If you’re headed to the Land of Fire and Ice, you almost surely are putting Reynisfjara, Iceland’s famed black sand beach, on your bucketlist. Between its dramatic cliffs of columnar basalt, jaw-dropping sea stacks, and the pounding Atlantic Ocean, it’s no surprise that Reynisfjara is the most popular black sand beach in Iceland.
In the post below, we’re covering everything you need to know about Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, from the best photo spots to the best time to visit.
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What is Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach?
Reynisfjara is located along Iceland’s southern coastline, just east of the town of Vik. While there’s black sand beaches sprinkled throughout Iceland’s southern region, Reynisfjara is inarguably the most iconic, due to its scenery that’s so otherworldly, it was used as a shooting location for Game of Thrones!
While Reynisfjara may look like something out of a mythical world, its features are actually caused by something a bit less exciting- geology! Well, volcanic eruptions, to be exact, which, I suppose, is pretty awesome.
The pebbly black sand was created when, several centuries ago, lava freely flowed from the neighboring Katla Volcano into the pounding ocean. The freezing Atlantic water quickly solidified the lava and, due to the rapid cooling, shattered the volcanic rock into tiny pieces, creating the sand we walk on today.
The famed columnar basalt cliffs were formed in a similar way, when lava flowed onto the beach during high tide and were instantly cooled by the oncoming waves. When lava is cooled extremely rapidly, it shrinks and cracks in such a manner to form the oddly uniform hexagonal columns that we see lining Reynisfjara’s cliffs. Ah, science.
Local legend has a slightly less scientific approach to some of the beach’s features- the sea stacks, known as Reynisdrangar,are believed to have formed when two trolls dragged a three-masted ship from the sea to the shore, but, due to their slow speed, were turned to stone when daylight broke.
Giant troll stones or not, Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach is one of the most popular stops along Iceland’s Ring Road. But despite the flocks of tourists that descend upon the beach each day, it’s definitely worth a spot on your Iceland itinerary.
How to get to Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
Reynisfjara is located about two and a half hours southeast of Reykjavik, along the famed Ring Road (or Route 1). You could theoretically just drive along the Ring Road for approximately 180 km from Reynisfjara, keeping an eye out for signs for “Reynisfjara”, and turning right onto Route 215, which will take you straight to the beach’s parking lot.
I found it really handy, however, to be able to use my Google Maps app in Iceland, so I’d suggest bringing along some kind of portable wifi device so you can use your GPS to navigate around more easily. For example, we have this mobile router, which we use to get internet in our RV while we’re in the United States and while abroad, by just popping a local SIM card into it that we can find in most airports or in larger towns.
When you have access to GPS, it’s a lot easier to plan out an Iceland road trip on the Ring Road, with plenty of cool stops, like Reykjadalur Hot Springs or the Sólheimajökull Glacier, along the way.
Frequently Asked Questions about Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
Is Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach free?
One of my favorite parts of Iceland is that, while food and accommodations are mind-blowingly expensive, most of the best things to do in Iceland, including Reynisfjara, are totally free!
One thing to bear in mind, though, is that the only bathrooms available here (near the free parking lot) do cost to use (200 ISK or $1.50 USD). There’s also a restaurant near the beach, called the Black Beach Restaurant, that has a bathroom available for paying customers.
Can you swim at Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach?
This one is a resounding “ABSOLUTELY not!”- there are signs everywhere to that effect on the beach.
First of all, the water would be FREEZING (we’re just south of the Arctic Circle, guys!) and not something you’d particularly want to take a dip in.
But more importantly, the waves and current here are intense- so intense, that five tourists have died in seven years. One of the main causes of these deaths have been “sneaker waves”, which occur when the energy from a bunch of smaller waves combine into one massive wave. Sneaker waves come onto shore stronger, faster, and harder than other waves and can quickly sweep an adult out to sea… forever.
So, like, really, REALLY don’t go swimming here and keep a healthy distance between yourself and the incoming waves at all times.
Is Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach too touristy?
I’m not gonna lie- as Iceland’s most famous black sand beach, Reynisfjara can get quite packed. That being said, many visitors arrive at the beach on a tour bus, staying for just a short period of time around the parking area. The further to the left (or towards the east) you go on the beach, the crowds will start to dwindle.
During my husband’s and my visit here, we walked pretty far east past the Hálsanefshellir Cave, a dramatic-looking cavern carved into the cliffside, and bumped into a small, natural pile of rocks that segmented off the rest of the beach. We scrambled over this little rock wall and had the entire eastern expanse of the beach totally to ourselves for the rest of our stay!
Best time to come to Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
You can visit Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach all year round, but summer is probably the best time to come here. For one, you’ll benefit from the Midnight Sun, allowing for prolonged daylight to enjoy the beach and, if you want some epic photos, golden hour and sunsets that seemingly last forever.
Another benefit of visiting in the summer? It’s the best time to see the nesting birds, including the adorable puffins, that call Reynisfjara home. These birds, affectionately called the “clowns of the sea”, flock to Reynisfjara from May through August of each year to nest on its cliffs. If you time your visit with August, you’ll get to see baby puffins- adorably called “pufflings”!- swoop from the cliffsides as they go out to sea for their first fishing expeditions.
Iceland’s weather can be unpredictable, especially in the winter and springtime. Due to its coastal location, Reynisfjara can get some extreme winds (as in 50 miles per hour) seemingly out of nowhere, so open car doors very carefully when you arrive and make sure that your Iceland packing list includes several warm layers to wear here, like a warm jacket (like this one for men and this one for women) and a cozy hat that won’t spontaneously fly off your head.
If you can manage to not get blown away during your visit, winter is the best time of year to see the Northern Lights here, due to Vik’s limited light pollution and the long, dark nights. Can you imagine a better place to see the Aurora Borealis?!
In terms of what time of day you should arrive, regardless of the time of year, you’ll have your best chance of avoiding the aforementioned tour buses if you arrive before 9:30 AM or after 5 PM. If you can swing it, enjoying the beach at sunset would be perfect- the crowds will have left for the day and the black sand beach will be stunning in the soft, golden light of sunset.
Best Photo Spots at Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
Reynisfjara is super picturesque, but, of course, there are some places that should be at the top of your list:
- Columnar basalt cliffside: The hexagonal columns are not only fun to climb on, but also make for some really dramatic photos. Plus, in the summertime, the puffins nest along the grassy hills atop the cliffs and you don’t want to miss a shot of something as adorable-sounding as the pufflings, do you?!
- Hálsanefshellir Cave: As mentioned above, the basalt cliff has a cave, accessible to visitors during low tide, that looks straight up like a supervillain’s lair. For an interesting perspective, head inside and take a photo of the crashing waves, framed by the arch of the cave’s mouth.
- Reynisdrangar: One of the most eye-catching aspects of Reynisfjara are these moss-covered basalt sea stacks, jutting out of the icy waters below. For the best photo, walk further east down the beach until you can face the sea stacks head-on there’s several rocks here that make an interesting frame for Reynisdrangar, especially as the waves crash against the mossy rocks below.
Best things to do around Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
Once you’re done exploring Reynisfjara, what else is there to do nearby?
- Vik: Just east of Reynisfjara, Vik is an adorable, but tiny fishing village that’s definitely worth a couple hours to explore.
For example, stroll around town and snap a photo of the red roofed Reyniskirkja Church; get a coffee from Skool Beans, the CUTEST coffee shop/micro roaster housed in an old school bus; and get a big bowl of soup at The Soup Company. I freaking LOVE the Soup Company- they have vegan and gluten-free options, plus you get unlimited bread and soup when you order a bowl. Amazing!
- Dyrhólaey: If you, instead, head west of Reynisfjara, you’ll find this peninsula, with views overlooking the black sand beach below to the west and another overlooking an enormous stone archway towering out of the Atlantic. Note that parts of Dyrhólaey are closed in the early summer, to allow the puffins that flock here to nest in peace.
- Sólheimasandur Plane Wreck: If hauntingly beautiful scenes are your jam, you can hike to the remains of a U.S. Navy plane that crashed along the flat volcanic plains of Southern Iceland in 1973, just 20 minutes west of Reynisfjara. Luckily, everyone survived the crash and today, you can climb in and on its abandoned shell, which looks even more surreal against the surrounding black sands.
- Seljavallalaug Pool: If you’re looking for a place to warm up after being battered by the wind at Reynisfjara, head to Seljavallalaug, approximately 20 minutes west of the black sand beach.
Here, you’ll find one of the most beautiful hot springs in Iceland, tucked in a valley of rolling green hills.
To be honest, Seljavallalaug is probably better as a quick stop, rather than someplace you plan to spend all day- the water is warm, but definitely on the cooler side in terms of hot springs- and the water is usually full of algae. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for some stunning photos in one of Iceland’s hot springs, Seljavallalaug definitely delivers in that category!
Where to stay around Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
If you’re traveling all the way to Reynisfjara, it makes sense to stay the night in Vik so you have a bit of time to explore the incredible sites in the area. Vik also serves as an excellent homebase for the night if you’re planning on heading further east along the Ring Road, to the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon or beyond.
Consider making your homebase:
- The Barn Hostel: If you’re on a budget, this is a good option (although, word of warning, nothing in Iceland is exactly budget-friendly), due to its proximity to the beach, large spacious rooms, and a lively atmosphere to meet other travelers.
- Hotel Vik i Myrdal: This hotel perfectly marries modern design with Icelandic coziness, with balconies that overlook the beach and an onsite restaurant with some killer bread.
- Hotel Kria: While the rooms here are modern and spacious, what really makes this place special is its friendly staff. This hotel is tucked away a bit more from the town than the other accommodations, so if you’re looking for a more private stay, this place should be at the top of your list.
I hope you enjoy Reynisfjara, Iceland’s most jaw-dropping black sand beach, as much as I did! Do you have any questions about visiting? Let me know in the comments below!