Discovering Gullfoss, The Golden Fall in Iceland

Gullfoss waterfall is a top landmark within the Golden Circle route. Here's our detailed guide!

The great thing about a country having 269 glaciers is that they create some wonderful natural features. As Iceland’s ice caps go through their natural fluctuations of melting and freezing throughout the year, their meltwater births waterfalls.

No matter what area of the country you’re in, you’ll find a beautiful, famous fall to marvel at. None, however, are more famous than the Golden Circle’s Gullfoss waterfall. When people talk about waterfalls in Iceland, Gullfoss is first on many lists. 
 

Gullfoss Waterfall Facts


Gullfoss translates to ‘Golden Falls’. It was probably named this for the golden hue of its water, or the way the sun hits the spray. Another explanation lies in an old story, featuring a farmer called Gýgur. It’s said that he didn’t want anyone possessing his gold after he died, so he threw it into Gullfoss waterfall.

Gullfoss waterfall in Iceland is 32 meters (105 feet) high and is formed by the Hvitá (translation: white) river. It falls in two stages and is formed by meltwater from Langjökull glacier, which lies a short distance above.

The waterfall is a busy one, with an average water flow of 110 cubic meters per second. With such power, it’s not surprising that Gullfoss once attracted the attention of energy companies.

In the early twentieth century, investors were considering using the waterfall to generate electricity via a hydroelectric dam. The land’s owner, Sigríður Tómasdóttir, refused to allow this, desiring the waterfall to be preserved in its natural state. She fought a fierce legal battle and won.

Eventually, the site was purchased by the Icelandic government to ensure its protection. Today, it’s one of the most popular places for tourists to visit and became part of the Golden Circle route.
Girl in a yellow raincoat enjoying the views of Gullfoss waterfall 

How Far is Gullfoss Waterfall from Reykjavík?


Gullfoss waterfall is about 115 km (71 miles) east of Reykjavík, a journey of about an hour and a half. No one, however, just drives straight to Gullfoss and back to the capital; they take the world-famous tourist route.

Gullfoss is just one spot of many that lie on the Golden Circle path. The other two most popular stops are Þingvellir National Park and Geysir Geothermal Field.

The Circle begins at the capital, taking Route 1 (the Ring Road) either clockwise or counter-clockwise. If traveling clockwise, you’ll turn onto Route 36, and if counter-clockwise, follow Route 1 until you reach Route 35. It does not matter which direction you travel; the furthest point from Reykjavík will be Gullfoss falls from either direction.
   

Driving to Gullfoss Waterfall with Your Rental Car


Many choose to rent a car and drive the Golden Circle themselves. This gives you the freedom to stay at each stop for as long as you like, setting your own pace. Alternatively, there are many companies which offer Golden Circle packages that include a Gullfoss waterfall tour.

Golden Circle tours are generally in large coaches with a tour guide, and time is allotted to explore each site. The choice is yours; it’s nice to not have to drive, but it’s also great to have an open schedule. Whichever way you view the Golden Circle, expect to be out for the whole day. In total, the route is about 230 km (143 miles).

At the waterfall itself, you will find a Visitor’s Center with a gift shop and a restaurant. There are two places to view Gullfoss from: at the top and bottom of a small hill, accessible with steps. There is also a stone memorial dedicated to Sigríður Tómasdóttir near the Center.


The car park is basically in front of the waterfall, so you won’t have to walk far. Having said that, wear decent footwear; the Gullfoss waterfall hike can be slippery.
  

When is the Best Time to Visit Gullfoss?


The great thing about Gullfoss is that its majestic appearance is completely different depending on when you visit. In the summer, the sun’s reflection and the larger volume of water truly showcase its power. In the winter, it’s framed by snow and ice, with the winter chill giving the site an extra freshness.

Ensure you are properly dressed because you’re going to want to stand and stare for a while. Since the waterfall lies in a valley, and you are viewing it from above, you are exposed to the elements. Strong wind is common in Iceland winters, which dramatically reduces the air temperature. Ideally, pick a day with low wind speeds.

Keep in mind that if you do visit in the summer months, this is Iceland’s tourism “high season”. There will be many others at Gullfoss with you, so you may have to be patient to get a photo. By visiting in the winter, you may get the chance to see the northern lights from Gullfoss.Boy sitting on the edge of a cliff of Gulfoss waterfall in winter 

Other Stops on the Golden Circle Route

           
  • Geysir Geothermal Field

The Geysir geothermal field is where you can see one of the world’s few active geysers, Strokkur. It erupts approximately every 6-10 minutes, shooting boiling hot water up to 40 meters (130 feet) into the air.

Take a walk around the area, taking care to stick to the roped paths. The geothermal field is full of bubbling mud pools and other geysers for you to enjoy—from a safe distance.
  
  • Þingvellir National Park

Þingvellir is one of Iceland’s three national parks, and it’s both culturally and geologically significant. It is the site where Iceland’s—and possibly the world’s—first parliament was held; Þingvellir translates to ‘Assembly Field’.

Þingvellir is also a site where the earth’s tectonic movement is clearly on display. This national park sits atop where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are moving apart, at 2.5 cm per year. Many rifts, therefore, can be observed at Þingvellir.
  
  • Kerið Crater

Kerið Crater is a volcanic crater lake along the Golden Circle route. The crater is 170 meters (558 feet) wide, 55 meters (180 feet) deep, and it bears a deep red color. This is because the crater is young by geological standards: about 3000 years. The lake also helps this site to stand out; due to minerals in the soil, the water is bright blue.

Finally, the moss that lines the sides of the crater contrasts beautifully with the blue and red. Kerið, then, is a piece of natural art. In order to preserve the area, the landowners now charge an entrance fee of ISK 400 per person ($3).
  
  • The Secret Lagoon Geothermal Spa

The Blue Lagoon is not the only geothermal spa in Iceland; the Secret Lagoon lies in the Golden Circle. Like its blue sister, the Secret Lagoon is man-made but utilizes naturally heated water from nearby hot springs. The water stays at a comfortable 38-40 °C all the time, and there’s even a small geyser nearby to entertain you.
  

Is Gullfoss waterfall worth it?


Few of the waterfalls you will see around the world will dazzle you as much as Gullfoss waterfall, Iceland. With its powerful plunges, bright colors and churning action, it will be hard to walk away when you see it. It’s also only one stop on one of the most famous and highly rated tourist routes in the world.

The Golden Circle has much to offer, and if you can’t decide when to visit—summer or winter—do both. You can experience Gullfoss and the other wonders of Iceland as two different worlds. Book your rental car and visit Gullfoss waterfall this year.


Samuel Hogarth, Reykjavík Cars.

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