The Gullfoss waterfall is one the “Big Three” Golden Circle attractions near Reykjavík and one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland. Although somewhat subjective, Gullfoss is widely regarded as one of the top ten waterfalls in the world. The Hvítá river cascades over a wide and curved three-step “staircase”, before plunging in two stages into a 32-metre deep crevice (the longest of these two drops is 21m).
The gorge was formed by the waters during flash floods forcing its way through cracks in the basalt lava layers.
The name “Gullfoss” is either from the golden hue that often shines in the glacial waters, or the rainbow caused by the sun hitting the water spray that’s thrown up by the waterfall.
There’s some interesting history and folklore around Gullfoss, which was originally in private hands. The owners (Tómas Tómasson and Halldór Halldórsson) rented the waterfall to foreign investors, who considered building a hydroelectric generator. The plan was unsuccessful, and the waterfall was eventually sold to the state of Iceland. It was said that Sigríður Tómasdóttir, the daughter of Tómas Tómasson, was so determined to preserve the waterfall, she threatened to throw herself into the water if the hydroelectric plan went ahead. Although this is just a myth, a statue was erected in her honour.
Getting to Gullfoss
The waterfall is about 90min by car from Reykjavík, and then an easy 15min walk along a gravel path down to the falls. It’s free, and open year-round. If you are self-driving, aim to get there before or after the crowds of people on tour busses.
This was one of the many waterfalls (and countless other natural attractions) on our week-long Circuit around Iceland.