Mesmerizing and awe-inspiring, waterfalls are among the planet’s most captivating phenomena—we’re going to go ahead and say they’re some of our favorite natural wonders. A sight to behold, there’s something uniquely soothing about feeling their mist on your face or hearing their rushing waters plummet. The beautiful thing about the world’s most famous waterfalls is that they’re great to visit year-round. Sure, it may be warmer or more ideal for hitting up nearby hiking trails some months of the year, but we’d argue that a waterfall flowing during the wintertime offers its own definition of beauty (hello, Iceland).
While you could find a contender for “most beautiful waterfalls” on every continent on Earth, some are particularly worth the journey. To help you narrow down your must-see list, here are our picks for nine of the world’s very best waterfalls.
1. Plitvice Lakes National Park
The dramatic beauty of Plitvice Lakes National Park is owed to its 16 sparkling terraced lakes, where the calcium-rich waters spill into a series of cascades and caves—all set amid a fairy-tale forest that’s home to brown bears, wolves, lynx, and wild boar. Visitors can spend hours exploring the boardwalks that crisscross the lakes or take a 20-minute electric-boat ride across Kozjak Lake.
Getting There: There are plenty of accommodations nearby (including three inside the park itself), but it’s possible—and common—to make this a day trip; regular buses from Zagreb and Zadar take two to three hours or three to four from Split.
2. Iguazu Falls
Argentina & Brazil
This UNESCO World Heritage site is one of South America’s top tourist destinations, with visitors pouring in to Iguazu National Park to glimpse the area’s roughly 275 waterfalls. Altogether, they form a horseshoe shape spanning 1.7 miles along both the Argentinian and Brazilian sides of the Iguazu River, with the highest falls plummeting 269 feet, making Iguazu one of the largest waterfalls in the world. Note that most of the falls are on the Argentinian side, granting travelers to the Brazilian side some of the best panoramic views, including a lookout point over Devil’s Throat, Iguazu’s biggest waterfall.
Getting There: Flights from Buenos Aires go to Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, or you can travel from Rio de Janeiro to Foz de Iguaçu, Brazil; both destinations are only a few miles from the park and offer numerous accommodations.
3. Ban Gioc-Detian Falls
Vietnam & China
Remote Ban Gioc is one of Vietnam’s most famous falls, located off-the-beaten tourist path in the country’s northeast, where it converges with China’s Detian Falls to create one of the largest waterfalls in Asia. It forms as the Quay Son River emerges from a rocky landscape on the border of Vietnam and China, gushing 100 feet over natural walls, before sluicing through rice fields and thatches of jungle. Bamboo rafts from both countries ferry passengers for up-close views.
Getting There: The easiest way to visit is from Cao Bang City in Vietnam (a six-hour ground transfer from Hanoi). From there, shuttles and tour buses run daily excursions (running two to three hours one way) and can be booked at most hotels.
4. Victoria Falls
Zambia & Zimbabwe
While it can’t claim to be either the highest (that title goes to Angel Falls in Venezuela) or widest (that’s Khone Falls in Southeast Asia), Victoria Falls is the world’s largest single-drop waterfall—and is arguably the most impressive. Known locally by its indigenous name, Mosi-oa-Tunya, meaning “smoke that thunders,” you can hear and see the falls from miles away. As the placid Zambezi River, separating Zambia from Zimbabwe, reaches its widest point, the entire river plummets from cliffs nearly 360 feet high into a chasm of churning water and mist below. Get vantage points from both sides by crossing the Victoria Falls Bridge by foot or car, set just below the falls.
Getting There: There are easy air connections to the city of Livingstone in Zambia or the town of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, and each has ample accommodations.
Gullfoss (meaning “Golden Falls”) is one of Iceland’s most popular tourist destinations but one of the most visited waterfalls in Europe, where the sediment-heavy Hvítá river cascades more than 100 feet, in two tiers, into the Gullfossgjúfur canyon. It’s far from the country’s highest waterfall (that honor goes to Morsárfoss in southeast Iceland), but it’s an especially impressive sight during summer’s warmer months when the water flows higher due to glacial runoff. Because the falls drops into a deep gorge, the views are from the top and are accessible by a trail that begins at the car park.
Getting There: Situated on the Golden Circle tourist route in southwest Iceland, Gullfoss is a 90-minute drive from Reykjavík (where most visitors base their stay). But if we’re being honest, you could (and should) plan an entire road trip to take in the country’s many waterfalls.
6. Niagara Falls
USA & Canada
North America’s most iconic waterfalls, Niagara Falls has captured the imaginations of generations of honeymooners, tourists, and barrel-ensconced daredevils. Straddling the U.S.-Canada border between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, Niagara is composed of three separate falls: American and Bridal Veil falls on the U.S. side, and Horseshoe Falls—the most powerful waterfall in North America by flow rate and the tallest of the three falls at 167 feet—on the border. While views from the Canadian side are generally considered to be more open (and generally better), it’s also much more developed; the New York side, with Niagara Falls State Park, offers a more natural experience and is also the base for the popular Maid of the Mist boat tours.
Getting There: Fly into Buffalo, New York. Lodging options are available on both sides of the falls; the Canadian side has more accommodations, but note that U.S. visitors will need a passport to cross into Canada.
7. Sutherland Falls
Reaching remote Sutherland Falls requires some effort. But the reward is jaw-dropping views of New Zealand’s tallest waterfall. Located in Fiordland National Park, near the popular Milford Sound on the country’s South Island, Sutherland escapes through a gap in a glacial cirque before tumbling more than 1,900 feet over three sections.
Getting There: The easiest way to view the falls is by taking a helicopter tour, which can be booked out of the tourist towns of Queenstown or Te Anau, or from the Milford Sound Lodge (the only lodge within the national park). But intrepid hikers will get the best views by hiking the 33-mile Milford Track to the bottom of the falls.
8. Angel Falls
Getting to Angel Falls is neither quick nor particularly easy, but the payoff is spectacular once the world’s tallest uninterrupted waterfall comes into view, tumbling 3,212 feet from a tabletop mountain in Venezuela’s Canaima National Park. During the dry season, from December through April, there’s less water coming over, but also a better chance of seeing the falls; during the rest of the year, in the rainy season, clouds can obscure the falls completely.
Getting There: Fly into Ciudad Bolivar or Puerto Ordaz, where you can buy a tour package that includes a flight to the village of Canaima. From there, you’ll take a daylong trip in a motorized canoe up the Churún River and then hike about an hour to the base of the falls. There are no accommodations at the falls themselves, though there are a number of lodges in Canaima.
9. Yosemite Falls
The tallest waterfall in the U.S., Yosemite Falls is a major draw in Yosemite National Park. These American falls actually consist of three water stages: the Upper Yosemite Fall (1,430 feet), the middle cascades (675 feet), and Lower Yosemite Fall (320 feet). There is a dry season: The falls tend to slow to a trickle in late summer, generally by August. The best time to pay a visit during the spring months (May or June) as the snowmelt causes the water levels to increase. If you’re looking to take in multiple vantage points, there is a one-mile loop trail that culminates at the base of the lower falls—if you’re traveling with a wheelchair, the eastern side of the loop is accessible between the shuttle pick-up/drop-off and the base of the falls.
Getting There: San Francisco International Airport is the largest airport nearby, so it’s often best (for schedules and budgets) to fly in here. But Fresno Yosemite International Airport is much closer and smaller (meaning fewer crowds). It’s best to rent a car to explore the national park, and there are plenty of public camping sites—just make sure to plan ahead in case you need to pre-book a spot. If you don’t rent a car, there is an Amtrak shuttle bus that brings people to the park and its main attractions during the busy summer months.
This article was originally published in 2019; it was updated on September 29, 2023, with current information.