Reynisfjara, commonly known as ‘The Black Sand Beach’ is only 112 miles south of Reykjavik but a return trip along Route 1 from Icelands’ capital city is a long, full day drive due to the multiple stops you will want to make along the way. Self-driving will allow you to make the stops you want for the amount of time you want.
Leave Reykjavik as early as you can; you do not want to rush this incredible drive. You also do not want to travel in darkness, not only will you be missing out on stunning scenery but roadside lights are non-existent for the majority of this route. Reynisfjara is an easy destination to drive to as there is only one route, Route 1. The route is well signposted, in excellent condition and has sparse traffic for most of the journey. We hired a car from SADcars based in Reykjavik city centre; our car was old and basic but it was much cheaper than any other car hire agency.
Heading south-east from Reykjavik, Route 1 cuts through dramatically contrasting scenery.
To the right side of the car endless flat fields, dotted with isolated red-roofed homes and farms, gently ease into the ocean. On the left side of the car, the earth rises uniformly yet steeply into high, rocky escarpments.
The colours of the contrasting landscape are also in stark comparison to each other – vivid, lime green moss hugging jet black volcanic rock on the left-hand side rocky slopes are the opposite of the thin, tufty yellow-brown grass of the fields on the right side.
The first major stop outside of Reykjavik is a trio of pretty waterfalls, the most impressive of which is
Dubbed ‘the one you can walk behind’ the narrow cascade of Seljalandsfoss tumbles over the escarpment from a height of 60m.
Walking the rocky path behind the falls leaves with you a strong impression of the thundering force of the falling water.
Plus, there is a small path off the main path that brings you right to the bottom of the back of the falls.
You can feel the vibrations of the cascading water throughout your body.
Continue along the path hugging the bottom of the escarpment to explore the pretty neighbouring waterfalls.
Continuing along the coast, the next stop is Skogafoss, a waterfall reminiscent of a perfect wide curtain. One of Icelands biggest waterfalls, falling from 60m with a width of 25m, Skogafoss was my favourite waterfall in the whole of Iceland – no mean feat!
Skogafoss is beautiful, a waterfall straight from a fairy tale.
Again, Iceland shows it is in a league of its own in looking after its natural wonders.
No zip lines, no climbing, no ‘waterfall view restaurant’ – Skogafoss is now as it would have looked to the first human eye.
There is a staircase you can climb to get a birds eye view of the waterfall but it is set to the side of the Falls so as not to spoil the perfect view of Skogafoss.
The free car par is also set well back from the water.
You can walk a rocky shoreline to get near the base of the powerful Falls but be prepared to get wet from the spray.
A short distance from Skogafoss you can stop at a viewpoint to see Eyjafjallajokull, the unpronounceable name (to non-Icelanders!) of the ice-capped volcano famous for its disruptive ash cloud in 2010.
We visited on a cloudy day and were unable to see the infamous volcano but there is an information board with photos showing you what you can see on a clear day – and what you could see at the time of the 2010 eruption.
Our final stop, a short detour from Route 1, was to the famous black sand of Reynisfjara beach near the small village of Vik.
The black ‘sand’ is not fine beach sand but small shingle and rocks and the moody, gothic atmosphere of the beach create a photographers dream.
Be careful where you walk and where you take your photographs; the sea here is wild and dangerous and there are warnings not to turn your back on the waves and to leave 30 metres between you and the sea. This beach gets regular ‘sneaker waves’ that sweep up the beach from out of nowhere with the tragically proven potential to pull unsuspecting tourists into the sea, even on a calm day.
Make sure you see the impossibly geometric basalt columns at Gardar cliff near the Reynisdrangar sea stack.
From Reynisfjara we headed back to Reykjavik but in retrospect, we wished we had stayed overnight nearby. We loved the wild, beautiful scenery along this remote stretch of Iceland and would have liked to have travelled further to the Jokulsarlon iceberg lagoon.
It just means we will have to return one day!
Our day trips from Reykjavik gave us a different perspective of Iceland and only fuelled our desire to return and drive the complete island circuit. I would love to hear your comments or tips if you have done these, or other, routes.