Waterfalls throughout the whole of Iceland are stunning, but these are our favourite in the area around Reykjavik. Almost everyone who visits Iceland will visit Gullfoss, as part of the Golden Circle tour and given it’s astounding majesty and power we can’t help but agree it is worth a visit. However there are so many incredible waterfalls in this stunning country to see, this isn’t a complete list of the ones around our capital city, but these ones we have found ourselves returning to many many times and still being delighted by them.
1. Seljalandfoss and Gljufrabui
Seljalandfoss is on so many postcards and we cannot fault it, from miles around you can see it cascading down the cliff, you can walk behind it and look out to the ocean towards the Westman Islands not far to the south. However its little sister, Gljufrabui, only 500m to the west is often overlooked, and we cannot recommend it enough. It’s sometimes called the secret waterfall, or hidden waterfall, and it’s worth tracking it down!
Follow the path keeping the cliff to your right and past a small cave until a stream stops you. Looking up it you’ll see a crack in the cliff face, only a metre or two wide. So many people get to this point and turn back, and they are missing what is our guides favourite waterfall along the south coast!
Roll up your trousers, or tiptoe along the rocks between the cliff walls and shortly it will open out into a green green chimney, with water rushing down most of the mossy sides. Underneath the most forceful curtain of water it is a huge bolder that used to be at the top and hurtled down one day many aeons ago. Now it makes for an incredible photo standing a top it! Worth getting your feet wet for!
2. Hraunfossar and Barnafossar
If you are heading north on route 1 it’s worth turning off before the Borgarnes bridge and going to see these incredible waterfalls. Barnafossar is slightly upstream, cutting deep through the rock with white water. It’s name means Children’s Waterfall, as legend has in two children were crossing a natural rock bridge there and slipped and fell into its swirling depths.
The rock arch is no longer there as the grieving mother had it destroyed. From there the path takes you downstream to Hraunfossar – lava waterfall, which is fall gentler but much more eerie. The waterfall seems to have no head, water simple flows out of the rocks to join the river of Barnafossar. In reality the water is flowing out of a lava field, just below ground level, and it makes an incredible 900m long natural water feature.
3. Reykjadalur – hot river hike.
We cannot recommend the hot river hike enough, it is totally surreal to people who aren’t born in here to go for a beautiful hike up a mountain, only to find a river warm enough to sit and relax in. It takes about an hour each way, and is clearly marked, but still wear sensible shoes!
There are wooden pathways along its banks so it doesn’t get too muddy, and many people stop there, but do not! Follow the path along, keeping the river to your left and you will find a hot waterfall! It’s too hot to bathe in and roped off for safety but you can see the steam rising from it and the colours of the rocks and the plants growing there are unearthly.
Carry on along the river and it will curve round and up into a tiny green valley. Cross the bridge and follow the path, soon you will see a geothermic area, looking red and scorched next to the lush green grass near it. The water running from it crosses the path and looks silver thanks to the minerals in it, truly incredible.
Further up at the very head of the valley is a waterfall, beautiful, fresh and cold to the left, but again the rocks are steaming to the right of it. Surely only Iceland has this beautiful chaos! Be sure to look at the amazing rock formations as your wander the area, they are definitely trolls that have turned to stone!
Until 2011 this was thought to be the tallest waterfall in Iceland, it got pushed to second place but at just short of 200m tall it is still extremely impressive. In order to get there you have to go on a hike but it is only about 4 hours long and not especially difficult.
The start of the hike is about an hours drive from Reykjavik at the end of Hvalurfjordur, which is a stunning drive in it’s own right. It is worth noting that this hike is only really safe to do in summer months, but if you are looking for a breathtaking day hike from Reykjavik here you are.
5. Elliðaárdalur park waterfalls.
This park in the centre of Reykjavik is one of the nicest places to walk, and its waterfalls, though small by Icelandic standards are beautiful nonetheless. It is especially lovely to visit in summertime by bicycle and then cool off your feet in the shallows of the waterfalls, whilst watching the local children jumping in!
In an area full of waterfalls and splendour this one really stands out, it is beautifully divided, and powerful, creating a very dynamic show. It has always been quite quiet when we have gone there, giving us time to relax and have a picnic, and the pool is large and deep enough to have an extremely cold swim!
The basalt columns are more twisted and chaotic than in other places, for instance svartifoss, but they show the raw power of the earth as this incredible feature was formed. First by lava and then worn down over the millennia with water. It’s really easy to get to, with only a small part of the drive being on a gravel road, and there’s no hiking involved at all.
Thingvellir national park is an incredible place, both culturally and geologically, and stunning in every season. Where else in the world can you swim in water almost as clear as air between tectonic plates? Once again Iceland is showing off. This waterfall is a couple of minutes walk away from the drowning pool and the parliament flag area, and is worth the trip! It has had wooden decking built up near it which is a gorgeous place to sit and relax listening to the water thundering onto the rocks below. In winter it can completely freeze up, and it has been climbed by iceclimbing experts.