The Ultimate Guide To The Golden Waterfall
Gullfoss waterfall, or The Golden Waterfall, is one of the most visited attractions in the whole of Iceland.
It should come as no surprise! This stunning waterfall is an absolute joy to visit. The powerful water of the Hvíta river crashes over two separate tiers, before plummeting into a deep volcanic crevice.
The power of the water creates a fine golden mist that gives the waterfall its name. In the summer, tiny rainbows are created as the midnight sun hits this golden mist.
Gullfoss is beautiful in winter too. The landscape transforms into a world of ice and snow, and the waterfall freezes in places as it flows over the cold black rocks.
This guide will tell you everything you need to know about visiting Gullfoss during your trip to Iceland. From transport to accommodation to what time of year you should visit, we’ve got you covered!
How To Get To Gullfoss Waterfall
Gullfoss waterfall can be found in the South West of Iceland, on the Golden Circle sightseeing route. The golden spray of the waterfall mist is what gave the Golden Circle its name!
If you want to get to Gullfoss from Reykjavik, you have a couple of options.
You could choose to go with an organized tour group. This will be a lot more expensive than renting a car and driving there yourself, but you can sit back and enjoy the scenery without worrying about the drive.
Another fantastic option is to book a self-drive tour.
You can leave the organization of your itinerary in the hands of an Icelandic travel expert, then pick up your car at the airport and head off for your adventure. A self-drive tour will give you a good balance between independent adventure, without any of the hassles that planning a trip by yourself normally entails.
By choosing a self-drive tour, you can decide what time you want to go, how long you want to spend there, and what other stop-offs you’d like to make along the way.
Driving From Reykjavik To Gullfoss
Once you’ve picked up your rental car, it’s time to hit the road. You’ll want to leave yourself plenty of time for driving anywhere in Iceland because the roads are not as well-maintained or developed as you might be used to back home.
It takes around an hour and a half to drive from Reykjavik to Gullfoss, but you may find that you need longer in the winter when the snow and wind can make driving conditions more difficult.
In the summertime, the route is very easy.
You just take the Ring Road out of the city, heading East. Take the exit onto Road 35 when you can, which will be around 55 km out of the city. You stay on this route for about 70 km to reach the waterfall.
The good news is that Gullfoss is so well known that you can expect lots of signage. It’s easy to find directions on any online map service too.
You do not need a 4×4 vehicle to visit the waterfall as the road leading up to it is in good condition. In winter though, you should check driving conditions before heading out. It’s easy to get caught in an unexpected snowfall.
You don’t have to pay for parking or for visiting the waterfall, but the toilets in the car park cost 600 IKR (just over 4 USD) to use at the time of writing.
Best Time Of Year To Visit Gullfoss
Visiting Gullfoss is completely different depending on the time of year that you choose to go.
In the summertime, you can get much closer to the waterfalls. You will be amazed by the powerful waters crashing down the volcanic rock. The midnight sun creates tiny rainbows in the golden mist and you’ll find lots of tour buses coming and going during your visit.
In winter, the crowds disappear.
You will find that far fewer tourists are in the area, but the waterfall isn’t any less beautiful. The partly frozen waterfall looks like something out of another planet. When it’s very snowy, some of the paths may be closed off, so you won’t be as free to explore as you would be in the summertime.
Driving in the winter can be more challenging too. It’s important that you bring lots of warm and waterproof layers and that you take all necessary safety precautions when driving in the winter months.
You can find lots of helpful information about staying safe in Iceland here.
Where to Stay When Visiting Gullfoss
It’s perfectly possible to visit Gullfoss whilst staying in the capital of Reykjavik. It would be a 3 hour round trip.
If you would prefer not to drive this distance in a day, you could always stay closer to Gullfoss by finding some accommodation on the Golden Circle.
Remember that hotels get filled up very quickly in Iceland, so you will want to book your accommodation as soon as possible.
The exception to this rule would be staying at a campsite, as these are very rarely filled up even in the summertime. If you want to find out more about camping in Iceland, you can check out this article!
Here are a few hotel suggestions within 15km of Gullfoss.
Distance from Gullfoss: 3.7km
Hotel Gullfoss opened in 1988. Despite its age, the facilities have been kept up to date and modern. The hotel is decorated in a Nordic style, but it is light and airy.
As well as being a convenient 5-minute drive away from Gullfoss, it is just 10 minutes from Geysir Geothermal Area. Horse Riding tours are possible close to the hotel, as well as Glacier Tours and hiking.
Distance from Gullfoss: 9km
Hotel Geysir can be found just down the road from Gullfoss, at the Geysir Geothermal Area. The hotel is part of the larger Geysir center, home to 5 different restaurants, a campsite, and an outdoors shop.
There are lots of exciting activities to do close by, including horse riding and river rafting.
It is situated directly opposite Geysir and Strokkur, so you will be able to enjoy the explosive steaming waters whilst you’re there.
Distance from Gullfoss: 15km
If you’re looking for something a bit different, Torfús retreat might be the one for you.
You can stay in little cottages with turf roofs. The furniture is made locally, from sustainable or recycled materials. For example, there is a sofa made out of an old boat in the longhouse!
This is a magical and special place. Plastic water bottles are banned in the area and you can go out for a leisure drive in their vintage car which has been adapted to electric power. The furniture is all tasteful and quirky, and you can enjoy soaking in a hot basalt pool during your stay!
What to Wear At Gullfoss
You don’t need to wear any special outdoor equipment to visit Gullfoss, but you will need to be prepared for the ever-changing Icelandic weather.
We recommend that you bring a good quality waterproof coat with you and strong outdoor shoes with a good grip to stop you from slipping.
It’s even more important to wrap up warm in the wintertime. Thick woolen socks, gloves, and a hat are essential to feeling comfortable at this time.
Facilities at Gullfoss
Considering Gullfoss is so popular, it should come as no surprise that there is a shop and restaurant for guests to enjoy.
The food at the cafe is pretty good. You can enjoy a piece of cake and coffee, warm soup, sandwiches, or just a cold beer with a lovely view of the waterfall. The food is really expensive though.
To be fair, traveling in Iceland is always going to be more expensive than many other European countries. However, this cafe is known to be particularly pricey. You are looking at around $20 for a bowl of lamb soup.
They do offer a refill for free, and the soup is very tasty. But if you’re traveling on a budget, you should bring a packed lunch with you!
The opening times for this cafe are between 10 am and 7 pm. However, the waterfall area does not have a closing time. It is an outdoor space that you can visit as and when you want, without a charge.
The History Of Gullfoss
Back in the 20th century, Gullfoss was very nearly converted into a huge hydroelectric project.
Two men renting the land wanted to turn the pristine waterfall into a hydroelectric dam. Environmental protections were not well established at this time, and the rising tide of development saw many wild places being destroyed without legal repercussions.
Luckily for Iceland, there was a strong woman on hand to protect this treasured waterfall.
Sigridur Tomasdottir was a poor woman of little social standing. She refused to stand back whilst the land she loved was destroyed in the name of profit and tirelessly campaigned to protect the waterfall from development.
She regularly walked the unpaved roads Reykjavik and back to meet with lawyers and gather support for her cause. That’s a round trip of over 200km on foot, well before the days of high tech hiking boots and waterproofs!
Arriving at the city with bloody feet and fire in her belly, this woman was not to be underestimated.
Eventually, her campaigning paid off. Gullfoss was returned to the people of Iceland and has remained a protected public land ever since.
Sigridur has become a symbol of fearlessness and determination for the people of Iceland. She didn’t let social expectations about the place of a woman hold her back from protecting the natural world, and she is considered a founding mother of both feminism and environmentalism in Iceland.
Photo by Leslie Seaton
Her lawyer went on to be the first-ever Prime Minister of Iceland, by the way.
That doesn’t mean that waterfalls were let completely off the hook in Iceland. Around 70% of Iceland’s electricity is provided by Hydroelectric power plants in the country, followed by around 30% geothermal energy.
The good news is that Iceland burns practically no fossil fuels to meet its energy needs, something that will protect the country’s energy security as fossil fuels become more scarce as well as help slow down the progression of climate change.
The Course of the Hvíta river
The water that you see crashing down the rocks at Gullfoss is the Hvíta River.
It is a very important river for the tourism and recreation of Iceland, popular for fishing, river rafting, canoeing, and kayaking.
The Hvíta river starts as a glacial lake formed by the meltwater of Langjökull glacier. After a long journey to Gullfoss waterfall, it falls into the deep crevice and later splits into three different rivers.
It finally runs into the Atlantic ocean near Selfoss. This is a large town in the South of Iceland where you can enjoy a wide range of restaurants and some lovely hot springs and swimming pools.
Insider Tip: Don’t forget that a large town in Iceland might seem like a small town to any visitors! We only have 350,000 inhabitants but welcome more than 2 million tourists every year.
What Else To Do In The Area
Gullfoss is one of the most popular sights in the whole of Iceland. It is part of the world-famous Golden Circle sightseeing route.
It is only around 10 minutes down the road from the awesome Geysir Geothermal Area. Thanks to magma close to the surface of the earth, water in the ground is heated to an incredibly high temperature here.
Unable to drain out of the silica-rich soil, the hot water and steam explode high into the air. Geysir erupts about 3 times a day, but it is right next to the smaller Strokkur which erupts around every 10 minutes.
Of course, you can’t miss out on the beautiful Thingvellir National Park from your Golden Circle Route, where the Icelandic parliament was first formed over 1000 years ago. There are also lots of lovely hiking trails at the National Park.
Other attractions close to Gullfoss include:
- Skaholt Town
- Kerid Crater
- þórufoss waterfall
- Faxi waterfall
- The Secret Lagoon
- Fontana Thermal Baths
- Fakasel Horse Baths
- Thjorsardalur Valley
- Langjokull Glacier
More Waterfalls to Visit In Iceland
If you love waterfalls, there are so many more awesome places for you to discover! Below you will find 10 other wonderful waterfalls that you might like to visit in Iceland.
You may notice that almost all of them end in ‘foss.’ You guessed it, ‘foss’ is Icelandic for Waterfall!
Godafoss waterfall can be found in the North of Iceland, conveniently located right by the main Ring Road.
This gorgeous waterfall is famous for its history. Its name translates as Waterfall of The Gods, and with good reason. It was here that the old Norse gods were forsaken in place of Christianity back in 1000 AD.
The old carvings of the Norse Gods were thrown into the crashing waters, to symbolize this change in Iceland’s official religion.
Of course, many people chose to keep practicing the old religion in secret for generations. There are still some people who worship the old gods like Thor, Freya, and Odin. They no longer have to do this in secret, and there is a temple where the Norse Gods can be prayed to.
The main religion is still Christianity by a long way, but Iceland is a very accepting nation where many religions can thrive side by side. Despite a population of only 350, 000 over 40 religions are actively practiced in the country!
Looking over the crashing waters of Godafoss, you can feel the spiritual importance of the waterfall in the air.
Dettifoss is located in North East Iceland, found in Vatnajökull National Park
If you’re looking for power, then you want to go to Dettifoss.
This is the second most powerful waterfall in the whole of the European community. 100 meters wide and 45 meters high, the mist rising from the waterfall can be spotted from many kilometers away.
Make sure you bring a full set of waterproof clothing because that beautiful mist will soon soak through your ordinary clothes!
You’ll find Seljalandsfoss in the South of Iceland, right by the Ring Road and between the towns of Hella and Vik.
Seljalandsfoss is unique because you can walk behind the waterfall instead of just enjoying it from the front.
The cascade itself is nowhere near as powerful and wide as many of the other popular waterfalls in Iceland, but the surrounding area is very pretty.
Bigger doesn’t always mean better, and Seljalandsfoss is a testament to this.
Skogafoss is in the South of Iceland, in a little village called Skogar. The cliffs that the water tumbles over were once sea cliffs, but the sea now lies about 5km away.
It’s not very often that you can get so close to such an enormous waterfall. It is also conveniently located near the main road, so you should expect it to be fairly busy all year round.
At 60 meters high and 25 meters wide, this powerful waterfall lets off a lovely mist. Just like at Gullfoss, you can see rainbows in this mist when the conditions are right.
Svartifoss is located in Skaftafell, in the South of Iceland. Skaftafell used to be a National Park in its own right, but it now forms part of the larger Vatnajokull National Park.
It’s not the size or power of Svartifoss that makes it so famous, but the incredible lava columns that surround it. The hexagonal rock formations have given the waterfall the nickname of ‘Black Falls’. They look too perfect to be made by natural processes!
Svartifoss is a great place to visit for people who love hiking.
There are tonnes of awesome hiking trails at Skaftafell, and the one leading to Svartifoss waterfall only takes about an hour and a half to complete. You will need to bring good quality walking shoes with grip, even in the summertime. You should also bring waterproofs and warm layers no matter what time of year you come.
There is a lovely visitor center at Skaftafell where you can pick up some maps or grab a bite to eat in the canteen.
Selfoss can be found in the North East of Iceland, not far from Dettifoss. Most people park at Dettifoss and then take the short walk up to Selfoss, which is usually less crowded because of the small amount of effort required to get there.
This is a great waterfall to combine with a visit to Dettifoss.
The waterfall flows over many different levels, and you can climb the steps to get a wonderful panoramic view of the misty waters. Be careful when you’re on these steps because they can get wet and slippery from the waterfall mist!
Hraunfossar is in the West of Iceland, easily reachable from Reykjavik and not far from the Langjokull Glacier.
Hraunfossar is unique.
It is a series of many different tiny waterfalls that flow over an ancient lava field. It is a gorgeous location, and there is a restaurant to enjoy whilst you are there.
There is a well-maintained hiking path around the waterfalls with good viewing platforms. People particularly love visiting these waterfalls in the winter, when a thick blanket of snow transforms the landscape into something fiercely beautiful.
Please be careful if you have young children. Although there are barriers around the water, little ones could squeeze beneath without any trouble.
You will find Barnafoss in the West of Iceland, in the valley of Borgarfjordur. It is within walking distance of Hraunfosser.
The waters of Barnafoss are an extraordinary clear blue.
The glacial water of Langkokull emerges from the black volcanic rocks of the surrounding lava field and rushes into a series of powerful rapids.
There is a timeless quality in this wild landscape that can only be understood after you have seen it for yourself.
Glymur is the West of Iceland, near Hvalfjordur Fjord.
Glymur is the second-highest waterfall in Iceland, standing at an incredible 198 meters. You can’t reach this awesome waterfall without a bit of effort.
For a long time, it was known as the biggest waterfall in Iceland, but that honor now goes to a waterfall called Morsárfoss which only emerged in 2007, due to the melting of Morsárjokull glacier tongue.
The glaciers of Iceland are indeed melting rapidly, with the world-famous Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon only emerging in the 1930s due to glacier retreat. It is growing visibly every year.
It may not be the tallest waterfall anymore, but Glymur is still impressive.
You will need to take a 2-hour hike to enjoy this gorgeous waterfall, but you will be rewarded with stunning views of the Hvalfjordur fjord.
After catching your breath, it’s time to set out for the long walk back to the car!
This is a challenging, steep hiking route. You will need to wear appropriate hiking clothing and bring water and food along with you. It will be worth it though, and you won’t have to share the stunning location with nearly as many people as you’d find at Gullfoss.
You’ll find Faxi waterfall on the Golden Circle Route, not too far from Reykjavik or Gullfoss. It is 12 km away from the Geysir Geothermal Area.
Although it’s only 20 km away from Gullfoss, Faxi is much quieter than the better-known waterfall. It is a popular spot for salmon fishing, so don’t be surprised if you see locals wading out into the river with their rods.
Faxi is a great last stop on the way back to Reykjavik if you have completed the Golden Circle Route.
See You Soon!
We hope you enjoyed this article about visiting Gullfoss!
We have lots more helpful resources on our website to help you plan your trip to Iceland, including some wonderful self-drive tours. If there is any information about visiting Iceland that you feel Play Iceland is missing, just let us know and we can keep producing the most helpful and up to date content around!
Take care, and we look forward to welcoming you here soon!