Vestrahorn and Stokksnes beach are among the most photographed places in Iceland, having gained in popularity in recent years.
One can't deny there is something magical about this mountain and its vertiginous cliffs reflected on the sea water, the black sand beach in the foreground contrasting with vivid grass patches in the dunes. Stokksnes is nothing short of picture perfect.
The Vestrahorn is a mountain located in the far southeast of Iceland and is about 10 million years old. It is not the tallest mountain, since it's only 454 m high, but its slopes are very steep.
It is one of the few mountains in Iceland to be made up of gabbro, which is the main constituent of the lower layer of the ocean floor. Furthermore, it's in this region that researchers found the oldest evidence of human life in Iceland.
Together with Brunnhorn and Eystrahorn, Vestrahorn is part of this set of 3 unusually-shaped mountains located not too far apart in the Hvalnes region and seem to mark the boundary between the south of Iceland and the east coast.
The 3 mountains offer spectacular views but Vestrahorn is the best known for two main reasons. Firstly, Stokksnes beach, at its foot, is one of the most beautiful in Iceland and makes the place even more photogenic, and this was why it was chosen as a filming location for the movie Dilwale released in 2015.
From Stokksnes beach, you can see the Brunnhorn rising in the background behind Vestrahorn, which is nicknamed “Batman Mountain” because of its shape. An interesting fact: a NATO radar station was established near Stokksnes a few years ago for its strategic location.
If the site is such a popular photography spot, it's also because for Iceland it's very easy to get to. Visiting the site does not require an off-road vehicle and the site is fairly well indicated.
Coming from the east, about ten kilometers after Stafafell and its charming little church, you will pass a tunnel that for many marks the border between east and south, and just after this tunnel you'll need to take a left turn left towards Stokksnes on the small trail number 99.
Coming from the south, it takes a mere 20 minutes from Höfn on Road number 1 before you see the intersection to trail 99 that leads to the beach.
The 5 km dirt road is in very good condition and runs along Husadalstindur before taking us to the Viking café car park.
The site is accessible in winter and summer and is very popular with summer photo enthusiasts for the silvery light of midnight sun on the beach. In winter, the site is also very popular with photographers hoping to capture the Northern Lights with this perfect picture frame, as the reflection of the lights on water around Vestrahorn almost double the ambient brightness for your camera.
In winter, however, Highway 99 may be snowed under and more difficult to access. Since the place has become something of a tourist hotspot in summer, we recommend you visit in the late afternoon or evening, or alternatively early in the morning.
Arriving at the end of Route 99, you will find a café and a car park large enough and equipped to accommodate campers. Access to the beach is restricted by an automatic barrier, so you'll need to go to the Viking Café to get a ticket. A striking Viking statue stands near the parking lot like a sentinel guarding the beach.
The Viking Café is quite famous in Iceland for its pastries, so keep that in mind when you plan a picnic. In 2019, the price of admission to the beach was 900 ISK per adult. This rate lets you stay on the beach for an unlimited time, so once you get your ticket with a QR code, you're in for as long as you want. Admission also includes access to the Viking village near the beach.
The Viking village is in fact “artificial”, specifically a movie set created in 2010 for the filming of a Mel Gibson blockbuster that never made it to production.
It takes 40 minutes on foot to get to the Viking village from the car park. It's a short tour, and the village is a recent construction so everything looks rather new and polished.
In addition to the parking lot at the Viking café, there are 3 parking lots around the beach beyond the barrier: the first on the way to the Viking village (Olf farm), the second near the beach, and finally one near the lighthouse.
Depending on the hiking you plan to do, you'll need to choose the right car park. Most park near the beach in the second parking lot.
There are 3 hiking trails at your disposal with a few variants:
This is the most well known hike on the site. From the Viking Café car park, walk along Kirkjusandur beach and expend some camera battery before getting to Kambhorn. The loop back takes you along the mountain to the Viking village before returning to the car park.
From the Viking Café car park, walk along Kirkjusandur beach and take all the photos you want before turning towards the Stokksnes lighthouse. If you're lucky, you may see a few seals. Then walk along the beach, with the soothing sound of waves crashing on the rocks, before heading back to the car park.
From the Viking Café car park, walk along Kirkjusandur beach to Kambhorn. From here, a path along the beach allows you to go all the way around the Kambhorn, with a beautiful unobstructed view of the Brunnhorn. We then go back down the mountain to the Viking village before arriving at the car park. Be aware that this hike is more difficult than the other two.
Of course photographers will want to know where the best viewpoints are to get the best shots of Vestrahorn. While hikes on the site are a real treat, some visitors are just here for the photos and limit the tour to a quick hour.
The time of day will be a deal-breaker for pictures, as the colors are particularly magnificent at sunrise and sunset. Reflections on the waters around Vestrahorn are only possible at low tide, so keep that in mind.
For the best photos of the beach, with vivid greens emerging from the dunes in the foreground, you'll have to find the path between the Viking Café and the second car park. The view of the many dunes here can be stunning, with contrasts between the green grass and black sand creating a truly striking effect.
For photos of Vestrahorn and Brunnhorn, AKA the Batman mountain, we recommend aiming for the widest view, so head to the area near the lighthouse.
Finally, to get the best shots of the beach, get close to the water when the water recedes, as this is probably the best viewpoint to catch Vestrahorn reflected on the water.