Chances are that if you’re planning a trip to Iceland, then 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? Many say Seljalandsfoss, but I think Godafoss, Skógafoss, and Svartifoss waterfall are also strong contenders. Gullfoss is another iconic Iceland waterfall that the country’s visitors like to frequent. While Gullfoss is not the largest waterfall by volume in Iceland (that distinction goes to the mighty Dettifoss), it’s definitely a must do on your road trip itinerary. Luckily, Gullfoss is quite close to Reykjavik. It’s also one the of wonders of the Golden Circle sightseeing route. Your Iceland car rental can easily bring you to this zone for a day trip or longer, depending on what you’d like to see.
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 roughly translates to “the Golden Falls”. This is due to the golden or yellowish color of its rapids when the sun hits the water on a bright, sunny day. Gullfoss waterfall in Iceland also has another unique characteristic in addition to its unusual hue. While most cascades careen over a cliff's edge and down into the river, these particular falls don’t do that. Something that makes Gullfoss unique is that there are not one but two drops. Most waterfalls only have one, so it’s interesting to see the geological features that create a double drop. The first one falls a short distance and then curves around to eventually fall into the crevice leading to the Hvítá River canyon below.
A glimmering rainbow is visible in the spray on sunny days, and it makes for beautiful views and photos. It becomes even more magical in the wintertime. The falls have the icy appearance of being stopped in suspended animation. Gullfoss is a stunningly gorgeous frozen waterfall in Iceland. When temperatures have been low enough for a few weeks, the cascade is transformed from its summertime appearance to something that resembles arching icicles.
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 hire a private taxi. There’s also the option of an Iceland rental car to explore the national park, waterfall, geysers, and other things to do along the circuit. 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. In fact, the word “geyser” in English originated from the name geyser named Geysir in Iceland. Seeing that boiling hot water shoot up into the air is extremely exciting.
If you’re coming from Reykjavik, 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” of the oval, which also takes you past Thingvellir National Park and the Haukadalur geysers. Then on your way back, you swing around the bottom of the oval to visit the other Golden Circle highlights on your way back to Reykjavik. To do this, 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.
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 roads require a 4WD vehicle and are clearly marked as F225, F26, etc. They are closed most of the year.
For the return to Reykjavik, you can take Route 30 and Route 1 if you plan on visiting other parts of the Golden Circle like Sólheimar Eco Village or the Kerid Crater. These are also not F-roads.
As an iconic Iceland waterfall, Gullfoss should definitely be on your list of things to do in Iceland. Whether you’ve got only 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. Check out our selection of vehicles that are perfect for your day trip or your entire Iceland trip.