The Danger and Beauty of Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach: Tips for Safe Exploration

Sneaker waves and a wild ocean: find out how to visit Reynisfjara black sand beach safely and avoid the hidden dangers.

April 3, 2023

The Danger and Beauty of Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach: Tips for Safe Exploration

Sneaker waves and a wild ocean: find out how to visit Reynisfjara black sand beach safely and avoid the hidden dangers.

April 3, 2023

With its other-worldly basalt columns and shimmering jet-black sand, Reynisfjara is one of the most dramatically beautiful spots in Iceland. However, the towering waves of the wild North Atlantic Ocean conceal hidden dangers for those visiting. There are several ways to stay safe while you visit Reynisfjara beach, and we’ve rounded them up so you can experience this stunning location without having to worry.

All About Reynisfjara black sand beach

Iceland’s shore is dotted with ethereal black sand beaches, but the most famous has to be Reynisfjara on the south coast. Centuries ago, the mighty Katla volcano nearby erupted and the glowing, molten hot lava collided with the ice-cold Atlantic Ocean, creating black rock.

Over the centuries, that black rock eroded away into dust-sized particles, creating the black sand you see on the beach today. The beach stretches for miles and miles, and walking the entire length would take around an hour and a half.

Most people stop at Reynisfjara for around half an hour, to witness the twisting basalt columns that form a fairytale-like Hálsanefshellir cave at one end of the beach and to snap a photo or two of the craggy sea stacks that appear to float out at sea just off the coast of Vik. There’s a café serving hearty Icelandic soups and sandwiches for a quick bite to eat at Reynisfjara and parking here is free.

Where to find Reynisfjara

You’ll find Reynisfjara roughly a two and a half hour drive from Reykjavik, 187 kilometres (or 115 miles) away. It sits on the south coast of Iceland and stretches for miles and miles along the coast between the village of Vik and the Dýrhólaey peninsula.

If you’re embarking on a south Iceland adventure, you’ll more than likely stop at Reynisfjara beach for a photo opportunity and a chance to watch the thundering waves wash against the sparkling sand. You can drive here yourself, but during the autumn and winter months, Iceland’s weather and road conditions can be unpredictable so taking a south shore tour, led by an experienced driver and guide, is often a safer option.

Sights and Attractions Around Reynisfjara

It may be isolated on Iceland’s south shore, but there is a surprising amount of things to see and do around Reynisfjara. Vik village is just along the coast, where you can fuel up on food, admire the iconic red-roofed church on the hilltop and even try zip-lining above Iceland’s glacial rivers and valleys. At the other end of the long stretch of Reynisfjara beach from Vik, you’ll find Dýrhólaey peninsula where a colony of puffins nest and a rock arch out in the sea makes for a striking photograph.

A short drive from Reynisfjara, you’ll find the beautiful scenery of Skaftafell National Park, so it is easy to combine a tour to the south shore with a visit to Skaftafell. Here you’ll find a glorious waterfall and hiking trails into the untamed interior of Iceland. As Reynisfjara pretty much marks the halfway point between Reykjavik and Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, it is the perfect stop-off on this two-day tour.

Dangers at Reynisfjara black sand beach

We’re sorry to say that there are hidden dangers at Reynisfjara beach and you should be vigilant when visiting. At any time of year, the swells and waves of the Atlantic Ocean can catch visitors unaware. While it is a majestic sight, seeing the power of nature as waves crash against the glittering sand, it is also a dangerous environment.

People have been known to be hit by powerful, sudden waves and the strong currents and undertows just off the shore sweep people away every year as they have ignored the warnings. You can be swept out to sea in an instant – often too far for a secure rescue.

Between 2013 and 2023, 2014, there have been 12 serious emergency calls to the infamous beach, and five people have died there.

How to stay safe at Reynisfjara

But you don’t have to avoid visiting Reynisfjara beach to stay out of danger. You can still witness the beauty of the beach safely by following a few pieces of advice. First of all, decide how you are going to get to Reynisfjara beach.

If you plan on driving yourself, the best time of year to do this is summer when the weather conditions are more favourable and there won’t be snow and ice on the roads.

In autumn, winter and early spring, however, the weather and road conditions can change without warning. Outside of the summer months, the safest and easiest way to visit Reynisfjara beach from Reykjavik is by joining a tour led by a local, experienced driver and guide. If you do plan on driving yourself, always check the up-to-date road conditions and closures using the SafeTravel Iceland app.

Once you reach Reynisfjara beach, there are also precautions you should take to remain safe. There are several signs warning visitors to stay away from the water, and these warnings should be heeded. Powerful waves can crash onto the beach and sweep people out to sea in a heartbeat. Waves swell up with no warning and are known as “sneaker waves”. Always check where the waterline is in the sand and keep well back from it.

Warning system at Reynisfjara

A warning system was installed at the beach in 2022, that uses flashing lights to indicate the level of danger at the beach with the red colour signalling extreme danger.

The beach is divided into zones depending on the conditions, and these zones are clearly marked on a board. Additionally, warning lights have been installed at the entrance of the beach that everyone passes by when walking from the parking lot towards the beach. When the yellow light is on, visitors are advised not to enter the yellow zone. Similarly, when the red light is on, visitors must not enter the red zone and should not go further than the light sign.

To ensure safety, it is highly recommended that visitors stay on the backshore, which offers an excellent view of the spectacle from a safe distance.

reynisfjara

It's important to note that there are no lifeguards or other manned security measures at Reynisfjara. Attempting to rescue anyone in these dangerous conditions is simply too risky and should be avoided.

Climbing up onto the basalt columned rocks may look like the perfect photo opportunity, but the surface can be slippery and accidents do happen. It is essential that you do not climb on the rocks anywhere near the sea as the sudden North Atlantic swells can break against the rocks and suck people out to the ocean within seconds.

Of course, swimming is absolutely out of the question at Reynisfjara beach.

Not only is the water ice-cold throughout the year, but it is far too rough to swim, even in the calmest summer months. If you want to swim, it is much better to visit one of Iceland’s fabulous outdoor swimming pools which are heated and calm as glass. There is a public, heated swimming pool in Vik, close to Reynisfjara.

For more information about adventuring across Iceland safely, check out our safe travel in Iceland blog post.

The Do’s and Dont’s at Reynisfjara

DON’T climb on the rocks. The basalt columns may look like stepping stones, perfect for climbing and posing for photos, but waves can hit the rocks fast and high, and accidents have been known to happen to those climbing on the rocks near the sea.

DO take photos from a safe distance. Reynisfjara black sand beach is one of the most photogenic spots in Iceland, especially with the basalt rocks twisting into a cave and the two sea stacks marooned out in the bay. If you are taking photos, stay well back from the waterline in the sand as powerful waves can sweep high up the beach in a flash.

DON’T paddle or swim in the sea. As the huge Atlantic swells can sweep people away within seconds, even paddling in the sea is dangerous. You should not be anywhere near the water when visiting Reynisfjara beach.

DO take a stroll along the shore. Keeping well away from the water, the soft black sand at Reynisfjara is perfect for a bracing stroll, especially if you don’t mind the wind in your hair. You can admire the wild sea from a safe distance and walking the entire length of the beach takes around an hour and a half from Vik to Dýrhólaey peninsula.

DON’T ignore the warnings. It is very easy to enjoy Reynisfjara safely as long as you follow the warning signs posted across the beach. The signs are written in many languages and tell you how to visit this spectacular sight without risking an accident.


  reynisfjara

What to wear when exploring Reynisfjara

Depending on the time of year you visit, you’ll want to dress for Reynisfjara appropriately. In the peak of summer, on days when the sun shines high overhead, it is a good idea to apply sunscreen as the beach is unshaded.

Always bring a good pair of walking boots – preferably sturdy and waterproof – for any day trip in Iceland and a visit to Reynisfjara is no exception. As the beach is fairly exposed, the wind can whip around the rocks and when it rains it can soak you through in seconds. Wind and water-resistant clothing is a good idea no matter what time of year it is. Of course, in winter you’ll want to bring a hat, scarf and gloves to protect you from the icy cold and woolly socks are a good accompaniment for sturdy walking boots.

If you want to look the part, a knitted wool jumper is all the rage for Icelandic photo shoots and keeps you toasty warm in the colder months. Almost equidistant between Reykjavik and the beautiful glacier lagoon at Jökulsárlón, Reynisfjara is often a stop on multi-day Golden Circle and south shore tours. If you’re taking a multi-day tour, you’ll want to bring a small bag with all your sleepover gear and chargers too.

Frequently Asked Questions

We've rounded up a few frequently asked questions to help you stay safe when visiting Reynisfjara black sand beach.

Why can't you swim in Reynisfjara?

As we’ve already mentioned, the Atlantic swells that crash against the black sand at Reynisfjara are powerful and dangerous. They can sweep people out to sea in a flash, sometimes too far to be safely rescued, and there have been fatalities over the years when people have gotten too close to the water or climbed onto the rocks near the shore. Even paddling is not possible and, in general, you should stay well away from the waterline as waves can suddenly rush up the sand without warning.

Is Reynisfjara beach worth it?

People often spend around half an hour at Reynisfjara beach, taking photographs of the beautiful sea stacks floating out in the bay beyond Vik and capturing the perfect image of the ethereal Hálsanefshellir cave made from basalt columns. You can get out and stretch your legs along the miles of black sand – truly a sight to behold. With a café serving hearty Icelandic fare and plenty of parking too, stopping at Reynisfjara beach is definitely worth it.

What is Reynisfjara beach famous for?

Reynisfjara is famous for its shimmering, jet-black sand and the twisting basalt columns that form a fairytale-esque cave at one end of the cliffs. There are also two prominent sea stacks that appear to float out in the Atlantic just off the coast of Vik which attract photographers from far and wide. You may recognise the landscape of Renisfjara from Hollywood blockbusters like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Noah and Star Trek: Into Darkness, and the hit TV series Vikings.

reynisfjara

Is Reynisfjara beach closed?

Although there have been fatalities at Reynisfjara over the years, it remains open to the public with many warnings in place about not climbing on the rocks and staying well away from the sea. There is a section of the beach that has been closed since 2019. The section of beach east of the Hálsanefshellir cave remains closed after a large rockfall took place.

Is Reynisfjara a world-famous black sand beach?

Reynisfjara sits on ‘Best Beaches in the World’ lists alongside the bone-white, palm-fringed sands of Barbados and the Seychelles. Yet, it is a world away from the white-and-turquoise motif of the Caribbean coast. When the sky is a steely grey, it almost looks as though this stunning landscape is filtered in black and white. For this reason, it is considered a world-famous black sand beach.

Why is Reynisfjara beach black?

Centuries ago, the nearby Katla volcano erupted and the glowing molten lava oozed across the landscape towards the coast. When it met the ice-cold water of the Atlantic Ocean, the rock turned a solid black. Erosion over the centuries ground down the black rock to a powder consistency, which is the shining jet-black sand you see at Reynisfjara today.

To conclude, a fairytale-pretty cave, shimmering black sand and sea stacks on the horizon mean Reynisfjara beach has beguiling scenery fit for movie backdrops. But there is a hidden danger behind the beauty. “Sneaker waves” rush up to the shore fast and high, and have been known to sweep tourists out to sea beyond the reach of rescuers in a flash. You can still experience the raw beauty of Reynisfjara for yourself by heeding the warning posted all over the beach and preparing properly for your visit.

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The Danger and Beauty of Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach: Tips for Safe Exploration

Sneaker waves and a wild ocean: find out how to visit Reynisfjara black sand beach safely and avoid the hidden dangers.

April 3, 2023

The Danger and Beauty of Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach: Tips for Safe Exploration

Sneaker waves and a wild ocean: find out how to visit Reynisfjara black sand beach safely and avoid the hidden dangers.

April 3, 2023

With its other-worldly basalt columns and shimmering jet-black sand, Reynisfjara is one of the most dramatically beautiful spots in Iceland. However, the towering waves of the wild North Atlantic Ocean conceal hidden dangers for those visiting. There are several ways to stay safe while you visit Reynisfjara beach, and we’ve rounded them up so you can experience this stunning location without having to worry.

All About Reynisfjara black sand beach

Iceland’s shore is dotted with ethereal black sand beaches, but the most famous has to be Reynisfjara on the south coast. Centuries ago, the mighty Katla volcano nearby erupted and the glowing, molten hot lava collided with the ice-cold Atlantic Ocean, creating black rock.

Over the centuries, that black rock eroded away into dust-sized particles, creating the black sand you see on the beach today. The beach stretches for miles and miles, and walking the entire length would take around an hour and a half.

Most people stop at Reynisfjara for around half an hour, to witness the twisting basalt columns that form a fairytale-like Hálsanefshellir cave at one end of the beach and to snap a photo or two of the craggy sea stacks that appear to float out at sea just off the coast of Vik. There’s a café serving hearty Icelandic soups and sandwiches for a quick bite to eat at Reynisfjara and parking here is free.

Where to find Reynisfjara

You’ll find Reynisfjara roughly a two and a half hour drive from Reykjavik, 187 kilometres (or 115 miles) away. It sits on the south coast of Iceland and stretches for miles and miles along the coast between the village of Vik and the Dýrhólaey peninsula.

If you’re embarking on a south Iceland adventure, you’ll more than likely stop at Reynisfjara beach for a photo opportunity and a chance to watch the thundering waves wash against the sparkling sand. You can drive here yourself, but during the autumn and winter months, Iceland’s weather and road conditions can be unpredictable so taking a south shore tour, led by an experienced driver and guide, is often a safer option.

Sights and Attractions Around Reynisfjara

It may be isolated on Iceland’s south shore, but there is a surprising amount of things to see and do around Reynisfjara. Vik village is just along the coast, where you can fuel up on food, admire the iconic red-roofed church on the hilltop and even try zip-lining above Iceland’s glacial rivers and valleys. At the other end of the long stretch of Reynisfjara beach from Vik, you’ll find Dýrhólaey peninsula where a colony of puffins nest and a rock arch out in the sea makes for a striking photograph.

A short drive from Reynisfjara, you’ll find the beautiful scenery of Skaftafell National Park, so it is easy to combine a tour to the south shore with a visit to Skaftafell. Here you’ll find a glorious waterfall and hiking trails into the untamed interior of Iceland. As Reynisfjara pretty much marks the halfway point between Reykjavik and Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, it is the perfect stop-off on this two-day tour.

Dangers at Reynisfjara black sand beach

We’re sorry to say that there are hidden dangers at Reynisfjara beach and you should be vigilant when visiting. At any time of year, the swells and waves of the Atlantic Ocean can catch visitors unaware. While it is a majestic sight, seeing the power of nature as waves crash against the glittering sand, it is also a dangerous environment.

People have been known to be hit by powerful, sudden waves and the strong currents and undertows just off the shore sweep people away every year as they have ignored the warnings. You can be swept out to sea in an instant – often too far for a secure rescue.

Between 2013 and 2023, 2014, there have been 12 serious emergency calls to the infamous beach, and five people have died there.

How to stay safe at Reynisfjara

But you don’t have to avoid visiting Reynisfjara beach to stay out of danger. You can still witness the beauty of the beach safely by following a few pieces of advice. First of all, decide how you are going to get to Reynisfjara beach.

If you plan on driving yourself, the best time of year to do this is summer when the weather conditions are more favourable and there won’t be snow and ice on the roads.

In autumn, winter and early spring, however, the weather and road conditions can change without warning. Outside of the summer months, the safest and easiest way to visit Reynisfjara beach from Reykjavik is by joining a tour led by a local, experienced driver and guide. If you do plan on driving yourself, always check the up-to-date road conditions and closures using the SafeTravel Iceland app.

Once you reach Reynisfjara beach, there are also precautions you should take to remain safe. There are several signs warning visitors to stay away from the water, and these warnings should be heeded. Powerful waves can crash onto the beach and sweep people out to sea in a heartbeat. Waves swell up with no warning and are known as “sneaker waves”. Always check where the waterline is in the sand and keep well back from it.

Warning system at Reynisfjara

A warning system was installed at the beach in 2022, that uses flashing lights to indicate the level of danger at the beach with the red colour signalling extreme danger.

The beach is divided into zones depending on the conditions, and these zones are clearly marked on a board. Additionally, warning lights have been installed at the entrance of the beach that everyone passes by when walking from the parking lot towards the beach. When the yellow light is on, visitors are advised not to enter the yellow zone. Similarly, when the red light is on, visitors must not enter the red zone and should not go further than the light sign.

To ensure safety, it is highly recommended that visitors stay on the backshore, which offers an excellent view of the spectacle from a safe distance.

reynisfjara

It's important to note that there are no lifeguards or other manned security measures at Reynisfjara. Attempting to rescue anyone in these dangerous conditions is simply too risky and should be avoided.

Climbing up onto the basalt columned rocks may look like the perfect photo opportunity, but the surface can be slippery and accidents do happen. It is essential that you do not climb on the rocks anywhere near the sea as the sudden North Atlantic swells can break against the rocks and suck people out to the ocean within seconds.

Of course, swimming is absolutely out of the question at Reynisfjara beach.

Not only is the water ice-cold throughout the year, but it is far too rough to swim, even in the calmest summer months. If you want to swim, it is much better to visit one of Iceland’s fabulous outdoor swimming pools which are heated and calm as glass. There is a public, heated swimming pool in Vik, close to Reynisfjara.

For more information about adventuring across Iceland safely, check out our safe travel in Iceland blog post.

The Do’s and Dont’s at Reynisfjara

DON’T climb on the rocks. The basalt columns may look like stepping stones, perfect for climbing and posing for photos, but waves can hit the rocks fast and high, and accidents have been known to happen to those climbing on the rocks near the sea.

DO take photos from a safe distance. Reynisfjara black sand beach is one of the most photogenic spots in Iceland, especially with the basalt rocks twisting into a cave and the two sea stacks marooned out in the bay. If you are taking photos, stay well back from the waterline in the sand as powerful waves can sweep high up the beach in a flash.

DON’T paddle or swim in the sea. As the huge Atlantic swells can sweep people away within seconds, even paddling in the sea is dangerous. You should not be anywhere near the water when visiting Reynisfjara beach.

DO take a stroll along the shore. Keeping well away from the water, the soft black sand at Reynisfjara is perfect for a bracing stroll, especially if you don’t mind the wind in your hair. You can admire the wild sea from a safe distance and walking the entire length of the beach takes around an hour and a half from Vik to Dýrhólaey peninsula.

DON’T ignore the warnings. It is very easy to enjoy Reynisfjara safely as long as you follow the warning signs posted across the beach. The signs are written in many languages and tell you how to visit this spectacular sight without risking an accident.


  reynisfjara

What to wear when exploring Reynisfjara

Depending on the time of year you visit, you’ll want to dress for Reynisfjara appropriately. In the peak of summer, on days when the sun shines high overhead, it is a good idea to apply sunscreen as the beach is unshaded.

Always bring a good pair of walking boots – preferably sturdy and waterproof – for any day trip in Iceland and a visit to Reynisfjara is no exception. As the beach is fairly exposed, the wind can whip around the rocks and when it rains it can soak you through in seconds. Wind and water-resistant clothing is a good idea no matter what time of year it is. Of course, in winter you’ll want to bring a hat, scarf and gloves to protect you from the icy cold and woolly socks are a good accompaniment for sturdy walking boots.

If you want to look the part, a knitted wool jumper is all the rage for Icelandic photo shoots and keeps you toasty warm in the colder months. Almost equidistant between Reykjavik and the beautiful glacier lagoon at Jökulsárlón, Reynisfjara is often a stop on multi-day Golden Circle and south shore tours. If you’re taking a multi-day tour, you’ll want to bring a small bag with all your sleepover gear and chargers too.

Frequently Asked Questions

We've rounded up a few frequently asked questions to help you stay safe when visiting Reynisfjara black sand beach.

Why can't you swim in Reynisfjara?

As we’ve already mentioned, the Atlantic swells that crash against the black sand at Reynisfjara are powerful and dangerous. They can sweep people out to sea in a flash, sometimes too far to be safely rescued, and there have been fatalities over the years when people have gotten too close to the water or climbed onto the rocks near the shore. Even paddling is not possible and, in general, you should stay well away from the waterline as waves can suddenly rush up the sand without warning.

Is Reynisfjara beach worth it?

People often spend around half an hour at Reynisfjara beach, taking photographs of the beautiful sea stacks floating out in the bay beyond Vik and capturing the perfect image of the ethereal Hálsanefshellir cave made from basalt columns. You can get out and stretch your legs along the miles of black sand – truly a sight to behold. With a café serving hearty Icelandic fare and plenty of parking too, stopping at Reynisfjara beach is definitely worth it.

What is Reynisfjara beach famous for?

Reynisfjara is famous for its shimmering, jet-black sand and the twisting basalt columns that form a fairytale-esque cave at one end of the cliffs. There are also two prominent sea stacks that appear to float out in the Atlantic just off the coast of Vik which attract photographers from far and wide. You may recognise the landscape of Renisfjara from Hollywood blockbusters like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Noah and Star Trek: Into Darkness, and the hit TV series Vikings.

reynisfjara

Is Reynisfjara beach closed?

Although there have been fatalities at Reynisfjara over the years, it remains open to the public with many warnings in place about not climbing on the rocks and staying well away from the sea. There is a section of the beach that has been closed since 2019. The section of beach east of the Hálsanefshellir cave remains closed after a large rockfall took place.

Is Reynisfjara a world-famous black sand beach?

Reynisfjara sits on ‘Best Beaches in the World’ lists alongside the bone-white, palm-fringed sands of Barbados and the Seychelles. Yet, it is a world away from the white-and-turquoise motif of the Caribbean coast. When the sky is a steely grey, it almost looks as though this stunning landscape is filtered in black and white. For this reason, it is considered a world-famous black sand beach.

Why is Reynisfjara beach black?

Centuries ago, the nearby Katla volcano erupted and the glowing molten lava oozed across the landscape towards the coast. When it met the ice-cold water of the Atlantic Ocean, the rock turned a solid black. Erosion over the centuries ground down the black rock to a powder consistency, which is the shining jet-black sand you see at Reynisfjara today.

To conclude, a fairytale-pretty cave, shimmering black sand and sea stacks on the horizon mean Reynisfjara beach has beguiling scenery fit for movie backdrops. But there is a hidden danger behind the beauty. “Sneaker waves” rush up to the shore fast and high, and have been known to sweep tourists out to sea beyond the reach of rescuers in a flash. You can still experience the raw beauty of Reynisfjara for yourself by heeding the warning posted all over the beach and preparing properly for your visit.

REYKJAVIK EXCURSIONS BLOG

Get inspired! Information and tips and must see places in Iceland, fun facts, customs and more.