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Guide to Gullfoss: Iceland's Golden Waterfall

28-06-2023

Gullfoss waterfall

Chances are that if you’re planning a trip to Iceland, you’ve heard about the country’s natural beauty and 10,000+ stunning waterfalls. But which Iceland waterfall is the best? And what’s the most beautiful waterfall in Iceland? Seljalandsfoss, Skogafoss, Svartifoss and, of course, Godafoss are all strong contenders.

The iconic Gullfoss Waterfall is one of the most popular waterfalls in Iceland, being one of the wonders of the famous Golden Circle sightseeing route. A must-visit during your Iceland vacation, the double-drop Gullfoss Waterfall is luckily quite close to Reykjavik, located in the perfect place for a day trip in your Iceland rental car.

Let’s learn all about Gullfoss Waterfall, including where this beloved Icelandic waterfall is, the route to get there and how long it takes to get from Reykjavik to Gullfoss Waterfall.

All About Gullfoss Waterfall in Iceland

As you may have guessed from seeing the names of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls (Kirkjufellsfoss, Selfoss, Gullfoss, Svartifoss), the word ‘foss’ in Icelandic means ‘waterfall’. ‘Gull’ means ‘gold’, so the word Gullfoss translates to ‘the Golden Falls’. The 32-meter-high waterfall is so-called due to its golden, yellowish color when the sun hits the water on a bright, sunny day.

In addition to its unusual hue, Gullfoss Waterfall in Iceland also has another unique characteristic: the double drop. While most cascades career over a cliff's edge and down into the river, these particular falls don’t do that; Gullfoss has not one, but two drops.

Gullfoss waterfall

As most waterfalls only have one drop, it’s interesting to see the geological features that create a double drop. The first drop falls a short distance, then curves around to eventually fall into the crevice leading to the Hvita River canyon below.
 
A glimmering rainbow is visible in the spray on sunny days, making for beautiful views and photos. Gullfoss Waterfall is also magical in the wintertime, when the falls have the icy appearance of being stopped in suspended animation. You may even be able to see frozen icicles if you’re lucky!

Where is Gullfoss Waterfall?

Gullfoss Waterfall is located in the canyon of the Hvita River along the Golden Circle route in Southwest Iceland, close to Reykajvik. At the very northeastern tip of the Golden Circle, Gullfoss Waterfall is the halfway point around this popular tourist driving route and is easy to reach from the Icelandic capital city.

If you’ve just arrived in Iceland or are looking for a fun day trip, the Golden Circle can be a great place to start your journey. You can take one of the big bus tours, or rent a car to explore the national park, waterfall, geysers, and other awe-inspiring things to do along the circuit in your own time.

gulfoss falls

Gullfoss Waterfall in Iceland is actually considered one of the ‘big three’ for people who do a self-drive tour of the Golden Circle. The other two are Thingvellir National Park with the Silfra Fissure, and the Haukadalur geothermal valley. This geological hotspot is home to the famous geysers Strokkur and Geysir – seeing that boiling hot water shoot up into the air is a sight not to miss

How to Get to Gullfoss Waterfall in Iceland

If you’re wondering how to get to Gullfoss Waterfall in Iceland, you’ll be relieved to know it’s actually a simple route along the famous Golden Circle route near Reykjavik. When coming from the Icelandic capital, there are actually two ways to arrive: coming from the south, and coming from the north. Because the Golden Circle is shaped like an oval, you can head there via the ‘top’ or ‘bottom’ of the oval.

The top of the oval, or northerly Golden Circle route, takes you past the beautiful Thingvellir National Park and the Haukadalur geysers. Going this way, you’ll spend most of your time on Route 36 heading northeast, then turn onto Route 365, then Route 37, and eventually Route 35.

Route 35 is the one that takes you directly to the parking lot for Gullfoss Falls. On your way back to Reykjavik, you can swing around the bottom of the oval to visit the other Golden Circle highlights.

how to get to gulfos

Alternatively, you can take the bottom of the oval, or southerly Golden Circle route to Gullfoss. This way, you’ll start off on the main Ring Road (Route 1), then take Route 35 all the way to the falls. Make sure to stop along this route to admire the steaming geothermal Reykjadalur Valley and the breathtaking volcanic Kerid Crater.

How Long Does it Take to Get From Reykjavik to Gullfoss Waterfall?

From Reykjavik, you’ll need to drive around 1 hour and 50 minutes to reach Gullfoss Waterfall. Both the northerly and southerly routes take almost exactly the same time to drive.

What Town is Near Gullfoss?

Gullfoss Falls is in a fairly remote location, with no cities nearby. However, the closest town to Gullfoss is Fludir, which is around a 25-minute drive away. Here, you’ll find the Secret Lagoon, which is a geothermal pool with a geyser and bar – worth a stop if you have time after visiting Gullfoss!

Freezing waterfall in Iceland

Where to Stay Near Gullfoss Waterfall in Iceland

You can easily drive to and from Gullfoss Waterfall on a day trip from Reykjavik, meaning it’s not necessary to stay over if you’re based in the capital during your Iceland vacation. However, if you would like to experience a night staying near this gorgeous waterfall in Iceland, you might be wondering where to stay. Here are some of our top picks for where to stay near Gullfoss Waterfall:

  • Hotel Gullfoss – This family-owned hotel offers a range of beautiful, comfortable rooms and is just 5 minutes away from Gullfoss. You’ll also find hiking, glacier tours and geysers to explore nearby. Right in the heart of nature, this hotel is in the perfect location for spotting the Northern Lights, when visiting between September and April.
  • Hotel Geysir – In the geothermal Haukadalur valley, Hotel Geysir is surrounded by impressive hot springs and even one of the world’s most powerful geysers! Just a 10-minute drive from Gullfoss, this hotel houses a range of deluxe rooms with stunning views.
  • Geysir Hestar – If you love horses and want to experience horseback riding in Iceland during your vacation, we recommend staying at Geysir Hestar on your trip to Gullfoss. As well as viewing this awe-inspiring waterfall for yourself, you can enjoy a horse riding tour on site, then relax after your day out and about back in your private room or cottage.

Icelandic horses

Where to Eat Near Gullfoss Falls

Taking a picnic is a travelers’ favorite when visiting remote natural locations, such as Iceland’s waterfalls, volcanoes and glaciers. Although there aren’t too many options near Gullfoss, if the snacks are running low or you just fancy a restaurant meal, there are a few eateries to choose from.

If you want to enjoy a meal with an unbeatable view of Gullfoss Waterfall itself, check out Gullfoss Panorama Restaurant and Café next to the falls. This eatery serves some Icelandic traditional dishes, such as lamb soup, as well as fish and chips and a range of other simple but tasty dishes.

The other restaurants close to Gullfoss are all in the nearby hotels, including Hotel Gullfoss and Hotel Geysir. Beyond that, you’ll need to drive to the closest villages and towns for a wider selection of restaurants and cafés.

Restaurants near Gullfoss

How Much Does it Cost to Visit Gullfoss Waterfall?

You can visit Gullfoss Falls free of charge. This natural area is a public space open to everyone.

When to Visit Gullfoss to Avoid Tourists

This gorgeous waterfall in Iceland is a spectacular sight all year round. However, if you’d prefer to witness the crashing waters of Gullfoss without many people around, the shoulder seasons of early spring and late autumn are great times to visit.

Summer is the peak tourist season in Iceland, so this will naturally be the busiest time to visit many of Iceland’s most famous natural wonders and attractions. Winter can be tricky also because, although there are definitely fewer tourists, not all roads and attractions are open and accessible in wintertime due to harsh weather.

If you don’t want to risk snowfall ruining your travel plans and prefer to avoid the crowds, we recommend planning a spring or autumn trip to Iceland, if possible. These times of year are still mild enough weather-wise to enjoy the great outdoors, but allow you to beat the tourist rush.

If you have an Iceland summer vacation planned already, fear not! You can still beat the crowds by heading to Gullfoss early in the morning. Arriving around 9am will give you a brilliant chance to view the falls in peace and quiet, save for the mighty, crashing waters!

Crowds in Iceland

Gullfoss Hikes

First of all, it’s important to note that you don’t need to hike to reach Gullfoss Falls. There’s a short walk to the viewing platform and back again that’s easily accessible.

For keen hikers, you might want to spend a bit more time exploring the natural area around the waterfall. This 1.8 kilometer Gullfoss Waterfall hiking route takes around half an hour to complete and is an easy Gullfoss hike with an elevation gain of around 30 meters. 

The area around Gullfoss is popular for birdwatching and hiking, so you may notice other walkers as you enjoy the spectacular views near Gullfoss Falls.

Do I Need a 4x4 Rental in Iceland to Visit Gullfoss Waterfall?

If you’re wondering what type of car you need to drive the Golden Circle, the good news is that any vehicle will do. You absolutely do not need a 4x4 rental car to visit Gullfoss or to do a self-drive tour of the area.

As you’ve seen in the directions for arriving at Gullfoss Waterfall, none of the roads are F-roads (mountain roads). In Iceland, these special, unpaved F-roads require a 4WD vehicle and are clearly marked as F225, F26, etc. They are closed most of the year, apart from summer.

4x4 to visit Gullfoss

See the Golden Circle's Mighty Gullfoss Waterfall For Yourself!

As an iconic Iceland waterfall, Gullfoss should definitely be on your list of things to do in Iceland! Whether you’ve only got 5 days in Iceland or a longer Ring Road itinerary of 10 days, it’s easy to fit in a trip to Gullfoss Waterfall and the Golden Circle.

Ready to start planning your own perfect Iceland vacation? Check out our selection of Iceland Cars rentals that are perfect for your day out to Gullfoss or your entire Iceland trip!