to get down to the lower river bank. The eastern side offers more photographic opportunities. It is worth exploring both sides thoroughly. Super-Wide angles work best on the tourist side. 24-50mm works best on the Eastern side. I would suggested observing the wind direction and pick a side with less spray.
Try experimenting with slow shutter speeds ranging from 1/4 second to 1/125 second in the daytime. In the Evening or at night, use longer exposures for better colour saturation. Long exposures will give you the Milky Water Effect, so having a Neutral Density Filter (N.D.) is generally a good idea. A circular polarizer can also help to give you better saturation of colours and longer exposure.
The falls are facing North, so getting the Northern Lights behind the falls is actually quite rare because they don’t often light up the Southern sky.
Seasons at Goðafoss Waterfall
The best time to visit Goðafoss is mid-summer at sunrise – the rising sun shines straight through the canyon onto the waterfall. Or almost any Winter day, if you can get there. The problem with planning a Winter trip to Godafoss waterfall is the possibility of getting stranded in the North. They are very quick to close the main road south if there is heavy snowfall. I know of a photo workshop that got stuck at a Myvatn Hotel for almost a week and even the hotel ran out of food. The photo above was taken on a Winter tour in February. This was an expensive trip because I had a minor fender bender on a very slippery mountain road. And the main road was closed for 1 night. We were lucky.
Where to Stay
In the Summer, it is worth trying to book a room at Fosshóll Guesthouse. This Bright Yellow Guesthouse is actually on the site and you can see Goðafoss waterfall from the building. There is a grass area with basic facilities for camping. Camping doesn’t normally have to be pre-booked.
In the Winter, I would recommend the Guesthouse at Storu Laugar. The guesthouse is on a farm estate and has a hot-tub in the garden. It is also close to a heated swimming pool and there is a pizza grill and small shop in the village.
The campsite at Goðafoss is part of the hotel. There is a moderately sized area of grass surrounded by the hotel and rental houses. The campsite is inexpensive and has a sink for washing, toilets and a shower.
North Iceland Tours
The day tour route around Godafoss, Myvatn and Dettifoss is known as the Diamond Circle.
Diamond Circle Tours
These day tour include Godafoss waterfall, Lake Myvatn and Dettifoss waterfall. They depart from Akureyri.
These longer tours go all around Iceland and include Godafoss Waterfall.
Get more tour ideas from this page… NORTHERN GIANTS
Which side of Goðafoss Waterfall is the best?
The West side is easier to access. The carpark takes you to within about 100m of the waterfall. The full horse-sho shape of Goðafoss Waterfall can be seen from the West side. In terms of sightseeing and accessibility, this is the best side. The East side requires a bit of a hike from the carpark. Just like the west side, it is possible to see the full horse-shoe shape of Goðafoss Waterfall. It is also possible to go down to the river on the East side and this is not possible on the West side. For this reason the East side of Goðafoss Waterfall is better for the photographer.
On the Eastern side, I like to explore every nook and cranny to get close to Goðafoss Waterfall. This photo is taken from the top of the waterfall in a tight space among the lava rocks. You can see the river before it disappears over the edge. The rest of the waterfall is visible in the background. The rugged lava rocks in front of me are worth including for their texture and details. Sometimes there are plants growing in the rocks. This spot is good for summer evenings because the right part of the sky can light up and become very colourful.
Most of my best photos of Goðafoss Waterfall were taken from the river bank. The river is accessible via a steep rocky path. Getting down to the river bank takes good balance and general fitness. The landscape is full of rocks and boulders, so it can be slow going. The picture below was as far along the river bank as you can go. I had to fight the intense spray of the waterfall here.