Iceland’s Most Beautiful Waterfalls and Their Mythologies

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Iceland’s Most Beautiful Waterfalls and Their Mythologies

Top 5 waterfalls in Iceland: Where they are, what so special about them, and their fascinating folklore and fun facts.

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Some love a road trip; some may think it’s boring. But a road trip to Iceland is anything but. Iceland is carved by a dramatic landscape covered by glaciers and lava. Visitors may think they just landed on another planet – even extraterrestrial might find it impressive. That’s why Iceland’s magnificent sceneries were frequently featured in music videos, movies, and photo albums from singers, filmmakers, or photographers all over the world – lately the country has gained popularity in the wedding photography business as well! Indeed, you cannot take a bad photo when you are in Iceland – 80% of the country is inhabited, and the landscape offers photographers the perfect backdrop for whoever is in the picture…

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IMG_0095For those who don’t drive, consider taking a day tour to the outskirt of the city of Reykjavik and enjoy the sceneries with a camera in hand. Looking out from the car’s window and see the rocks, volcanoes, glaciers, and mosses… after spending days in South Iceland, I had strange feelings seeing the nature scene after my return to Scotland because Iceland’s lava fields are covered with few trees but lots of ferns or mosses. It was weird for me to see so many trees…

Another must-see feature in Iceland is the waterfalls. Not only they are stunning to look at, but Iceland’s waterfalls are also always linked with fascinating folklore and mythologies. Waterfalls, in Icelandic, are ‘foss’. Like Barnafoss. It is a wide but short waterfall on the river Hvítá that related to many, weirdly, dark and spooky Icelandic folklore. The waterfall could be seen on the way to the Highland Road before seeing the ice caps.

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Your visit to Iceland won’t be complete without at least seeing one of its best waterfalls, namely the Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss, Gullfoss, Dettifoss, and Goðafoss. Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss are in South Iceland and could be seen on the way to the Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon. Gullfoss is part of the Golden Circle tour, and Dettifoss and Goðafoss are located in the north-eastern regions.

Barnafoss

Barnafoss is near Hraunfossaur, it’s located about 100 kilometers away from Reykjavik on the river Hvítá. The waterfall is only 12 meters high, and neither considerable in height or volume. However, the waterfall is a unique natural phenomenon. The origin of Hraunfossar is the Langjökull glacier; the glacial water flows through the lava field formed from a volcano eruption that turned the water turquoise. It was a unique and distinctive sight as the hundreds of streams of spring water running out through the cracks of lava rocks and churning down into the river Hvítá.

The water streams run along the edge with a distance of 900 meters long. Barnafoss is a rapid waterfall at the end of Hraunfossar, as the water flowed from the river finally cascading into a narrow valley.

Folk Mythology: Many Icelandic folk tales are linked with the Barnafoss. One day, the parents of two boys from a nearby farm went to a church with their plowmen. Instead of staying at home, like they were supposed to, the two boys decided to go out and follow their parents. When they crossed a natural stone-bridge of the waterfall, they felt dizzy, slipped, and fell into the falls and were drowned. The mother found out what happened and put spell on the bridge – whoever crosses the bridge will also be drowned. The bridge was later demolished in an earthquake.

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Skógafoss

I have seen the two amazing waterfalls, Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss, joining the “South Coast & Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon” day tour.

Skógafoss is located on the Skógá River in the south of Iceland at the cliffs of the former coastline. The waterfall is 60 meters in height and is one of the biggest in the country with a width of 25 meters. There’s a campsite nearby the waterfall, and it’s possible to climb the cliff on the side and view the waterfall from above!

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IMG_0088Folk Mythology: The waterfall is also a set of the legend of ‘Þrasi Þórólfsson’s chest of gold’. The first Viking settler, Þrasi Þórólfsson, hid a treasure chest behind the waterfall, and later the chest was found by the successors. Interestingly, the successors could only retrieve a ring on the chest before the treasure disappeared again somehow. The ring was used for the church door at Skógar, and it is now displayed in a Museum.

Exploring Skógafoss: There are a lot of places to see around the fall, like Asolfsskali Church Farm, Petursey Mountain, Solheimajokull Glacier, Basar Valley, and more. Take a hike in Thorsmork, which is about 23km from the falls – the route pass through, the Fimmvorduhals Pass with breathtaking sceneries. 

Visitors could get closed at the bottom of the waterfall, and a rainbow (or even double rainbows) could always be seen on a sunny day.

Seljalandsfoss

IMG_0151Seljalandsfoss may be a little tough to pronounce. :P The waterfall is situated between Selfoss and Skógafoss, and it’s my favorite. The best time to view the waterfall would probably be sunset. The waterfall is 60 meters in height and a bit narrower than Skógafoss. I like it because visitors can walk behind the waterfall (but yeah, be prepared to get wet)! I still remember I was blown away, drenched all over, looking back at the amazing sunset through the waterfall at midnight (yes, the sunset is at midnight in summer); Flipping through the photos of Seljalandsfoss at home they are like a Chinese landscape painting with ink splattered all over the dramatic landscape…

Folk Mythology: Being one of the most-visited waterfalls in Iceland, Seljalandsfoss is somehow free from eerie or mystical mythologies. Maybe the beauty of the waterfall itself is legendary enough for you to come and visit?

Exploring Seljalandsfoss: The falls is on the same route as Skógafoss and the car park is just a short walk to the base of the falls. The trail could go either up to a viewing platform next to the cascade from the falls, or behind the falls like the photos you see below. It is an easy walk for walkers of any age. To go a little bit farther from the falls and miss the crowds, walk past the falls toward Gljúfurárfoss to a quieter area and take in the view. 

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Getting from the side to the standing behind the legendary Seljalandsfoss: I had a glimpse of the vast Iceland expanse and sunset through the water-screen.

Gullfoss

Gullfoss is part of the Golden Circle tour, and it’s probably the most well-known and most visited waterfall in Iceland due to its proximity to the Þingvellir national park and geysers Geysir and Strokkur.

Looking at the waterfall from the top of a cliff, it makes a 90-degree turn before hitting forcefully into the narrow slit, which makes the fall so distinct from the others and also mysterious. Gullfoss means “the golden waterfall,” which has some fascinating theories about how this name came about. It’s likely that the waterfall was named Golden because of the golden evening hue gives colors to the water.

Folk Mythology: Another theory why it’s golden was based on the travel journal of Sveinn Pálsson, an Iceland physician in the early 1800s. According to his diary, a farmer had plenty of gold and could not bear the thought of someone else taking his wealth after his death, and so he hid the gold in a chest and threw it into the waterfall – and that’s how the waterfall was named.

IMG_0105Exploring Gullfoss: As mentioned that the falls is part of Iceland’s Golden Circle Drive and very accessible – it’s only an hour and a half drive from Reykjavik. Gullfoss plunges into a gorge of foaming water that the bottom is not accessible, visitors usually view the falls at the top. It is quite a unique perspective to see a waterfall because most of the time we see them from below.

The falls open all year round and the sceneries change from summer to winter. It looks epic at any time of the day! However, it would be a good idea to bring a raincoat, waterproof windbreaker, or a towel in case you want to get close to the falls because you will definitely get wet. It worths the thrill to be humble by the tumbling water though.

Dettifoss

In the Vatnajökull National Park in Northeast Iceland, the Dettifoss is named the most powerful waterfall in Europe regarding volume. The waterfall is 100 meters wide and has an average water flow of 193 cubic meters per second! Like many other waterfalls in the country, visitors could get close to the waterfall on both sides. The sound of the waterfall is deafening even from a distance, and the drop makes the surrounding rocks vibrate and the vibration could be felt touching by hand.

Exploring Dettifoss: The falls are split into two sides that could be viewed from either the east or the west. However, it might take some time to travel from one side to the other. The road 864 is partially unpaved and could be tricky to drive – Consider sticking with the west side for the best view of the falls. 

Goðafoss

The Goðafoss is an Icelandic version of mini-Niagara Falls. It is located in the Bárðardalur district of North-Central Iceland beginning of the Sprengisandur highland road. Water falling from the Skjálfandafljót river at 12 meters in height and over 30 meters in width, it is one of the most photogenic waterfalls in Iceland with its dark, horseshoe-shaped canyon washed over by white silky water… it is outstanding.

Folk Mythology: Goðafoss, in Icelandic it means “The waterfall of the gods.” The name came from yet another dark Icelandic folklore that about 1 thousand years ago, the lawmaker Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði was tasked to decide whether the country would carry on to worship their native gods or the gods of Christianity.

In the end, he chose Christianity and threw his statues of the Norse gods into the waterfall after his conversion.

Exploring Goðafoss: Both Dettifoss and Goðafoss are part of the Diamond Circle and the most popular waterfalls in northeast Iceland. While the Dettifoss is nicknamed by the locals: “The Beast” because of its powerful water volume, the Goðafoss is nicknamed: “The Beauty” because of its angelic appearance.

Take a walk on the many trails around the falls where you will also get a good look at the falls at the viewpoints. Unlike Dettifoss, it’s possible to visit the falls by public transportation from Akureyri, Mývatn, and Egilsstaðir; besides, there’s a bridge connecting both sides of the falls and it’s possible to walk from one side to the other side with a short walk. 

 

 

 

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24 thoughts on “Iceland’s Most Beautiful Waterfalls and Their Mythologies

  1. […] Barnafoss (which translates as waterfall of the children) is a series of waterfalls on the river Hvítá located about 100 kilometers to the east of Reykjavik and close to the highlands of Iceland. While it is not the most spectacular waterfall in terms of its height and water volume, it is very different to the other Iceland waterfalls. […]

  2. […] Dettifoss is located in the Vatnajökull National Park in Northeast Iceland. In terms of water volume, Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in Europe, with an average water flow of over 193 cubic meters per second! Watching the water cascading down the cliff is an amazing sight – the water drop creates a deafening noise that could be heard in a distance, and the surrounding rocks shake that you could feel them vibrate with a touch of your hand.  […]

  3. Wow. Iceland is high in our list. So many beautiful waterfalls to see. We would love to rent a car and drive ourselves. I don’t know how I’m going to go trying to pronounce Seljalandsfoss. Hehe. Thanks for sharing.

  4. You took some wonderful photos! Next time I am in Iceland I will definitely be renting a car and getting to these waterfalls. Was only able to visit Reykjavik las time unfortunately.

    1. Yes, Adelina, Iceland is definitely one of the most impactful places that I’ve visited in terms of landscape. When you are there, you have a lot to explore!

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