Dyrhólaey Peninsula, on the tip of Iceland’s southern coast, is blessed with great scenery, puffin spotting, and views of Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach. Here’s our complete guide to this unique coastal destination.
Lying at the southern tip of Iceland, where the land of fire and ice extends into the Atlantic Ocean, the Dyrhólaey peninsula is a small volcanic promontory that was once a separate island off the mainland coast.
From the summit, wonderful views stretch across the Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach to needle-thin stacks, natural arches and distant islands as puffins dive towards the sea and return with a beak-full of fish.
In just a few short miles the Dyrhólaey peninsula contains many of Iceland’s must-visit destinations, and best of all, each site is completely free.
Here’s our complete guide to Dyrhólaey Peninsula & Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach including how to get there, what to see, and where to stay nearby. Find out how to incorporate the area on your trip in our 5-day Iceland itinerary.
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WHERE IS DYRHÓLAEY PENINSULA & REYNISFJARA BEACH
The Dyrhólaey peninsula is a rocky promontory jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean in south central Iceland. Rising to a height of 120 metres, it’s the southernmost tip of the country.
The nearest town is Vík, which is only 2 miles (3 kilometres) to the east, but the road completes a large 12-mile loop and takes 20 minutes. From Reykjavík, the Dyrhólaey peninsula is just over 110 miles away (180 kilometres) and takes around 2 hours and 30 minutes to drive.
Reynisfjara Beach is a black sand beach wedged between the cliffs of the Dyrhólaey peninsula and Vík.
THINGS TO DO AT DYRHÓLAEY
ENDLESS BEACH VIEWPOINT
At the western end of the Dyrhólaey Peninsula, Endless Beach Viewpoint provides sweeping views from the 120-metre-high cliffs. Also known as Dyrhólaey Beach, a wide black beach extends down the coast with a green moss-covered lava field marching towards the sea.
The view from the headland is remarkable and unique. The huge swathe of black sand, accentuated by the white strip of crashing surf forms a natural leading line towards the giant Mýrdalsjökull Glacier in the background. On a clear day Vestmannaeyjabaer island is visible in the distance.
Perched on top of the western end of the promontory, Dyrhólaey Lighthouse, built in 1927, is a square concrete tower reaching 13 metres high. The lighthouse is reached via a short windy from the car park that provides excellent views of Dyrhólaey Arch and Reynisdranger Needles, a collection of thin basalt stacks rising out of the sea.
On the walk from the parking lot you’ll have plenty of opportunities to photograph puffins and other colourful birds. Catch them as they shelter amongst the rocks between fishing expeditions out to sea.
DYRHÓLAEY ARCH VIEWPOINT
Dyrhólaey which means “the hill island with the door hole,” is named after a natural arch underneath a small section of the peninsula jutting out to sea. The arch is wide enough that small boats can pass under it.
The closest and best angle to photograph the arch is from Dyrhólaey Arch Viewpoint, around 100 metres past the lighthouse. This viewpoint is the best way to see the arch, but further on, at Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach Viewpoint, the views get even better.
REYNISFJARA BLACK SAND BEACH VIEWPOINT
At the eastern end of the Dyrhólaey Peninsula there are wonderful views over Reynisfjara Black Sand beach. This stretch of sand was ranked by National Geographic as one of the best beaches in the world. Beyond the beach, Reynisdranger Needles stand in the distant background.
Just in front of Reynisfjara, another smaller black sand beach called Kirkjufjara has one of Dyrhólaey’s most photographed landmarks. Arnardrangur, also known as “eagle rock” due to the eagles who once used the location for nesting, is a large lump of rock sitting on the beach, just where the waves break.
It’s an excellent viewpoint and a great location for puffin spotting.
PUFFIN SPOTTING AT DYRHÓLAEY
Right next to the Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach viewpoint, the clifftops on the Dyrhólaey peninsula are covered in a sloping tuft of grass which provides the perfect set up to capture puffin shots.
If you are in season (April – August) this is the best place on the entire peninsula to photograph them. You may have to hang around and its helpful to have a telephoto lens, but, even in wet and windy conditions, your chances of capturing them are good.
Dyrhólaey Closures – To protect the puffins, Dyrhólaey is not open to the public between 7pm and 9am. It may also be closed completely for several days around the first week of May over the peak breeding season.
REYNISFJARA BLACK SAND BEACH
Even though Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach is just below the eastern end of Dyrhólaey peninsula it is not possible to walk straight onto the beach. Instead, it’s a looping 20-minute drive to the car park at the other end.
Black sand beaches appear when lava from a large volcanic eruption flows into the sea and cools quickly. Reynisfjara was formed from one of Katla Volcano’s major eruptions.
The natural spectacle of Reynisfjara has been immortalised on several popular Hollywood works including Game of Thrones, Noah, The Force Awakens and Rogue One.
Safety Note – Although it looks appealing, Reynisfjara beach is extremely dangerous. Sneaker Waves can suddenly reach much further up the beach dragging people out to sea. Be extremely careful if you decide to go down to the beach.
GARDAR BASALT COLUMNS
The Gardar Basalt Columns are at the eastern end of Reynisfjara Beach, right next to the car parking lot. These tightly packed columns are so carefully arranged, it’s difficult to imagine they were formed by nature.
Basalt columns are formed when basalt lava from a volcanic eruption cools very quickly, forcing the hardened rock to crack into long geometric columns.
This process is called columnar jointing. The columns are usually hexagonal and over the course of centuries, they can form vertical cliffs or terraced steps. Iceland’s cold temperatures and volcanic activity create the perfect environment for these columns.
The Gardar Basalt Columns at Reynisfjara are some of the best in Iceland; the largest collection is at Stuðlagil canyon.
HOW TO GET TO DYRHÓLAEY PENINSULA & REYNISFJARA
Dyrhólaey is a 2-hour 30-minute drive from Reykjavík or 20 minutes from Vík.
Dyrhólaey Peninsula is split into two sections with two different parking lots. Access to Reynisfjara Beach is at a separate location, 20 minutes away.
Upper Section // The upper (western) section is called Háey, and it’s here you’ll find Endless Beach, Dyrhólaey Lighthouse and Dyrhólaey Arch (red on the map below).
Lower Section // The lower (eastern) section is called Lágey which has the best puffin spotting opportunities and views over Reynisfjara Beach (purple on the map).
To explore both – which we highly recommend – you can either drive between the two parking lots (5 minutes) or walk along the clifftops (25 minutes each way). The road between the two car parks can be a bit rough but it is usually possible in either a 2WD or 4×4. Be beware that during nesting season the upper car park can sometimes be closed.
Reynisfjara Beach // It is not possible to get onto Reynisfjara Beach from the Dyrhólaey Peninsula, instead, drive for 20 minutes (14 miles) to the Reynisfjara Beach parking lot (brown on the map).
All the car parks are free of charge.
Tours run from Reykjavík take all day (approximately 10 hours) making regular stops along the way.
1 – Waterfalls & Reynisfjara // This south coast tour runs from Reykjavík with excellent views of the Eyjafjallajökull glacier on the way. It visits the waterfalls of Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss, before stopping at Reynisfjara beach to see the basalt columns.
2 – Eastern Viewpoints // This south coast tour also runs from Reykjavík and follows roughly the same itinerary as the one above. However, a stop is added at the eastern end of the Dyrhólaey peninsula where you get great views of Reynisfjara beach from above and good puffin spotting opportunities (April to August).
WHERE TO STAY TO VISIT DYRHÓLAEY
There are a host of great places to stay in Iceland near Dyrhólaey. One of the best places to base yourself is Vik, here are some suggestions.
DYRHÓLAEY PENINSULA & REYNISFJARA BEACH MAP
The below map has the 3 main places to visit at Dyrhólaey. The Upper area (Háey) in marked in red, Dyrhólaey Lower (Lágey) is marked in purple, and Reynisfjara beach is marked in brown.
IMPORTANT INFORMATION FOR VISITING THE AREA
01 – During puffin nesting season, the upper parking lot (Háey) is sometimes closed.
02 – Visitor hours are restricted during puffin season (around April to August) and Dyrhólaey will be closed from 7pm.
03 – Allow at least 2 hours to explore the Dyrhólaey Peninsula. There are lots of great viewpoints and you’ll probably want to spend some time capturing the perfect puffin shot.
04 – Parking is free and there is no charge to enter the site.
05 – There are restrooms at the lower parking lot (Lágey) which cost 200 ISK ($1.50) payable by card.
06 – There is no food or drink at either the upper or lower parking lots.
07 – It can be cold, wet and windy at Dyrhólaey, even in Summer, so bring a hat, gloves and raincoat.
08 – The paths to the viewpoints are in good condition but they are steep in some sections.
09 – Although you can get up close to the puffins, a telephoto lens is still required.
10 – Allow about 1 hour to walk along the beach and see the basalt columns.
11 – Be very careful of the freak waves called at Reynisfjara call ‘sneaker waves’ which have been known to drag people into the sea.
12 – Visiting and parking is completely free and there are toilets in the parking lot.
13 – Black Beach Restaurant, next to the parking lot at Reynisfjara, serves food from 11am to 8pm.
COOL THINGS TO DO NEAR DYRHÓLAEY PENINSULA
Some of our top places to visit in Iceland are not far from Dyrhólaey. A few of the highlights are –
Katla Ice Cave – Take a super jeep tour down a rural road, hike across the Kötlujökull Glacier with provided crampons, and explore the blue and black ice cave.
Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss – Two of the best waterfalls in Iceland are only about 30 minutes’ drive away.
Abandoned DC Plane Wreck – An Instagram favourite. A 1973 plane wreck sits ruined on the black beach at Sólheimsandur. The parking lot is 15 minutes from Dyrhólaey, from where it is a 45-minute walk (each way) across the black sands to the plane.
Maelifell – If you have a 4×4 and fancy a bit of adventure head to Maelifell. This green cone-shaped volcano rising out of a plain of black sand and rock is one of the iconic sights of Iceland. Find all the information you need on our Maelifell guide.
MORE ICELAND READING
Iceland is an excellent destination for semi-adventurous travellers who like to get off the beaten track and immerse themselves in stunning scenery. Here’s some more reading from us to help plan your journey to the land of fire and ice.
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