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Mar 24, 2023

The Black Beach of Reynisfjara in Iceland

Situated next to a small mountain and a little fishing village in the south of Iceland is a large beach of black sand. That’s a very humble description of one of the most beautiful sites in Iceland. While the beauty of Reynisfjara beach wasn’t exactly lost on Icelanders, nobody expected it to become the superstar it now is. In Tripadvisor’s 2023 Best of the Best seriesLink opens in a new tab, Reynisfjara ranks no. 4 on a list of the world’s top 25 beaches. It’s remarkable for the fact that the other 24 beaches in this category sport warm seas, white sands and nice facilities for bathers and divers. Reynisfjara is definitely the odd one out but then again, it is a place like no other in the world.

Is Reynisfjara worth the trip?

Let’s put it this way. If Reynisfjara was a Michelin-star restaurant, we’d give it three stars, as in “worth a special journey”. So, if you’re in Iceland anyway, this road trip is a no-brainer. It’s a fairly short excursion from Reykjavik and the perfect day trip with numerous sights along the way.

How do I get to Reynisfjara beach?

Multiple tours are available from Reykjavik but it’s also a great self-drive along the south coast. Take route 1 and head east from Reykjavik, via Hellisheiði towards Vik. Route 1 is also the main highway in Iceland that circles the island and a very popular excursion. Along the way you’ll see some of Iceland’s most famous sights such as the notorious glacier Eyjafjallajökull, the gorgeous waterfalls Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss and the islands of Vestmannaeyjar. And that’s just part of what you’ll see from your car without stopping. These are sights that make any driving excursion amazing but there are numerous other sights in the area, just a short drive away from the main road. Reynisfjara is a 2.5-hour drive from downtown Reykjavík and in our humble opinion you’ll never experience better and more diverse views during any 2.5 hours of your life. Read our blogs about driving in Iceland and Safe Travels in Iceland for some pro tips and useful pointers about driving in Iceland.

What’s so special about Reynisfjara?

The beach itself is pitch black, vast and seems to stretch out forever. The sea in these parts is extremely powerful in stark contrast to the tranquil texture of the sand. This is all adorned with otherworldly landscapes of rock formations in the sea, basalt columns on land and the most CGI-looking cave you will ever lay eyes on. It is one of those places where time seems to stand still and nature lends an entirely new perspective. Expect a small existential crisis, a dramatic sense of power and a new personal best on Instagram.

How was the landscape of Reynisfjara formed?

It’s a fair question because Reynisfjara does look designed as backdrop for a computer game with man-made structures. It feels like an alien sci-fi fantasy which is probably why it’s been used as a backdrop in numerous films and TV shows. Reynisfjall mountain, the tuff mountain next to the beach was formed in a sub-glacial volcanic eruption during the Ice Age. Reynisdrangar in the sea just off the coast are rock pillars, over 60 m high and hail from the same geological formation as the mountain. The beautiful basalt formations of the mountain on its beach side lead visitors into a cave called Hálsanefshellir, but don’t worry, you don’t have to pronounce that.

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The sneaker waves of Reynisfjara beach

The dark and imposing Reynisfjara beach has an even darker side that needs special mention. The waves here, aptly named “sneaker waves,” are both extremely powerful and treacherous. At times they seem to appear from nowhere, coming in much further than any of the previous waves for a long time, and pulling unsuspecting tourists out in one fell swoop. A number of lives have been lost here in recent years when people ignore the warning signs and their guide’s instructions, get lost in the dreamy views and hazard too close to the sea. That said, it’s easy to be safe in Reynisfjara. Follow the instructions, respect these awesome natural forces and keep your distance because you really won’t see these waves coming.

What is the best time to visit Reynisfjara beach?

In a land of extremes and truly extreme seasons, it’s a good idea to know what you’re after when you’re planning a trip to Iceland. Depending on the time of year, you could be in for vastly different experiences although we like to think that they’re equally amazing. The general rule of thumb is for northern-lights excursions come in the winter, for endless sightseeing in daylight come in summer and for a little bit of both pick spring or fall. And while you might think that summer is the only real option to appreciate the views at Reynisfjara, the area is perhaps even more spectacular and dramatic in winter. Read more about timing your trip to Iceland here.

The lesser-known bonus of Reynisfjara

Even with all the spectacular sights at Reynisfjara beach, there’s an added bonus for travelers in the summertime as these parts are particularly popular with our beloved puffin during the summer season.  You’ll have no such luck in winter as these colorful cuties live out at sea during the winter but spend their summers on land. Famous for its rainbow bill, its puppy-dog eyes and its adorable waddle, the Atlantic Puffin is hands down the cutest little sea bird known to man.

A puffin standing tall on a rock at Reynisfjara

Be safe and be welcome

The popularity of Reynisfjara beach is no mystery. It is an otherworldly place of beauty and drama. That said, no picture is worth your life so keep your distance from the sea and enjoy one of the world’s most beautiful beaches from a safe spot. Iceland is after all the safest country in the world.

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