The Magnificent and Dangerous Black Beach of Iceland
Sunrise at Reynisfjara, Iceland’s Black Beach. Photo by Moyan Brenn. Licensed for use under CC-BY-2.0

The Magnificent and Dangerous Black Beach of Iceland


In the land of fire and ice, at the very southern tip, there is a stunning landscape born of the tumultuous elements. In Iceland, the black beaches are magnificent sights that draw tourists from the world over. And the most famous of all is Reynisfjara – a violent and alien home for trolls and puffins alike.

Iceland Black Beach Landscape

Each day a large number of tourists take the 5 hour round trip from the capital to see the awesome landscape and strange geology of this beach. Not far from the tiny village of Vík í Mýrdal (Vík for short), which hosts a population of around 300, the beach extends westward some two and a half kilometers. To the north is a plain of wind-swept grasslands and farms that rapidly give way to the imposing Kalta volcano and Mýrdalsjökull glacier. To the south, the violent waves of the Atlantic thunder uninterrupted until the shores of Antarctica on the other side of the globe. Large, sudden breakers and strong rips have pulled people to their death. It is truly a raw and violent landscape.

At the same time, a trip to the black beach is an exhilarating, profound and uplifting experience like no other. As though standing at the very edge of the world, you cannot help but see the beauty in the bleakness, completely awestruck by mother nature.

The Volcanic Nature

The beach itself is composed of inky black pebbles and sand. Black because they are made of basalt. The darkness of the stones indicating the recency of their deposit from volcanic activity. Kalta most recently erupted around 100 years ago. Being a still active volcano, many believe it is overdue another eruption. If it does erupt, the nearby village might just be lost under a torrent of melted snow and ice!

Black Sand Beach in Vik Iceland By [d]interaction ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Hexagonal Rocks

Part of the appeal that draws people to this place is the stunning rock formations. Firstly, the hexagonal columns of basalt on the cliff face seem like they could have be crafted by human hands – a kind of brave artistic endeavour. But these too are a result of the nearby volcano. Slowly moving lava, cooled at an even rate, contracts into hexagonal cylinders. These columnar, hexagonal rock formations are common throughout Iceland, and indeed anywhere in the world with high volcanic activity. But here on Reynisfjara they hold a particular attraction.

The Legend of the Trolls

The other interesting rock formation is the needle-like pillars jutting from the raging sea. Of course, Iceland being a land of elves and fairies most sites have their share of myths, and the tale of these rocks is one of the most famous. These pillars are Reynisdrangar, sea stacks of basalt thought to be the remnants of two trolls who once terrorised the area. It was in the act of dragging a three-masted ship to shore to be wrecked and ravaged that these trolls were unexpectedly caught in the morning sun and turned to stone. No doubt the sailors on board were happy to get home after that adventure!

Trolls' assault on ship


Those lucky enough to visit in spring may get a chance to see nesting puffins. These beautiful birds live most of their lives on the open sea, paddling around with their gorgeous orange feet. But during spring they return to land with their lifelong partner to hatch a single egg.

For six weeks they tend to the chick and then they are off again to their normal life, bobbing on the waves. The chicks, now quite hungry, stumble around until they find the sea (sometimes aided by helpful villagers), where they live for several years before they see land again.

The Northern Lights

Another seasonal treat is the Aurora Borealis. The northern lights are visible throughout Iceland, even in the capital. But one of the most highly regarded places to view them is here on Reynisfjara, as it is both far from populous towns yet also easily accessible by highway. The aurora can be seen for 8 months of the year, from September to April.
Iceland Northern Light

Iceland is undeniably a land of inspiration. It’s a place where the myths, people and landscape come together to create a unique magic. If you can brave the cold, and know how to keep yourself safe, then a visit to Iceland’s famous black beach is certain to be a memory long cherished.

1 Comment

  1. Gemma

    Incredible! I’ve been wanting to get to Iceland for so long now.


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