Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach is a must-see in Iceland

By |2018-08-22T19:30:55+00:00May 17th, 2017|Beaches, Destination, Europe, Iceland, Road trip, Winter|38 Comments

Vik, Iceland

White sandy beaches? Yes, they’re nice. But what if I told you there’s a lava beach in Iceland that has risen from the ashes? Actually, Iceland has several volcanic beaches, but Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach is hands down the coolest with its black sand, insane basalt columns, lava formations, towering cliffs, and caves.

It wasn’t ranked one of the 10 most beautiful non-tropical beaches in the world in 1991 for nothing. Oh, no.

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White sandy beaches? Yes, they're nice. But what if I told you there's a lava beach in Iceland that has risen from the ashes? Actually, Iceland has several volcanic beaches, but Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach is hands down the coolest with its black sand, insane basalt columns, lava formations, towering cliffs, and caves. Here's why you should visit.

REYNIS… WHAT?

I’ll be honest with you: the Icelandic words for this black sand beach seriously confused me. So far I’ve heard people calling it Reynisfjara, Reynisdrangar, Reynisfjell and Reynisfjöru, so for us mere mortals that don’t speak Icelandic.. I googled around a bit and this is what I learned:

  • Reynisfjara is the black sand beach
  • Reynisfjöru is the local word for Reynisfjara
  • Reynishverfi is the village and area next to the black sand beach
  • Reynisdrangar is the 66 m high rock pillars that stick out of the sea
  • Reynisfjell is the 340 m high mountain with hexagonal-shaped basalt columns at the bottom

Vik, Iceland

REYNISFJARA BLACK SAND BEACH IS MADE OF LAVA

The black sand beach of Reynisfjara on Iceland’s South Coast is one of the most unique beaches in the world. It’s not a tanning kind of beach. More look than touch, it was created by lava flowing into the ocean which cooled almost instantly as it touched the water.

Vik, Iceland

The beach is literally made of lava

Reynisfjara surprised me a little. For some reason I expected fine black sand, but the beach was actually various sizes of shiny black pebbles and stones. It was rugged and wild – very different from the white sand beaches I usually visit.

Vik, Iceland

REYNISFJALL AND GARDAR BASALT COLUMNS

The black sand isn’t the only lava creation on Reynisfjara. Opposite of the sea is an enormous natural pyramid made of basalt columns that looks like a staircase to the sky. This basalt cliff is called Gardar.

Vik, Iceland

Vik, Iceland

Hálsanefshellir cave at the bottom of Gardar is featured in the movie “Noah”

Vik, Iceland

Reynisfjall mountain and Gardar basalt cliffs at the bottom

Notice how perfectly shaped these basalt rocks are. It’s hard to imagine that nature did this.

The symmetrical columns were shaped when, once upon a time, lava flowed out, cooled and contracted. The slow speed at which the lava cooled made it crack and create these hexagonal forms. This process is known as columnar jointing, which is explained in the link.

You’ll find basalt columns all around Iceland, for instance at Svartifoss waterfall or Dettifoss waterfall.

Vik, Iceland

Vik, Iceland

REYNISDRANGAR AKA THE SEA TROLLS

You see those basalt cliffs that rise from the sea? They’re called Reynisdrangar.

Legend has it that the Reynisdrangar formations are actually two trolls. One night when they were trying to pull a three-masted ship out of the sea, the sun began to rise. And, as all us fairy tale fans know, trolls caught in daylight are turned to stone, so these two guys got stuck with this craggy rock form for time and eternity.

Vik, Iceland

Reynisdrangar

Vik, Iceland

Vik, Iceland

Vik, Iceland

Vik, Iceland

Vik, Iceland

I don’t believe in trolls, but it did feel otherworldly walking around here

Vik, Iceland

Vik, Iceland

DYRHOLAEY AND THE LIGHTHOUSE

If the black lava sand wasn’t already an attraction for most visitors, add the massive 120 m high Dyrhólaey promontory to that list. Dyrhólaey is located at the southernmost tip of Iceland and if you visit during summer, you might see puffins here.

Vik, Iceland

Dyrhólaey promontory

In Icelandic, Dyrhólaey means “door hole island,” although it’s not really an island. The name stems from the 120 m high archway that was created by a volcano eruption thousands of years ago and formed by the erosion of the ocean’s currents. The arch in the cliff is so big that ships and even small air planes can pass through it – hence the name.

Vik, Iceland

A short walk from the parking lot is Dyrhólaey lighthouse from 1927. From the top I got a full view of the area and the gorgeous coastline. To the north I saw Mýrdalsjökull glacier, to the east the beautiful Reynisdrangar, to the west the endless black coastline and behind me was the massive lava peninsula in the sea.

It was really windy up there, but totally worth it for the views!

Vik, Iceland

Vik, Iceland

Reynisfjara beach and the sea trolls

Vik, Iceland

Vik, Iceland

Arnardrangur or “Eagle Rock”

At this end of Reynisfjara black sand beach was a high lava rock called Arnardrangur or “Eagle Rock”. The name comes from the eagles that nested there until 1850.

Vik, Iceland

Vik, Iceland

Vik, Iceland

Vik, Iceland

We spent a couple of hours watching the sunrise and the apocalyptic-looking landscape – most of it looked like another planet! I had an amazing trip to Reynisfjara black sand beach and it’s seriously one of the coolest places in Iceland. A MUST see for anyone doing a South Iceland drive or looking for a day trip from Reykjavik. I highly recommend it.

Vik, Iceland

Mýrdalsjökull glacier in the distance

WORDS OF WARNING

I totally understand that people want their photo taken with the waves in the background (I did it, too), but the beach can be dangerous. In this Iceland article by a local you can see a video that shows exactly how dangerous those sneaker waves are – and you’ll see how they got their name. It’s scary.

The waves at Reynisfjara sand beach can be extremely powerful and deadly – and yes, by this I mean that the seemingly calm ocean could send a sneaker wave high up on the beach without warning and suck you out to sea where your are helpless to fight against the strong current. Don’t go too close to the waves, and never turn your back to the water.

The cave under the basalt rocks, also known as Hálsanefshellir, is pretty cool, but if you go inside, make sure it’s during low tide. You don’t want to get trapped inside when the tide is high.

Vik, Iceland

The raging waves

TIPS FOR VISITING REYNISFJARA

  • Entrance and parking is free
  • Dress warmly and in layers. It’s very cold and windy.
  • Wear sturdy shoes. The pebbles aren’t particularly easy to walk on.
  • Try to go early in the morning. That way you’ll avoid the tour busses and crowds, and you’ll be there for sunrise.

Vik, Iceland

HOTELS NEAR REYNISFJARA

Reykjavik: The Capital-Inn is a budget hotel at a great value. I’ve stayed there twice and had a great experience both times. Click here to see the latest prices.

Vik: Puffin Hotel Vik is a cute, little hotel near the beach. Rooms are lovely, the breakfast is really great and the staff is so helpful and welcoming. Loved this hotel and it’s a great base for exploring South Iceland. Click here to see the latest prices.

Vik, Iceland

HOW TO GET TO REYNISFJARA AND DYRHOLAEY

Reynisfjara is some 180 kilometers from Reykjavik (2,5 hours) and it is an easy drive on the Ring Road. When you get close, there’s a sign from the Ring Road so you can’t miss it. On the way from Reykjavik, you’ll pass two major waterfalls: Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss. They’re pretty epic so you should stop to see them.

You can spend the night in Vik, if you’re on a road trip or don’t want to return to Reykjavik. Vik only has about 300 residents, but it’s still the biggest village in the southernmost part of Iceland. Make sure to check out the church while you’re there.

 

Are Reynisfjara or Dyrholaey places you’d visit?

Read more from Iceland

10 important tips for visiting The Blue Lagoon Iceland

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon is seriously world-class

2 days in South Iceland: The most awesome sights

An adventurer’s guide to driving The Golden Circle in Iceland

How to plan an Iceland road trip in winter

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38 Comments

  1. Archer May 17, 2017 at 9:55 am - Reply

    Black sand beaches are cool and your pictures here are stunning and made it look magical.

    • Miriam May 17, 2017 at 11:02 am - Reply

      Thanks a ton, Archer! It would be cool to see other black sand beaches around the world, especially in Hawaii!

  2. Karlijn May 17, 2017 at 2:20 pm - Reply

    Wow, those photos! I visited this stunning place too, but without that magical light. You captured it really well!

    • Miriam May 24, 2017 at 6:38 pm - Reply

      Thank you so much, Karlijn. It’s great to hear from you 🙂 I think Vik is one of those places that are beautiful even in rain and storm, but I did appreciate that sunrise 😉

  3. Dounya May 20, 2017 at 9:18 am - Reply

    Well, Very interesting & informative blog. Pictures was amazing best collection.

    • Miriam May 24, 2017 at 6:42 pm - Reply

      Glad to hear that. Thanks, Dounya!

  4. Steven May 28, 2017 at 2:29 am - Reply

    You are really a great photographer in my opinion. The pictures are just outstanding.

    • Miriam May 28, 2017 at 12:32 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Steven. That’s really nice of you to say!

  5. Sharon Wagner May 30, 2017 at 3:09 pm - Reply

    That is quite the landscape. Wow! It’s more beautiful than Hawaii’s black sand. But Hawaii has the weather advantage.

    • Miriam May 30, 2017 at 10:18 pm - Reply

      It does! Yet another reason to visit Hawaii 😀

  6. Renee June 13, 2017 at 11:39 am - Reply

    Thank you Miriam for your wonderful posts!! I am interested in the history and how the land was formed over the centuries… Caves, waterfalls, volcano rock formations, tales of trolls / hidden people, ways of living during the 9-10th century, Viking ships/battles, etc.? Your photo’s are amazing! I only have 10 days in Iceland from June 18th, 2017, so I have a lot to cover.
    I will be staying, of course, in Reykjavik, then travelling south east on the ring road only as far as the northern communities. Would you recommend any particular stops I should take in along the way. I will check out the Black beach, which I am very interested in seeing. Any insight would be great!

  7. Amy Hartle June 20, 2017 at 2:14 am - Reply

    Man this is sooooo gorgeous!! You’ve inspired us to go! 😀

    • Miriam June 20, 2017 at 3:42 pm - Reply

      So glad to hear that. Iceland is SO worth the trip! 😀

  8. Roman @ RimsNdTires July 6, 2017 at 2:56 am - Reply

    Hi, Miriam!
    I live your photos!
    There are so many beautiful places in the world, that I wish to visit!!!
    I am from Russia. You are always welcome to visit us!
    If you are interested, I can recommend you the most interesting places!

    • Miriam July 6, 2017 at 4:21 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Roman, that’s really nice of you! I was in Russia last year, but would love to return at some point. Will be sure to ask you for tips on places 🙂

  9. James Gordon July 24, 2017 at 10:03 pm - Reply

    We are just getting ready to travel to Iceland. This will be just a one day warm-up on a stop over, but we are so excited to go and see this area of Iceland. Thank you for sharing. We’re thrilled to know about this.

    • Miriam July 24, 2017 at 10:34 pm - Reply

      So glad to hear you found it helpful, James. Have a great trip – you’re about to visit the best area in Iceland!

  10. Michelle September 3, 2017 at 9:16 am - Reply

    Wow! Your pictures are magical and stunning! Thanks for clearing up that Black Sand Beach and Reynisfjara are the same thing. I was wondering about it.

    • Miriam September 4, 2017 at 8:45 am - Reply

      You’re welcome, Michelle! I had no idea before I went either, it’s kind of confusing 🙂

  11. Sheikh Iftkhar Ali October 1, 2017 at 7:09 am - Reply

    Is true that sea near Iceland changed into Wanda’s seen by some sailor named Fredrek

    • Miriam October 3, 2017 at 10:49 pm - Reply

      Hi Sheikh Iftkhar Ali, I’m not sure what you mean?

  12. Kirsty October 31, 2017 at 12:03 pm - Reply

    Hi Miriam, Your photos are just stunning.I came across your post while trying to figure out the names of the area, thank you for the clear explanations! We visited early in the morning too and were lucky enough to see a wedding in the cave ( they must have been trying to escape all the tour buses like us 😉 ). We didn’t get time to explore Dyrhólaey…but that just means we have an excuse to go back,right?

    • Miriam November 5, 2017 at 10:18 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Kirsty! Oh wow, a wedding in the cave? I’d love to have seen that, what a setting! 😀

  13. Revu69 November 8, 2017 at 11:35 am - Reply

    WoW!!! really admirable Miriam. Amazing post with loads of charming pics as always. Seems like something freaky cool. I’d like to add this on my bucket list and love to in this beach as well. Keep posting 😀 Looking forward for more.

    • Miriam November 9, 2017 at 3:04 pm - Reply

      Thank you, Revu! Your comment just made my day 🙂

  14. Scott - Quirky Travel Guy November 29, 2017 at 3:39 am - Reply

    Great post! I went to Reynisfjara on a warm fall day and had a blast. I can’t imagine being there in the winter!

    • Miriam January 10, 2018 at 10:38 pm - Reply

      Likewise, I can’t imagine it in the summer! But I bet each season has its charm.

  15. Lisa Walker December 8, 2017 at 5:03 pm - Reply

    I can only imagine how beautiful this looks. The photos are absolutely stunning. Thanks for sharing.

    • Miriam January 10, 2018 at 10:39 pm - Reply

      Thanks so much, Lisa! Reynisfjara is such a stunner.

  16. Brian Owen March 23, 2018 at 10:12 am - Reply

    Nature has given us a lot and I think that we had seen nothing.I haven’t seen this black sand beach but I have heard a lot about it.I have been to Iceland many times but I haven’t got the chance to visit here but next time I will visit this black sand beach for sure.

    • Miriam May 25, 2018 at 11:38 am - Reply

      You definitely should, Brian. Like you said, it’s one of nature’s many miracles.

  17. Deb Cheng June 10, 2018 at 8:51 pm - Reply

    Hi Miriam, Thanks for this very informative blog post! I’ll be visiting Iceland soon and want to know … where are the basalt columns located along the beach, exactly? Is it near the carpark area or is it a bit of a trek? I’ll be visiting with my parents who have trouble walking too far. What time of year did you visit? When you said it’s windy there, does that apply for June as well? Thanks so much!

    • Miriam June 22, 2018 at 1:42 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Deb! You can’t miss the basalt rocks. They’re right next to the carpark (to the left), maybe 100-200 metres away. The cave is also right next to them so your parents should be able to walk there, too.

      I went in January (winter). It can be windy in the summer, too, but not as icy as the winter winds.

      Have a great trip!

  18. Angela July 26, 2018 at 3:35 pm - Reply

    Thank you for such awesome pictures. My nephew visited Iceland and sent pictures of the black sand beach. It immediately spoke to my spirit and I know I have to go there. Your pictures just help to confirm my. fellings.I will reach out to you for more info once I know when I am going. Thanks again

    • Miriam August 10, 2018 at 9:41 pm - Reply

      I’m so glad to hear that, Angela. Thanks for the kind words! Feel free to reach out when if you have any questions 🙂

  19. Greg August 1, 2018 at 12:09 pm - Reply

    I was in the Navy Stationed at Keflavik for 3 years back in the late 80’s. I had the privilege to visit this beautiful place. Your photos are stunning (wish mine were). This should be a bucket list Item for people as well as just visiting Iceland itself. Amazing place were even the best photo’s don’t do it justice.

    • Miriam August 10, 2018 at 9:45 pm - Reply

      I agree, it’s magical. Iceland itself is pure magic.

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