Four Reasons Why You Must Visit Iceland’s Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach in Iceland - And Everything You Must Know Before Visiting

Reynisfjara black sand beach with huge stones in the water at dusk along the south coast of Iceland

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Reynisfjara, Iceland's stunning black sand beach, is a destination that should be on every traveler's bucket list. With its dark and mysterious beauty, Reynisfjara beach offers a unique experience unlike anything else in the world. From the haunting sea stacks and the hexagonal basalt columns to the rolling waves and the incredible birdlife, there is much to see and do here.

In this article, we will explore four reasons why you must visit this incredible destination and give you some useful info you need to know about it. So, grab your backpack and pack your camera because you're in for a truly unforgettable experience in the breathtaking landscape of Iceland!

A hand holding a handful of black sand with the beach in the background

How to get to Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach in Iceland

You’ll find Reynisfjara black sand beach on the South Coast of Iceland, just west of the little village of Vik and a two-and-a-half-hour drive from the capital, 180 km in distance. The beach is just off the main ring road (Road One), and it’s easy to navigate there yourself if you’re renting a car.

There are plenty of beautiful sights and viewpoints along the way where you can stop. At the location, there is a convenient parking area, a restaurant, public toilets, and easy access to the beach.

Driving to Reynisfjara on your own during winter

Driving to Reynisfjara on your own during winter can be difficult due to the unpredictable weather and sometimes challenging road conditions in Iceland. If you are not experienced in driving in winter, consider taking a guided tour with a knowledgeable driver. This will make your trip to the black sand beach stress-free, and you'll also have the opportunity to see other amazing sights along the way. Tours depart from Reykjavik, and you can relax and enjoy the

Foaming waves and the black sand contacting with the Dyrholaey stone arc in the background

The Geology of Reynisfjara: why is the sand black, the columns hexagonal, and how was the whole beach formed?

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach is a unique geological formation created by volcanic activity thousands of years ago. The black sand found on the beach is created from basaltic rock, which was formed from solidified lava. Volcanic eruptions produced the lava in the area, and the sand was created when the lava was eroded over time.

The sea stacks located off the shoreline, known as the Reynisdrangar, a collection of 66 m/2016 feet high rock pillars that rise out of the sea, were formed similarly. The stacks are formed from basaltic rock and result from the erosive forces of wind and water. Over time, the softer rock around the stacks was worn away, leaving behind these massive columns that rise from the ocean.

The picturesque columns on the shore are hexagonal due to the cooling process of the lava. As the lava cooled, it contracted and formed hexagonal cracks, which became visible when the surrounding rock was eroded. This process, known as columnar jointing, is a common feature of basaltic rock formations.

The black beaches of Iceland

Reynisfjara isn’t the only black beach in Iceland. Where you have volcanoes, lava, and the resulting basalt rock battered by the sea, you’ll find stunning black sand beaches. Reynisfjara is possibly the most famous, but other impressive black beaches are on the south shore.

The beautiful Diamond Beach below Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon is a magical place where pale icebergs, shored up on the beach, contrast the black sand. These dark beaches aren’t just found in south Iceland, however; the western Snæfellsnes Peninsula boasts its own black beach with a spectacular backdrop, and it’s a handy half-an-hour closer to Reykjavik.

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Folklore around Reynisfjara

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach has a rich cultural and historical background, as it has been a source of fascination for locals and visitors for many years.

One of the most famous legends associated with Reynisfjara is the story of the two trolls who attempted to drag a ship to shore. According to local folklore, the trolls, disguised as humans, were caught by the sun's rays and turned to stone, becoming the sea stacks known as the Reynisdrangar.

The story of the trolls at Reynisfjara has been passed down through generations and is an important part of Iceland's cultural heritage. The dramatic sea stacks, towering over the black sand beach, are said to be the frozen remains of the trolls, and they serve as a testament to the power of nature and the elements.

An aerial view of the Reynisdrangar sea tacks

Four reasons why you must visit Iceland’s famous Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach

1: Take in the natural beauty of the world’s most famous and most : : photographed black sand beach

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach is a destination renowned worldwide for its natural beauty. It was named one of the best beaches in the world by National Geographic. The beach is surrounded by towering cliffs, dramatic sea stacks, and an expanse of black sand that creates a surreal and unforgettable landscape.

The contrast between the black sand and the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean with the dramatic sea stacks in the backdrop is particularly striking. This scene has an ethereal and otherworldly atmosphere and is a favorite topic for nature photographers. Reynisfjara is one of the most instagrammable spots in Iceland, alongside Iceland’s most famous glaciers and waterfalls.

2: Step into the world of your favorite movies

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach has gained recognition not only for its breathtaking beauty but also for its role as a filming location for several movies and TV shows. From the Game of Thrones series to Star Wars: Episode VII, the beach has served as a backdrop for iconic scenes in popular media. This has made Reynisfjara a must-visit destination for movie and TV fans who want to experience the feeling of being in a movie.

The striking black sand and imposing sea stacks set against a dramatic coastal landscape make Reynisfjara a truly unforgettable and surreal location. Whether you are a fan of the shows and movies filmed there or simply appreciate the stunning scenery, Reynisfjara is well worth a visit for the opportunity to step into the world of your favorite films

3: Observe Iceland’s unique birdlife

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach is home to a diverse range of wildlife and bird species, making it a prime destination for nature lovers and birdwatchers. The surrounding cliffs and rock formations provide a habitat for various birds, including the cute and always popular puffins, as well as guillemots and kittiwakes. These birds can often be seen nesting on the cliffs or flying above the waves, providing visitors with a unique opportunity to observe them in their natural habitat.

The best time to see these birds is during the breeding season, which typically runs from late spring to early summer, but the birds are present until late August. During the breeding season, the cliffs are teeming with life as birds return to their nests to raise their young. This is also a prime time for birdwatching, as the birds are more visible and active during this period.

In addition to seabirds, Reynisfjara is also home to several species of migratory birds that use the area as a stopover during their long journeys. These birds include sandpipers, plovers, and terns, which can be seen along the shoreline or flying overhead.

The area is also home to several especially unique bird species, such as the Arctic Tern, which has the longest migration of any bird species in the world (twice the length of the circumference of the Earth), making it a special destination for bird enthusiasts worldwide. Whether you are an experienced birder or simply appreciate the beauty of these feathered creatures, Reynisfjara is the perfect place to explore the rich wildlife and birdlife of Iceland.

A puffin standing on the grassy edge of the cliff with the black sand beach in the background

4: Explore the wonderful hiking opportunities near Reynisfjara beach 

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach is surrounded by breathtaking landscapes that offer visitors a range of hiking opportunities. From short walks along the shoreline to more strenuous hikes up the hills and cliffs, there is something for everyone.

One popular destination for hikers is Reynisfjall, the picturesque hill next to the beach that offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape. The hike to the top of Reynisfjall starts in Vík and is relatively easy, taking about 30-60 minutes to reach the summit. From the top, visitors are treated to panoramic views of the black sand beach, the Reynisdrangar sea stacks, and the nearby Vík village.

Another popular hiking destination nearby is Dyrhólaey, a rocky promontory located just south of Reynisfjara. The hike to the top of Dyrhólaey takes about an hour and offers breathtaking views of the coastline and the nearby Reynisdrangar sea stacks. The promontory is also home to a lighthouse that provides an ideal spot for birdwatching and wildlife viewing.

For those looking for longer hikes, several paths near Vík provide a more challenging experience. These paths wind through the nearby hills and offer breathtaking views of the countryside, the sea, and the surrounding mountains. Whether you are looking for a leisurely stroll or a challenging hike, Reynisfjara and its surrounding landscapes have something to offer for everyone.

People on a hiking trail with views over a glacier

Great places to hike near Vík

Apart from rambles along the black beaches, there are plenty of great hikes near Vik: the solitary ‘table-top’ mountain of Hjörleifshöfði, the thrilling volcanic landscapes of the world-famous Fimmvörðuháls Trail, the Glacier Panoramic Trail and the lush green Þakgil Canyon with its jagged rocks. Find out more about the Fimmvörðuháls Trail and other great hikes in Iceland from Icelandic Mountain Guides.

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Tours and activities near Reynisfjara and Vík

South Coast Tours

Icelandic Mountain Guides offer the best of South Iceland, including the Black Beach, on our South Iceland Summer Getaway tour.

This two-day tour, available from April to June, includes a glacier walk, a hike to Svartifoss waterfall in Skaftafell Nature Reserve as well as trips to Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss falls. With stops at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and the icebergs of Diamond Beach (as well as the Reynisfjara, of course), this tour showcases the best of the area.

Best of all, after a day of adventure, you get to rest up in a lavish four-star hotel. Want to experience the northern lights of South Iceland? Book a four-day adventure between October and March, staying in rustic but comfortable farmhouse accommodation. You’ll experience everything South Iceland offers along with adventure: geysers, glaciers, waterfalls, mountain hikes, and wild seas.

Adventurous Black sand beach ATV tours

So you’d like to combine the black beach experience in Iceland with some action? How about enjoying the thrills and spills of an ATV over black sands to an eerie DC3 crash site? The atmospheric wreckage of the Sólheimasandur plane, resting in the sand since 1973, could be part of a film set. 

Now do it: book the two-hour Black Beach Safari with Icelandic Mountain Guides to the crash site below Mýrdalsjökull glacier. Just don’t forget your driving licence!

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Adventure tours

So you’d like to combine the black beach experience in Iceland with a bit of action?

Not far from Reynisfjara, in the direction of Reykjavík, there’s the mighty Myrdalsjökull ice cap that offers wonderful opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. On our Myrdalsjökull base camp, we offer various activities: Such as  ATV rides over black sands to an eerie DC3 plane crash site and glacier snowmobiling 

Myrdalsjökull’s outlet glacier, Sólheimajökull, is a popular destination for glacier hikes and ice climbing.

You can also explore the small glacier lagoon from a kayak: this tour is easily doable for everyone without having any previous kayaking experience.

Icelandic Mountain Guides also offer a great hiking tour, the Glacier Panorama Hike, to a fascinating viewpoint over this glacier.

Safety at Reynisfjara beach

The South Coast of Iceland is exposed to the powerful waves of the North-Atlantic ocean, which can reach up to 40 meters (120 feet), equivalent to the height of a 10-story building. Sneaker waves, also known as sleeper, king, or rogue waves, can appear suddenly and unpredictably, often in a sequence of smaller waves.

These waves can be much larger and reach further than the waves in between, and their frequency can vary from one right after the other to several smaller waves in between. They can form quickly as the ocean floor steepens and the currents become stronger, resulting in rapid rising of the waves just before they hit the shore. Reynisfjara beach, therefore, can be very dangerous and, sadly, has claimed many lives already.

Watch this video of the sneaker wave in action. 

Scary video of the sneaker wave. Watch it on youtube:

Behavior guidelines at Reynisfjara - What to Avoid for your Safety

When you arrive at the parking lot, you'll see two large signs with warning lights. Be sure to read these signs carefully as they contain important information about the dangers of this area. The beach is divided into different zones based on safety conditions.

When the light is yellow, do not enter the yellow zone, and when the light is red, do not go beyond the red light sign. It's best to stay on the backshore for a safe and excellent view of the beach. Keep in mind that there are no lifeguards or security personnel on Reynisfjara, so everyone is entering the beach at their own risk.

  • Avoid going near the area where waves are crashing. Remember that sneaker waves can occur even when the weather seems calm.
  • Avoid swimming or surfing in the water, as being a strong swimmer won't keep you safe.
  • Never face away from the ocean. A selfie is not worth risking your life for!
  • Don't blindly follow others; make your own assessment of any potential danger.
  • Don't put yourself in danger by trying to help others, as this could make a rescue mission more complex for emergency response teams.

Reynisfjara beach is also prone to rockfall and rockslides from its steep and unstable cliffs on the eastern side. This makes it important to exercise caution and stay alert when visiting this scenic but dangerous area.

For other advice on how to be a responsible tourist in Iceland, check out this blog from Icelandic Mountain Guides. 

Frequently asked questions about Reynisfjara beach 

Why is Reynisfjara beach black?

The clue is in the backdrop to the black sands - the striking basalt columns. The columns were formed when volcanic lava cooled and contracted into long columns. These geometric formations are an incredible sight to behold. Sometimes they’re likened to the great organ pipes found in places of worship; there’s certainly something awe-inspiring and cathedral-like about them. You could say Reynisfjara is nature’s church. The power of the ocean creates the sands below them as it smashes the black basalt rocks into tiny fragments.

How much does it cost to go to the black sand beach in Iceland? 

You will have to factor in car rental, fuel, overnight accommodation and food if you are visiting Reynisfjara under your own steam. Alternatively, why not join this affordable tour from our company’s partner Reykjavik Excursions on this South Shore Adventure? Once you’ve booked in, the trip includes free bus travel, WiFi and the invaluable local knowledge of your guide. The trip packs it all in on this ten-hour tour from Reykjavik: Solheimajokull glacier, the charming coastal village of Vik, Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss waterfalls - and of course the black sands of Reynisfjara.

Is Reynisfjara beach free?

Completely free, including parking. There’s a charge to use the toilets, but why not give back to the local economy and have lunch at Black Beach Restaurant, taking advantage of a free toilet stop too?

How much time do you need at Reynisfjara beach?

Anything from half-an-hour to an hour. It depends on your interests and your ability to stand up to the cold Atlantic winds. For the photographer there’s much to capture on camera: the dramatic sea stacks, the cave, the basalt columns, the glitter of black sands and the wild surf off-shore. For the geologist, you’ll enjoy exploring the wonderful basalt rock formations and Hálsanefshellir cave. For the sea and nature lover, you’ll simply enjoy staring out to sea and savouring precious moments of mindfulness.

But you may want to stay longer and walk the black sands over the spit to its end at Arnardrangur, where a single sea stack stands sentry between Reynisfjara and Dyrholaey. Back at Reynisfjara Car Park you can warm up and refuel at Black Beach Restaurant. With the cafe stop and longer walk you could easily spend a whole morning or afternoon at Reynisfjara. Many of Icelandic Mountain Guides’ multi-day hiking tours stop off at Reynisfjara beach.

Can you swim in Reynisfjara?

No, no, and again, no! The water is freezing, the waves unpredictable, the thrust of the ocean treacherous. Even standing close to the shore is dangerous, so swimming is definitely out.  Enjoy the power of the sea from a safe distance and keep your dips for one of the safe - and very enjoyable - warm geothermal pools.

How to be safe at Reynisfjara beach?

The thrashing waves of Reynisfjara are a clear indication this is a sea not to be messed with. Any sensible person can see that at a glance and will give the water a wide berth. Most people do! But the main problem is the so-called sneaker waves that surge in unexpectedly and knock you right off your feet before sucking you out to sea - even if you feel you’re well back from the tide line. It’s not surprising it’s so dangerous at Black Sand Beach: there are no land masses of any significance between Antarctica and Reynisfjara, resulting in the build up of waves over thousands of kilometres. 

Don't underestimate the sea on your visit. It’s not a place to play chicken. Never turn your back on the water and stay at least twenty metres back from the shoreline, enjoying the wild beauty of this breathtaking ocean (literally and figuratively) from a safe distance. It’s an experience you’ll remember for a long time.

Best time to visit Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach in Iceland

I could mention winter storm-watching but it’s really not necessary: Reynisfjara has enough wave action in summer to compete with the wildest winter seas you’ll find elsewhere in the world. It’s probably best to avoid those freezing Atlantic winds in winter if you don’t like challenging weather conditions. Instead, come in summer to enjoy all that Iceland’s south coast has to offer. With long hours of daylight, you can pack in everything you want to see at Reynisfjara and beyond. 

Why not combine the best of south and west Iceland with a seven-day self-drive trip? Icelandic Mountain Guides take all the hassle out of the planning, including sorting out car rental and accommodation. Highlights include the dramatic Westfjords, the surreally colourful mountains of Landmannalaugar and its geothermal pools, the stunning peninsula of Snaefellsnes - an Iceland in miniature - and the wild beauty of Reynisfjara, of course. If you’d like to experience the wilderness in the Shadow of Vatnajökull combined with a three-day south coast extension, Icelandic Mountain Guides has the perfect trip for you. If you’re widening out your travel itinerary and the activities you want to undertake, check out this blog post on the best time of year to visit Iceland.  

It’s one thing to read the enticing descriptions and drool over the photographs of South Iceland; it’s another thing to stand in these iconic locations - including the black sands of Reynisfjara - in all their 3-dimensional glory, so act now and book your favorite hiking tours in Iceland.

About the Author

IMG Staff Writer

IMG Staff Writer

An anonymous but well informed member of our team that enjoys sharing their knowledge of Iceland & Greenland’s stunning nature.

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