Iceland boasts over 10,000 waterfalls across the island, but Svartifoss has definitely a special place. It captured the imagination of both locals and visitors alike with its striking and unique features.
In this article, we discuss exactly what makes Svartifoss waterfall so popular. We'll discover how to get to Svartifoss, what to expect from your visit, and learn how Svartifoss serves as a cultural inspiration to many.
Why is Svartifoss Waterfall so Popular?
Just one look at Svartifoss, and you’ll understand why this is one of the stops on some of the Iceland photo tours. The name itself already gives clue to its unique aesthetic: Svartifoss means “black waterfall”.
Don't you start conjuring up images of dark waters cascading over cliff edges! It is not the water but rather the waterfall’s backdrop that gives it its renowned “svartur” look. The waterfall itself runs clear with the incredibly pure glacier water that the island has become known for. In this instance, the waterfall is fed by the Svinafellsjokull glacier.
The flowing water is embraced by cliffs of black, hexagonal basalt column. They do look a bit like the most intimidating church organ ever created.
So, even though it’s not the tallest waterfall on the island, clocking in at roughly 20 meters, it will always remain a favorite due to its extraordinary appearance.
How was Svartifoss Waterfall Formed?
The black, basalt columns are nothing new to Iceland. In fact, these types of natural structures can be found all over the island. Some examples are the Reynisdrangar rock formations and Dyrholaey. This is due to volcanic activity on the island. It is this same volcanic activity that created our beloved Svartifoss.
Basalt columns are essentially lava that’s cooled down. But don’t worry, these volcanic eruptions happened hundreds of years ago.
The reason why these columns appear to be cascading down the cliff face just as much as the waterfall is because that’s indeed what happened all those years ago. The flowing lava cooled down at a very slow pace, causing the crystallization of the molten rock. And although these basalt columns can be seen all around the island, it’s a rarity when not on Icelandic soil.
Where is Svartifoss? How do I Get There?
Svartifoss is located in Skaftafell National Park, which now forms part of Vatnajökull National Park. This is on the southeast side of the island, near the coast. To get there, you will either need to join a tour group or arrange your own transport. Depending on where you are on the island, the drive time will vary:
- From Reykjavík – 4 hours
- From Höfn – 1 hour and 40 minutes
- From Vik – 1 hour and 45 minutes
- From Jokulsarlon Lagoon – 45 minutes
- If you are road-tripping Ring Road 1, Svartifoss can be one of your stops. Although the entire route can be driven in 24 hours, we highly suggest you create an itinerary of everything you want to do and see. Do leave a little flexibility for the interesting and unforeseen. It’s our recommendation that you take at least 7-10 days to truly take in all the Ring Road has to offer.
How to get there?
Once at the location, it’s easy to reach the falls via the Svartifoss trail, which is a short climb of not even 2 km. For those avid hikers amongst us, there are other Svartifoss hike options available. There are many guided walks and tours that include Svartifoss on their itinerary. Now, if you’d rather DIY this walk, you can opt for the longer Svartifoss hike.
You will depart from the visitor center, and this loop around the waterfall and back is about 3.4 km long. This is also why we always answer “it depends on what you prefer” when visitors ask us “how long is the hike to Svartifoss?” If you opt for the short Svartifoss hike, it’ll take you roughly 45-60 minutes, depending on your age and fitness level. The longer Svartifoss trail will take you about 2-3 hours.
Although both hikes are considered to be easy, the longer hike has some steep inclines. If you have children or the elderly in your party, you’ll need to consider it. You’ll also need to be cautious of slipping, especially after it has rained.
If you opt for any of the guided hikes or tours, the outing can take anything from 2 hours to multiple days of hiking through Vatnajökull. The falls can only be reached via hiking, so you will have to choose one of the above-mentioned options if you want to see the falls for yourself.
When is Svartifoss Waterfall Open?
Svartifoss is one of the Iceland waterfalls that are open all year round. And visits to the sight in summer vs winter show a breathtaking contrast.
In summer, the cascading water over the basalt cliffs is quite a display. In winter, the ground is covered in snow and the waterfall itself might boast a few frozen tentacles. As with rainy weather, the winter months are pretty wet and icy, and you need to be extra careful not to slip.
Ensure that you wear shoes with good grip and also dress super warm. Unlike many other places in the world, entry to the National Parks in Iceland are free of charge. Visiting the waterfall also won’t cost you anything (unless doing it with a guide, of course). But if you are visiting the waterfall during the busy summer months, we suggest that you plan an early morning trip to not get caught up in the crowds.
The Svartifoss waterfall and its unique look have served as an inspiration to locals and visitors. If you are planning on visiting the capital of Reykjavík, stop by Hallgrimskirkja. This is a must-visit site for architects and photo lovers alike.
As you stare at the beautiful church building, you’ll soon understand why it might feel so familiar if you’ve already visited Svartifoss. The architect, Gudjan Samuelsson, created this Art Deco masterpiece as a sort of ode to Svartifoss. One can clearly see the embracing basalt columns in the design.
The breathtaking waterfall has also made its way onto our screens as it’s inspired many a creator to include it as an on-site location. This includes the popular series Game of Thrones. And an epic battle in Batman Begins occurs on the Svartifoss glacier (Svinafellsjokull).
Svartifoss Waterfall is Truly an Unmissable Moment
Whether you intend to make it a day outing or a stop on your road trip, Svartifoss is definitely not to be missed. Rent a car in Reykjavík once you arrive on the island, take the scenic island drive to the falls. There, you'll take in what is probably the most Instagrammable moment as the basalt columns tower around you with the water plummeting to the ground. And even if you decide on taking the short hike there, the memories will last a lifetime!