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Get to Know Iceland's Beautiful Rivers

Uncover the hidden beauty & power of Iceland's rivers

|July 10, 2023
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With every bend and turn, Iceland's rivers reveal breathtaking surprises. This island really is the land of water - from the majestic whale-abundant seas to vast frozen glaciers and serene hot springs, water in all forms has shaped Iceland and draws interest from across the world.


Visiting a river in Iceland is an unforgettable experience, with giant waterfalls and thrilling river rafting experiences. Visitors are unlikely to be disappointed by these intricate, yet powerful flows. Discovering the rivers of Iceland and their journeys takes you from the glaciers to the coasts, giving you the opportunity to learn about the real Iceland. 

Þjórsá River

Bridge in Iceland  over Beautiful Fast River

Urridafoss Bridge over the Þjórsá River, Iceland’s longest river at 230 km

With large glaciers comes a list of long rivers and Þjórsá sits at the top of this list. This glacial river runs from Hofsjökull glacier, located in the middle of the Icelandic Highlands in the center of Iceland. This river has the longest journey out of any in the country, heading 230 km (143 miles) south towards the ocean. As the river gets into the lowlands, it's joined by yet another river, Tungnaá.

The river is also an important source of power, with its six power stations situated along it: Búrfell, Sultartangi, Hrauneyjafoss, Vatnsfell, Sigalda, and Búðarháls. The river plays a vital role in powering all of Iceland. In addition to the power stations, you can find incredible waterfalls, including Háifoss, one of the tallest in the country.

Hvítá River

Stunning Waterfalls Around the Iceland

Two-tiered Gullfoss Waterfall on Hvítá River with green banks

Most visitors to Iceland find themselves at Hvítá for one reason: Gullfoss waterfall. The waterfall is one of Iceland's most breathtaking natural attractions and a main stop on the Golden Circle tour. The river is formed from the second biggest glacier in Iceland, Langjökull, and has a powerful and loud flow. The name ‘Hvítá' translates to 'white river' in Icelandic, referring to the color of the water, which happens to have a white milky appearance from the glacier.

Aside from Gullfoss, Hvítá is also known for its adrenaline-filled rafting tours. The tours take place on the river and are an excellent way to explore the banks, turns, and canyons in a way that's unknown to most visitors.

Jökulsá á Fjöllum

Jökulsá á Fjöllum River in National Parks in North Iceland

Majestic Canyon of Jökulsárgljúfur excavated from the river Jökulsá á Fjöllum

Flowing from glacier to ocean, this beautiful river is located in the northeast of the country and is fed by the Vatnajökull Glacier. Jökulsá á Fjöllum is known for being the second-largest river in the country, with a length of 206 kilometers long. Its flow and shape have been formed by past floods and volcanic eruptions along its journey towards the Greenland Sea. This has formed a rugged and epic canyon,  Jökulsárgljúfur. The river houses three waterfalls, including Europe's most powerful waterfall, Dettifoss.

Skjálfandafljót River

Godafoss Falls Iceland Exploring Rivers and Waterfalls

The silhouette of someone looking out to Goðafoss water on Skjálfandafljót River

Named after the Old Norse word 'skjálfandi,' meaning 'shaking' or 'quivering', the Skjálfandafljót River is powerful. There is no better place to witness the power of this river than at its jaw-dropping waterfalls: Goðafoss, Aldeyjarfoss and the smaller Hrafnabjargafoss. The waterfalls and power haven’t put off any watersports, in fact, a kayak team from the University of Sheffield were the first to descend the river in 1989. If you are interested in some relaxing river kayaking, discover our Kayak Power Challenge tour. 

As the 4th longest river in Iceland, it stretches from its source, Vatnajökull Glacier, to its mouth at Skjálfandi Bay in the north. The lower parts of the river are known to be abundant with salmon making it a popular river in Iceland for anglers.

Fnjóská River

Fnjóská River, nestled in northeast Iceland, originates from the highlands and flows through the picturesque Fnjóskadalur Valley. The river is known for its scenic landscapes, encompassing deep gorges, green meadows, and towering cliffs.

What really brings visits to Fnjóská is the fish. It is an ideal fishing destination, offering above-average-size salmon and trout fishing opportunities. It requires wading until the water is waist-high across the rocky river bed to find the perfect spot. To protect the spot, there are restrictions in place for how many fish can be caught, however, anglers get the chance to refine and perfect their skill with a catch and release. 

So whether you’re a keen photographer itching to snap the majesty of Iceland’s rivers to freeze in time, an avid angler, an eager rafter or just someone keen to appreciate the beauty of Icelandic water, there is much to behold on this enrapturing island.

 

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