Iceland is a country, with unique and fascinating landscapes. One of these natural attractions are the black sand beaches dotted all over the country. Stretches of black sand coastline merge with dominant waves, creating a unique sight worth many words. Iceland’s most famous Black sand beach – Reynisfjara, is easily accessible and found just a couple of kilometres away from the fishing town of Vík.
Interested in learning more about Iceland’s black sand beaches? How to get to the country’s most popular black beach and what to look out for when there? If so, then read on.
What makes Iceland’s black sand beaches black?
Iceland is known for its abundant geothermal and high volcanic activity. The country is home to a little over 32 volcanic systems, comprising of 130 active and inactive volcanoes.
Although much rarer, black sand beaches can be found all over the globe where high volcanic activity is present. The black in color sediment is formed when hot lava from active volcanoes meets the ocean’s water, which is thereafter cooled and solidified. Over the years, these large blocks of lava are broken down into smaller pieces until finally reaching the size of a particle of sand. Basalt is the most common mineral found in black sand, with a high concentration of iron, which in turn, absorbs a lot of light, making the already black sand even blacker.
Iceland’s Most Famous Black Sand Beaches
Iceland’s black sand beaches attract tourists from across the globe wanting to catch a glimpse of these rare natural wonders.
Stand in awe before Reynisjfara – by far Iceland’s most popular black sand beach found on the country’s South Coast. This uniquely colored beach is a little less than 200 km (about 124.27 mi) from Reykjavík, close to the southernmost settlement Vík. It consists of a five-kilometer strip of fine black sand stretching across the Atlantic Ocean. Its climate is very unusual: the village on the coast is the wettest place in the country, with a climate shaped by the Gulf Stream.
It is famous for its distinctive Icelandic black sand, vast basalt columns, and colossal sneaker waves, crashing on its shoreline. The basalt pillars carved out of the rocks by the ocean were called troll stones or troll fingers. They were believed to be ancient trolls who, legend has it, intended to sink an Icelandic ship. They had tried to lower their boats into the water at night, but they had no time, and as morning came, the sun rays shining upon them turned them into dark rocks. The petrified arm of one of the trolls still protrudes from the water today..
On the eastern side, the beach is bordered by the Reynisfjall Mountains with arched caves and basalt columns that offer stunning views of the surrounding area. The mountain is popular with birdwatchers since many different bird species such as puffins and fulmars live in its cracks.
The largest and most beautiful cave in the nearby mountains is the Hálsanefshellir cave. This beautifully placed cave can be entered directly from the shore. There is also a small altar, where the locals occasionally perform pagan rituals.
The black beaches of Iceland are attractive to look at, but also quite bleak. The beach is full of bare rocks and sharp stones that often turn out to be, besides a beautiful landmark, also an extremely dangerous part of the landscape. It rains here much more often than you’d think- it is estimated that the rainfall covers 340 days out of the year. It is extremely windy and powerful waves crash into the black strip of beach. These waves are unpredictable, as slow, and quiet as they come, they suddenly become high and violent. People who find themselves dangerously close to the coastline could easily be swept away into the ocean or thrown against the rocks.
Conveniently placed near Reynisfjara Black sand beach Dyrhólaey is a 120-metre-high promontory.
Translated from Icelandic, the ‘mountain with a hole’ provides some exquisite views over the Atlantic Ocean and Reynisfjara beach. It is believed that the promontory was formed about 100 000 years ago after a couple of submarine eruptions. The ocean’s water and persisting wind have eroded a large part of Dyrhólaey, forming a big arch in the cliff. Boats and even planes have successfully gone through the arch making the promontory even more famous than it already is.
During the months between April and September, thousands of puffins come to the promontory to nest, making it the ideal place for bird watching enthusiasts.
Sólheimasandur black sand beach earned its fame from the DC-3 plane crash, which occurred in 1973. Luckily, all crew survived, and the plane wreck can still be seen to this very day. The landscape around is unique, with the black sand contrasting the bright grey metal wreckage. Although cars have been banned from driving to the wreckage site, you can easily reach it by walking on a marked path for 40-50 minutes one way. The weather in this region is extremely unpredictable, therefore make sure you are sufficiently equipped before heading out.
The Diamond Beach
By far one of Iceland’s most prominent natural landmarks, the diamond beach amazes with is beauty and particularity. Found just across the street from Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, this black sand beach is worth visiting. Icebergs broken off from Jökulsárlón quietly make their way into the Atlantic Ocean and float away into the horizon. Some make their way to the shoreline, giving the black sand beach the name of ‘Diamond Beach’. You can walk up close to these chunks of ice and even touch them with your very own fingertips.
The glorious Stokksnes beach is found a six-hour drive away from Reykjavík on the east coast of the island. The towering mountain peak of Vestahorn mountain idyllically intertwines with the dramatic landscape and crashing waves in the cliffs nearby. One benefit of its out-of-the-way location is that there are not very many tourists, so if you can get there, you will have the beach for yourself.
The black-pebbled beach sitting on the magnetic Snæfellsnes peninsula in the west part of the country is a true sight to see. Once home to many fishing boats and a fishing village, it is now fully abandoned as many ports found on the Snæfellsnes peninsula. Dark cliffs shape the beach, with stunning lava rock formations dotted around its territory. Four lifting stones, ranging from 20 to 155 kilograms, used to test fisherman’s strength are still present on the beach as well as the iron remains of English trawler Epine GY7.
If you find yourself short on time, Seltjörn is the place to go! Found only a 10-minute drive away from Reykjavík, it is the perfect opportunity to experience Iceland’s black sand beach. There are a few walking paths nearby, including picnic and barbecue facilities for those warm summer days.
Iceland’s black beaches captivate with their otherworldly landscape and uniquely colored sand. Some are nonetheless extremely dangerous, and caution must be exerted when visiting these natural wonders. The Atlantic Ocean’s waves are powerful, unpredictable and have been known to sneak up to people when they least expect it. Tourists have been swept away and some have even lost their lives. Therefore, it is extremely important to never turn your back on them. Reynisfjara beach is especially known for its sneaker waves that cause chaos and total mayhem. These waves appear small at first, and after a couple of sets, a huge wave appears out of nowhere and sweeps away anything in front of its path. Always keep your eyes on the ocean and never turn your back on it. In addition, it is best to keep away from the shoreline and admire the beautiful sights and raging waves from a safe distance.
Iceland’s black sand beaches demand attention. Their indisputable uniqueness and unparalleled beauty attract tourists from all over the globe year in year out, and for good reasons. Like many other beaches, Iceland’s black sand beaches also harbor many dangers, notably the famous Reynisfjara Black sand beach found only a stone throw away from Vík . Make sure you keep your distance, never turn your back on the waves and you will have a wonderful time exploring these uniquely colored landscapes.