I’ve waxed rhapsodic about Iceland’s insane dramatic natural beauty. So far we’ve talked about the waterfalls and glaciers, ice-strewn beaches and crater lakes. But today we’re going to soak up the geometric wonder and wave-crashing beauty of the coast—Dyrhólaey Cliffs and Reynisfjara Beach!
While the famous Golden Circle route is amazing, I personally believe you’ll miss out on some of the best parts of Iceland if you stop there. And since this is only a two-hour drive from Reykjavik, it’s still totally doable in a day trip if needed.
Reynisfjara vs. Vik Beach vs. Black Sand Beach
So…this is kind of confusing. One of the things I had trouble with while I was researching the trip is whether these were three different things. And while I’m still only like 92% sure, here’s what I know.
- Reynisfjara = “the black sand beach” when you’re talking near Vik (lots of beaches have black sand so technically it’s not a unique identifier, but this is what people usually mean)
- Reynisfjara is where the awesome hexagonal columns are
- Even though there technically is a small beach in Vik that is different, most people use “Vik Beach” interchangeably with Reynisfjara (even Google). The biggest difference is Reynisfjara has the hexagonal basalt columns and the real (small) Vik Beach has a view of black rock columns out in the water (Reynisdraugur), but you can still see those from Reynisfjara’s beach.
Here’s everything else from our 3-day Iceland road trip!
Due to a 24-hour flight delay, I’d just arrived in Iceland that day and we had to condense the first two days of our planned road trip itinerary and move a few things around as well.
I’d picked up my friend in Reykjavik midday and we hit the road immediately, getting to experience Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss before heading out toward Vik. We had to skip Gullfoss and Geysir altogether and moved a visit to Thingvellir to our last day instead (to coincide with my Silfra snorkeling trip). But all of those can easily be seen in 1-2 days!
Visiting the Dyrhólaey Cliffs
It was starting to get late in the day, but we wanted to make sure we saw the views from the Dyrhólaey Cliffs before heading down to Vik proper. To get there, you’ll drive up a super thin, winding, dicey road up the side of the mountain.
The biggest reason to come up here is that it gives you a great view over the surrounding countryside, the ocean, and down to famous Reynisfjara beach…it’s probably the most famous black sand beach in Iceland!
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It was INSANELY windy, which made it bitterly cold, and my friend had to hold onto the railing just to stay upright—we could both barely walk!
But you can’t fault the views…
I’m told that at certain times of the year you can see puffins up here (further up the cliffs), but we weren’t that lucky and didn’t have the time to go looking for them.
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Vik i Myrdal Church
One quick “must-stop” is Vik’s church (Reyniskirkja). First off, it’s adorable and photographs wonderfully. But it plays a really interesting role in the town’s ongoing existence.
Vík is directly south of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, which sits atop the Katla volcano. It hasn’t erupted since 1918 (longer than usual), so many speculate that an eruption could happen any time. IF this happens, it could melt so much ice that a massive flash flood is triggered and wipes out the town, so the people of Vik (Vikians??) regularly practice drills where they rush to the church since it’s high on a hill and believed to survive a flood.
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Amazing Reynisfjara Beach
If you’ve seen pictures of Iceland, there’s a really good chance you’ve seen pics of this beach. It’s famous for its black sand and phenomenal hexagonal rock formations, as well as the basalt columns out in the sea (Reynisdrangar), and is 100% worth a stop on your trip. Even if you only have a couple days in Iceland, get out as far as Vik and then head back to Reykjavik.
When you visit Reynisfjara, you’ll see a number of signs warning you about the dangerous waves. When you stand on the beach and look out at the ocean, there’s no landmass between you and Antarctica. YES YOU READ THAT RIGHT. You’re basically at the top of the world and there’s nothing between you and the bottom of the world.
Because of that, the Atlantic “rollers” (they call them “sneaker waves”) can attack without warning, and with deadly consequences. Always be super careful when you’re on the beach, and I don’t recommend turning your back on the ocean for more than a second or two—it’s not unheard of for tourists to lose their lives occasionally this way. CONSTANT VIGILANCE!
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The black sand is very stark and dramatic, though slightly less dramatic on a sunny day…super moody on a cloudy one (here’s a pic for reference). When it’s gloomy out, you definitely should try shooting in black & white. We had such a glorious sunny day that I instead leaned heavily into the blues and greens.
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One thing you should know about Vik Beach and Reynisfjara (and honestly anything along the southern coast) is that it was SO windy! You can see in the pic below that I was holding my own, but the people behind me are suuuuuper lean-y!
The cool columnar rocks are the same pattern found on the Isle of Staffa in Scotland, and they are always the COOLEST thing to experience. It’s just unreal, one of nature’s neatest magic tricks.
This pic kind of gives you an idea of how big each of those hexagon columns are that make up the crazy pattern. You can get up close and personal with them on the beach (keep an eye on those waves!!!) and then when you round the corner there’s a little cave made up entirely of the columns…so it’s like jaggedy teeth all around you.
This doesn’t need to be a super long stop on your Iceland road trip, but even if you have 20-30 minutes Reynisfjara Beach (or Vik Beach or the “black sand beach in Iceland”) absolutely has to be on your itinerary.
Where to eat in Vik
We were windblown and cold, and still had an hour’s drive out to our hotel for the night. We sought out dinner in Vik since everything would be closed near our hotel later, and ended up at Strondin.
The view is awesome (and on a nice day there’s a lovely patio), and while it was overpriced (what in Iceland isn’t?!), we had a great dinner. I had plokkfiskur, which is kind of like fish mashed potatoes but way more delicious than it sounds.
A few tips for planning a trip to Vik:
- There are a number of great places to stay in Vik, and it’s a good stopping point on a road trip itinerary. The only reason we had to go further on was because we had an early glacier hike tour at Skaftafell the next day. Otherwise basing yourself in Vik for a night is a good idea.
- As I mention above, it’s super windy and can be quite cold on the beach, even in the middle of summer. Wear lots of layers (waterproof, ideally) and make sure to have a hat and gloves. Here’s my packing list for summer in Iceland (or winter in the Arctic, if you’re visiting then).
- Catch lunch or dinner at Strondin Restaurant…and if it’s a nice day, hang out on the patio for a unique view of Reynisfjara! (Get the plokkfiskur!!!)
- Read up ahead of time if you’re wanting to see puffins up on Dyrhólaey Cliffs, to know exactly where to look for them!
Other dramatic coast views you’ll love:
- Exploring England’s Jurassic Coast
- Hiking Point Buchon Trail on California’s Coast
- Driving Ireland’s Breathtaking Dingle Peninsula
- An Aruban Safari Jeep Tour
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