Gullfoss Waterfall in Iceland - your guide

Find out why Gullfoss is one of the most popular spots to visit in Iceland with our full guide to these thundering falls.

October 10, 2022

Gullfoss Waterfall in Iceland - your guide

Find out why Gullfoss is one of the most popular spots to visit in Iceland with our full guide to these thundering falls.

October 10, 2022

Iceland isn’t short of waterfalls. They tumble from cliffs and thunder over rocks. But Gullfoss is considered the king of them all. Catching a glimpse of this natural wonder, it’s easy to see why it’s been the backdrop to blockbuster films and attracts thousands of tourists every year. One of the major sights on the route, most Golden Circle tours in Iceland include a stop at Gullfoss. It would be remiss to visit Iceland and not stop at this magnificent waterfall.

Facts about Gullfoss waterfall in Iceland

Gullfoss actually consists of two falls – the smaller cascade is 11 metres (36 feet) tall, and then the dramatic drop that people flock to see is 21 metres (69 feet) high.

There is a big difference between the falls in winter and summer. In the summer months, the glacier melt means that around 140 cubic metres (459 cubic feet) of water tumbles over the rocks every second in an almighty cascade. While in winter, as there is less glacier melt and the river water remains frozen in places, it drops to around 109 cubic metres (358 cubic feet) every second.

You might recognise the waterfall when you arrive as Gullfoss has been used as a filming location for several blockbusters and popular TV series. It was used in Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga and also as the other-worldly backdrop for the new TV series of Lost in Space. You can also spot it as a location in the popular Vikings TV series.

History of Gullfoss waterfall

Geologists believe that Gulfoss was formed at the end of the last age, around 5,000 years ago. Run-off from Iceland’s second-largest glacier, Langjokull, flooded the landscape, creating the river Hvita that tumbles into the ravine and creates this waterfall.

Gulfoss was left to tumble away without threat or disturbance for centuries, millenia even, until the early 20th century. In 1909, Gullfoss caught the eye of an English businessman who thought the raw power of the waterfall could be harnessed to fuel a hydro-electric power plant. The farmer who owned the land that Gullfoss stood on refused to sell, but the Englishman managed to lease the land and use a legal loophole to continue with his plans to dam the ravine. It was the farmer’s daughter, Sigríður Tómasdóttir, who saved her money for a lawyer and battled with the Englishman over decades to prevent his plan from going forward. Eventually, after many trips of over 100km of foot by Sigríður to Reykjavik, the lease was ended in 1929 and Gullfoss was given back to the Icelandic people. Sigríður is considered Iceland’s first environmentalist.

The name “Gullfoss”

Gullfoss translates as “golden waterfall” and there are a couple of theories as to why these falls have been named this. One legend goes that a Viking dumped his hoarded treasure into the pool at the base of the waterfall so that nobody could enjoy his riches after he had passed away. Another says that it was named after the rainbows that form in the water mist on sunny days, in keeping with the old Celtic brief that there is a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow. Of course, it may just be that on a sunny day the water pouring over the rocks takes on a golden-brown colour as it carries with it sediment from the glacial valley.

Whatever the reason for the name, the popular Golden Circle route covering Iceland’s biggest natural wonders has been named after the golden falls, giving this spectacle pride of place on the route.

Explore a landscape studded with thundering waterfalls


gullfoss

From fairytale falls cascading against the mossy greenery to clifftop cascades tumbling into the sea, Iceland is famous for its waterfalls. Gullfoss in one of Iceland’s must-see waterfalls – check out the other must-see falls that made our list.

Where is Gullfoss waterfall?

As we’ve mentioned, Gullfoss waterfall is on the popular Golden Circle Route, which leads from Reykjavik to the continental divide at Þingvellir national park, Gullfoss and then the Geysir area of geothermal activity. Gullfoss is usually the central stop along this route. It sits in the Haukadalur Valley, within the river Hvita and is about 107km (66 miles) from Reykjavik. It takes around 1 hour and 30 minutes to reach Gullfoss if you are driving straight from the capital.

How to get to Gullfoss waterfall?

The road to the waterfall is well-paved and easy to navigate from Reykjavik, so you could easily drive yourself if you are hiring a car. The route of the Golden Circle is one of the most popular day road trips from Reykjavik.

However, in the harsh Icelandic winters when snow coats the ground and blizzards reduce visibility, it can be stressful driving yourself and joining an organised tour from Reykjavik might be a better option. Gullfoss features on every Golden Circle tour, which can be combined with loads of other quintessentially Icelandic experience. Perhaps embrace the idea of the Land of Ice and Fire on the Golden Circle and Lava Tunnel tour, for example.

Being one of the most popular sights in Iceland, there are loads of different options to visit Gullfoss on a guided tour, whether you're interested in combining it with a snowmobile experience on a glacier, or perhaps slowing the pace with a tour that finishes with a session at the Fontana Wellness Centre.

Take in Iceland’s biggest natural wonders in a single day on the Golden Circle


geysir

Throughout the year, Reykjavik Excursions run tours of the Golden Circle. This popular route from Reykjavik covers the absolute must-sees of the island. Read more about it with our ultimate guide to the Golden Circle in Iceland.

How long is the walk to Gullfoss waterfall?

Most people that visit Gullfoss waterfall will take the short, paved track to the viewing point to admire the main falls. From the carpark, it only takes around five minutes to walk this track and you’re met with a dramatic and beautiful sight on arrival. There are some steps on the path and it can be slippery in winter, so bear this in mind when selecting your footwear for the day.

Those that enjoy a bit of a longer walk can explore the viewing points of the upper and lower falls, and follow the 2.1 miles of trails that weave in and out past the various stages of the waterfall. Exploring every nook and cranny of this route would take around half an hour.

Is Gullfoss waterfall free?

There is no fee to access Gullfoss waterfall, and parking in the carpark is free too. In the middle of the Golden Circle route, it’s a popular lunch spot and there is a café here serving hearty, traditional Icelandic soups and sandwiches so you may want to bring some money for that. There is also a shop selling knitwear, outdoor gear and souvenirs.

Do you get wet at Gullfoss waterfall?

Unlike Iceland’s other popular waterfalls, Gullfoss tumbles into a ravine and you view the falls from above, rather than looking at them from below. In fact, you can’t spot the falls from far away and it’s only when you get close to the edge that you can see the falls, so it looks like they disappear into the earth. While you tend to get coated in the cold water mist at the likes of Skaftafell and Skogafoss, at Gullfoss you are unlikely to get wet from the water spray.

Of course, Iceland’s weather is notoriously fickle, and even in summer it might rain, so it’s best to bring a waterproof jacket, good walking shoes and something with a hood so you don’t get caught out.

Discover the rest of Iceland’s rugged, volcanic landscape and glacial scenery with a journey along the South Coast.


South Coast

Iceland’s South Coast is home to black-sanded beaches, ethereal rock formations and glacier lagoons alongside beautiful waterfalls like Gullfoss. Check out our guide to the South Coast of Iceland to see what you can uncover.

How much time do you need at Gullfoss waterfall?

It’s possible to spend just half an hour at Gullfoss, if all you want to do is head straight to the main falls, snap a few pictures and breathe in the scenery for a few minutes. However, if you want to explore the upper and lower viewing points, perhaps walk a bit of the 2.1 miles of pathways leading around the waterfalls and stop in the café for a bowl of soup and a hot drink, then you’ll want around an hour or even an hour and a half.

When is the best time to visit Gullfoss waterfall?

Gullfoss is a year-round destination and there are benefits to going in both summer and winter. In summer, the cascade is mightier as more water tumbles over the rocks and into the ravine. It’s also a delight to see this waterfall against a summery backdrop of green moss and wildflowers. Summer in Iceland is when you get the balmiest weather and you have a chance of spotting the midnight sun.

However, it can be just as dramatic to visit Gullfoss in winter when the landscape around it is frozen and icicles dangle from the rocks. Iceland in winter is a sight to behold as the landscape changes to snow-covered and ethereal. Though, if you do visit Gullfoss in the colder months, bear in mind that the paths might be slippery and make sure to wrap up warm.

We’ve got a handy guide on when is the best time to visit Iceland, based on your interests and preferences.

Tours to Gullfoss waterfall and the Golden Circle in Iceland

gullfoss winter

Taking the hassle out of navigating Iceland’s roads and driving yourself, Reykjavik Excursions have a variety of tours that take in the sights of the Golden Circle and stop at Gullfoss. If you’re pushed for time and want to see Þingvellir national park, Gullfoss and Geysir at lightning speed, opt for the Golden Circle Direct tour which spends just half an hour at each sight and has you back in Reykjavik in just 6 hours. For a more leisurely pace the Golden Circle and Friðheimar greenhouse tour has more time at each stop and includes a visit to the famous tomato greenhouse for lunch.

Those with a heart for adventure might want to combine their Golden Circle excursion with a monster truck experience on Langjokull glacier. This is a great way to see the glacier that birthed the mighty Gullfoss all those millenia ago. Or, take it easier and combine a trip to Iceland’s major natural wonders with a relaxing soak in the Sky Lagoon. After a day of hiking to the continental divide, spotting waterfalls, waiting for geysers to erupt, there’s nothing better than ending in the bath-warm waters overlooking the wild Atlantic Ocean.

Over 5,000 years old, Gullfoss waterfall is an integral part of Iceland’s wild landscape and it’s safe to say that no trip to Iceland is complete with a stop at these mighty falls. They’ve been the backdrop to blockbusters, and fought over in courts of law. It’s easy to see why when you witness the thundering cascade into the deep ravine yourself. Although they’re easy to reach from Reykjavik, a Golden Circle tour can combine these falls with the wonders of Þingvellir and Geysir too. Tours to see Gullfoss waterfall in Iceland take the hassle out of navigating the island’s snowy roads in winter and are a great way to experience the falls for yourself.

REYKJAVIK EXCURSIONS BLOG

Get inspired! Information and tips and must see places in Iceland, fun facts, customs and more.

Northern Lights in Iceland: Your Guide

In this post, you can discover everything you need to know about seeing the aurora borealis in the land of fire and ice.

Read Blog

Gullfoss Waterfall in Iceland - your guide

Find out why Gullfoss is one of the most popular spots to visit in Iceland with our full guide to these thundering falls.

October 10, 2022

Gullfoss Waterfall in Iceland - your guide

Find out why Gullfoss is one of the most popular spots to visit in Iceland with our full guide to these thundering falls.

October 10, 2022

Iceland isn’t short of waterfalls. They tumble from cliffs and thunder over rocks. But Gullfoss is considered the king of them all. Catching a glimpse of this natural wonder, it’s easy to see why it’s been the backdrop to blockbuster films and attracts thousands of tourists every year. One of the major sights on the route, most Golden Circle tours in Iceland include a stop at Gullfoss. It would be remiss to visit Iceland and not stop at this magnificent waterfall.

Facts about Gullfoss waterfall in Iceland

Gullfoss actually consists of two falls – the smaller cascade is 11 metres (36 feet) tall, and then the dramatic drop that people flock to see is 21 metres (69 feet) high.

There is a big difference between the falls in winter and summer. In the summer months, the glacier melt means that around 140 cubic metres (459 cubic feet) of water tumbles over the rocks every second in an almighty cascade. While in winter, as there is less glacier melt and the river water remains frozen in places, it drops to around 109 cubic metres (358 cubic feet) every second.

You might recognise the waterfall when you arrive as Gullfoss has been used as a filming location for several blockbusters and popular TV series. It was used in Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga and also as the other-worldly backdrop for the new TV series of Lost in Space. You can also spot it as a location in the popular Vikings TV series.

History of Gullfoss waterfall

Geologists believe that Gulfoss was formed at the end of the last age, around 5,000 years ago. Run-off from Iceland’s second-largest glacier, Langjokull, flooded the landscape, creating the river Hvita that tumbles into the ravine and creates this waterfall.

Gulfoss was left to tumble away without threat or disturbance for centuries, millenia even, until the early 20th century. In 1909, Gullfoss caught the eye of an English businessman who thought the raw power of the waterfall could be harnessed to fuel a hydro-electric power plant. The farmer who owned the land that Gullfoss stood on refused to sell, but the Englishman managed to lease the land and use a legal loophole to continue with his plans to dam the ravine. It was the farmer’s daughter, Sigríður Tómasdóttir, who saved her money for a lawyer and battled with the Englishman over decades to prevent his plan from going forward. Eventually, after many trips of over 100km of foot by Sigríður to Reykjavik, the lease was ended in 1929 and Gullfoss was given back to the Icelandic people. Sigríður is considered Iceland’s first environmentalist.

The name “Gullfoss”

Gullfoss translates as “golden waterfall” and there are a couple of theories as to why these falls have been named this. One legend goes that a Viking dumped his hoarded treasure into the pool at the base of the waterfall so that nobody could enjoy his riches after he had passed away. Another says that it was named after the rainbows that form in the water mist on sunny days, in keeping with the old Celtic brief that there is a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow. Of course, it may just be that on a sunny day the water pouring over the rocks takes on a golden-brown colour as it carries with it sediment from the glacial valley.

Whatever the reason for the name, the popular Golden Circle route covering Iceland’s biggest natural wonders has been named after the golden falls, giving this spectacle pride of place on the route.

Explore a landscape studded with thundering waterfalls


gullfoss

From fairytale falls cascading against the mossy greenery to clifftop cascades tumbling into the sea, Iceland is famous for its waterfalls. Gullfoss in one of Iceland’s must-see waterfalls – check out the other must-see falls that made our list.

Where is Gullfoss waterfall?

As we’ve mentioned, Gullfoss waterfall is on the popular Golden Circle Route, which leads from Reykjavik to the continental divide at Þingvellir national park, Gullfoss and then the Geysir area of geothermal activity. Gullfoss is usually the central stop along this route. It sits in the Haukadalur Valley, within the river Hvita and is about 107km (66 miles) from Reykjavik. It takes around 1 hour and 30 minutes to reach Gullfoss if you are driving straight from the capital.

How to get to Gullfoss waterfall?

The road to the waterfall is well-paved and easy to navigate from Reykjavik, so you could easily drive yourself if you are hiring a car. The route of the Golden Circle is one of the most popular day road trips from Reykjavik.

However, in the harsh Icelandic winters when snow coats the ground and blizzards reduce visibility, it can be stressful driving yourself and joining an organised tour from Reykjavik might be a better option. Gullfoss features on every Golden Circle tour, which can be combined with loads of other quintessentially Icelandic experience. Perhaps embrace the idea of the Land of Ice and Fire on the Golden Circle and Lava Tunnel tour, for example.

Being one of the most popular sights in Iceland, there are loads of different options to visit Gullfoss on a guided tour, whether you're interested in combining it with a snowmobile experience on a glacier, or perhaps slowing the pace with a tour that finishes with a session at the Fontana Wellness Centre.

Take in Iceland’s biggest natural wonders in a single day on the Golden Circle


geysir

Throughout the year, Reykjavik Excursions run tours of the Golden Circle. This popular route from Reykjavik covers the absolute must-sees of the island. Read more about it with our ultimate guide to the Golden Circle in Iceland.

How long is the walk to Gullfoss waterfall?

Most people that visit Gullfoss waterfall will take the short, paved track to the viewing point to admire the main falls. From the carpark, it only takes around five minutes to walk this track and you’re met with a dramatic and beautiful sight on arrival. There are some steps on the path and it can be slippery in winter, so bear this in mind when selecting your footwear for the day.

Those that enjoy a bit of a longer walk can explore the viewing points of the upper and lower falls, and follow the 2.1 miles of trails that weave in and out past the various stages of the waterfall. Exploring every nook and cranny of this route would take around half an hour.

Is Gullfoss waterfall free?

There is no fee to access Gullfoss waterfall, and parking in the carpark is free too. In the middle of the Golden Circle route, it’s a popular lunch spot and there is a café here serving hearty, traditional Icelandic soups and sandwiches so you may want to bring some money for that. There is also a shop selling knitwear, outdoor gear and souvenirs.

Do you get wet at Gullfoss waterfall?

Unlike Iceland’s other popular waterfalls, Gullfoss tumbles into a ravine and you view the falls from above, rather than looking at them from below. In fact, you can’t spot the falls from far away and it’s only when you get close to the edge that you can see the falls, so it looks like they disappear into the earth. While you tend to get coated in the cold water mist at the likes of Skaftafell and Skogafoss, at Gullfoss you are unlikely to get wet from the water spray.

Of course, Iceland’s weather is notoriously fickle, and even in summer it might rain, so it’s best to bring a waterproof jacket, good walking shoes and something with a hood so you don’t get caught out.

Discover the rest of Iceland’s rugged, volcanic landscape and glacial scenery with a journey along the South Coast.


South Coast

Iceland’s South Coast is home to black-sanded beaches, ethereal rock formations and glacier lagoons alongside beautiful waterfalls like Gullfoss. Check out our guide to the South Coast of Iceland to see what you can uncover.

How much time do you need at Gullfoss waterfall?

It’s possible to spend just half an hour at Gullfoss, if all you want to do is head straight to the main falls, snap a few pictures and breathe in the scenery for a few minutes. However, if you want to explore the upper and lower viewing points, perhaps walk a bit of the 2.1 miles of pathways leading around the waterfalls and stop in the café for a bowl of soup and a hot drink, then you’ll want around an hour or even an hour and a half.

When is the best time to visit Gullfoss waterfall?

Gullfoss is a year-round destination and there are benefits to going in both summer and winter. In summer, the cascade is mightier as more water tumbles over the rocks and into the ravine. It’s also a delight to see this waterfall against a summery backdrop of green moss and wildflowers. Summer in Iceland is when you get the balmiest weather and you have a chance of spotting the midnight sun.

However, it can be just as dramatic to visit Gullfoss in winter when the landscape around it is frozen and icicles dangle from the rocks. Iceland in winter is a sight to behold as the landscape changes to snow-covered and ethereal. Though, if you do visit Gullfoss in the colder months, bear in mind that the paths might be slippery and make sure to wrap up warm.

We’ve got a handy guide on when is the best time to visit Iceland, based on your interests and preferences.

Tours to Gullfoss waterfall and the Golden Circle in Iceland

gullfoss winter

Taking the hassle out of navigating Iceland’s roads and driving yourself, Reykjavik Excursions have a variety of tours that take in the sights of the Golden Circle and stop at Gullfoss. If you’re pushed for time and want to see Þingvellir national park, Gullfoss and Geysir at lightning speed, opt for the Golden Circle Direct tour which spends just half an hour at each sight and has you back in Reykjavik in just 6 hours. For a more leisurely pace the Golden Circle and Friðheimar greenhouse tour has more time at each stop and includes a visit to the famous tomato greenhouse for lunch.

Those with a heart for adventure might want to combine their Golden Circle excursion with a monster truck experience on Langjokull glacier. This is a great way to see the glacier that birthed the mighty Gullfoss all those millenia ago. Or, take it easier and combine a trip to Iceland’s major natural wonders with a relaxing soak in the Sky Lagoon. After a day of hiking to the continental divide, spotting waterfalls, waiting for geysers to erupt, there’s nothing better than ending in the bath-warm waters overlooking the wild Atlantic Ocean.

Over 5,000 years old, Gullfoss waterfall is an integral part of Iceland’s wild landscape and it’s safe to say that no trip to Iceland is complete with a stop at these mighty falls. They’ve been the backdrop to blockbusters, and fought over in courts of law. It’s easy to see why when you witness the thundering cascade into the deep ravine yourself. Although they’re easy to reach from Reykjavik, a Golden Circle tour can combine these falls with the wonders of Þingvellir and Geysir too. Tours to see Gullfoss waterfall in Iceland take the hassle out of navigating the island’s snowy roads in winter and are a great way to experience the falls for yourself.

REYKJAVIK EXCURSIONS BLOG

Get inspired! Information and tips and must see places in Iceland, fun facts, customs and more.

Northern Lights in Iceland: Your Guide

In this post, you can discover everything you need to know about seeing the aurora borealis in the land of fire and ice.

Read Blog