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Gullfoss (Iceland)

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A waterfall located in the canyon of Hvítá river in southwest Iceland.

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      20.05.2013 22:55
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      An awesome natural sight in Iceland

      The population of Iceland is about 300,000. This remote island in the North Atlantic attracts about double that number in tourists and most of them visit Gullfoss. This magnificent waterfall is one of the sights visited on the famous Golden Circle tour which is offered by most of the tour companies on the island. When you travel outside of Reykjavik the majority of vehicles on the road are tour coaches and minibuses so you might understandably expect that these natural attractions are going to be besieged by tourists but, at least when we visited on a freezing Sunday afternoon in April, ours was the only bus at the visitor centre at that time.

      While it's possible to hire a car in Iceland, most visitors use organised excursions to see the sights outside the capital. There are all kinds of options and too many to list them all here. Using public transport to get to Gullfoss is not really an option.

      Coaches pull in at the purpose built visitor centre, a modern building but one that has been designed to have as little impact as possible on the environment. You'll find a gift shop, a café-restaurant, and some super clean loos.

      It's a short walk from the visitor centre to the nearest viewpoint. You're quite high up here so it does get very cold, even in 'summer' and very windy; warm clothes are advisable, especially a hat (I had neglected to bring one and regretted it each time my hood was blown off and my ears were assailed by the bitter winds). Sturdy shoes are also advisable, particularly if you want to get closer to the waterfall because the wooden steps can be wet and slippery.

      Gullfoss gets its name because on sunny days the water cascading over the stepped falls looks golden in colour. Actually it's a murky brown colour because the river which is carried over the falls, the Hvita, originates from a glacier and contains a lot of the natural sediments which are thrown up and carried along by a glacier as it rasps along its bed. When we visited, however, the water crashing over the falls was pure white, a torrent of angry water crashing over the cliffs, the spray freezing on the sides of the canyon.

      The canyon is 32 metres deep and the water falls down three steps and then plunges dramatically two stages; you get very different views of the way the water drops down as you change viewpoint. From a distance it looks as if the Hvita has vanished; it's not until you move round and position yourself in front of the falls that you see how it drops into the crevice.

      We walked about two thirds of the way from the visitor centre to the falls but we didn't feel we had sufficient time to go right to the falls and get back to the coach. On a warmer day I would have done but our progress was hampered by doing battle with the strong winds. If you are particularly keen to get right to the top of the falls (and you can get very close) you should check which tours give you the most time at Gullfoss.

      In the first half of the twentieth century the waterfall was jointly owned by Tomas Tomasson and Halldor Halldorsson; they rented it to foreign businessmen who eventually came up with a plan to harness the potential of the falls to generate electricity. There's a popular story that Tomasson's daughter Sigridur was so against the idea that she threatened to throw herself over the falls if it was allowed to happen. The truth is that the foreigners were unable to raise sufficient funds for the project so it was abandoned.
      One good thing came out of the whole affair, regardless of whether it was really Sigridur's dramatic threats that thwarted the project; Gullfoss was taken into state ownership and remains the property of the Republic of Iceland and enjoys special protection.

      A plaque bearing a profile image of Sigridur Tomasdottir stands at the bottom of the stairs near the visitors' centre.

      Most of our group sought sanctuary in the café-restaurant at the visitors' centre. You can get a warming bowl of soup, hot or cold sandwiches, a variety of cakes and other sweet items, fruit and hot and cold drinks. The prices were quite reasonable which I found surprising as I'd have expected to have paid through the nose at this remote location.

      Although you can't actually see Gullfoss, the building has been designed to make the most of the views of the surrounding countryside and we found it rather enjoyable to sit with a hot chocolate watching the wind blow a gale outside.

      The gift shop is extensive and carries all manner of authentic locally made items such as knitwear and other handcrafted items, as well things like t-shirts, key-rings and other novelty items. You can also pick up hats, scarves and other cold weather gear if you have been persuaded that you don't really come out dressed for the occasion.

      If you've booked for the Golden Circle tour then you're going to Gullfoss whether you want to or not. Even if you don't want to walk all the way to the falls I would recommend you try to catch at least two of the viewpoints as the differing aspects are really quite remarkable.

      Visiting Gullfoss can be quite exhausting because of the wind but there's also something energising about these magnificent falls that has you coming away feeling invigorated and somehow refreshed. I wouldn't have missed it for anything.

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        14.08.2011 14:54
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        For me, a fantastic experience

        Gullfoss is a waterfall in south west Iceland not far from the capital, Reykjavik. It is a popular destination for tourists, as it is part of the Golden Circle tour. Gullfoss (the name means golden falls) is a fall on the Hvita River. In the 20th century there was some speculation that the waterfall might be used to generate electricity, but this was strongly opposed by Sigridur Tomasdottir, the daughter of one of the owners. Today, the waterfall remains preserved in its natural state.

        On the day I visited Gullfoss, the bus pulled up in a car park which also contained several other buses - clearly the place is popular. It was a cold and windy day, but dying to see the waterfall, everyone on the bus tumbled out and headed down to the viewing area. Gullfoss is an impressive two-tier waterfall, which isn't something I'd ever seen before. The water rushes over one tier and turns at an angle before tumbling down another and rushing down a gully. As you approach it you can't see the river - it looks like the waterfall is simply rushing into the earth.

        This view was suitably awe-inspiring but I had an urge to get closer. I could see that there were several people standing on a stretch of rock right next to the waterfall so I headed back, down some wooden steps and along a rocky path right up to the waterfall. Luckily I was wearing my Dr Martens which enabled me to keep my footing despite the ice which was still on the path. I was able to climb onto the rock right beside the waterfall and it was amazing to see the power of the waterfall close up.

        I do recommend Gullfoss as it was really impressive and different. It's not supposed to be as good as Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe (in north east Iceland), but this one is much easier to reach from Reykjavik! Anyone can go to see the waterfall but if you're going to go close up you really need to be wearing suitable footwear and have no mobility problems. I did see several children by the waterfall, supervised closely by adults.

        The Golden Circle tour can be booked in several ways both before you go to Iceland and after you arrive. I booked mine online at www.icelandair.co.uk as part of a package including my flights and hotel, for a cost of around £55. As part of the tour I was picked up and dropped off from my hotel so the whole procedure was very easy. Gullfoss was the first major stop on a tour that also included the geyser area and the Thingvellir National Park.

        It would also be possible to hire a car and visit Gullfoss yourself, however you'd need to be a confident driver and to know where you were going! For most people booking onto a tour would be the easiest way to see the waterfall.

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          22.04.2009 20:07
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          My least favourite of the big 3 waterfalls in Iceland

          Gulfoss, translating to "Gold Falls" is a watefall in South Western Iceland, located relatively close to Reykjavik, it is a regular haunt for tourists due to its convenient location and the fact that it is within a short distance of two further sights - Geysir and Pingvellir National Park.

          It was the 3rd major waterfalls that I saw in Iceland and it didn't have the sheer power of Dettifoss nor the spectacular romance of Godafoss. I think that what let it down was the amount of tourists hanging around - due to its accesibility there are loads of coaches and therefore you are not left alone with it like the other two great natural wonders. It's still a fairly big waterfall and you will find it impressive, particularly if you come from a place lacking in waterfalls.

          Another thing that lets it down is the distance in which you must stand away from the waterfall, this seems a little further than the other two. On the other hand, due to its popularity it has facilities which the other ones don't offer, there's an information centre and shop where you can buy some supplies (which we certainly did having endured the long bumpy ride over the Kjolur from Akureyri - not the normal way to get there!)

          Whilst there are books for sale, there's also some handy information leaflets for free - detailing the history of the waterfall and telling the interesting story of Sigrídur Tomasdottir trying to protect the waterfall (it was on her family's land before finally being gifted to the Icelandic government) from being used to generate electricity and being preserve in its natural form.The road from Reykjavik is about as pleasant as you will get in Iceland and this along with visits to Geysir and Pingvellir are still very much worth it.

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        A waterfall located in the canyon of Hvítá river in southwest Iceland.