Being a Nordic island-nation marking the juncture between North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, Iceland has a sub polar oceanic climate so the country experiences frequent rain and snow. Being near the Arctic and blessed with uplands, Iceland has large icecaps and glaciers. When these melt in summer, water goes straight to rivers such as the Hvita, very popular with tourists and one of the best places to go river rafting. All in all, abundant precipitation, large upland areas, glacial melt, and numerous mountain streams make for a profusion of waterfalls in Iceland.
These are strewn even along the major circumferential highways. The most popular sites are Goðafoss (waterfall of the gods), Aldeyjarfoss, Dettifoss that is a smaller version of Niagara waterfalls, Dynjandi (also, Fjallfoss), Glymur, Háifoss, Hraunfossar, Seljalandsfoss, Skogarfoss, Svartifoss and Seljalandsfoss. By now, you have probably learnt what the suffix –foss means in Iceland. Waterfall!
Since Iceland is sparsely settled, the environment is generally pristine and bodies of water pure. As a country promoting cleanliness, Iceland’s bodies of water are one of the cleanest in the world. Unlike in most industrialized countries where distrust of municipal water sources helps fuel demand for bottled water, local tap water is absolutely safe to drink.
To maintain cleanliness, Iceland has various projects to protect its ecosystem. A perfect example is the island-nation’s being a signatory to the International Maritime Organization. This involves working to minimize discharge of waste and pollutants from municipal drainage and ships in coastal waters.
Waterfalls and Hydroelectric Power
Water is not only for drinking or cleaning, it can also be utilized for power. Iceland has hydroelectric power plants. Hydroelectric power comes from the potential energy of dammed water driving a water turbine and generator, which makes electricity a lot cheaper than the usual coal- or gas-fired and nuclear power plant. Among power plants, this type is also the safest and boasts the lowest total carbon footprint.
Famous Icelandic Waterfalls
Goðafoss (waterfall of the gods)
There are a lot of wonderful falls in Iceland. Goðafoss (waterfall of the goði) is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Iceland. It is located in the Mývatn district of North-Central Iceland, where the Sprengisandur highland road starts and enters the uplands. The water of the river Skjálfandafljót falls from a height of 12 meters over a width of 30 meters. The falls possesses a unique arching semi-horseshoe shape. Legend has it that Goðafoss derived its name from a historic decision by the Icelandic parliament, the Althing (also Althingi or Alþingi), to forsake the old Nordic gods and convert the entire nation to Christianity in the first millennium. This is throwback to the decision by the emperor Constantine in 306–337 to convert the Roman Empire to Catholicism. In Iceland, the conversion was led by their so-called “Law speaker”, Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði. On returning from the parliamentary session, Þorgeir threw the idols of the Norse gods he and his family had previously adored into the falls, thus the origin of the name.
Gullfoss ( The Golden Waterfalls)
It is one of Iceland´s most popular waterfalls. It´s one of the stops in the Golden Circle route. The odd shape of the waterfalls is what makes it special. The water flows down into three staircases and then tumbles down into another two steps down to the deep crevice. During summer, the waterfalls look really golden, hence the name. But there is a deep history that took place on this waterfall. During the early 20th century, Sigríður Tómasdóttir saved the waterfalls from the threat of being changed and destroyed. Foreign investors once planned to build hydroelectric power plants on Gullfoss, to be able to stop them, Sigríður Tómasdóttir protested. She threatened them that she will throw herself in the waterfalls and then went barefoot and marched from Gullfoss to Reykjavik to prove that she means business. The roads during that period are not yet paved and when she arrived in Reykjavik, her feet were bleeding and were indeed in a very bad shape. They pulled out the project and the power plant was never built. Sigríður Tómasdóttir’s memorial site was built at the top of the falls.
Seljalandsfoss is one of the well-known falls of the country. Icelanders say that if you’re trying to tour Iceland, your travelling experience won’t be complete if you don’t visit Seljalandsfoss. Photos of the falls are prominent in books, calendars and greeting cards. The falls are the tallest among all the falls in the country. Seljalandsfoss is located between Selfoss and Skógafoss, at the road crossing of Route 1, otherwise known as the Ring Road with the track going into Þórsmörk. Having that location, these falls are a favorite for sightseeing all year round. This waterfall of the river Seljalandsá drops 60 meters over the cliffs of the former coastline. It is actually possible to go behind the waterfall on a trail that is easy to trek and comprises an experience rarely equaled in tourist destinations.
One of the famous waterfalls of South Iceland, the waterfall is located on the Skoga River where the coastline used to be. Skogafoss is also one of the tallest waterfalls in Iceland that measures around 82 feet high. Single or Double rainbows are often seen normally in summer because by both reflection and refraction of sunlight in the rapid spray of water from the waterfalls. But of course with such phenomena comes a folklore, it is believed that the first settler in that place named Þrasi Þórólfsson, a Viking, hide a treasure in the cave just behind the waterfalls. As the tale continues, the locals discovered the chest of treasures several years later. The chest disappeared, leaving them only with a hold ring from the side of the chest where they grasp to pull it. They put the hold ring to a local church door which is now in a museum, though the story of it is still debatable whether it really happened or was just a tall tale.
Not only is this waterfalls, famous for the movie Prometheus (as seen in above picture), but it is also the most powerful waterfall in Europe with an average flow of 193m2 per second. The water flows from 150 feet high and about 330 ft wide, thus making it also the largest waterfall in Europe. Dettifoss is one of the stops in the Diamond Circle route, a popular tourist route like that of the Golden Circle but from Husavik.
Svartifoss (The Black Fall)
This is a unique waterfall and is located in Skaftafell. The waterfall is surrounded by dark lava columns which it got its name from meaning Black Fall. The waterfalls and its surrounding basalt columns were the Icelandic architects’ inspiration in Hallgrimskirkja church and the National Theatre.
The tiny but fascinating waterfalls of the Northeast Iceland. Though it is only about 20 meters high and getting there is a bit difficult because of a the off beaten track, this waterfall is still one of the most beautiful falls in Iceland. It has symmetrical features and the surroundings are full extending folds of black basalt columns. It is all photographers’ gem.
A series of waterfalls. It is located Borgarfjörður, western Iceland on where a great lava field called Hallmundarhruan was formed from a volcanic eruption. A lava cave can also be explored nearby.
The largest set of waterfalls in Westfjords. It has unique features as it is made up of seven waterfalls compiled into one, though each waterfall have its own name, Dynjandi have been the popular name of the falls. The waterfalls are about 100 meters in height. You can camp in a campsite near the waterfalls.
These sights contribute to an accessible and soothingly refreshing experience. The adventure is irreplaceable and priceless. Why spend on luxurious entertainment and spas, if you can get the pleasing and invigorating feeling from nature like waterfalls?