Gullfoss Waterfall – Central Iceland

Gullfoss waterfall Summer Night

Golden Waterfall

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.

Frozen Gulfoss waterfall
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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.

Photography Tips:

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.

Gullfoss Canyon
Gullfoss Canyon – Gullfoss waterfall is camouflaged among all the snow and icicles.

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.

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Upper Plateau

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.

Private Golden Circle

Recommended for photography. 

Gullfoss Rainbow
Morning Rainbow at Gullfoss waterfall

Minibus Tours

Save a bit of money and see the main sights (including Gullfoss Waterfall) with these Golden Circle minibus tours.

Gullfoss Waterfall mono
Gullfoss Waterfall (black & white) taken from the edge of the Canyon.

Snowmobile from Gullfoss Waterfall

Note: the tour from Skjól departs from a campsite between Geysir and Gullfoss waterfall.

Gullfoss waterfall canyon
Gullfoss waterfall Canyon.
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By Tony Prower

Tony Prower spent over 15 years photographing the landscapes of Iceland. Tony Prower is a pioneer of the Magic Cloth Technique and ran thousands of photo tours in Iceland over 10 years.