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Vik’s Volcanic Black Sand Beaches

Updated: Dec 9, 2019

Iceland is filled to bursting with spectacular views. From its glaciers and volcanoes to cascading waterfalls and explosive geysers. There are so many natural highlights to take in. One of the most amazing and quite otherworldly views is out across Vik’s volcanic black sand beaches.

The famous Reynisfjara Beach has a stark and wild beauty all its own. High basalt cliffs, towering columns surrounded by thundering North Atlantic waves and a big sweep of jet black sand. If you are visiting Iceland even for a few days this is an incredible place to visit. It was in fact named one of the top beaches in the world by National Geographic. In this article, we will take you through the how, the where and the why of visiting Vik’s black sand beaches. Read on for an insight into the most striking beach in all of Iceland.


Where is the Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach?

The Reynisfjara black sand beach can be found in Southwest Iceland near the small fishing village of Vík í Mýrdal. Vik is the southernmost village in Iceland and the beach is located really nearby. The town makes for a great base to explore the area from. As well as Reynisfjara there are many other sights to visit nearby.


How to get there and where to stay

Vik Iceland is located about a two and a half-hour drive from the capital city Reykjavik. It lies on the Ring Road route so it is a popular place to visit on a road trip. It is possible to drive there and back in one day and make a day trip of it from Reykjavik. Rushing it would be a shame though. If you have the time we very much recommend that you make it a more leisurely road trip.


You could hire a motorhome, camper or car and cruise along Iceland’s South Coast. There is so much to see on this route that you will likely want to spend at least three or four days. More if you have the time. You could tie it in with a road trip around the Golden Circle too. If you do that you will need at least a week or ten days to do it all justice. There are several campsites in the area that you can park up at. One campground is right next to the village and makes an excellent base.


Why does the beach look as it does?

The south of Iceland has seen a great deal of volcanic activity in the past. This whole coastline would once have been covered in lava several times in the distant past. The lava would then have cooled to become different types of hard black rock. The rock was then broken up and worn down into tiny pieces over the centuries to become coarse black sand.


The geometric basalt columns are also formed by volcanic lava flows. As the lava cooled it cracked at different points creating these long pillar-like rock formations. The three columns out to sea are eroded sections of lava rock. The striking forms are created because of the way the water and the weather had broken the rock away. Like many landscapes in Iceland, the beach has appeared in several films and TV series. It was actually featured in Season 7 of the TV series Game of Thrones.


Folklore tales from Reynisfjara

Of course the three striking sea stacks on this famous black sand beach have a story behind them. Folklore tells that the rock pillars are three careless trolls that got caught out in the daylight and turned to stone. They were busy trying to pull a boat into shore and didn’t realize the time. When the sun peeped over the horizon its rays turned the unwitting trolls to stone. They have stood there amongst the wild Atlantic waves ever since.


How to stay safe on the sands

Now for an important word on safety. With the wild weather of Iceland being quite so changeable you do need to be careful wherever you travel. However on Reynisfjara Beach you need to be particularly mindful of your surroundings. Many people have visited the beach and seen the sea looking relatively calm. They see the shoreline and believe that the sea will stay more or less in that area. Not so fast though. On this beach, there is the phenomenon of the sneaker wave to factor in. These are waves that rise up many meters higher than the previous and subsequent waves. They can come out of nowhere and have caught people out in the past.


It is always best to stay 20 meters or so away from the edge of the water. If you do go closer then you should never ever turn your back on the sea or get distracted. It goes without saying that children should be really well supervised when visiting this beach. Getting wet feet and legs are no fun and it could very easily be worse than this. The currents here are very strong and the water is extremely cold. So stay vigilant and maintain a healthy respect for the powerful forces of nature.


Other things to do nearby

Another famous sight nearby is a US Navy plane wreck on the black sands of the Sólheimasandur glacial outwash plain. This striking sight has featured in TV commercials, music videos and innumerable travellers’ photographs.

It is good to know that the whole crew survived their emergency landing here way out in the middle of nowhere. It is so remote that it was decided that they would leave the shell of the plane where is landed. This is another Iceland sight where you need to play it very safe. The plane is about a 3km walk from the nearest parking lot so you need plenty of daylight to walk. It is too dangerous to attempt to visit it in winter as the weather and darkness make it hazardous.


Beyond this stretch of black sand beach, there is lots more to see and do in the area. The southern tip of the vast Vatnajökull National Park isn’t far away. Here you will find glaciers, waterfalls and hiking trails that could keep you enthralled for days.


The amazing Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon lies right on the southwest edge of the park too. Here visitors can take boat rides out onto the lake and see icebergs of all shapes and sizes bobbing by. The icebergs break off from the main body of the glacier and are channeled out into the open ocean. The nearby Diamond Beach is dotted with pieces of ice like diamonds cast out across the sands.


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