Gulfoss: Must-Know Things & FAQ Before Visiting Gullfoss Waterfall in Iceland

Author: Elizabeth Nelson

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lush green gullfoss waterfalls in iceland

Gulfoss is one of Iceland’s most iconic waterfalls, and for a good reason – it’s stunning!

Before you visit Gulfoss, there are a few things you should know. This blog post covers everything from the best time to visit Gulfoss to what to wear when exploring this natural wonder. I’ve also included some history, folklore, tips, and more inside knowledge from my visit there, including other hidden waterfalls nearby and the local Airbnb guesthouse. By the end of this post, you’ll be fully prepared to make the most out of your trip to Gullfoss Waterfall.

Table of Contents:

late fall overhead view of gullfoss with NO tourists in sight

late fall overhead view of gullfoss with NO tourists in sight

Our Entire Iceland Trip – And no, it’s not the typical Golden Circle or Ring Road Route.

Want to read about and see our adventures in Iceland including snowmobile adventures, glacier lagoons, and glacier hiking and ice climbing, more clifftop cascades, and other hidden gems in Iceland?

We hired a 4×4 rental car and I created my very own custom adventure sightseeing route. It was, of course, without some adventurous mishaps (and a whitewater rescue team), but I’m so glad I didn’t stick to the generic Golden Circle or Ring Road route.

Check out this full article on our website.

What’s nearby Gullfoss?

We really enjoyed checking out the Faxi waterfall. You can read more about our other adventures on our full Iceland blog here.

view from the side of gullfoss waterfall lookout

view from the side of gullfoss waterfall lookout

Gullfoss Waterfall Is Only 1.5 Hours From Reykjavik On The Golden Circle

Gullfoss Waterfall is a popular attraction in Iceland because of its proximity to Reykjavik and its stunning beauty. Located just 1 hour and 31 minutes from Reykjavik, it is easily accessible and can be explored on a self-drive or day tour. It is located on Iceland’s Golden Circle Drive, which takes travelers through the continental divide at Þingvellir national park, Gullfoss and then the Geysir area of geothermal activity.

The roads in Iceland that lead to Gullfoss Waterfall are in very good condition, making it easy for visitors to get there safely, even if they are not accustomed to driving on the “right” side of the road or if they are visiting Iceland in winter and are not used to driving in snow and ice.

For those wanting an adventure, there is an option to combine their trip to Gullfoss with a monster truck, and snowmobile tours experience on the Langjökull glacier.

You can read about our experience on our snowmobile tour here.

With so many options to explore Gullfoss, it is no wonder it is a popular attraction in Iceland.

sunset view of gullfoss from above the trail

sunset view of gullfoss from above the trail

Visiting Gullfoss Is Unique Because You View The Waterfall From Above Instead Of Below

Visiting Gullfoss is distinct from visiting other popular waterfalls in Iceland, such as Skaftafell and Skogafoss, as it is the only waterfall where you view it from above. From the edge of the ravine, you can observe the 11m (36 ft) and 21m (69 ft) cascades dropping into the 2.5 km (1.6 mi) long crevasse below, creating a spectacular sight.

The view is even more spectacular in winter when the waterfall freezes over into undulating waves of glistening ice. Unlike other falls, the mist from Gullfoss does not reach far so that you won’t get SUPER wet from the waterfall spray.

gullfoss in the icy winter landscape

gullfoss in the icy winter landscape

Gullfoss Iceland is open year-round, but some viewpoints aren’t always accessible.

Yes, Gullfoss Iceland is open year-round. Roads leading to Gullfoss are well-maintained and make it easy to visit no matter the season. The upper viewing platform is open year-round, allowing visitors to admire the mist-cloaked cascade and see the snow-dappled peaks to the north. However, the lower viewing area is closed in winter due to slippery and icy conditions.

The last viewpoint directly on top of Gullfoss Waterfall is also closed during the winter. Visitors can still get some nice views from the earlier viewpoints, and the trail that leads down to an overlook is typically closed during the winter due to icy conditions.

Using the restroom at Gullfoss waterfall costs money, but there’s a way around that.

Visiting Gullfoss Waterfall in Iceland is free, but you may be surprised to learn that using the bathroom facilities can cost money. The restroom facilities in the Gullfoss Visitor Center’s parking lot are modern and clean, but they charge a small fee. Thankfully, there is a hack to save money on restroom use at Gullfoss Waterfall, and it’s free!

All you have to do is go inside the Gullfoss Visitor Center, where you will find a warm and free restroom. There is a shop and lunch café-style restaurant inside, so you may want to bring some money. But overall, you can use the restroom for free if you go inside the Gullfoss Visitor Center instead of using the outdoor facility.

gullfoss fall waterfall lookout

gullfoss fall waterfall lookout

Gullfoss translates to “Golden Falls,” and your GPS might want you to use that search term instead.

The literal translation of Gullfoss is “Golden Falls” due to its majestic sight of the rushing water resembling a golden waterfall when the sun reflects off it. This name is based off the Icelandic words “Gull”, meaning golden, and “Foss”, meaning falls or waterfall.

The golden hue of the water is the most commonly accepted reason for Gullfoss being named “Golden Falls”.

Another explanation behind the name is an old story featuring a farmer called Gýgur, who is said to have thrown his hoarded treasure in the waterfall to prevent anyone from possessing it after he had died.

Additionally, it is also possible that the name Gullfoss derived from the rainbows that form in the water mist on sunny days, in keeping with the old Celtic belief that there is a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow.

Ultimately, whatever the story is, Gullfoss has been made iconic by Iceland and is part of the popular Golden Circle route due to its golden hue and majestic sight.

above view of gullfoss in the icy wintertime

Gulfoss, or Golden Falls, is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland due to its impressive double-tiered waterfall plunging 105 feet (31 meters). Geologists believe it was formed at the end of the last age, around 5,000 years ago, when run-off from Iceland’s second-largest glacier, Langjokull, flooded the landscape and created the river Hvita (from glacier melt) that tumbles into the ravine and created this waterfall. Gullfoss remained untouched for centuries until the early 20th century when an English businessman attempted to harness the waterfall’s power for a hydroelectric power plant. Fortunately, a legal battle led by the farm owner’s daughter, Sigríður Tómasdóttir, resulted in the lease being ended in 1929 and the waterfall being protected from exploitation. Today, Gulfoss is a popular tourist attraction, with guided tours available to explore the spectacular views and its history and cultural significance.

Gulfoss Safety and Security

When visiting Gulfoss, various safety and security considerations should be considered. For starters, visitors should be aware of the potential danger of slippery surfaces due to the presence of water. It is recommended that visitors wear sturdy and waterproof shoes to avoid slipping. Additionally, visitors should be aware of the strong current of the waterfall. Visitors should not attempt to swim or stand too close to the edge.

Visitors should be aware of the large number of tourists that visit the waterfall and should always pay attention to their belongings. Pick-pocketing can be a problem in crowded areas, so visitors should carry small bags or purses that can be kept close.

The Hotel Gullfoss is located just 3km away from the waterfall and offers a safe and secure place to stay. The establishment offers comfortable rooms, an in-house restaurant, and a hot tub to provide a relaxing atmosphere. The hotel is located 90 minutes away from the capital Reykjavik and is surrounded by other magnificent destinations nearby.

Gulfoss Accessibility and the Carpark

The accessibility considerations for visiting Gullfoss are that it is easily accessible with an easy walking path, making it family-friendly and generally safe. It is recommended to hold your children’s hand when exploring the area. Gullfoss can be viewed from many angles on the trail, with two main viewpoints being the lower and higher perspectives. The lower viewpoint will take you along the edge of the canyon walls to a position between the two tiers of falls, while the higher viewpoint right above, the lower, but on the upper ridgeline of the canyon. The drive from Reykjavik will be around 1 hour and 42 mins, with the route Google Maps offers being part of the Golden Circle route. There are a few free parking options at Gullfoss and Hotel Gullfoss is just ~3 km away.

Gulfoss Weather Conditions

The weather conditions at Gullfoss can vary greatly depending on the time of year you visit. In the summertime, the sun’s reflection and larger volume of water create a majestic appearance. During wintertime, the waterfall is framed by snow, ice, cold temperatures, and possibly blizzards, making it a beautiful (but sometimes freezing) sight. Be sure to dress appropriately for the season – in summer you should have a waterproof jacket and good walking shoes. In winter, you should dress in layers as the air temperature can drop significantly, especially with the strong winds common to Iceland’s winters.

Gulfoss Viewing Spot

Visitors to Gullfoss can enjoy the views from the main falls and its two main viewpoints. Visitors can take a short, paved track to the main viewing point from the car park to admire the falls. Those who wish for a longer walk can explore the viewing points of the upper and lower falls and follow the 2.1 miles of trails that weave in and out past the various stages of the waterfall, along with the surrounding scenery. Gullfoss Cafe is also nearby, offering refreshments and snacks. Visitors should know that the path can be slippery in winter, so sturdy shoes are advised.

Gulfoss Parking

The parking options at Gulfoss are free of charge – a lower and an upper parking lot is located just before the area. The upper parking lot has a WC, a café, and a souvenir shop. Visitors can also take advantage of free parking at Hotel Gullfoss, just 3 km away. If you don’t want to drive by yourself, you can join one of our Golden Circle tours and leave all the planning to us.

Safety precautions at the thundering falls

When visiting Gullfoss Waterfall in Iceland, safety should be a top priority. Here are some safety precautions to take:

  • Check the weather before visiting, and be aware of inclement weather or icy conditions.
  • Wear appropriate clothing for the conditions, including crampons for icy conditions.
  • Stay on the paths and platforms provided at the Gullfoss Visitor Centre for the safest views.
  • Avoid the gates leading to the pathway that brings you right next to Gullfoss Waterfall Iceland; these are closed during icy conditions or inclement weather for your safety.
  • Do not attempt to climb down the stairs to the lower viewpoint during winter, as they can be very icy and slippery.
  • Stay alert and be aware of your surroundings.
  • If traveling in a group, ensure everyone is accounted for and sticks together.

Visiting Gulfoss is free of charge, and you don’t need to purchase a ticket. However, if you plan to eat at the café in the area or buy souvenirs from the shop, you will need to bring some money with you.

Additionally, outdoor restroom facilities require money (not the best restroom experience, but it’s common in Europe), and many people don’t know that until it is too late. However, you can save money using the free restroom at the Gullfoss Visitor Center. Hotel Gullfoss offers comfortable rooms, an in-house restaurant, and a hot tub if you want to stay overnight.

The Best Time of Year to See Gulfoss

The best time of year to visit Gullfoss Waterfall in Iceland depends on what type of experience you are looking for.

In the summer, the cascade is mightier as more water tumbles over the rocks and into the ravine, creating a beautiful backdrop of green moss and wildflowers. Summer in Iceland is also the time to experience the midnight sun and the balmiest weather.

Winter Viewing of Gullfoss

On the other hand, winter can be just as dramatic at Gullfoss as the landscape around it is frozen, and icicles dangle from the rocks. Iceland in winter is also a sight to behold as the landscape changes to snow-covered and ethereal. However, if you visit Gullfoss in winter, make sure to wrap up warm and take caution as the paths might be slippery.

Ultimately, the best time to visit Gullfoss depends on the type of experience you are looking for and what you want to take away from your visit.

How long do you need at Gullfoss waterfall?

How much time do you need at Gullfoss waterfall? It depends on your preference and what you’d like to do. If you only want to take a few pictures and enjoy the scenery, then you can spend as little as half an hour at Gullfoss. However, if you want to explore the upper and lower viewing points, walk the 2.1 miles of pathways, and stop in the café for a bite to eat, you’ll want to allow an hour or even an hour and a half.

Tips For Photographing Gullfoss Waterfall

When photographing Gullfoss Waterfall, it is best to visit during sunrise or sunset for optimal lighting. However, if the weather is cloudy or moody, you can photograph the waterfall at any time for a very emotional photo.

It is recommended to bring a reliable tripod for long-exposure images and for stability.

Photography Locations

At the waterfall, there are multiple viewpoints that you can photograph from. The visitor center provides a great view of the waterfall; if you walk down the stairs, you can find a lower version of the same view. In the warmer months, you can walk to a viewpoint that puts you on top of the waterfall. Additionally, staying on the approved trails and walkways is essential, and dress appropriately to enjoy your visit safely.

Gulfoss Accommodations

We stayed at this Guesthouse.

Accommodation near Gulfoss includes hotels, hostels, guesthouses, cabins and cottages, and camping options.

Hotel Gullfoss, the closest accommodation to the waterfall, features comfortable rooms, an in-house restaurant, and a hot tub.

Litli Geysir Hotel is 200 meters from Geysir Geothermal Area and has an excellent in-house restaurant and free parking lot.

Gljásteinn Skálinn Hostel provides huts and cabins for rent around the waterfall, perfect for group travelers.

Jaðar – The Old House is a cozy holiday home 20 minutes away from Gullfoss and has a garden and terrace.

Geysir Hestar is a horse farm located 7 minutes away that offers accommodation, a garden, and horse riding tours.

Vað Holiday Home has a kitchen, dining area, and private bathroom 10 minutes from Gullfoss.

Geysir Cottage is a mountain view option with private bathrooms, 10 minutes from the waterfall.

Finally, Skjól Campgrounds is the closest campground to the falls, located 6 km away with a hostel, cafe, and standard camping facilities.

Gullfoss Camping

The camping options at Gullfoss are varied and plentiful. The closest campground to the falls is Skjól Campgrounds, located between Gullfoss and Geysir, only 6 km away. Here you’ll find a hostel, a cafe, and all the standard camping facilities.

Another great option is Camping Geysir, located within a short walk from the Great Geysir, with standard camping ground facilities, including showers, toilets, and a kids’ playground. Lastly, Camping Fludir is located in the village of Fludir, one of the largest camping sites in Iceland. It has toilets, hot showers, a self-serve laundry room, a football field, and a kids’ playground.

Where to stay near Gullfoss?

Staying near Gullfoss Waterfall in Iceland is an incredible experience and offers a variety of accommodation options. There’s something for everyone from hotels to guesthouses, cabins and cottages, and camping grounds. Hotel Gullfoss, located only three minutes from the waterfall, is a great choice, with an in-house restaurant serving traditional Icelandic dishes and a hot tub.

Litli Geysir Hotel is another option, located only 200 meters from Geysir Geothermal Area and offering an in-house restaurant and free parking lot. For those looking for a budget option, there are also hostels and campgrounds, such as Gljásteinn Skálinn Hostel and Skjól Campgrounds, located within a short drive from Gullfoss.

We packed all of our own food and made sandwiches for the whole trip. But if you’re less bougie than we are ;), here are some tips.

You’re in luck if you’re looking for a delicious meal near Gullfoss Waterfall in Iceland. Gullfoss Cafe, located by the upper parking lot, is open all year round and serves traditional lamb soup, sandwiches, and salads. Geysir Center is another great option, located about 10 minutes from Gullfoss and offering a variety of Icelandic and international dishes.

Another popular spot is Friðheimar Tomato Farm, located ~30 minutes from Gullfoss. This family-run restaurant offers unique food experiences, such as a daily lunch in the greenhouse surrounded by plants. Just 3 km away, Hotel Gullfoss is also an attractive option. The hotel has an in-house restaurant serving traditional Icelandic dishes, comfortable rooms, and a hot tub.

Do you get wet at Gullfoss waterfall?

Do you get wet at Gullfoss waterfall? Unlike Iceland’s other popular waterfalls, Gullfoss tumbles into a ravine, and you view the falls from above rather than looking at them from below. You are unlikely to get wet from the water spray, as the mist from the falls generally dissipates before reaching the platform. However, if you visit in the summer months, you may get wet from the mist if you stand close to the edge. In winter, there is a greater chance of getting wet due to the snow and ice, so it is best to dress appropriately and bring a waterproof jacket and hood.

The visitor center at Gullfoss is a great place to visit for all travelers, especially those interested in learning more about the history and culture of the area. Located adjacent to the upper parking lot, the center offers a range of traditional and international dishes, souvenirs, and educational materials that provide insight into Gullfoss’s natural and historic beauty.

At the visitor center, travelers can browse a variety of educational materials, including maps, brochures, and books about the area. They can also learn about the land’s geology and the cultural heritage of the people who have inhabited it for centuries. Additionally, visitors can visit the shop to purchase souvenirs such as Icelandic knitwear and outdoor gear.

The visitor center is also home to an on-site cafe, offering local delicacies and refreshments, including hot soups, sandwiches, salads, and cakes. Visitors can also enjoy the views of Gullfoss from the cafe. Additionally, the Geysir Center, located about 10 minutes away, has five restaurants where travelers can enjoy Icelandic and international dishes. Friðheimar Tomato Farm, located 30 minutes away, offers unique food experiences, including a daily lunch in the greenhouse surrounded by plants.

In summary, the visitor center at Gullfoss provides an ideal opportunity to learn more about the area and its history while enjoying local delicacies and purchasing souvenirs. It is a great way to get a better insight into the culture and nature of the Icelandic countryside.

Facts about Gullfoss Waterfall

Gullfoss Waterfall in Iceland is one of the most popular tourist attractions. It is located on the Hvítá River and is part of the Golden Circle. The waterfall is 32 meters (105 feet) high and comprises two spectacular tiered waterfalls. The first waterfall plunges 36 feet (11 meters) from the Hvítá River before falling again and the second waterfall is 69 feet (20 meters) tall, making the total height of the canyon 105 feet, or 31 meters.

The average amount of water running down the waterfall is 141 cubic meters (5,000 cu ft) per second in the summer and 80 cubic meters (2,800 cu ft) per second in the winter. The highest flood measured was 2,000 cubic meters (71,000 cu ft) per second.

It was practically impossible to access Gullfoss before 1875, but at the end of the 19th century, Icelandic environmentalist Sigrídur Tómasdóttir and her sisters built the first footpath down to the waterfall. A stone memorial to Sigriður, located above the falls, depicts her profile.

Before planning your trip, check out our Gullfoss travel guide for helpful information and tips for an enjoyable experience. The waterfall was later sold to the state of Iceland and is now protected.

How deep is the crevice that Gullfoss plunges into?

The crevice into which Gullfoss plunges is 32 meters (105 ft) deep.

The name “Gullfoss” and the Waterfall Story

Gullfoss is a popular waterfall among tourists in Iceland due to its translation of ‘golden falls’ and its unique beauty when the sun hits its spray.

There are two theories as to why it was given this name; one legend suggests that a Viking threw his hoarded treasure into the pool at the base of the waterfall to keep it away from others, while another suggests that it was named after the rainbows that form in the water mist on sunny days.

The water also has a golden-brown tint due to the sediment it carries from the glacial valley. Regardless of the reason, Gullfoss is a must-see destination on the popular Golden Circle route due to its stunning display of thundering waterfalls cascading against the mossy greenery and cliff-top cascades tumbling into the sea.

Sigríður Tómasdóttir, the daughter of the landowner of Gullfoss, Tomas Tomasson, took legal action against foreign investors and also led protests to save the falls. She traveled to Reykjavik on foot and even threatened to throw herself into the waterfall. Sigríður eventually lost the legal battle, but her persistence and courage earned her public favor. Foreign investors’ plans to dam the Hvítá River for a hydroelectric power project fell through due to the lack of money. The waterfall was donated to the nation and remains a protected area and nature reserve today.

Visitors can find a stone memorial to Sigríður near the base of the staircase that leads to the upper level of the falls. The area around the Gullfoss Waterfall is regularly monitored and maintained to ensure its continued beauty and safety.

Gulfoss Activities

At Gullfoss, visitors can enjoy the stunning views from the Gullfoss Cafe, explore the Geysir Center (and Strokkur Geyser) and the Friðheimar Tomato Farm, visit the Northern Lights, go horseback riding, take a hike, go glacier touring, and take a dip in the Secret Lagoon natural bath. Gullfoss is also the central stop along the popular Golden Circle Route, located only 1.5 hours from Reykjavik and about 107km (66 miles) away.

Gulfoss Hikes

The hike options at Gullfoss include a 1.2 mi leisurely walking path around the waterfall and its facilities. This path takes you between the two tiers of falls and up to the upper ridgeline of the canyon for a higher viewpoint. The area is family-friendly and safe, but keeping a hold of your children’s hands is recommended. There is also a 1.9 km trail featuring a mighty waterfall which can be explored for about 2 hours. Furthermore, there is a 2.1-mile trail with viewing points of the upper and lower falls which would take around half an hour to explore. Before 1875, it was practically impossible to access Gullfoss, but an easy walking path was built in the late 19th century.

Gulfoss Wildlife

When visiting Gullfoss Waterfall, visitors should be aware of the local wildlife in the area. Along the trails, you may encounter various species of birds, reindeer, Arctic foxes, and the Arctic hare.

Gulfoss Swimming

Swimming at Gullfoss is not allowed (and not recommended) due to the strong currents and the danger of being swept away. The mighty waterfall is located 1.9 km from the trailhead and tumbles down rocky crevices into a ravine, creating a roar as it cascades down. The area surrounding waterfall is surrounded by cliffs that block the view of the falls from afar.

þingvellir national park

All these places are within 90 minutes of driving east of the capital Reykjavik and on the popular and fantastic Golden Circle Route, located between Gullfoss, Thingvellir, Fridheimar Greenhouse tour, and Geysir.

gullfoss waterfalls in iceland from above with drone

gullfoss waterfalls in iceland from above with drone

Gullfoss is undoubtedly one of Iceland’s most popular waterfalls (even featured on Land Ho!)

The picturesque landscape here is unforgettable, with tall cliffs, lush greenery, and a rainbow that forms over the falls on sunny days. Gullfoss is truly a sight to behold and one of Iceland’s must-see waterfalls, making it a beautiful and unique destination.

gullfoss in the winter

gullfoss in the winter

Is Iceland Gullfoss worth it? Yes!

Gullfoss waterfall is a must-see in Iceland. Located near the town of Hvítárvatn, Gullfoss Waterfall is one of Iceland’s most popular tourist destinations. If you’re planning a trip to Iceland, add this waterfall to your list. Not only is it gorgeous, but the waterfalls are also known for their deafening sound – making it an unforgettable experience. We hope you enjoyed this article on our website :)