Faxi Waterfall: a Lesser-known Gem in the Golden Circle

  • by Yanshu
  • Golden Circle Iceland
  • 5 Dec 2023

Faxi waterfall, also referred to as Vatnsleysufoss or Faxafoss, lies nestled along Iceland's renowned Golden Circle Route. This lesser-known gem enchants with its elegant descent into the Tungufljót River, framed by verdant foliage and rugged terrain. A nice detour from the Golden Circle for those exploring the busy route, it beckons adventurers seeking solitude, fishing opportunities, scenic hikes, and photography.

Faxi Waterfall: a Lesser-known Gem in the Golden Circle

Where is Faxi Waterfall Located

Faxafoss, also known as Faxi falls, or Vatnsleysufoss, is a noteworthy destination on your exploration of Iceland’s celebrated Golden Circle Route.It presents a unique spectacle in one of the most geologically rich countries you’ll find.

How to Get to Faxi Waterfall

You’ll locate Faxafoss Waterfall in the southwestern part of Iceland, nestled comfortably in the Golden Circle’s series of prominent tourist attractions. This natural beauty is approximately 120 kilometers from Reykjavík, making it an accessible day trip for travelers from the capital region. Starting from Reykjavík, you can drive east on Route 1 before switching to Route 35, which leads you straight to the waterfall. The clear signage and well-maintained roads ensure that your journey to Faxafoss is straightforward.

Tungufljót River

The Tungufljót River, a tributary of the larger River Hvita, is the power source behind Faxafoss, shaping the water’s wide berth as it cascades down in a gentle yet striking manner. 

Its origin can be traced back to the Icelandic highlands, meaning the water you witness here is a direct result of glacial melts and local streams converging. You’ll see that Faxafoss doesn’t boast the height of its nearby Gullfoss, but it offers a serene and broad display that captures the essence of Iceland’s diverse waterways.

The downstream of Faxi waterfall, Golden Circle of Iceland.

What’s So Special About Faxi Waterfall

In exploring the historical significance of Faxafoss Waterfall, you’ll uncover its enduring names and cultural resonance, particularly in relation to nearby historical sites like Reykholt and Skálholt.

How did Faxafoss get its name

Faxafoss, more formally known as Vatnsleysufoss, carries a legacy deep-rooted in Icelandic culture. Its name, Faxi, resembling the mane of an Icelandic horse, signifies the waterfall’s unique and gentle cascade, akin to a horse’s mane fluttering in the wind.

Local folklore often imbues landscapes with a mythical quality, and while direct tales specific to Faxafoss may not be as prolific as those of larger falls, the waterfall’s name conjures images steeped in the poetic nature of Icelandic tradition.

Reykholt and Skálholt

Both Reykholt and Skálholt are central to the history surrounding Faxafoss. Reykholt was once the intellectual heart of Iceland, being the home of the chieftain and historian Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century. His contributions to Icelandic literature and history are unparalleled, and the proximity of Faxafoss to Reykholt connects the waterfall to this rich intellectual heritage.

Skálholt, on the other hand, was the ecclesiastic center of Iceland for over 700 years. As the site of the first Icelandic bishopric, it bears witness to the profound religious transformations that shaped Iceland’s history. Your visit to Faxafoss offers not only natural beauty but also a silent narrative of Iceland’s cultural and spiritual journey through time.

What does Faxafoss’ look like

Discover the captivating natural features of Faxafoss, also known as Faxi Waterfall, where the power of flowing water and geothermal forces shape a unique landscape, thriving with life. Here’s what you need to know about its distinct characteristics.

Waterfall Appearances

Faxafoss Waterfall majestically spans approximately 91.44 meters (300 feet) with a height of about 7 meters (23 feet.) The water cascades over a wide arched edge, creating a soft mist that gently nourishes the surrounding flora. 

Its size and shape contribute to its name, making it a favored weekend excursion amongst locals and travelers for its accessible and photogenic appeal.

Faxi waterfall in beautiful weather.

Faxafoss’s Salmon Ladder

Facing Faxi waterfall’s cascade, you will see the salmon ladder on its left side.This fish ladder was constructed to aid salmon in their upstream migration during their breeding season. The ladder consists of a series of cascading steps and pools that help the salmon overcome the waterfall’s height and reach their spawning grounds. 

It plays a crucial role in preserving the salmon population in the Tungufljót River and allows visitors to witness this incredible natural phenomenon up close. Watching salmon leap their way up the ladder is a unique and educational experience for those visiting Faxi waterfall.

Salmon ladder at Faxi waterfall, Golden Circle of Iceland. [Photo credit ©Yanshu Li]

Nearby Environment

The mist and spray from the waterfall create a moist environment, fostering a rich variety of plant life. You will often find mosses and ferns thriving in these conditions, alongside hardier shrubs that have adapted to the Icelandic climate. 

The area supports an ecosystem that is favorable for local birdlife, with species drawn to the water and abundant food supply.

Geothermal Activity

Faxafoss lies within proximity to Iceland’s famed Golden Circle, known for its geological wonders, including areas of significant geothermal activity. While Faxafoss itself isn’t a geothermal waterfall, you’re not far from various geothermal areas, where the earth’s heat manifests in hot springs and geysers, adding an extra dimension to your experience at Faxi.

Geothermal activity not far from Faxi waterfall at Geyser geothermal area, Golden Circle of Iceland. [Photo credit ©Yanshu Li]

How to Visit Faxi Waterfall

Before planning your trip to Faxafoss Waterfall, it’s crucial to know when to visit, what facilities are available, and the attractions nearby to make the most of your journey.

Best Times to Visit Faxafoss

Summer is the optimal season to experience Faxafoss Waterfall to its fullest. Daylight lasts almost 24 hours, allowing for a flexible visiting schedule. Avoid the winter months as days are short and the site may be inaccessible due to snow.

Amenities and Facilities

At Faxafoss, basic amenities are provided to ensure a comfortable visit:

  • Parking: A car park is available close to the waterfall.
  • Restaurant: Vid Faxa is a restaurant right next to Faxafoss, whose patio has a beautiful overview of the waterfall. Please note that Vid Faxa only opens on Mondays from 5 – 9 pm. When you are visiting Faxi on other days, you can find options available in nearby towns.

As Faxafoss is an off-the-beaten-road attraction, please remember to bring your essentials, as the facilities are minimalistic.

Faxafoss’ Nearby Attractions

When visiting Faxafoss, you’re in the vicinity of the famed Golden Circle. Please don’t miss:

Gullfoss waterfall

Gullfoss waterfall, which lies approximately 21 kilometers (about 13 miles) away by road from Faxi waterfall, is a true spectacle with its two cascades thundering into a dramatic canyon. The sheer power and grandeur of Gullfoss will leave you in awe as you witness the glacial waters of the Hvítá River plummet into the depths below. 

It’s intriguing to note that some locals liken Faxi waterfall to a smaller version of Gullfoss, given their shared characteristic of a wide and picturesque cascade spread.

A rainbow over Gullfoss waterfall’s Majestic Cascade, Golden Circle of Iceland.

Geysir Geothermal Area

The Geysir Geothermal Area, situated approximately 11.2 kilometers (about 7 miles) away from Faxi waterfall, is a captivating natural wonder in Iceland’s Golden Circle. This geothermal wonderland is famed for its erupting geysers, hot springs, and bubbling mud pots. 

Strokkur geyser shoots up to the sky.

Bruarfoss waterfall

Bruarfoss waterfall, located around 15.6 kilometers (about 9.7 miles) from Faxi waterfall, is a hidden gem within Iceland’s Golden Circle. Its striking turquoise waters flow through a series of cascades, creating a picturesque and tranquil atmosphere. Visiting Bruarfoss is like stepping into a dreamy, enchanted oasis, gazing at something unique in a peaceful countryside setting.

A series of cascades at Bruarfoss waterfall, Golden Circle of Iceland. [Photo credit to ©Yanshu Li]

Thingvellir National Park

Þingvellir National Park, located approximately 60 kilometers (about 37 miles) from Faxi waterfall, is a remarkable UNESCO World Heritage Site in Iceland’s Golden Circle. Here, you can walk between the tectonic plates, witness stunning geological formations, and explore historic cultural sites.

Thingvellir National Park in winter.

Frequently Asked Questions about Faxafoss

This section addresses some common curiosities regarding Faxafoss Waterfall, enhancing your visit and photography experience.

What is the Best Way to Visit Faxi Waterfall?

The ideal way to experience Faxi waterfall is through a self-drive adventure from Reykjavik, especially during the long summer daylight hours. This allows you ample time to explore the main attractions along the Golden Circle route at your own pace and include a scenic break at Faxi waterfall on your journey between Thingvellir and Geysir.

Alternatively, you can opt for a guided Golden Circle tour. Depending on the available time, some guides may include a quick and enjoyable stop at Faxi waterfall during the tour.

If you are aiming for a multi-day adventure in Iceland, Faxi waterfall can be your stop after the Golden Circle visit and before you travel to South Iceland.

A tour guide is talking about the features of Thingvellir National Park, Golden Circle of Iceland.

What distinguishes Faxafoss from other Icelandic waterfalls?

Faxafoss, also known as Vatnsleysufoss, is characterized by its width and peaceful surroundings, a stark contrast to the more tumultuous waterfalls around Iceland. It’s like a miniature version of the famed Gullfoss, featuring a single, broad cascade on the Tungufljót River.

Can you visit Faxafoss waterfall year-round?

You can visit Faxafoss throughout the year; however, accessibility may vary depending on weather conditions. The waterfall remains accessible during the winter, though the surrounding paths can be slippery, so caution is advised.

What is the best time of day to photograph Faxafoss for optimal lighting?

For optimal lighting, aim to visit Faxafoss during the golden hours, shortly after sunrise or just before sunset. These times offer soft, diffused light which enhances the natural beauty of the waterfall without the harsh shadows or glare that midday brings.

About the author
A journalist and photographer, Yanshu is driven by a deep passion for Iceland. She's on a mission to share her love for authentic travel experiences and exciting adventures with fellow explorers. Armed with her camera, she sets off on hikes, delving into Iceland's intricacies while mastering the art of Icelandic language whenever possible.

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