How to Get There with a Rental Car

Gullfoss, one of Iceland’s top waterfalls, part of the golden circle and is renowned for its golden-brown hue that comes from glacial sediment in the Hvítá River. These golden falls have an iconic two-tiered cascade and an interesting backstory. In this guide, we look at the history of Gullfoss, its location and accessibility, the ideal time to visit and the best rental car options. 

Gullfoss waterfall in Iceland in May

About Gullfoss Waterfall Iceland

Gullfoss translates directly to “Golden Falls” in Icelandic language. It is one of Iceland’s most popular tourist attractions and traditional Icelandic waterfalls, in part due to its accessibility and in part due to unique beauty, with its two tiers. The water in Hvítá River travels from the glacier Langjökull, before cascading 32 meters (105 feet) down.

Hvítá river itself is glacial, meaning its source is the melting Langjökull glacier, Iceland’s second-largest glacier. The average flow rate of the waterfall is 140 cubic meters per second in the summertime and 80 cubic meters per second in the wintertime. 

Gullfoss has a rich history both as a natural wonder and for the human determination that helped form it. The waterfall was formed during the last ice age by glacial meltwater carving through layers of volcanic rock.

the snowy winter view of Gullfoss at Golden circle iceland

Brief history of Gullfoss

Gullfoss, one of Iceland’s most iconic waterfalls, is steeped in a rich history of conservation largely due to the efforts of Sigríður Tómasdóttir. In the early 20th century, the waterfall’s potential for hydroelectric power generation caught the attention of foreign investors. Tómas Tómasson, the landowner, initially leased the rights to these investors, posing a significant threat to the waterfall’s natural beauty.

However, his daughter Sigríður Tómasdóttir was adamantly opposed to these plans. She became a pivotal figure in the fight to preserve Gullfoss, famously threatening to throw herself into the waterfall if it was compromised. Her unwavering determination led to the cancellation of the hydroelectric projects, ensuring that Gullfoss remained pristine and accessible for future generations. Her tireless advocacy and personal sacrifices ultimately helped establish Gullfoss as a symbol of Iceland’s natural heritage.

Gullfoss is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Europe, and visitors can often feel the spray from the falls on their faces, especially on windy days. Gullfoss has two main viewing platforms, one at the top of the falls and one at the bottom. The walk from the top platform to the bottom is quite steep and slippery, so be sure to wear sturdy shoes.

a view of the gullfoss waterfall in Iceland summer time

Where Is Gullfoss? 

Gullfoss is located in the southwestern part of Iceland, approximately 123 kilometers (76 miles) northeast of Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. If you’re driving from Reykjavik along the popular Golden Circle route, it takes roughly 1.5 to 2 hours to reach Gullfoss, depending on traffic and weather conditions. Along the way, travelers can explore other notable attractions such as Thingvellir National Park, renowned for its historical and geological significance, the Geysir Geothermal Area with its erupting geysers, and the stunning Kerið Crater, a volcanic crater lake surrounded by vibrant vegetation. 

Driving route to Gullfoss Iceland

Map of location of Gullfoss Iceland and the route map

When is the Best Time to Visit Gullfoss With a Rental Car?

The best time to visit Gullfoss with a rental car depends on personal preferences and interests. If you prefer milder weather and longer daylight hours for outdoor activities, summer, June through August, is the most popular time.

During this period, the weather averages around 10°C (50°F), with up to 21 hours of daylight in June, offering time to explore the area and enjoy the Gullfoss at its peak flow due to glacier meltwater. Summer is also the busiest and most expensive time to visit Iceland, with large crowds at popular tourist spots like Gullfoss. 

Winter presents a unique experience with the possibility of witnessing the northern lights in Iceland, with fewer crowds and a snowy landscape. However, be prepared for colder temperatures and significantly shorter daylight hours, with only about 4-5 hours of sunlight per day in December. During this season, some roads and attractions may be inaccessible due to snow and ice, and you will need to rent a 4×4 vehicle.

hiring a 4x4 rental car in Iceland for the summer trip

How are the Driving Conditions? 

During the summer months in Iceland (June to August), driving conditions to Gullfoss are typically straightforward and easy to navigate, as the roads are well-paved and maintained. However, during winter in Iceland, conditions can be more challenging. The roads may be covered with snow, making driving more difficult, especially during or after sudden snowfall if you visit gullfoss in winter. It’s essential to stay informed about weather forecasts and road conditions, and make sure you have an understanding of the different rules for driving in Iceland

iceland paved roads

What is the Best Rental Car for This Trip?

The best rental car for your trip to Gullfoss also depends on the season and the size of your group. In the summer, when roads are clear and conditions are favorable, a 2WD vehicle is sufficient, especially if you plan to stick to the main routes.

However, if you’re visiting in winter when roads may be covered in snow and ice, or if you plan to venture into other areas of the country like the highlands of Iceland, a 4×4 vehicle is essential for safety and maneuverability. You’ll also want to consider the size of your group and how much luggage you are planning to bring on your trip. A compact car may be fine for 1 to 3 people, but if you’re bringing lots of luggage or camping gear, then you may want an SUV so you will be comfortable throughout your journey.

the winter snow in Iceland

Do You Need to Pay For Parking for Gullfoss?

Typically, you don’t need to pay for parking at Gullfoss. There are free public parking options available for visitors. The upper parking lot provides amenities such as restrooms, a cafe, and a souvenir shop, making it a convenient choice for many. The lower parking lot offers a more basic parking experience. Both options allow visitors to explore Gullfoss waterfall and the area without worrying about parking fees.

Related readings: Parking in Iceland

Read the local tips of renting a car in Iceland

Explore Gullfoss Waterfall Iceland

Gullfoss Waterfall, or the “Golden Falls,” is one of Iceland’s must-see stops along the Golden Circle route. Regardless of the season, this natural wonder is accessible and surrounded by many other great attractions, so you can see a lot, even on a short trip.

Make sure that you book your rental car online and in advance with Hertz Iceland to ensure you get the ideal rental car option for your group. From compact cars for summer adventures to sturdy 4×4 vehicles for winter excursions, Hertz ensures a safe and comfortable journey to Gullfoss and beyond.

Best rental car options in Iceland all year round

4wd land rover defender hire in iceland

Land Rover Defender or similar | Automatic | 4×4

PFAN | Group: G6 (PFAN)

  • 5 Seats
  • Automatic
  • Airconditioning
  • 5 Doors

Suitable for highlands, Please read the Terms & Conditions. You must be 25 years of age to drive this vehicle.

Additional Features
  • 3 Large Luggage
  • Petrol or Diesel
  • 4 Wheel Drive
  • 234 C02 g/km
  • Adjustable Steering
  • Cruise Control
  • Electronic Stability Control
  • ABS
  • Bluetooth
  • USB
  • Power Steering
  • Power Windows
  • Remote Locking
  • Airbags
  • Fog Lamps
rent a hyundai Tucson in Iceland

Hyundai Tucson Plug-in Hybrid or similar | Automatic | 4×4

IFAI | Group: N3 (IFAI)

  • 5 Seats
  • Automatic
  • Airconditioning
  • 5 Doors

This vehicle is NOT allowed in the highlands F-roads. NOTE: Allowed on roads no.35 and 550. You must be 23 years of age to drive this vehicle.

Additional Features
  • 3 Large Luggage
  • Hybrid
  • 4 Wheel Drive
  • 46 C02 g/km
  • Adjustable Steering
  • Cruise Control
  • Electronic Stability Control
  • ABS
  • Bluetooth
  • USB
  • Power Steering
  • Power Windows
  • Remote Locking
  • Airbags
Rent a Kia Sorento PHEV in Iceland

Kia Sorento Plug-in Hybrid or similar | Automatic | 4×4

SFDI | Group: O6 (SFDI)

  • 5 Seats
  • Automatic
  • Airconditioning
  • 5 Doors

This vehicle is NOT allowed in the highlands F-roads. NOTE: Allowed on-road no.35 and 550. You must be 23 years of age to drive this vehicle.

Additional Features
  • 4 Large Luggage
  • Hybrid
  • 4 Wheel Drive
  • 38 C02 g/km
  • Adjustable Steering
  • Cruise Control
  • Electronic Stability Control
  • ABS
  • Bluetooth
  • USB
  • Power Steering
  • Power Windows
  • Remote Locking
rent a tesla model Y in Iceland

Tesla Model Y or similar | Automatic | 4×4

UGDC | Group: V1 (UGDC)

  • 5 Seats
  • Automatic
  • Airconditioning
  • 5 Doors

This vehicle is NOT allowed in the highlands F-roads. You must be 23 years of age to drive this vehicle.

Additional Features
  • 4 Large Luggage
  • Electric
  • 4 Wheel Drive
  • Adjustable Steering
  • Cruise Control
  • Traction Control
  • ABS
  • Bluetooth
  • USB
  • Power Steering
  • Power Windows
  • Remote Locking
KIA Sportage or similar| automatic | 4x4

KIA Sportage or similar | Automatic | 4×4

IFAR | Group: O (IFAR)

  • 5 Seats
  • Automatic
  • Airconditioning
  • 5 Doors

Suitable for the highlands. Please read Terms & Conditions. You must be 23 years of age to drive this vehicle.

Additional Features
  • 3 Large Luggage
  • Petrol or Diesel
  • 4 Wheel Drive
  • 156 C02 g/km
  • Adjustable Steering
  • Cruise Control
  • Electronic Stability Control
  • ABS
  • Bluetooth
  • USB
  • Power Steering
  • Power Windows
  • Remote Locking
  • Airbags
Land cruiser 5 seater rental in Iceland

5 seats Toyota Land Cruiser or similar| Automatic | 4×4

FFAR | Group: I (FFAR)

  • 5 Seats
  • Automatic
  • Airconditioning
  • 5 Doors

Suitable for the highlands. Please read Terms & Conditions. You must be 23 years of age to drive this vehicle.

Additional Features
  • 5 Large Luggage
  • Petrol or Diesel
  • 4 Wheel Drive
  • 251 C02 g/km
  • Adjustable Steering
  • Cruise Control
  • Electronic Stability Control
  • ABS
  • Bluetooth
  • USB
  • Power Steering
  • Power Windows
  • Remote Locking
  • Airbags