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.

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. While it’s not exactly impressive in scale and height, it’s a stunning sight with streams of water flowing out of a lava field.

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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Folk 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 is now displayed in a Museum.

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.

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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 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?

Trivia: 

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Standing behind the legendary Seljalandsfoss and 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 it’s proximity to the Þingvellir national park and geysers Geysir and Strokkur.

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Looking at the waterfall from the top on 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.

Trivia: 

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Dettifoss

In the Vatnajökull National Park in Northeast Iceland, the Dettifoss is 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 was deafening even from a distance, and the drop makes the surrounding rocks vibrate and the vibration could be felt touching by hand.

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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.

Iceland GodafossGoðafoss, 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 threw his statues of the Norse gods into the waterfall after his conversion to Christianity.

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

  1. 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.

  2. 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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