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Svartifoss in Skaftafell Nature Reserve in summer.

Svartifoss, in spite of being just 20 metres (66 feet) tall, and not particularly powerful, is one of Iceland’s most popular waterfalls. The beauty of its formation and surroundings draw thousands of guest a year, and have inspired artists for centuries.

Columns of Svartifoss

Svartifoss is best renowned for the hexagonal basalt columns that surround it and lay shattered at its base. These columns, which are very dark, lend the feature its name; Svartifoss means ‘Black Falls’.

These columns are found in other places in Iceland, such as the Gerðuberg cliffs on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, and on Reynisfjara beach on the South Coast. At none of these locations, however, is there a cascade of foaming white water to add to the beauty and fantasy of the site.

The geology surrounding Svartifoss has inspired many artists and architects, spanning generations. To list them all would be impossible, but perhaps the most notable is Hallgrímskirkja, the largest church in Reykjavík, which took elements of Svartifoss’s columns and Thor’s hammer in its design.

The capital’s National Theatre also drew inspiration from Svartifoss, as did the artwork ‘Milestones’ on Viðey Island, by Richard Sierra.

Location of Svartifoss

Svartifoss in Skaftafell Nature Reserve in winter.

Svartifoss is located in the Skaftafell Nature Reserve, a place once so beautiful it was once its own national park; since, it has become enveloped into the greater Vatnajökull National Park.

This reserve is renowned for it diverse and spectacular sceneries. It is partly forested in birch, partly covered in lava, divided by rivers and streams, and has many glacier tongues and lagoons within its boundaries.

Avid hikers, photographers and nature lovers, therefore, find Skaftafell to be an oasis of beauty.

To many, Svartifoss is its highlight. The hike from the Skaftafell Visitors’ Centre to the waterfall is just over thirty minutes, and though relatively easy, requires a reasonable level of fitness and decent hiking boots.

Sites Surrounding Svartifoss

Svartifoss, within Skaftafell, has a host of sites that compete for attention from visitors. Perhaps most notable of these is Svínafellsjökull, one of the country’s most popular ice caps for glacier hiking.

Visitors are encouraged to spend several hours following different treks in the path, to discover a whole host of unspoiled spots of incredible natural beauty.

If travelling to Skaftafell from Reykjavík, the journey is direct, going east along Route 1. The four hours it should take you is likely to extend much longer, however, as you stop off at the many sites en route. These include the marvellous waterfalls of Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss, the glaciers Mýrdalsjökull and Eyjafjallajökull, and the cliffs of Dyrhólaey and Reynisdrangar.

Unfortunately, Svartifoss and Skaftafell are often both overlooked by travellers racing their way to the  Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon and Diamond Beach, which are half an hour further along Route 1.

While these sites are majestic places, where you can see enormous icebergs cruise from a vast lake to the ocean, amongst dozens of playing seals, Svartifoss still stands up as a natural highlight next to them, and visitors should still attempt to see it.

 

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