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Waterfalls are one of the big attractions in Iceland. Everywhere you go there are torrents of water tumbling over basalt cliffs and finding their way across wide valleys. Some are large and impressive whilst others are much smaller and more discreet. Finding and photographing these forces of nature can become an obsession whilst travelling around the country. This guide includes a number of waterfalls that are fairly easy to reach and some that are less well known and much smaller but still beautiful in their own way.
Quick Facts About Waterfalls in Iceland
- There are a range of estimates on the number of waterfalls in Iceland from 100 to over 10,000.
- There are at least 40 significant waterfalls in Iceland
- The number of waterfalls is down to:
- the volume of water from glacier melt water and recurring rainfall
- the landscape structure and erosion leaving significant drops for the water to flow over
- The waterfalls in the Golden circle can become very busy so time your visit carefully or visit the smaller more remote waterfalls if you have the time
Waterfall Highlights in Iceland
- Seljalandsfoss – the one that you can walk behind
- Dettifoss – the most powerful waterfall in Europe
- Gullfoss – on the Golden Circle with two tiers
- Skógafoss – 60metres of falling water
- Goðafoss – a beautiful horseshoe waterfall in the north
- Dynjandi – a stunning bridal veil of falls in Westfjords
- Kirkjufellfoss – the one with the iconic mountain behind
Exploring and Photographing Waterfalls In Iceland
Waterfalls in Iceland are everywhere and you will find you become a ‘waterfall snob’. Some which would appear amazing on your first days in Iceland become mundane as you explore more. There are far too many to list here, but this collection are some of the best we encountered. They are easy to access with good parking places and not a mad hike across lava fields and bogs to find them. Many waterfalls around Reykjavík are busy so arriving early or late in the day can mean you avoid the tourist buses and madness that these bring.
If you want a challenge then the “Waterfall Circle” in the east of Iceland near Egilsstaðir is worth exploring. This is a series of waterfalls on a trail starting and finishing in Laugarfell. It is 8km of walking passing 5 waterfalls and a canyon in one of the more remote parts of Iceland.
The waterfalls in Iceland can be visited at anytime of the year. As the photographs below show, even in the middle of summer the weather is not always perfect and can lead to difficult conditions. However, many of the waterfalls will have wild flowers growing along the river banks and can be easily accessed although any weather is possible in Iceland. In the winter months the waterfalls may be more difficult to access and many will be frozen and surrounded by snow. Careful planning, suitable clothing and a sensible attitude to weather and road conditions is essential for your own safety. In the spring and autumn it is a gamble from minute to minute as to whether the weather is warm and summer like or cold with hints of winter.
This waterfall is a short distance north of Reykjavík, less than an hour on the road, but even on a sunny afternoon in August it was quiet. It can be seen from the outcrop close to the marked parking area. If you are feeling more adventurous there is a sheep trail following the river bed beside the car park. This takes you down to the river and it is then possible to follow the path along to the waterfall. Don’t attempt this in wet or icy conditions as it is narrow and slippery even on a dry day.
Photography notes: This waterfall is best photographed in the morning when the sun is in a better position. By mid afternoon in the summer the sun is in completely the wrong position making any sensible attempt at a photograph almost impossible.
Öxarárfoss is a small waterfall with a lot of visitors. It is located in the Þingvellir National Park and is close to Silfra. A short walk along boardwalks brings you to this compact little waterfall. At its base are a jumble of rocks that freeze over in the winter adding an extra something to the waterfall.
Photography notes: The biggest challenge at Öxarárfoss is avoiding all of the other visitors. As it is only 10 minutes of easy walking from a car park on the Golden Circle it gets busy. People ignore the signs to stay off the rocks so it is a matter of waiting for your moment to capture these falls.
Gullfoss is one of the main Golden Circle waterfalls in Iceland and is one of the most powerful in the whole of Iceland. It is also one of the busiest waterfalls that you will visit, however, it is worth the crowds and should be on your ‘must do’ Iceland list. The waterfall on the Hvítá river drops a total of 32 metres across two tiers which can be seen from a number of different viewing platforms. The lowest platform is the hardest to reach and in winter it can be closed to ensure safety. From all platforms the views are spectacular but be prepared to get a soaking from the spray.
Photography notes: Gullfoss is a massive waterfall and so a wide angle lens is essential to fit it all in. The top viewing platform gives a view along the full length of the lower waterfall whereas the lower platform is above the larger tier and gives a good view of the smaller rapids approaching the main drop. Look out for rainbows forming in the spray on sunny days just to add to the magic of this location. In winter it is a totally different landscape with much of the waterfall frozen.
Háifoss is one of the highest waterfalls in the whole of Iceland at vertigo inducing 122 metres. It is located in the lava fields near Hekla and the road is rough, but just about possible in 2WD if you take your time. It is then a short walk to the falls. There are two falls, the main Háifoss and its neighbour Granni which is slightly smaller but equally impressive. There are also spectacular views down the valley.
Photography notes: This waterfall is quite difficult to capture as it is tucked into a deep and narrow valley. The edges are sheer as well so you need to remember where you are at all times! Even in grey overcast conditions this waterfall is stunning.
Gjáin is a photographers dream. This small valley is found along a rough track between Hjálparfoss and Háifoss and can only really be reached as part of a tour or in a 4WD. However it was one of the quietest and most spectacular little valleys we found. It is surrounded by barren lava fields but as your peer over the edge of the valley a lush green oasis appears. There are a number of waterfalls, basalt columns, lava caves as well as flowers.
Photography notes: This little valley is the perfect way to spend a day. There are a number of waterfalls as well as delicate lava formations and in the summer months it is blanketed in wild flowers, all perfect for photography. This is somewhere quiet where you can take your time.
This waterfall is a little unusual with its double falls joining into one large plunge pool. It is also surrounded by some seriously impressive basalt columns including the main one that splits the flow of water over the falls. Hjálparfoss is a little off the main Golden Circle and is tucked away in the lava fields near Hekla.
Photography notes: This waterfall is quite compact and has various viewing points down from the parking area. As well as the waterfall, the surrounding basalt columns are worth exploring and photographing.
Ægissufoss is located just outside Hella down a small track. It isn’t the most impressive of waterfalls, but what it does give you is a riverside view of Hekla volcano which you should have to yourself. It can be approached from either side although it is easier from the west as there is a parking place just a short distance from the falls.
Photography notes: This is a smaller waterfall however its appeal is the landscape beyond. Use a wide angle lens to show the waterfall within its setting. You can also get close to the water for some more detailed photographs of the falls.
Seljalandsfoss is one of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland that can’t be missed. It is on the Golden Circle and easy to find from Ring Road 1. It can be extremely busy and is one of the few places with paid parking. There is a short walk to the waterfall and during the summer months you can walk behind the waterfall (beware of the ice cold spray!!). However, in the winter this is sometimes closed due to ice.
Photography notes: This waterfall can be busy and avoiding strangers is an ongoing activity. There are a number of vantage points to demonstrate the waterfall. The best are from behind the falls or from the bridge that crosses the river flowing from the waterfall.
Gljúfrabúi is something of a treat. It is a short distance along a path from Seljalandsfoss and is tucked away in a cave. You need to be wearing boots for this one as you need to follow the stream through a short tunnel into the cave. Here there is a large boulder at the base of the waterfall and an open sky above.
Photography notes: Gljúfrabúi really needs to be photographed in portrait orientation to fully appreciate its scale. It is possible to include the top of the water fall as well as the boulders at the base with a wide angle lens in this orientation. Space is tight and there is sometimes a queue to get into the boulder area.
Skógafoss is another of the iconic waterfalls in Iceland and needs to be visited early or late in the day to avoid the mayhem of tourists. There is a large parking area and a path that leads to the foot of the waterfall. If you are feeling energetic there is a path that leads to a viewing area above the waterfall. This platform also avoids the soaking you will get from the spray at the base.
Photography notes: Skógafoss is usually photographed from the pebbles on the edge of the plunge pool. This can get very busy at times so using the field between the car park and the pebble beach to mask the hordes of tourists can make it feel that you really had it to yourself. A longer exposure can also blur out the activity around the beach area.
Svartifoss or the Black Falls are located on the edge of the Vatnajökull National Park and reached by walking from the visitors centre. It is an uphill slog but well worth it to see the black basalt columns surrounding the waterfall. The visitors centre has a paid car park but if you use the campsite it is free.
Photography notes: Getting down to water level works best for this waterfall. This can be from the stream or if access is possible from the river itself. The rocks at the base of the falls in the water make for a stunning photograph in their own right.
Klifbrekkufssar is probably the hardest waterfall to get to on this list. It is located on Road 953 in the East Fjords. This road leads to Dalatangi Lighthouse, the furthest east you can get in Iceland by road. It is rough and even in summer the fog hung to the road making the mountain pass a stressful drive. The waterfall is on the far side of the mountain pass as you head towards the fjord. It has a number of drops that cascade down the steep hillside and run into a small river that passes a small parking area.
Photography notes: Klifbrekkufossar has a path that runs alongside the falls. There are multiple options for photographs, but from the parking area on the road you can include the full set of falls.
Rjúkandi is a small waterfall on Ring Road 1 in the east of Iceland. There is large parking area just a short distance from the waterfall and trails that run alongside it and onwards onto the hills. This river originates at Mount Sandfell and the falls drop 139 metres.
Photography notes: These falls are best photographed from the first viewing point. The closer you get the less you see of the complete drop. There are also some small rapids close to the path that have interesting patterns to photograph.
Dettifoss is a monster. There really is no other way to describe this raging torrent. It is the waterfall with the biggest volume of water flowing over it in Europe. The waterfall can be viewed from both the east and west sides. The east shows more of the fall but the west gets you closer to the action. The spray can be seen and felt long before you reach the viewing areas and it leaves you soaking!
Photography notes: This is a difficult waterfall to capture given its size and the spray. Once you have attempted to capture the fall it is worth focussing on the patterns in the water as these change constantly and are mesmerising! Remember to bring a towel or lens cloth to try and keep the lens spray free.
A short walk upstream from Dettifoss is Selfoss. These falls have the same raging torrent of water falling over them as Dettifoss but are much calmer and more sedate. There is still spray and energy in these falls but they are not at the same intensity as Dettifoss.
Photography notes: Selfoss can be captured in one frame with a wide angle lens. The top of the falls are level with the viewing areas and this makes it particularly easy to show the river approaching the falls as well as the drop. By using a long exposure some of the turmoil in the water can be smoothed and eliminated.
Goðafoss is part of the Diamond Circle in the north of Iceland along with Dettifoss and Selfoss and is located just off Ring Road 1. Goðafoss means waterfall of the gods and is steeped in ancient stories. It is a large 30 metre wide horseshoe with a small 12 metre drop. Like Dettifoss it has quite a high volume of water. Downstream are a number of small waterfalls and rapids. The waterfall has two viewing areas and a bridge means you can use both in one visit.
Photography notes: Goðafoss is stunning year round and looks totally different during the seasons. The viewing platforms are perfect locations for capturing the falls, there is not need to venture over or under the small rope cordons for a better picture. In the summer the small ‘beach’ gives a low level view of the falls.
Dynjandi is remote, on a rough track in the Westfjords. Despite this it has a constant stream of visitors. The waterfall is made up of thousands of little cascades and whilst the main waterfall is stunning there is a series of smaller falls all the way from the parking area to the base of the largest fall. At the top this fall is just 30metres wide but opens out to 60metres by the bottom. The drop is a beautiful 100 metres of bridal veil falls!
Photography notes: This waterfall can be photographed from the parking area and at various viewing platforms on the steep path to the bottom of the main waterfall. It really depends how much of the landscape you want to include. It is also worth taking pictures of the smaller waterfalls. Anywhere else these would be on the list in their own right!
Kirkjufellfoss is a series of small waterfalls that aren’t really that special when seen in isolation. However, given their proximity to Kirkjufell Mountain they become something a bit more special. The iconic and probably most famous mountain on the Snæsflsnes Peninsula works perfectly with the waterfalls. Kirkjufellfoss is located on Road 54 and is just a short walk from a very small but very busy car park!
Photography notes: This waterfall is all about the mountain really and the combination of the falls and the mountain. It can be photographed year round but in the winter with stunning skies or the northern lights it becomes a magical location. A grey day in August when we visited wasn’t all that inspiring for photography! You will need time and patience or a long exposure to get images without visitors.
Hraunfossar was a bit of a surprise. The multiple falls all cascading down into the river below emerge from underground below the Hallmundarhraun lava field and was not quite what I expected. This jumble of cascading waterfalls stretch for 900metres and there are viewing platforms all the way along. It is located north of Reykjavík on Route 518.
Photography notes: Hraunfossar is so long that it is impossible to get all of the falls in one frame unless you stitch them together. It is easier to take various views from each of the viewing platforms and choose your favourite. In autumn it is a stunning location as the trees turn a deep orange.
Barnafoss is just upstream from Hraunfossar and whilst it isn’t as spectacular, the boiling churning water that passes through a hole in the rocks is still impressive. It’s name means “Children’s Waterfall” given to it after a Christmas Day disappearance of two children in the falls. A sad tale that is still remembered today!
Photography notes: This is a tough little spot to photograph. The viewing platform is above the falls and so it is difficult to photograph them well. In harsh light like I encountered it is even harder given the lights and shadows.
Map of the Best Waterfalls in Iceland
There are so many waterfalls in Iceland that it was difficult to choose my favourites. This map shows the Icelandic waterfalls in this guide. There is a further selection of waterfalls worth a stop if you are passing which are saved in google maps so you can download them to your trip planning maps HERE or click on the map below.
Kit to Photograph Waterfalls in Iceland
- Camera – It always helps, but remember it doesn’t have to be anything fancy. You can photograph waterfalls in Iceland using a smartphone if you use ‘live’ view and a bit of processing. If your camera allows you to alter the shutter speed then this is really useful. A quick shutter allows you to freeze the water showing the force of the falls and in contrast a longer shutter speed will give the silky smooth appearance that gives a serene feel to the photograph.
- Travel tripod – While all of these waterfalls aren’t far from parking it is much better to have a lightweight tripod that can fit in a backpack if you decide to explore beyond the car park and the first viewing platform. A tripod is essential if you want to take the silky smooth longer exposures.
- Wide-aperture wide-angle lens – This is the lens that you will need for shooting the huge waterfalls and if you are there in the winter months it is ideal for the Northern Lights over waterfalls. In the dream world with a limitless budget a 24mm f/1.4 lens is perfect.
- Everything lens – This is the lens you’re going to keep on your camera most of the time. It will give you a good frame size for most of the waterfalls in Iceland. I mainly used my 24-70mm lens for waterfalls and found that it worked well in most situations.
- An ND filter – If you want to take long exposures of waterfalls don’t forget an ND filter. This allows you to slow the shutter speed down even in the middle of the day. These can be expensive but I use the more affordable Gobe range that screw onto the front of the lens and work well.
- Extra batteries – Batteries discharge faster in cold weather. Bring a spare and pack it in your inner jacket pocket to keep it warm. If a battery dies swap it out and put it in your pocket for a while as warming it up may give it a little bit of an energy boost.
- Spare memory card – There is nothing worse than running out of memory in the middle of nowhere. Make sure you start each day with space on your memory card.
- Lens cloth and cover – As you may have gathered, photographing waterfalls in Iceland is a soggy past time. Spray from the waterfalls combines with the rain and snow that may be in the air year round to give a generally damp environment. To prevent damage to your camera make sure you wipe the lens with a suitable cloth and keep your camera and lens as dry as possible.
To find out how to photograph waterfalls, read my photography guide to waterfalls.
Driving and Touring Waterfalls in Iceland
Car Hire to Tour Waterfalls in Iceland
Getting to all of these waterfalls in Iceland is possible with a hire car. The roads are easy to drive and by taking yourself you can go at your own speed and visit in the conditions that suit you. If you are visiting these waterfalls in the summer months then a 2WD car should be adequate but for extra peace of mind a 4WD is always the better option.
In the winter months, many of the waterfalls are harder to get to so it may be worth hopping on an organised tour where someone else can handle the road conditions and the uncompromising weather. Whether you are on a tour or driving yourself, have a look at my Iceland Road Trip Planning Guide.
Winter Photography Tour of Iceland’s Waterfalls
If you want the luxury of a tour then there are lots of options. These will depend on what you want to see and the time of year that you are visiting. Imagine a winter tour in luxury visiting all of these waterfalls in beautiful winter light and a coating of ice and snow. This tour takes you around the best waterfalls over nine days during the winter months.
Summer Tour of Iceland’s Waterfalls
Or if the cold isn’t for you, then a summer tour under the midnight sun with a never ending day and lasting sunsets. This is a slightly shorter tour that includes many of the main attractions on the south coast including some of the waterfalls