Goðafoss – Iceland’s “Waterfall of the Gods”

Goðafoss is a 12 metre high, 30 metre wide horseshoe waterfall. It is not the biggest or most forceful waterfalls in Iceland, but its beauty puts it on the list for many travellers and photographers to Iceland. It is located on the Diamond Circle tourist route 53km from the northern capital of Akeyuri and is spectacular year round.

Goðafoss waterfall in Iceland

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How Goðafoss got its name..

The first settlers in Iceland were Norwegian explorers, more commonly known as the Vikings. When they arrive on the island they brought with them their culture and religion which included Thor, Odin and Loki.

Around the year 1000AD when the annual meeting of parliament for the Icelandic Commonwealth was held in Þingvellir it was decided that Christianity would become the state religion although pagans could still practice in private. This change in practice was brought about by threats from Norway to invade if the people of Iceland did not conform to the new beliefs spreading across Europe.

The final decision was made the responsibility of an “Ásatrú” priest (or goði) named Thorgeir Ljosvetningagodi Thorkelsson who was said to have spent days meditating and praying to the Old Gods. When the decision was made to make Christianity the official state religion Thorkelsson returned home to the north of Iceland where he threw his idols of the Norse Gods into a waterfall.

That waterfall is what is known today as Goðafoss.

Whether this tale is true or not, in Iceland it is widely accepted as fact as it is chronicled in the Íslendingabók (Book of Icelanders), a 12th Century work that tells the early history of human settlement in Iceland. Included in this book are stories linked to Vatnsfjörður in Westfjords as well as many other places around the country

Exploring Goðafoss

The map of Goðafoss shows that it is quite a small area to visit but it has a a second smaller waterfall known as Geitafoss downstream towards the two bridges across the river Skjálfandafljót. One of the bridges is a road bridge for Ring Road 1 while the second smaller wooden bridge is a foot bridge allowing you to explore both sides of the river.

Map of Godafoss waterfall area

The river Skjálfandafljót is one of Iceland’s longest rivers. Originating from the Vatnajökull Glacier it forms other waterfalls including Hrafnabjargafoss, Aldeyjarfoss, Barnafoss and Ullarfoss.

READ MORE: WATERFALLS IN ICELAND

During the summer months the waterfall is surrounded by green grass and meadows which reflect in the water. In the winter months it can be frozen although it is more common to just be surrounded by snow. The winter months also bring the Northern Lights and this is the perfect spot to watch them in the night sky and reflected in the plunge pool of the waterfall.

One of the temptations at Goðafoss is to jump the low level ropes to get to the top of the waterfall. As with lots of places in Iceland, please don’t be that person who doesn’t think the rules apply to them. The barriers are in places for a reason that may not be immediately obvious. As a visitor you do not know what plants are growing in an area that need protection or problems with rocks and cliff faces that may be present. Stick to the path. The viewing platforms are in the best positions for seeing the waterfall and taking pictures. Resist the urge to want something different.

people beyond the barriers at Godafoss

Photography at Goðafoss

This small waterfall has a number of options. All are available throughout the year and unless the roads are closed or there is a weather warning they can all be easily reached.

To get the best from the location a tripod and long exposure settings are ideal. This will ensure that the water is smooth and on sunny days the water will take on a deep turquoise colour (or dull grey as it did on the day I was there). You will want to have an exposure time of at least 1 second and this will involve setting the exposure manually and using an ISO of 100. On bright days unless you use an ND filter this technique may not be effective. In the winter and after dark an ND filter may not be needed to get a longer exposure.

Photography from the Akureyri Side

Godafoss from right side with rocks

From the right hand side of the waterfall you will need to follow the path down onto the large viewing platform. This can be quite busy and movement can cause motion blur if there are lots of people around. Using the steps closer to the waterfall as your base gives a sturdier platform and a slightly different angle for the rocks in the plunge pool.

Goðafoss from the Lake Mývatn Side

Godafoss waterfall in Iceland

On the opposite side of the river there are a number of options. There are large viewing platforms that look out over the river and waterfalls. There are large wooden barriers in place but getting down low or up high can allow you to shoot through the bars depending on what viewpoint you want. The large viewpoint above the beach has the most foreground interest while allowing the whole waterfall to be seen.

Photographing Goðafoss from the Beach

godafoss waterfall from the beach

Just after the first viewing platform on the Húsavík side of the river you will see some old metal steps leading down to a pebble beach. In the winter months these will be icy and are usually closed. Do not attempt them if they are roped off. In the summer months the beach area gives a low level perspective of the waterfall across the small pebble beach. You can get right up close to the waterfall and finding interesting pebbles and boulders is not difficult.

Photographing Geitafoss

Geitafoss waterfall in Iceland

While the main attraction here is Goðafoss, anywhere else in the world would see Geitafoss being an attraction in its own right. From the Akueryri side follow the path down towards the bridge. Just before the bridge there is a small viewing area where the waterfall and stone arch can be seen. Continue along the path and cross the bridge. From the middle of the bridge you can look back up the river to Geitafoss and see the falls and the stone arch.

Goðafoss in Winter

northern lights over godafoss waterfall with snow
Shutterstock \ Magnifier

Goðafoss is one of the most stunning locations in winter that you can visit. The waterfalls will be surrounded in snow and will sometimes freeze completely. The sky will be in a lasting sunrise sunset during the day and when night falls the northern lights will be seen above the falls if conditions are right. Visiting in the winter requires proper protective clothing and consideration to protect your camera and lenses from the extreme weather.

Getting to Goðafoss

Goðafoss is one of the easiest waterfalls to reach in the north of Iceland and is located just off the main Ring Road.

Situated along the ‘Diamond Circle’ sightseeing route it is about a 53 kilometres from the northern city of Akureyri and about 50 kilometres west of Lake Mývatn or Húsavík. Coming from either direction you will see the signs for the waterfall from Road N.1.

There is a large parking area on both sides of the river and a bridge connecting the two and a small cafe on the east side of the falls.

Places to Stay Near Goðafoss

Goðafoss is located in what seems like the middle of nowhere, but if you want to visit at night or during the winter when daylight is limited then staying close by is the best option. There are a few places locally but most involve a drive of some sort.

Tours to Goðafoss

If driving is not for you especially in the winter months then a number of tours visit Goðafoss and the surrounding area. There are a large number of options. However if you are in Akureyri and are short on time then this short trip is ideal.

See the TOUR and BOOK HERE

However, to really see the beauty of the landscape a longer tour will allow you to photograph the waterfall and the surrounding landscape. A winter tour around Iceland would give you everything in one full tour of snow, ice and waterfalls, all topped with the Northern Lights.

See the amazing winter photography tour and BOOK HERE

Places Close to Goðafoss

  • Akureyri – The northern capital of Iceland
  • Svalbarðseyri – This small village is close to Akureyri and has walks along the beach and a perfect little lighthouse
  • Lake Mývatn – A large large with a number of interesting features including geothermal caves and pseudo-craters
  • Húsavík – Another town in the north of Iceland and the place to go for whale watching. If the weather is bad then the whale museum on the harbourside is really interesting