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Nestled amidst the rugged landscapes of Iceland's southwestern region, the Gullfoss waterfall stands as a testament to nature's raw power and ethereal beauty. Often referred to as the "Golden Falls", this cascading wonder is an iconic symbol of Iceland's vast and mesmerizing natural treasures. As the waters of the Hvítá river plunge into a deep canyon, creating a two-tiered spectacle of mist and rainbows, visitors are reminded of the timeless dance between elemental forces.
Gullfoss Waterfall in summer
Best Time to Visit
All year round
Coordinates
64.32714, -20.11967
Distance from Reykjavík
115km

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Visiting Gullfoss Waterfall

The History of Gullfoss Waterfall

Over 5,000 years ago, when run-off from the Langjökull glacier flooded the Haukadalur Valley, the Hvitá River was formed. Over the following millennia, Gullfoss was created as the rock eroded away.

This natural wonder was largely untouched until 1909 when an English businessman wanted to use the power of the falls to fuel a hydroelectric power station. But the falls stood on a farmer’s land, and he refused to sell to the English businessman.

When the businessman leased the land and extorted a loophole in the law, it looked like all was lost for Gullfoss waterfall. However, Sigríður Tómasdóttir, the farmer’s daughter, fought the businessman in court, and eventually, the falls were given back to the Icelandic people. She is considered Iceland’s first environmentalist. Now, the waterfall is a public space and can be visited by anyone at any time, all year round.

A person taking a picture at Gullfoss Waterfall in the Golden Circle in Iceland.

Observation points and walking trails

Today, the Gullfoss waterfall is one of the most popular sights for visitors to Iceland. Alongside Þingvellir National Park and Geysir Geothermal Area, Gullfoss is one of the main highlights of the famous Golden Circle route from Reykjavik.

When you reach Gullfoss waterfall, it’s just a few minutes walk from the car park to the upper observation deck. This is where you can see the waterfall from above as it tumbles into a deep chasm that runs through the landscape.

There is another observation route taking in every level of the falls. Gullfoss is actually two waterfalls: the smaller falls upstream and the towering second falls that thunder over the rocks.

This trail is closed during wintertime as it is covered in ice due to the high humidity around the waterfall.

Facilities at Gullfoss

At Gullfoss, you’ll find a visitor centre open during the day (usually between 9am and 8pm). Here, you can stop for a comfort break and even have lunch in the café that serves quick bites like sandwiches and soups. There’s a souvenir and outdoor gear shop too, so if you’re visiting in the depths of winter and have forgotten hats, scarves or gloves, you can purchase them here.


Gullfoss Waterfall during summertime with a striking rainbow.

Name and legends

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Gullfoss translates as “golden waterfall” in English. One of the legends that surrounds the falls comes from its name. It is said that a Viking tipped his riches into the plunge pool at the base of Gullfoss to prevent anyone else getting their hands on his gold, and so the falls were named “golden” as a result.

Another legend says that the waterfall is named after the rainbows and golden mist surrounding it – after the traditional Celtic myth that there’s a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow. The most likely origin of the name is simply that the water seems to shimmer golden when the sunlight hits it, due to the glacial sediment carried down the river.


All About Gullfoss Waterfall

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