The black sand beaches of Iceland are a special feature of a special country. Formed from volcanic rock, the stark contrast of white surf on black sand feels raw and elemental. These unusual beaches draw travellers and photographers alike for their dramatic spectacle.
Discover nine black sand beaches in Iceland which are both stunning and also easy to see.
Why Visit The Black Sand Beaches In Iceland?
At the risk of overstating things, I’ll never forget my first black sand beach in Iceland.
The black sand beaches were one of the reasons I’d come to Iceland and yet it took me by surprise. I’d walked the long path across the Sólheimasandur gravel plains to see the DC plane that crashed there in 1973. After exploring the wreck and taking photos, I walked a little further.
It’s not that I didn’t know the sea was there, nor that the beach had black sand; it’s that I didn’t know how my first black sand beach would affect me.
As I’d come to find after this, other more famous black beaches, like Reynisfjara, are busy; tourists everywhere. But this one was deserted: just me and the elements. It felt like the end of time. Like there was nothing but black and white; wind and waves.
The sand at Solheimafjara is a pure, deep black – and endless. The charcoal shore stretches out to Dyrhólaey to the east and seemingly to infinity to the west.
And the sea, my god: the North Atlantic hits the sand with all it’s got; thick, foamy white surf pounding the blackness in a fierce monochrome showdown. The wet sand shines like onyx. The perfect contrast of colours together with the relentless waves captivated me.
The sound of the sea filled the air and seemed to stop the clocks. I don’t know how long I stayed there. Time and my plan for the day were forgotten; drowned out by the noise of the ocean. I don’t know how long I stayed but I left sooner than I wanted. My husband and a reminder of our schedule called me back to real life and the road.
But it’s ok. In a way, I didn’t really leave that magic black beach. Because I go back in my mind so often.
How Are Black Beaches Formed?
Black sand beaches are typically found in areas with recent volcanic activity, like Hawaii, the Canary Islands and, of course, Iceland. The sand is the result of dark rock, such as hardened lava and basalt, being broken down and eroded over time.
A Warning About Visiting The Beaches In Iceland
Iceland’s black sand beaches are gorgeous and I highly recommend you seek some out – hence this post!
However, they can be dangerous so please be safe on them.
The main danger is the sea: the waves can be fierce and if you get caught by one, you could lose your footing and be pulled into the icy water. Even if the waves don’t look that big, there are what is known as ‘sneaker waves’: unusually large waves that seem to come from nowhere and catch people by surprise.
So don’t play chicken with the surf: keep a healthy distance and don’t turn your back to the waves. Tourists have died on these beaches – so it really is serious!
Other dangers include rockslides from the cliffs and the threat of exposure if you get stranded somewhere in bad weather – so take extra care when visiting Iceland outside of the summer season, so that you don’t get caught out.
9 Stunning And Easy-To-Reach Black Sand Beaches In Iceland
So now you know how much I love the black sand beaches in Iceland, and you know to be careful when visiting them, here are the black sand beaches I recommend you visit in Iceland. All of these beaches are easy to see in that they’re close to roads, and/or are reachable by an easy walk.
I’m sharing these in the order you’ll find them if you drive the Ring Road from Reykjavik heading East, and then the last one is in the West of Iceland.
This is the beach I described earlier: it was the first black sand beach I visited, and it has a special place in my heart.
Solheimafjara is one of the longest black sand beaches in Iceland and it is the beach you see from the top of the bluff on Dyrhólaey, near the lighthouse. I’ve seen it called ‘Dyrhólaey beach’ at this eastern end, but I don’t think that’s its official name.
Towards Dyrhólaey, it has a mix of coarse sand and small smooth pebbles, which are dark when wet and appear grey when dry – giving the beach a stripey effect when it’s not raining.
Where Is Solheimafjara Beach Located?
It stretches for approximately 60km from near the Landeyjahorn ferry terminal to Dyrhólaey, though it is crossed by a couple of rivers, so it isn‘t uninterrupted over that whole length.
You can see Solheimafjara in two main ways.
The most common is to view it from the top of Dyrhólaey – it is a favourite Instagram shot: the beach stretching on seemingly forever, into the horizon, a stripe of black and grey contrasted with a stripe of white surf. I definitely recommend this viewpoint: to get there, it is a steep (in parts) but short walk up to the lighthouse. The views are amazing and in the height of summer, there may be puffins around, which adds to the appeal!
However, another way to get onto the beach itself is the one I described earlier: you can reach Solheimafjara from the Solheimasandur plane crash site on the gravel plains near Skogafoss. It’s about a 4km walk to the plane crash (which is an attraction in and of itself), and a few mins further to the beach. The good thing about this spot is it tends to be less popular with tourists, so there aren’t the crowds you will witness on some of the other black sand beaches in Iceland.
Read more about the DC plane crash in my post on things to do in South Iceland.
When you visit Dyrhólaey, there are a number of attractions that compete for your attention, including the rock archway itself, the view of Solheimafjara beach, and the view of Reynisfjara with Arnardrangur rock, plus the puffins of course. But do keep an eye out for Kirkjufjara beach, which is a small but perfectly formed black sand beach.
Where Is Kirkjufjara Beach Located?
Kirkjufjara is between Dyrhólaey and Reynisfjara, visible from the path near the Reynisfjara viewpoint
I read that Kirkjufjara has been closed since 2017 due to the danger from the waves and rockfalls from the cliffs, so don’t attempt to take the path down onto the beach itself – just admire it from above. I include it in this list because it is stunning to look at with its jet black sand and imposing cliffs.
Reynisfjara is the poster child for black sand beaches in Iceland – and definitely the most famous.
It stretches from Dyrhólaey in the west to Vik in the east and is book-ended by two stunning rock formations. At the Dyrhólaey end is Arnardrangur, a gnarly stack of black volcanic rock.
And on the eastern end is Reynisdragar, with the famous ‘troll stacks’: jagged spikes of rock defiantly withstanding the might of the waves.
The legend of Reynisdragar is that there were trolls trying to drag ships to shore, but when daylight broke, they were turned into rock. There’s also a massive cave made from hexagonal basalt columns, which can be home to puffins in summer.
As I said earlier, this beach is popular and the eastern end draws a lot of visitors, so you might want to come early in the day to avoid the crowds. Another trick to escape the throng is to explore beyond the cave and the sea troll stacks. Head west towards Dyrhólaey and the other people will soon thin out.
Where Is Reynisfjara Beach Located?
You can get here by car very easily via the 2015 road, just 6 minutes from the Ring Road. There’s a car park and also a cafe with toilets here (although it wasn’t open when I went last time, so maybe don’t count on it).
4. Black Sand Beach Vík
I am not sure whether there’s another name for this beach – I’ve only ever seen it called the ‘Black sand beach at Vík’, which is a very ‘does what it says on the tin’ name.
This beach is on the other side of Reynisdragar and is below the small town of Vík í Mýrdal. Like Reynisfjara, it has a view of the troll stacks, but you can’t get as close. Still, it’s a great place to wander and in my experience is less crowded than Reynisfjara.
Where Is The Black Sand Beach At Vík Located?
You can get to the beach from the town of Vík – just head south and follow the signs. There’s a small car park near the sand (I’ve marked it on the map).
5. Diamond Beach
Diamond Beach is second only to Reynisfjara in terms of fame. It gets its name from the many icebergs that get washed up on the beach here. You see, Diamond Beach is right next to the outlet of Jökulsárlón, a massive glacial lagoon in South-East Iceland. FYI, I’ve also seen this beach called Eystri-Fellsfjara.
It’s amazing to think of the journey this ice has been on, flowing down the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier for up to a thousand years, then calving off as icebergs in the lagoon. Then, as the icebergs melt into small enough pieces, they flow out of the lagoon via a channel of water and into the sea. Here, they are buffeted by the ocean and many are washed back up on the beach, which gets littered with fragments of ice. Set against the back sand, some do look like diamonds – and others like huge sapphires.
It really is one of the most unique black sand beaches in Iceland – and a highlight of South Iceland.
Where Is Diamond Beach Located?
It’s very easy to get to Diamond Beach from the Ring Road or from Jökulsárlón because it is right by the road. There are free car parks on both sides of the channel and you could explore both sides – but I think the south / west side is the best for seeing ice on the beach.
NB. All black sand beaches in Iceland have the warning to be careful of the waves, and there’s another warning at Diamond Beach: don’t climb on the ice! Needless to say, it can be slippery and that, together with the strong waves, could be a dangerous combination. I have seen more than one person climb on ice, slip and get soaked by freezing waves here!
All the black sand beaches I have mentioned so far are in South Iceland, which is one of the most exciting parts of Iceland, so check out my guide to the best things to do in South Iceland for more travel inspiration, including stunning waterfalls and spectacular glaciers.
6. Stokksnes Beach (By Vestrahorn Mountain)
I don’t know the official name for this beach, but it sits between the Stokksnes headland where there’s a lighthouse and a radar station and the imposing Vestrahorn mountain.
It really is an awe-inspiring place – with that dramatic mountain behind it, it has to be one of Iceland’s most photogenic black sand beaches. I highly recommend making the drive out here, even though it is a long way from Reykjavik.
There are hiking routes in the area, but I came to simply gaze at this spectacular scene. I was so glad to have a clear day on my first visit here because when I came back a few years later, it was clouded over.
Where Is Stokksnes Beach Located?
Stokksnes Beach is in East Iceland, north of the town of Höfn.
There’s a small road off the Ring Road, which leads to a café with a car park. Here you can use the toilet, grab a drink etc – and you have to pay 900ISK to gain entry to the area by the mountain and the beach. You can also visit a ‘Viking village’, but it is not authentic – it was built as a set for a movie.
With your ticket, you can get through the gate and drive down towards the headland, where there’s parking on the side of the road. Then just walk over the black sand dunes to get down onto the beach.
7. Hvalnes Nature Reserve Beach
Hvalnes Nature Reserve Beach is a long stretch of black shingle beach between the sea and a lagoon, which is a nature reserve home to many kinds of birds, including whooper swans.
On a clear day, there are stunning views of the dramatic mountains around the lagoon, but you can see it was very foggy when I was there, so my view was only black sand stretched as far as I could see. To be honest I didn’t mind that – it had the effect of making me feel like I was at the end of the earth…
Where Is Hvalnes Nature Reserve Beach Located?
Hvalnes is on a bend in the Ring Road around a craggy mountain. You may have seen this spot in drone footage on Instagram and Tiktok, as the road curves in a dramatic way around the mountain and cuts through the lagoon – it looks stunning from the air.
The beach is signposted and there is a lighthouse close by, so it’s hard to miss. There’s a car park on the lagoon side of the beach, so you can park there, then walk up the shingle sand bank to see the sea.
Lækjavik is a small black sand beach with a striking sea stack in the middle of it, which makes it quite picturesque. When I visited, it was very foggy, so I didn’t get a clear shot of it, unfortunately! If I am ever back in the area, I would definitely check it out again.
Where Is Lækjavik Beach Located?
It is very close to the Ring Road in between Vestrahorn and the East Fjords. There’s a track leading to a small parking area. From there, there are a couple of spots where you can look over the beach.
To get down onto the beach, you have to scramble up and down some rocks. On the day I visited, it was wet and I didn’t fancy doing the scramble with my camera, so I stuck to the viewpoints by the car park. However, there was another couple when I was there who did the scramble and wandered on the beach for a bit.
The beaches at Stokksnes, Hvalnes and Lækjavik are all in East Iceland. If you’re venturing into this area, check out the other great things to do in East Iceland, including the East Fjords and hot springs.
Most of the beaches I saw on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula were more grey than black, but Djúpalónssandur beach is fairly dark, if not jet black. The beach itself is shingle and is surrounded by twisted lava formations. It feels remote and wild.
There was a shipwreck near here: the Epine GY7 Trawler ran aground in 1948 and 14 people died. There are rusty remains of the ship strewn on the beach – but refrain from touching them. I read it’s been a conscious decision to leave them untouched as a sign of respect to those who died.
There’s also a set of lifting stones that were apparently a test of strength for Icelandic fishermen. They’re huge, so I didn’t even attempt to try lifting them!
Where Is Djúpalónssandur Beach Located?
There’s a short road off the Útnesvegur road, which leads to a car park. From there, there’s an uneven path through the rocky lava field down to the beach.
For more ideas of what you can see around Djúpalónssandur beach, check out my itinerary and route for exploring the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in a day.
Map: Black Sand Beaches In Iceland
Here’s a map showing the 9 black sand beaches in Iceland that I recommend you try to see – plus some practical details like car parks etc.
How To Use This Map: click the tab in the top left-hand corner of the map to view the layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each one. If you click the star next to the title of the map, it will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu, go to ‘Your Places’, then click Maps and you will see this map in your list.
You’ll notice the black sand beaches I recommend congregate around the South Coast of Iceland. I think there are some black sand beaches further north, but most of the beaches I saw in the north and east were kind of grey-ish, but not really black. So if you are drawn to Iceland for its black beaches, like I was, the South Coast is a good region to focus on.
I hope this inspires you to discover the back sand beaches of Iceland!
If you have any favourites, let me know in the comments.
And if you want more ideas for exploring Iceland, check out my itinerary for driving the Ring Road around Iceland.