Dverghamrar Basalt Cliffs, Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, Reynisfjara Beach and Vik

Basalt hills right out of a folktale, a canyon from the land before time, and a mystical black sand beach, all on the coast of Southern Iceland…

Dverghamrar Basalt Cliffs

“Wow! What’s that? We’ve gotta turn around!”, I remember saying, as Phil drove past the Dverghamrar Basalt Cliffs. The cliffs didn’t reach too high (Dverghamrar essentially means the Dwarf Cliffs), at least compared to the average height of the other things we’ve seen so far in Iceland, but there was something special about them.

The meadow that sits literally atop the Dverghamrar Basalt Cliffs, hiding them from most casual passers-by

Apart from the unique hexagonal column structure, which we’d already seen several times throughout the trip, these cliffs rose out of ground in several layers of flat tiers. If you have an imagination, they almost look like steps to a throne that isn’t there.

The path winding between the basalt columns, leading towards just one of the oh so many cliff’s edge waterfalls that Iceland has no shortage of

Their tops are also covered in grass, making it seem as if they are hiding something. Perhaps they are. Icelanders believe that these cliffs are home to dwarves and elves – indeed, they remind me of the Shire.

The Dverghamrar Basalt Columns are layered in several levels, often appearing as some giant steps

These basalt cliffs are similar to the ones we saw at Hofsós, which is by the sea, although these are much farther inland. Apparently, they were formed during a period when the earth was much warmer and the seas were higher, and that sea waves are the reason for the shape the cliffs are in present day.

Anywhere else in the World, this would be a one of a kind sight, but these small waterfalls are so abundant in Iceland, that we could not even find a name for this one, close to the Dverghamrar Basalt Cliffs

What I really like about them is how the main mounds of basalt structures are partially hidden behind a higher cliff that goes all around them. From a certain viewpoint, it looks as if they are hidden by an ancient fortress that was built with magic. We were pretty much the only visitors at this place, so it was the perfect place to let my imagination run wild!

The view into the Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, close to the main entry point

Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon

Fjaðrárgljúfur is definitely one of the must sees, if you get to Iceland. It’s like the Glacier Lagoon or Detiffoss/Goðafoss, there’s nothing quite like it anywhere else in the world.

Around a half-way point to the lookout spot at the beginning of the Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, we turned back towards the canyon’s mouth, appreciating its meandering nature

The first thing you’ll notice about it is how epic it is. Many things in Iceland are on an epic scale, but this is in the top tier. The canyon averages about 100 meters deep and 2 kilometres long. Standing at the start, you can’t see the end, and it seems like it could go on forever, into the very center of the earth.

There are many arctic terns around the Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, the lush grass surrounding it providing plentiful hunting opportunities

The sheer walls of the canyon are smooth, made from whole, smooth rock that doesn’t look like it has faced a great deal of erosion in recent times. If a sculptor had made them, he would be at the end of the project – the canyon was formed at the end of the last Ice Age – 9,000 years ago, when the glacier that covered the land retreated and a mighty river poured through this canyon, giving it its present shape. Eventually, so much sediment was deposited that the river lost its strength. Although its still got a pretty strong current – just not at the levels it had once had.

It’s best to give a few hours to see the Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon. We had a pretty packed day, so we didn’t have much time, which was a pity. We managed to walk a little bit by the river bed, but then opted to climb to the top and see the canyon from above. I really wished we had more time to spend in the valley though.

The view from the final lookout point, at the start/end of the Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, uncovered not only these two brave sheep, grazing on the little ridge…

The view of the canyon is best from the valley I think. From here, you get to really experience the play of light and shadow across the bubbling Fjaðrá river. There are also a lot less people walking on the valley than above, and there’s nothing quite like the feeling of being alone out in such majestic nature.

…but also this lone tree, literally the only tree in the entire canyon and its surroundings – we tried to find out if there is any significance to it, but could not get any information

The walk to the plateau into which the valley was carved though was fun. I enjoyed ascending the hundreds of steps to the top and later walking on the undulating pathway that skirted the edges of the cliffs. From here, you get to realise what a long way down it was to the valley floor.

The view back, along the main Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon path is simply incredible, with the ever changing play of light and shadows giving its sides an amazing new quality each and every moment

We visited the Fjaðrárgljúfur cliffs, I felt, at a really good time – around sunset. I think the dramatic lighting contributed a lot to our experience of the cliffs.

The Reynisfjara Beach was covered in fine mist, giving the entire region an otherworldly quality – so easy to see why fantasy and science fiction film crews would be attracted to it

Reynisfjara Beach

Reynisfjara is truly a special place. The basalt cliffs that border it and the rocky outcrops that extend into the sea give the place a magical vibe. These rock formations look so special that it’s easy to imagine they weren’t a product of erosion but rather the result of some enchantment.

When we were there, there was a thick sea spray coming off the shore, and the main rock formation jutting out into the sea looked like a troll that was turned into stone – at least, that is what the icelandic folklore of the region tells us had happened.

Here is Isabella, walking along the seemingly abandoned Reynisfjara Beach – one has to stay away from the water, as it is apparently rather treacherous here and claims a life every now and then

If you’re a Game of Thrones fan like we are (despite the ending), you might recognise it from a couple of scenes shot for the “North of the Wall” episode in Season 7. Moreover, for the Star Wars aficionados, a part of the Rogue One was also filmed here.

The ubiquitous basalt columns are perhaps at their most majestic at the Reynisfjara Beach

The basalt rocks are also home to lots of northern birds, including puffins. We didn’t see any while we were there though – maybe they were farther down in parts of the beach we could only access when the tide was lower. But certainly keep a look out for them when you get there!

The Reynisfjara beach is also likely the only place that you may also see the basalt columns from below, at least to our knowledge


While you are in the area of course, don’t forget to drop by the town of Vik and the surrounding area. The town is very charming, like most Icelandic towns are, and it gives you the opportunity to feel what life must be like so far up north in the world.

The small church atop a hill in Vik – it was amazing to observe the weather cyclically change in mere minutes, from warm late afternoon sunlight, through light mist, thick blueish fog, back to sunny again in no time at all

I personally feel it must be really special to live in a place like Vik – outside the capital citiy Reykjavik, I felt pretty alone. In Vik. there’s a stable population of only 318 people, so you can imagine how small and isolated it must be.

Nevertheless, it was nice to get a sense of what it must be like to live so far away from large crowds and so close to nature. All in all, I thought Vik was a really pretty place.

Sheets hanged out to dry – such a pastoral scene, but in Iceland, it comes with a special background – snow and ice covered black mountain peaks

While you are there, do go to Strondin Pub for lunch or dinner. It’s got great views over the basalt rocks and serves up tasty pub food. A pan friend artic char and some viking beer made the perfect end to a day of adventure.

One of the majestic peaks above Vik, shrouded in the swirling fog