Nothing is more majestic than nature in full force, and watching a waterfall in action is always a delight. While our waterfalls in Europe aren’t quite up to Iguazu or Niagara standards, there are still European waterfalls well worth your while to stop off at — or even make a detour for. Many of Europe’s most breathtaking waterfalls can be found in Iceland, but most countries have at least one good example.
Always drawn to water, I have been known to go out of my way for a pretty waterfall and have been soaked to the skin on many occasions when I’ve walked close to or even behind a fall. I have selected some of my personal favorite waterfalls, all of which I like for personal reasons, but which all deserve your attention for many others. Each and every one is perfect for making your own memories.
1. Rhine Falls, Switzerland
The Rhine Falls hold a special place in my heart because I first saw them as a small girl when on vacation at Konstanz, Germany, with my mother. She was keen to see the falls, and we went on a day trip to Schaffhausen, a Swiss town just across the border. Not only was this my first time in Switzerland, but it was also my first sighting of a rather impressive waterfall. The Rhine Falls are wide (490 feet) rather than high (only 75 feet) but are reportedly the most powerful falls in Europe. Adding to the utter beauty of the waterfall’s natural cascades are the castle Schloss Laufen looking out over the falls, as well as the bridge leading to the castle. It is a perfect spot for afternoon tea while watching this natural spectacle.
Pro Tip: You can get up close and personal with the falls on a boat trip right into the center of the falls. It is a thrill like no other.
2. Svartifoss, Iceland
There are so many stunning waterfalls in Iceland — and many that are more powerful, taller, and wider than Svartifoss — so why did I choose this one to be included here? When I was in Iceland, I fell in love with the amazing hexagonal basalt columns that you can find across the island, and this, at least on paper, quite insignificant waterfall is set right against these black lava columns, giving it its name: svarti meaning “black” and foss meaning “falls.”
(Some other great examples of these columns can be found at Reynisfjara Beach on the way from Reykjavik.)
You can see this waterfall as part of a tour to the Vatnajökull National Park, which has many other attractions, including the opportunity to climb a glacier. A plethora of tours are available.
Pro Tip: Just a little bit farther along the south coast lies Diamond Beach, a black beach strewn with chunks of ice glittering like diamonds. Whatever you do, do not miss this amazing site.
3. Skógafoss, Iceland
Skógafoss is one of the most famous and most visited waterfalls in Iceland. It’s not only beautiful in the traditional sense of a wide (82 feet), high (197 feet), and powerful waterfall, but it’s also popular because of its proximity to Reykjavik. Another draw is that the waterfall is set in front of the volcano Eyjafjallajökull, “the one that no one can pronounce,” and which caused havoc for international flights back in 2010.
Skógafoss was also my first Icelandic waterfall, and offered a mighty sight from below as well as from the upper viewing point, which is a steady but manageable climb up the slope to the right of the waterfall. If you are lucky, you might even see some of those adorably shaggy Icelandic horses along the way.
Pro Tip: The best way to get around Iceland is by driving yourself, but there are also plenty of tours and roundtrips from Reykjavik, such as a Skógafoss day trip.
4. Aysgarth Falls, England
With the Aysgarth Falls, it is a long-running debate with my husband as to whether I saw them just before the release of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), where Kevin Costner as Robin Hood splashes through them with Little John — or just after. Either way, my in-laws still live close to the River Ure and its falls at Aysgarth, and hardly a family visit goes by that we do not walk along them, or at least go for a scone or a toasted sandwich in the cute little Mill Race Tea Shop right beside the falls. A wide, triple-fall spectacular, Aysgarth Falls is surrounded by the gorgeous North Yorkshire countryside and its quaint little villages. Each village is always home to a lovely pub.
Pro Tip: To get the most out of the surrounding countryside and the falls, go on this perfect circular hike, 2.6 miles long with a few inclines but nothing too steep. Look out for Bolton Castle across the fields.
5. Hardraw Force, England
This is another waterfall that was introduced to me by my in-laws in North Yorkshire. A mile away from the lovely town of Hawes, with its antique shops and cafes perfect for that famous cup of tea, lies what is England’s longest single-drop waterfall.
Not only is the waterfall and the walk up to Hardraw Force simply lovely, come rain or shine, but even better, you can only get to it by walking from a pub. Not bad, right? Next to the historic Green Dragon Inn is a small Heritage Center kiosk that charges 2.50 pounds to enter the private land and visit the 100-foot-high falls. You can dip into the natural pool under the falls, walk behind them for a refreshing shower, or simply enjoy the scenic setting.
Pro Tip: The Green Dragon Inn, dating to the 13th century, is as typical a Yorkshire pub as they come, complete with beams on the ceiling, huge flagstone flooring, a roaring fire in winter, a good selection of beers, and a generous Sunday roast on the menu. What’s not to like?
6. Terme Di Saturnia, Italy
Roughly halfway between Florence and Rome, in the gorgeous Tuscan countryside, lies the Terme di Saturnia, a set of warm, sulfurous springs cascading across rocks and forming waterfalls and pools. At a rate of roughly 800 liters per second, the body-temperature pools have a constant turnover of water. They are an ancient thermal wellbeing hotspot even the Etruscans and Romans knew about. Apparent health benefits include relief for skin conditions, aches and pains, and respiratory issues.
Pro Tip: To make the most out of the natural beauty of the springs and waterfalls, as well as take advantage of the natural healing powers of the springs, book yourself into the swanky Terme di Saturnia Resort. It offers a lovely setting as well as a spa, pools, treatments, and a golf course.
7. Las Fuentes Del Algar, Spain
This might not be a terribly impressive waterfall, but it’s a place of supurb natural beauty just inland from Costa Blanca, a favorite retirement hub in Spain. My parents used to live nearby, just a little north of the cascades, and this was the first waterfall my then very young daughter experienced on a family visit. Coming inland from the coast in the summer heat and finding these gorgeous falls was a refreshing interlude, especially dipping into the chilly water tumbling down the rocks.
You can go for a walk along the riverbed or climb up a little and dive into the waterfall pools, or simply eat a snack and watch the world go by. There are a few restaurants alongside the falls, and you can easily make a day of it. They even provide lifeguards between spring and late summer, so don’t forget your swimming costume and a warm towel for after your dip.
Pro Tip: Back on the coast, don’t miss a visit to Altea, with its lovely old town center full of charm and small, winding streets. On Tuesdays, there is a traditional fruit and vegetable market with plenty of food stalls (including great churro stands).
8. Pliva Waterfall, Bosnia And Herzegovina
The country of Bosnia and Herzegovina one of the least-visited (and thus least-crowded) European countries, but it has phenomenal waterfalls. The Pliva Waterfall, just on the edge of the medieval town of Jajce, is a must-see destination.
The Pliva Waterfall forms where the river Pliva meets the river Vrbas, and the result is one of the most stunning waterfalls in Europe, especially when viewed from the gorge with Jajce as the backdrop.
The river Pliva is home to the first hydroelectric power station in the Balkans, built in 1899, and twenty-four old wooden watermills run alongside the river. There are also two natural lakes in the area, as well. Add this all to stunning falls, and you can go for endless walks through beautiful countryside and be inspired by the water all around.
Pro Tip: If you’re in Sarajevo, you can visit Jajce on a full-day tour.
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