Reynisfjara is a volcanic black sand beach on the South Coast of Iceland. It is one of the most scenic spots in a country famed for its natural beauty.
We’ve been to a lot of beaches in the world, but you probably wouldn’t believe us if we told you one of the best is in Iceland. The beach has massive basalt stacks, a wild Atlantic ocean, and stunning landscape. This black sand beach in Iceland is one of the most beautiful we’ve ever seen.
Reynisfjara is 180km from Reykjavik – or a two and half hour drive. It’s easy to access via car and many tourists choose to add it to their tour of Southern Iceland or stop along the Ring Road. We made the stop as part of ring road tour in a camper van and found the beach to be more than we had hoped for!
Things to Know About This Black Sand Beach in Iceland
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach in Iceland is Literally Lava!
Okay, it’s not exactly the sand as it’s more of a mix of small black stones. These stones were created when lava collided with the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a really stunning place on earth and each stone is cold, smooth, and has a shine to it. Sunsets on Reynisfjara are also out of this world as the black sand twinkles in the warm light.
There is a Cave Nearby
Hálsanefshellir is a basalt cave nearby. You’ll find it right behind Reynisfjell. It’s really cool and unreal so naturally, I had to go take a photo in it. However after Googling it later, I found out this cave actually collapsed in 2013, thankfully no one was inside or hurt. Also be aware of when you are going in because you won’t want to be caught in the cave at high tide. Always be aware of your surroundings and the danger you can put yourself in here!
It’s Not the Only Black Sand Beach in Iceland!
Reynisfjara is not the only black sand beach in Iceland. We personally visited three on the route around the Ring Road. This is simply the most popular because it is accessible and features Reynisfjell, a mountain with a base of hexagonal basalt rocks.
Other notable black sand beaches in Iceland are Diamond Beach, Djúpalónssandur, and Héraðssandar.
There are Beautiful Basalt Rocks
The basalt rock columns are a totally unique natural feature that has to be seen to be believed. The 340-meter mountain with the hexagonal-shaped basalt columns is referred to as Reynisfjell, try not to confuse that with Reynisfjara (Beach), Reynisdrangar (sea stacks), or Reynishverfi (neighboring village).
We’ve seen only seen these columns like these at Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland and they are amazing! Unlike the Giant’s Causeway, it is possible to get some headspace from other tourists if you take a stroll down the massive black sand beach to the West. If you’re going to climb the basalt rocks make sure that you can get down from where you are and don’t climb up when it’s puffin seasons. Puffins routinely nest on these rocks and one step on their egg would make for a sad day
Don’t Forget to Stroll to Eagle Rock
If you take a long enough stroll you’ll come to find another high lava rock referred to as Arnardrangur. The name comes from 1850 when eagles roosted there. Arnardrangur meaning Eagle Rock in Iceland.
It’s a stunning natural feature well worth the walk. If you’re into photographs the rock also gives great perspective to the rest of the beach and landscape.
Read About the Reynisfjara Folklore
Once you get over the color of the black sand beach and the rocky shoreline your focus will shift to the sea stacks jutting out of the ocean. The sea stacks are known as Reynisdrangar and they’re roughly 66m tall.
It is said that the two sea stacks were once trolls attempting to a snatch a large ship from the ocean. However, to their misfortune dawn arose too quickly and the trolls turned into stone. If that sounds familiar to The Hobbit, it’s because the author JRR Tolkien studied Icelandic folklore and language, using much of it in his novels.
The trolls now serve as home to thousands of nesting seabirds. In the right season, you can find fulmars, guillemots, and even puffins! Make sure to pack your camera if you’re a bird watcher!
There’s No Lifeguard at this Black Sand Beach in Iceland!
Everyone needs to be aware of the surroundings on the beach as it very is dangerous. As the beach increases in popularity so has the number of fatalities. The Atlantic Ocean here looks wild because it is. I’m not exaggerating when I say this. These are the most powerful waves I have ever seen. Many visitors have been swept off their feet by Rogue Waves and dragged out to sea, most never to be seen again.
We spoke with a guide who has rescued a number of tourists at the beach and said that there only moments to catch someone in between waves if they get swept away. There is no chance of swimming in the strong currents along the beach so any rescue is likely to be a suicide mission. So not only are you putting your life in danger but your rescuers also. Never turn your back on the waves and make sure to mind children at Reynisfjara Beach.
We saw a lot of people attempting to get their photos with the waves in the background, and it’s simply not worth it. We see this behavior all over the world and it’s still something we do not understand. Don’t underestimate the ocean, especially here.
Tips For Visiting Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach in Iceland
- There is a small cafe and free parking lot for visitors. However, the cafe is expensive so if you think you’re going to get a hungry stop at an Iceland grocery store first.
- Restrooms are located here, but they either charge money or require being a cafe customer.
- Make sure to pack a down jacket as it very cold and windy on the beach.
- Your bag for Iceland should have a pair of decent walking shoes.
- Arrive either early in the morning or late in the evening to avoid crowds and tour buses and to get some killer sunset and sunrise shots!
How To Get To Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
Driving to Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach is super easy as it’s only a 2.5-hour drive from Reykjavik along the Ring Road. We’d suggest downloading an offline map and using your GPS. However, there is plenty of signage so you won’t miss the turn.
You pass several interesting stops along the road including the waterfalls of Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss. They’re both stunning waterfalls and well worth the stop.
Don’t Miss Seljavallalaug nearby Reynisfjara! It’s the Oldest Pool In Iceland
Speaking of lifeguards not far from Iceland’s famous black sand beach lies the oldest pool in the country. The pool was constructed in 1927 and it’s set in a beautiful valley. It’s a 20-minute hike from a rugged car park to reach the pool.
However, don’t expect a nice warm pool as it’s been neglected and the water is barely warm with a thick layer of algae on the edges. Come for the photos, not for a relaxing experience!
Consider a South Iceland tour
If you’re limited on time or don’t like driving in foreign countries there is a popular tour operated outside of Reykjavik that goes to the black sand beach. Some tours run over the course of several days including meals and accommodation. For people who do not like the stress of traveling independently, it’s a great option. The multi-day tours often combine Jökulsárlón and Diamond Beach as well!
Plan Your Trip Iceland’s Black Sand Beaches
Book a camper!
A campervan is the best way to get around Iceland on a budget. While a camper is slightly more expensive than a car, you can sleep and cook in it! Meaning you don’t have to search for any hotels or deal with expensive restaurants in Iceland. Plus you get to sleep in nature every night and still use a heater if you wish! If you want to travel with a Happy Campers van as we did (and you should they are the BEST!) make sure to read our full review. You can easily book using this link, but make sure to book well in advance during high season.
When is the Best Time to Visit Iceland’s Black Sand Beaches?
In my opinion, the best times to visit Iceland are June, July, September, October, and December – but it all depends on what you want! June-August is high season, but it is also summer in Iceland and when you will find the most pleasant temperatures. It’s also when you will experience the most amount of daylight and get the most of our of your trip. December is great because it is winter, you stand a strong chance of seeing the Northern Lights, it’s low season, and the temperatures haven’t gone to complete freezing yet.
However my personal favorite time to travel Iceland is during the fall months. It’s during September and October where you will see the leaves change vibrant colors around the country. Temperatures are still mild, and tourism is slowing down. You can see the full month by month breakdown for Iceland travel here.
Things to do in Iceland
There are literally so many things to do in Iceland I could write a book about it. Unfortunately, I don’t have that kind of time so I’m showing you the ultimate Iceland bucket list here. Some things that are a must do are go to an Iceland swimming pool, soak in a natural hot spring, stand under a waterfall, and see the Northern Lights.
Photography Gear for Iceland
A high-quality camera is an important packing item for Iceland if you want some great shots while on your vacation. We travel with our Fujifilm Camera and 200mm telephoto lens. Drones have sort of taken Iceland by storm, and can capture fantastic footage as well. We had our DJI Mavic in Iceland, but make sure to use your drone responsibly as many locals are getting increasingly annoyed at the sight of them.
Whatever you do do not forget a tripod for Iceland – especially if you plan on photographing the Northern Lights. You’ll need one for the long exposures.
Is Iceland Expensive?
Iceland is mega expensive. One of the most expensive countries in the entire world actually. Make sure that you plan accordingly and in line with your budget. It’s certainly possible to do Iceland on a budget of less than $100 if you are camping, cooking all your own basic meals, and traveling by public transport or score a good deal on a rental. The good news is that nature is free, and you’ll be able to see Iceland’s beauty without paying for it. So yes – it’s completely doable to have an affordable Iceland vacation.
If you plan on drinking be sure to pick yo duty free alcohol before you leave the airport. A pint of beer can easily run you $15-$20!
Other items to pack for Iceland
No matter what you should definitely throw the following items in your Iceland packing list.
- Reusable Bags: We don’t ever travel without our reusable bags that we can take grocery shopping. And this is no different for grocery shopping in Iceland. We love to save the world from yet another plastic bag – please consider picking some up!
- A good jacket: Surprise! It gets cold in Iceland, even in the summer. I learned this the hard way when I went hiking there in the middle of July without a proper jacket. I love my Patagonia nano puff jacket because it’s one of the best packable down jackets on the market. This should be on any Iceland packing list no matter the season.
- Ear Muffs: I love wearing ear muffs so I don’t mess up my hair. I also wear my hair in a ponytail a lot so ear muffs ensure that I can keep my pony! If you wear your hair down then consider a nice knit hat.
- Flannel: No matter what climate I am traveling to I bring my Patagonia flannel everywhere and it has never let me know.
- Swimsuits: I decided to skip the Blue Lagoon and went to the local hot springs instead. If you plan on doing you will want to bring a swimsuit unless you want to go naked.
- Hiking Shoes: If you plan on doing any short hikes I would bring a good pair of hiking shoes. I personally travel everywhere with my Merrell Moab Ventilators.
- Adaptor: Remember that Iceland uses the Europlug. Make sure you find a good adapter like the one I have to keep you charged. Otherwise, you may be paying for a cheap one once you land.
- Waterbottle: We found the water in Iceland amazing to drink, if you want extra assurance then we love traveling with our Grayl.
- Towel: Unless you are only staying at hotels you will need a towel in Iceland. If you are camping or in a campervan, a lightweight travel towel is best. The Icelandic pools will also charge you to rent a towel so it never hurts to have a good one in your luggage.
- Backpack: I would suggest bringing a backpack to Iceland if you are going to be in a camper or are backpacking, they are much less of pain to travel with. Read more about our favorite backpacks here.
More helpful Iceland travel tips
- Icelanders speak Icelandic, but every single person I came across spoke English.
- The local currency is the Icelandic króna (ISK). ATM’s are found throughout the country
- Have I mentioned Iceland is expensive as hell? Well, it is! Save money by eating in and cooking for yourself. Check out our Iceland grocery store guide for all the tips!
- Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world; however, it’s always important to use common sense when walking alone at night.
- Tipping is not customary in Iceland.
- Iceland has strong internet infrastructure and you should be able to easily stay connected.
- To feel more at home we use Airbnb you can check out some tips and read more about getting an Airbnb coupon code here. Or just take this coupon for your first stay!
- Sometimes it’s nice just to have a real book in your hands when traveling. We recommend Lonely Planet to get you through those wireless nights.
- Don’t Forget Travel Insurance: We never travel without travel insurance with World Nomads. We ALWAYS travel with travel insurance. Natasha is a bit of a worry wart and would rather stay safe than sorry. World Nomads offers incredible flexible and great plans!
Popular Tours to Take in Iceland
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- Snowmobile excursion to Langjokull Glacier from Reykjavik
- Northern Lights Snowmobile Tour, from Gullfoss
- Snorkeling in Silfra near Reykjavik
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