The Land of Fire and Ice is a place filled with icy glaciers like Skaftafell, fiery volcanoes like Katla, and spectacular waterfalls like Skógafoss. That's why deciding to rent a car in Iceland and taking a road trip is an item that needs to be on your bucket list. Perhaps one of the country’s most unique natural attractions is the volcanic black sand beaches along its shores. Visit the South Coast is one of the top things to do in Iceland, and the small seaside village of Vík í Mýrdal (commonly known as Vík) is the perfect place to spend a night or two. Situated between Reykjavik and Vatnajökull National Park.
Vik is a remote little town in South Iceland that rests in the shadows of Mýrdalsjökull glacier, which sits above Katla volcano. Actually, calling Vík a town might be a bit of a stretch. With only 300 or so residents, it’s really more like a small, Icelandic village. Its most iconic landmark is Vikurkirkja, the small, white church with a red roof that overlooks Vík’s houses and the sea. Due to the village’s tiny size, it’s surprising that it has become such a tourist hotspot. But proximity to both the natural wonders of Reynisfjara and Vatnajokull makes it perfect for a short visit. It’s also the southernmost village in Iceland and the warmest spot on the island.
The star attraction in Vik is undoubtedly Reynisfjara beach. The coast stretches quite far and all you see is dark, black sand with tempestuous waves lapping up and retreating. Not only that but the raven-colored volcanic sand also has steep cliff walls with the dark, hexagonal basalt columns that Iceland is so famous for. Much like the sand, the unusual vertical structures are also the consequence of Iceland’s volcanic activity. As the magnesium and iron-rich lava flowed from nearby Katla, it quickly cooled. Due to the low levels of silica, the lave is able to move rather quickly before it dried, hence creating the elongated, column-like shape. It’s quite the trick of Mother Nature and one of the many fascinating yet naturally-occurring attractions in Iceland.
Further down from Reynisfjara beach is another top thing to do in South Iceland. Dryhólaey, which means “door hole” in Icelandic is promontory that looks like, well, a door hole. It sticks out into the ocean and because the tide rises and falls, small ships and boats can sail through the opening during low tide. It’s got a beautiful lighthouse and is known for the wildlife in the area and gorgeous views of the entire south coast.
There are several wonderful places in Vik to eat, and also several tourist traps that you’ll want to avoid. The last thing you want is to be waiting in line behind busloads of daytrippers. Some of the best restaurants in Vík are Sudur Vik, a rustic favorite, Halldorskaffi, a locally-owned and operated establishment, Strondin Bistro and Bar, the perfect lunch spot, Víkurskáli, the place for casual, homemade food, and Smiðjan Brugghús, a microbrewery that serves great pub food.
I would avoid Black Beach Restaurant and Ice Cave Restaurant as both tend to be lunchtime stops for buses packed with tourists. They’re overcrowded and the food is just ok.
A visit to the volcanic black sand beaches and dark basalt columns of Vik and Reynisfjara is something you won’t soon forget. The spectacular rock formations, black pebbles, and midnight-hued sand juxtaposed against the crashing waves will have you feeling like you’ve stepped onto an alien planet. This tiny little town on Iceland’s South Coast is a great place to stop and explore the area.