Iceland is a country known for its breathtaking natural beauty. The Land of Fire and Ice is home to explosive volcanoes, careening waterfalls, mammoth glaciers, and much more. Thanks to the country’s geology, Iceland also has something not found in many places: black sand beaches. In fact, one of the most gorgeous black sand beaches in the world is found right along Iceland’s South Coast. When you visit Iceland, one of the must-dos on your Iceland road trip is spending some time admiring the rock formations and basalt columns at Reynisfjara, Iceland’s most famous black sand beach near Vik. If you’re traveling at the right time of year, you might even be lucky enough to spot the Northern Lights from either Vik, Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, or the plane wreck at Sólheimasandur. These all make for the perfect backdrop of a black sand beach in Iceland for enjoying Mother Nature’s spectacle.

Icelandic man holding black volcanic sand beach pebbles

What Causes Black Sand in Iceland?

Before we talk about the best black sand beach in Iceland, let’s first discuss how the landscape came to be this way. When tourists and travelers visit Iceland for the first time, many are pleasantly surprised to discover sand beaches in Iceland. For some reason, they thought we were just a frozen tundra covered with ice and snow. But no, we are an island, so we’re completely surrounded by coastline. Not all of Iceland’s beaches have black sand. Beaches in the Westfjords like Rauðasandur have pink or golden sand. But along Iceland’s South Coast is where the most famous midnight-hued beach is located.

So why is the beach sand black? Well, it all comes down to volcanoes. Eruptions from fiery giants like Eyjafjallajökull, Katla, and Hekla are the reason South Iceland is blessed with onyx-colored sand. The black, dried lava from these volcanoes broke into small pieces like rocks and pebbles. The remnants of past eruptions were eventually ground down through erosion into sand, and what you see is what’s left of the formerly red, heated magma. The columnar jointing of the black hexagonal basalt columns is also the result of volcanic activity. Rapidly cooling lava produces crystals in the basalt and as the rocks dry they break off in geometric shapes. You can observe this at Reynisfjara black sand beach, the Gerðuberg cliffs, and Svartifoss, Iceland’s black waterfall.

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach in Iceland

You’ve likely seen the black sand beach in Iceland on Game of Thrones. The show films many spectacular outdoor locales, such as Eastwatch by the Sea, here. The most famous black sand beach in Iceland is Reynisfjara, near the small fishing village of Vik. It’s a popular stopover along Iceland’s South Coast as it’s the perfect halfway point between Reykjavik and parts of Vatnajökull National Park. It’s right along the Ring Road and close to the Skaftafell ice cave, which makes it an ideal base for exploring the area. While visiting Vik, you’ll want to make the short trip down to the beach. The basalt columns and volcanic rock formations add an eerie, otherworldly quality to the area. Imagine walking along a black sand beach in Iceland on a foggy, overcast day with nothing but the crashing waves and your thoughts to keep you company. Pretty cool, right?

Iceland's black sand beach Reynisfjara

How to Arrive at Reynisfjara

It’s about a 10-minute drive from Vik to Reynisfjara black sand beach. There are signs on the Ring Road where you need to turn onto Route 215. You’ll find a makeshift parking lot close to where the beach is located along with some local dining options. A word to the wise: head back to Vik for lunch or dinner. The restaurants near the black sand beach are mostly tourist traps that cater to massive busloads of people all day. If you’re up for the walk from Vik, it’s around 2.3 miles (3.8 km) and will take 45 minutes or so.

Safety Precautions at Black Sand Beaches in Iceland

I don’t want to spoil your fun or rain on your parade, but I wouldn’t be doing the responsible thing if I didn’t mention some of the dangers along the shoreline of Iceland’s South Coast. Much like undertoe can catch unexperienced swimmers by surprise and carry them away, Iceland’s beaches have some hazards of their own. Sneaker waves in Iceland at Reynisfjara beach can be extremely dangerous and even deadly. You definitely cannot swim at Iceland beaches here. It’s advisable to keep a safe distance from where the waves break and come ashore. It was a very sad day when the black sand beach is Iceland had the death of a tourist who was taken away by the waves. Sneaker waves approach quite quickly and often come far past the “safe zone” of the other waves.

Something similar happened recently at the Diamond Beach in Iceland. A sudden wave swept a grandmother posing for a photograph on a throne of ice into the ocean and she got pretty far out to sea. Luckily there was a happy ending. Nearby Iceland coastal authorities rescued her. Sadly, some people aren’t so lucky and have a tragic ending due to strong currents and not heeding the warning signs on the beach.

Black sand beaches in Iceland have sneaker waves

Stunning Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach in Iceland

No road trip in Iceland would be complete without a visit to a black sand beach. The basalt columns, rock formations, and dark terrain are wild and spectacular. Just please remember to practice safety. Reynisfjara on Iceland’s South Coast is one of the most beautiful and famous black sand beaches in the world. This is probably why it is a favorite Game of Thrones filming location. But your visit to Iceland can quickly take a turn for the worst if you don’t keep a safe distance to avoid sneaker waves. Have a great trip and remember, safety first!

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