Located at the southernmost tip of Iceland, you really can't miss Cape Dyrhólaey rising in the distance. This is one of the most beautiful panoramas that South Iceland has to offer.
Dyrhólaey is a small promontory, about 120 meters tall and shaped like an arch. The name “Dyrhólaey” literally means “the tall, gated island” and is an ancient volcanic island formed by an underwater eruption about 80,000 years ago.
The Dyrhólaey arch seen from Reynisfjara beach
Over time, sea currents eroded the land connecting the Dyrhólaey Arch to the mainland to form the cape that we see today. The arch itself, too, was carved out by the relentless tides and has become the main feature of the cape. Today, Cape Dyrhólaey offers a beautiful panorama overlooking the sea and the splendid beaches of Reynisfjara.
Dyrhólaey became a nature reserve in 1978 in an effort to preserve the landscape and ecosystem of the region, particularly the very rich birdlife, which has become a local pride.
Dyrholaey is very easy to get to all year round as it is very close to road number 1, less than 20 km from the charming town of Vik and about 2 hours from the capital Reykjavik. As you arrive into Cape Town, branch off the ring road onto Road 218 to reach the site.
About 2 km from this exit off Road number 1 on the 218, you can also stop at the nearby Loftsalahellir cave.
Drive to the end of the road where the main car park is located, and just before you reach the lot there is a small road going right to the lighthouse. There you will find a second car park which also has a superb view of the arch and the Dyrhólafjara beach.
Dyrhólaey's Ark: Nancy Anderson @fotolia
The car park is very close to the Dyrhólaey lighthouse, so you really can't miss it. Built in 1927, this lighthouse has become the starting point for a number of hiking trails along the cliffs. Be particularly careful as this is the wettest and windiest region in the country. There have been a number of dramatic accidents with visitors falling from the top of these cliffs, and it's a long way down.
If you're looking for a place to observe the local birdlife and its incessant dance in the sky, this is it. From May to mid-June the area is locked off to visitors so as not to disturb the birds during their nesting period, but the restriction is lifted in late June when photographers can snap away. Around mid-August the birds leave Iceland and head south in search of milder temperatures.
The place is known for its huge puffin colonies, but many other bird species are found here, including fulmars, seagulls, and various other gulls. The steep cliffs of this cape, with innumerable crevices and fissures, make the perfect nesting ground.
In addition to its avifauna, this spot is very popular with photographers for its breathtaking panorama of the endless black beaches of Kirkjufjara and Reynisfjara, without a doubt among the most beautiful in the world.
Reynisfjara beach is a great place to snap shots of Dyrhólaey from a distance. From this spot in Reynisfjara you have a magnificent view of Cape Dyrhólaey with the waves in the foreground (see photo).
The other spot is, of course, the Cape Town car park (photo number 2), where you can see the Arch up close.
From the top of the cape, you can see Reynisfjall near Vik and the famous rocky peaks of Reynisdrangar rising into the sea. In fact, each rock is named after a troll:
Nearby, numerous other rocky pillars rise to quite impressive heights:
The sea here is often rough here, with impressive rollers crashing against the arch. On this splendid beach you will find the magnificent rock: Arnardrangur, which is an Icelandic stack of basaltic organs 14 meters tall.
The best time to visit Dyrhólaey is probably between June 25th and August 15th, so you can witness the famous puffins going about their business. But the winter here has its own charm. Many photographers appreciate this wilderness devoid of any light pollution to capture photographs of the Northern Lights between September and March with the fabulous arch in the foreground.
The best time of day to come here in winter is late afternoon or even in the evening to avoid tourists. If the conditions are right, you can catch the silvery midnight sunlight so typical of Nordic countries in summer, or a magnificent sunset over the arch in winter.