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Laugarvatn means a "lake for bathing." The lake itself in southwest Iceland is only two square km in size and quite shallow. But, the lake bottom is riddled with hot springs making it suitable for bathing throughout the year. Curiously enough these qualities didn't attract people to settle in the area. For centuries, only farmland and moors surrounded the lake, until 1928 when a boarding school was built at Laugarvatn. Soon a small village developed. Realizing the lake's potential the newcomers built a small sauna-hut on the lakeshore. It became increasingly popular amongst the Icelanders and Laugarvatn developed into the number one summer holiday destination on the island. So much so, that a permanent caravan site developed on the outskirts of the village.

Further schools were built in Laugarvatn: A college of further education and a school for homemakers. The latter was shut down late last century and its buildings sold to the University of Iceland. It now houses the Sport and Health Science faculty.

Laugarvatn is a great place to take a break and relax when traveling around Iceland. It has an excellent swimming pool with a very good sauna. You will find hotels and guesthouses, restaurants and a grocery shop, cafés, and handicraft shops, as well as a great camping site.

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Below is the location of Laugarvatn on the map of Iceland

Laugarvatn means a "lake for bathing."

Gullfoss (The Golden Waterfall) in the river Hvítá is one of the best-known landmarks or national wonders in Iceland. There is no admission or entrance fee to view or walk around the Gullfoss waterfall, and parking at the parking lot is also free. Icelanders, being keen travelers themselves, will insist it is the most beautiful waterfall in the world. That is, of course, debatable but beautiful it is and has made it to many lists of the most beautiful waterfalls on the planet. Although, in essence, a flow of water is a mighty natural wonder made up of many geological ingredients.

Gullfoss waterfall in Iceland

Gullfoss waterfall is often on the list of 10 most interesting waterfalls on the planet

The waterfall, origin, and geology

The river Hvítá that feeds the waterfall has many sources that spread out in the Highland like a large tree with many branches. It is mainly a glacial river but also has its origin is spring-fed streams north of the waterfall. One of the primary sources is in Hvítárvatn lake, a glacier lagoon, by the Langjökull glacier in the Icelandic Highland. From the lake, the river rushes 40 km through the Highland before cascading into a two-step gorge that makes up the base of the spectacular Gullfoss waterfall.  The above step facing south being 11 m high and the other level facing west 22 m high. The gorge below the cascades that the river has carved out throughout thousands of years called Hvítárgljúfur is about 40 to 50 meters deep and around 4 kilometers long. All things that contribute to the spectacular natural wonder we call Gullfoss waterfall.

Gullfoss waterfall in spring

Gullfoss waterfall in springtime

The force and flow of the water

Even though Gullfoss is always a powerful sight with a massive flood of water as the mighty river Hvítá falls down to the gorge, there is a massive difference in the volume deepening on the time of year. The average flow is about 110 cubic meters per. Second. In its most aggressive mode during spring, the river can twentyfold, and the flow becomes around 1800 to 2000 cubic meters. Occasionally the current increases to a point where the lower waterfall disappears as the water fills the gorge. So very much like many other natural wonders in Iceland Gullfoss waterfall is not static but an ever-changing phenomenon.

The volume of the waterfall at Gullfoss can vary 20 fold between seasons

The volume of the waterfall at Gullfoss can vary 20 fold between seasons 

Service by the tourist attraction

Even as early as the late 19th century, Gullfoss became a tourist attraction. Possibly one of the first natural wonders that visitors had to see and experience. Explorers that came to Iceland usually advertised the waterfall as one of the most exciting places to visit in Iceland. So Gullfoss early became one of our main attractions. It wasn’t until the last two decades that the number of visitors explodes. Accordingly, Icelanders and people responsible for the region around the waterfall developed the area for both service and safety. Today the area around Gullfoss is in good condition to accept thousands of visitors every day. There are good food and restroom service. The paths are great for viewing both at the upper and lower level.

Like many places in Iceland Gullfoss has its folklore

Upriver from Gullfoss, you’ll find beautiful and dangerous rapids that only the foolhardy will try to cross. And some have. One of them was a young man who was overseeing his father’s livestock on the river’s west bank. On the opposite side, a young woman had the same duty to her family. By and by, they started communicating by shouting to each other over the water’s cacophony. As fate would have it, they fell in love, and the young man shouted a proposal across the river. The young woman accepted on one condition: that he crosses the river to seal their engagement. That he did, and they lived happily ever after.

Gullfoss waterfall

The lower part and the canyon grabbing the Hvítá river as it travels farther to the shoreline

History: The farmer’s daughter that saved the waterfall

In the early 20th century interest in producing electricity increase as Iceland had many rivers and waterfalls. A farmer who held the Hvítá water rights contracted Gullfoss to an English firm with a plan to build a hydroelectric power station. The farmer’s daughter, Sigríður Tómasdóttir, became so incensed that she threatened to throw herself into the falls if her father didn’t withdraw the contract. She fought this impending disaster alone until a young lawyer – who later became Iceland’s first president – joined her. Together they managed to save the waterfalls. In 1978, the farmer’s daughter was commemorated by a monument by her much beloved Gullfoss.

Hvítárgljúfur that the river craved out over a period of thousands of years

Hvítárgljúfur that the river craved out over a period of thousands of years

Photographing Gullfoss

Most visitors find it sufficient to take a selfie on either the upper or lower level or the lower level of Gullfoss. The two most common viewing points. Many visitors also take photos from the path that stretches from the lower level to the small cliff west of the upper waterfall. This part is usually closed during winter and should not be used when closed signs are up. The variables that define Gullfoss, on the other hand, are many and of great interest to serious photographers. We have mentioned the volume of water that varies between seasons, winter season is also impressive in itself when the waterfall is frozen. Even during summer, the long hours of sunlight define infinite possibilities to photograph this spectacular natural wonder. Not to mention the nights the northern lights come out.

Gullfoss waterfall

Gullfoss waterfall and the walking path towards the viewing panel near the waterfall

Access is easy and part of the popular route Golden Circle

As Gullfoss is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland and with Þingvellir and Geysir is part of the popular route Golden Circle. Gullfoss is usually quite crowded during high season in summer, at least during the day. There are two parking lots, and both give a good view of the waterfall.  Our preference for viewing is the lower parking lot. A great place to get good photos and probably the best angle for photography. Walking near this powerful waterfall requires caution, especially during winter when the walking paths are slippery as well as the area near the waterfall. From Reykjavík, you drive to Mosfellsbær village on the Ring Road Nr. 1. When passed Mosfellsbær you turn east on Þingvallavegur Nr. 36 all the way to Lyngdalsheiðavegur Nr. 365 to the tiny village Laugarvatn. From Laugarvatn you take the road Nr. 37, Laugarvatnsvegur to Road Nr. 35 that will get you to Gullfoss waterfall.

Interested in waterfalls: Here you can book a guided tour with Hit Iceland to Gullfoss, the Golden Circle and six other waterfalls.

Golden Circle and the seven waterfslls

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Below is the location of Gullfoss waterfall on the map of Iceland

Gullfoss waterfall in summer - part of the Golden Circle Tour

 

At the edge of the Icelandic Highlands at the uppermost part of Þjórsárdalur valley, you will find one of the most beautiful small oasis in Iceland. There are actually many places you label as an oasis in Iceland and Gjáin is most definitely on of the most beautiful. One of the fascinating factors is the size.  Gjáin is a tiny valley with small picturesque waterfalls, clear, tranquil ponds and amazing delicate volcanic structures it is like a sample of the Icelandic nature. For visitors, it is almost surprising as it appears like from nowhere and only visible as you approach the edge of the tiny valley.  Even the lava in this area takes on beautiful form in Gjáin. You will find lava caves and a lot of basalt column as well as volcanic tuft.

A place to visit in summer

It is a beautiful place to visit but only from the beginning of June until the beginning of October.  Outside that time of year, it is either not accessible and filled with snow or simply not interesting due to dull colors and early spring water.  In summer, on the other hand, the small valley is covered with lush green grass and vegetation.  It is believed to have been the riverbed of the river Þjórsá in earlier days. Nowadays, it is Rauðá (the Red River) running through the valley, beautifully framed by stunning rock formations, displaying its beautiful waterfall, Gjárfoss.

In popular culture

In season 4 episode 5 in the Game of Thrones Arya Stark and her traveling "companion" Sandor Clegane (The Hound) come to a resting place and continue their ongoing dispute. Their resting place was filmed here in Gjáin in Iceland.

Gjain location

Gjáin's location is a mere 10-15 minutes hike from the Saga Age Farm at Stöng. It is a great addition when traveling the south countryside and visiting the waterfalls Háifoss and Hjálparfoss.  It is such beautiful, dream-like valley you'll expect to see elves and fairies playing along with the riverbanks. You might, as these tiny figures are known to reveal themselves to humans now and then. Whether you'll be able to spot them or not, you will most certainly feel the waterfall spirit as it is very powerful.

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Below is the location of Gjáin on the map of Iceland

Gjain is a beautiful place to visit but only from the beginning of June until the beginning of October

 

Fjaðrárgljúfur int the south region in Iceland is a 100 m deep and 2 km long spectacular canyon close to Kirkjubæjarklaustur. With steep palagonite walls, the river Fjaðrá snakes its way along the canyon from Geirlandshraun Mountain to the large Skaftá River.  The bedrock is mostly palagonite from the "cold" period of the Ice Age some two million years ago. Ever since the river has pottered about carving this beautiful canyon for everyone to admire.  The water level of the river is rather a low in current times and fed by a spring fed river.

A wonder world from above as well as from the river banks

Due to the water level, hikers can safely walk inside the canyon although having to do some wading now and then. It is a highly adventures hike, and the deeper into the canyon you walk, the more exotic it becomes. The deepest part of the canyon is truly a wonder world of water, cliffs, vegetation and adventures forms.  Most visitors prefer to walk along the hiking trail along the edge of the canyon to get the best of both worlds; being able to observe the fantastic rock formations in the canyon itself while enjoying the view mountain view from the top.  To spend a bit of time and do both is the best option and the most rewarding.

A natural wonder discovered by tourists

Although Fjaðrárgljúfur is only a short distance from the Ring Road Nr 1 in Iceland, it has never been particularly popular among Icelanders.  Most of the Icelanders traveling the Ring Road before the tourist explosion began skipped this magnificent natural wonder when driving the Ring Road.  It is one of the places tourists and visitors discovered and showed much more interest in than Icelanders ever did. When traveling the ring road in a rent a car or your vehicle you take a turn on the Ring Road Nr. 1 near Kirkjubæjarklaustur north to Road Nr. 206 and you only need to drive approximately 3 kilometers to reach the parking lot at Fjaðrárgljúfur.

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Below is the location of Fjaðrárgljúfur on the map of Iceland

Fjaðrárgljúfur, a 100 m deep and 2 km long canyon close to Kirkjubæjarklaustur.

 

Eyjafjallajokull glacier is probably Iceland's best-known glacier. One of the main reasons is the volcano buried under the ice cap that spreads some 100 square kilometers by the south shore.  Eyjafjallajokull glacier stands 1651 meters at its highest point, and the volcano has a crater of 3-4 km in diameter that opens towards the north. The volcano Eyjafjallajökull last erupted in 2010 grabbing the world's attention as it severely disturbed flight schedules in Europe and the northern hemisphere.  The mountain is in proximity to some of Iceland’s most impressive and beautiful natural wonders like Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss, and Þórsmörk.  The mountain's south face was once part of Iceland's Atlantic coastline, but across the millenniums the ocean has retreated as glacial rivers have carried billions of tons of sand to the shore, leaving sheer cliffs to display magnificent waterfalls.

Eyjafjallajokull is first and foremost a glacier

Although in its substance Eyjafjallajökull is a mountain and a volcano it is primarily a glacier.  It is the seventh largest glacier in Iceland and has been a spectacular white landmark by the south shore for centuries.  Even though the 2010 eruption caught much attention, the volcano is never viewed as one of Iceland’s main volcanoes. It is not likely to erupt anytime soon again.  The glacier has two spectacular outlet glaciers or glacier tongues, Gýgjökull and Steinholtsjökull.   Both are part of the fascinating north slopes of the glacier and part of the drive to the oasis Þórsmörk.  Gýgjökull is right below the crater and is where water and ice came with force into the river Markarfljót during the eruption.  The slopes are also packed with fascination wonders like waterfalls and mystical canyons.  From Seljalandsfoss all the way to Þórsmörk, a 30-kilometer drive, it is a world of history and landscape packed in one. 

Eyjafjallajökull during eruption in 2010

Eyjafjallajökull during eruption in 2010

Iceland's favorite hiking trail Fimmvörðuháls

Iceland's favorite hiking trail over the mountain pass Fimmvörðuháls leading into the lower part of the Highlands passes between Eyjafjallajökull glacier and Mýrdalsjökull glacier. One of the reasons for this popularity is the magnificent and unusual landscape along the way exposing new lava, beautiful mountains, ice, and highland vegetation.  It starts by Skógafoss just by the Ring Road and ends in the oasis Þórsmörk.  Today the track provides an excellent view of the new lava and both ice caps.  The trail was closed down for some time after the eruption but has been reopened much to the Icelander's joy.

Eyjafjallajokull eruption and airplane crash history

Although not a major player in the continuing history of eruptions in Iceland, Eyjafjallajokull had erupted on regular bases since settlement about twelve hundred years ago.  The volcano erupted in 920, around 1612, in 1823, and then again in 2010.  Eyjafjallajökull also seems to have a bit of a troubled history with aircraft. In 1952, a U.S. rescue plane, carrying five aboard, crashed into Eyjafjallajokull. One died instantly, but the other four survived only to perish on the vast glacier. Twelve years later one body was found and a ring from another. The glacier tongue delivered the last three bodies in 1966. Then, in 1966 an American couple crashed into the icecap and was instantly killed. When you drive the Ring Road in Iceland, you can not miss Eyjafjallajökull glacier or ice cap when you approach the magnificent waterfall Seljalandsfoss and continue the south coast.  It is quite visible less than an hour after you leave Reykjavik the capital of Iceland.

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Below is the location of Eyjafjallajökull on the map of Iceland

Iceland's best-known volcano nowadays is by far Eyjafjallajokull

 

Dyrhólaey is a naturally formed arch on the shoreline west of the tiny village of Vík on the south coast in Iceland. It is one of the main attractions on the South Shore Tours and one of the most impressive stops when driving the Ring Road in Iceland. The 120 m high basalt rock is a former volcanic island, formed in an eruption some one hundred thousand years ago. The raging Atlantic Ocean has shaped the cliffs since the Ice Age. The hole in the middle was carved out by the ocean digging out the weaker remaining rocks over a long period.  In addition to the arch, interesting stacks are standing tall just south of the Dyrhólaey cliffs.  All have names like Kvistdrangur, Mávadrangur, Kambur, and Háidrangur (56 meters high).  When you look at Háidrangur, you can picture when it was first climed in 1893 by a famous daredevil named Eldeyjar-Hjalti. His task was to put nails into the cliff to make it easier for others to climb and collect eggs.

Dyrhólaey island and arch

Observe the huge and aggressive ocean waves of the Atlantic Ocean

A rare natural wonder it is

The whole formation, the island, the black beach and rocky shoreline around the island, the stacks and the arch is a spectacular natural phenomenon.  Officially there are two ways to view Dyrhólaey: From the top by the parking area by the old lighthouse that was built in 1910 and renovated in 1927, and on the east side of the arch by the new service center and parking lot. Both offer great views, and if you have taken the time to visit Dyrhólaey you should stop by both of them.  From the lower level, you also have an excellent view to the famous Reynisfjara black beach east of Dyrhólaey.

Dyrhólaey is a nature reserve

Consequently, in addition to being a great natural wonder, Dyrhólaey is a beautiful location for birdwatching. Needless to say, there are of course infinitive photo opportunities by Dyrhólaey.  Not only from the top but also from both viewing panels.   In 1978 Dyrhólaey became a nature reserve as nature and birdlife during spring, and early summer is quite sensitive and requires monitoring. Keep in mind that the Dyrhólaey area is sometimes closed in May and early June. During late summer, autumn and winter the site is a spectacular place to observe the huge and aggressive ocean waves of the Atlantic Ocean.  The waves that are continually molding the south coast of Iceland.  But during storms and high tides, extreme caution is needed.

A view to the Reynisfjara beach

A view to the Reynisfjara beach

Caution is needed if you choose to walk the black beach

Some years ago, the black beach surrounding Dyrhólaey was accessible by walking down to Kirkjufjara beach by the lower parking lot.  Although a marvelous place when the tide is low, and winds are still it is a hazardous place in different situations, and even life-threatening.  After some horrifying accidents, the beach was closed, and access is not allowed. We can only emphasize that you should stay on marked trails and keep in mind that the waves are extremely dangerous and unpredictable.

Dyrhólaey is easily accessible from the Ring Road.

When you are driving on Suðurlandsvegur or the southern part of the Ring Road, you take a turn to the south on the road Dyrhólavegur nr. 218.  The drive to the top of the Dyrhólaey island by the Lighthouse is approximately six kilometers.  And between the parking lots, you only drive about 500 meters. 

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Below is the location of Dyrhólaey on the map of Iceland

Dyrholaey is one of the southern most part of Iceland

 

Sometimes the Icelander find it mind-boggling to figure out how their nature and landscape ended up the way it did. Sometimes totally chaotic and menacing, and then sometimes beautifully carved and mesmerizing. Icelandic folklore will, of course, provide you with excellent explanations concocted throughout the ages; tales of trolls, giants, and elves, as well as, the hidden people and the dwarfs.

Dverghamrar one of many basalt column formations

One of the most stunning rock formations in Iceland is Dverghamrar (The Dwarf Cliffs), some 10 km east of the Kirkjubæjarklaustur village right on the Ring Road. The cliffs are hexagonal columns of basalt, topped with cube-jointed basalt, shaped like a horseshoe. Inside the cliffs are home to both dwarfs and elves, according to folklore. But mind you, quite a number of Icelanders still believe it to be true and the rest can't prove it isn't. So, Dverghamrar is treated with great respect – just to be on the safe side. You never know what those superhuman beings are capable of doing.

Folklore vs. geological explanation

Even if the Icelanders would like to tell you superhuman beings built Dverhamrar, the geologists will tell you otherwise. This extraordinary landscape is believed to have formed during the Ice Age. At the time, the sea level was much higher, and the sea-waves are believed to be the force behind the peculiar façade of the rocks. Columnar basalt forms through the cooling of lava and a build-up of contraction forces. Today Dverghamrar are a protected natural monument.

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Below is the location of Dverghamrar cliffs on the map of Iceland

One of the most stunning rock formations in Iceland is Dverghamrar (The Dwarf Cliffs), some 10 km east of the Kirkjubæjarklaustur village.

 

Iceland is full of surprises. You are walking along a great stretch of sand, minding your own business in the arms of a glacier. Only three colors to take in, white, gray and black when suddenly you are faced with lush green mixed with a myriad of colors.  In the middle of the 10 km long Morsárdalur, you have come upon Bæjarstaðarskógur, a small forest of willows and birches close to a sublime geothermal pool.

Bæjarstaðarskógur is a small forest at the edge of a glacier

This 22-hectare forest is the most robust birch forest in Iceland, its birches reaching 12 meters high. They are also the island's straightest birches and the most precious. Bæjarstaðaskógur also has rowans and the most beautiful display of Icelandic wildflowers. Even the Icelanders wonder how a forest came to be in the remote and isolated area; The only means to get there is by foot – and it will take you approximately three hours from the Visitor's Centre in Skaftafell

Bæjarstaðarskógur hiking trail is an exciting day tour for hiking

A peaceful place out in nature

An old farm, an oasis in a landscape of change

The forest's name suggests there used to be a farmstead here during the Middle Ages. Indeed, its ruins were quite visible until the 18th century. Bæjarstaðaskógur is a beautiful oasis in the vast spread of sand. The hike from the Visitor's Centre is relatively easy and pleasant. You have a stunning view of Morsárdalur the whole time - and might even want to venture further than the forest.

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Below is the location of Bæjarstaðarskógur on the map of Iceland

Bæjarstaðaskógur is a wonderful oasis in the vast spread of sand.

It is almost impossible to separate the town Vestmannaeyjar, and the clusters of islands Icelanders call Vestmannaeyjar or Westman Islands.  It is a small town on a tiny island south of Iceland placed on a rock in the middle of harsh forces of the Atlantic Ocean with an active volcano underneath.

For visitors, Þorlákshöfn is a good place to stop.  The village offers most of the necessary facilities and service visitors look for when finding an overnight place to stay or a place to rest.  Þorlákshöfn has a great swimming pool, a good camp site, a convenient store and excellent accommodations.  It is a young village with a short history. Throughout history, the question of a good harbour

Þorlákshöfn is a tiny village in the Southern Region in Iceland

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