Gullfoss, which translates to “Golden Falls,” is one of Iceland’s most renowned and beloved waterfalls located in the Hvítá river canyon in Southwest Iceland. The Hvítá river originates from the Langjökull glacier and cascades 32 meters (105 feet) down Gullfoss’ two stages, creating a captivating display of nature’s raw power. This stunning site is a must-see for most visitors as it is on the popular Golden Circle sightseeing route.
It’s important to note that Gullfoss has two stages – the first cascade is 11 meters tall (36 feet) and the second drop is 21 meters (69 feet). The canyon walls on either side of the waterfall reach heights of up to 70 meters (230 feet), leading into the vast Gullfossgjúfur canyon. Geologists believe that this canyon was formed by glacial outbursts at the beginning of the last age.
In the summer, approximately 140 cubic meters (459 cubic feet) of water surges down the waterfall every second, while in winter the rate drops to around 109 cubic meters (358 cubic feet). Visitors should be prepared to get wet from the waterfall’s powerful spray if they get too close.
In addition to visiting Gullfoss, the Golden Circle sightseeing route also includes the Geysir geothermal area and Þingvellir National Park. Many Golden Circle tours also offer additional activities, such as ascending the nearby Langjökull glacier and exploring its ice tunnels or snowmobiling on its surface.
Gullfoss has a rich history, in the early 20th century, an English businessman named Howell sought to use the waterfall’s energy to power a hydroelectric plant. The waterfall was owned by a farmer named Tómas Tómasson, who refused to sell the land. However, Tómas later leased the land to Howell without realizing the loophole that would allow him to proceed with his plans. Tómas’ daughter, Sigríður Tómasdóttir, fought to stop Howell’s plans and hired a lawyer using her own savings. It was a long and difficult battle but in the end, Howell withdrew from the lease in 1929 and the waterfall was returned to the Icelandic people. The lawyer who helped Sigríður, Sveinn Björnsson, went on to become the first president of independent Iceland in 1944.
Visitors can also enjoy the views from Gullfoss Cafe, a locally run restaurant, that serves a variety of refreshments and meals. Gullfoss is free to visit and open 24/7 all year round. It is about 120 km from Reykjavik and can be reached by any vehicle. It’s recommended to check road conditions before departing.