Favourite Places – The Beach and Cliffs at Vík

 

The Beach at Vík Photo by Michael Ridpath author of the Magnus Iceland Mysteries
Vík is a pleasant little town crammed between the beautiful glacier of Mýrdal and the sea, at the southernmost point in Iceland halfway along the south coast. 

It has no harbour, just a long stretch of black beach. To the east lies the Mýrdalssandur, the sandy desert created by Katla’s jökulhlaups. Spectacular cliffs rear up to the west, alongside beaches and dramatic rock formations. It’s well worth exploring these.

You can see the rock formations from Vík: a line of tall rock spires just offshore, one of which is purported to be a petrified ship grabbed by a troll (of course).

You can get closer to these stacks, driving out of town and inland around the headland to the black Reynisfjara beach. On one side of the beach a cluster of basalt columns rises like a giant church organ on cliffs crowded at nesting season with birds: kittiwakes, fulmars and puffins. Out to sea, the extraordinary rock formations slosh through the waves as if approaching the land from the Atlantic. And to the west, the spectacular rock arch of Dyrhólaey, Iceland’s southernmost point, juts out into the ocean.

This beach is notoriously dangerous. Medium-sized waves wash against the black sand, and it is tempting to go within a few yards of them to look at the sea and the rocks, even to dip a toe in the water. Don’t. Seriously, don’t. The currents and the undertow are very strong here. But most deceptive are the ‘sneaker waves’, larger waves that very occasionally stretch up the shoreline to suck away the loose sand under the feet of people who are too close. Tourists die here: by my count of the press reports, two died in 2015, two in 2016, one in 2017, one in 2018 and one in 2022.

If you drive back to the Ring Road, go west a few kilometres and then turn off again, you cross a causeway and reach the top of the cliffs of Dyrhólaey. 

The views from here are truly spectacular: of the basalt columns and the offshore rocks, but also of the outstandingly beautiful Mýrdal glacier to the north - thick white cream flowing between mountains. And to the east, you can see right along the southern shore of Iceland. 

Birds nest here, including puffins, which means it’s possible that the cliffs are closed during nesting season (I didn’t notice any closure when I visited in May at 9 p.m., but perhaps I just missed a sign).

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