Iceland is fortunate to have some of the most unique landscapes in the world. The fiery fury of the island’s volcanoes combined with the massive movement of glaciers has created scenes that will leave you speechless. It’s a dream for any geology enthusiast. The basalt columns in Iceland are one of the country’s wonders—you can’t leave without seeing them. There are dozens of places where you can witness these magnificent rock formations in various shapes.


Geology in Iceland

Iceland is known as the Land of Fire and Ice due to the contrast of elements present on the island. It is located north of the Atlantic Ocean near the Arctic Circle, resulting in several glaciers. At the same time, it rests on two tectonic plates: the North American and the Eurasian. This has created a ring of fire with continuous volcanic activity. This unique combination gives us a blend of natural forces that are hardly found elsewhere in the world.

Icelandic Basalt Columns: How They Formed

Basalt is a volcanic rock formed from boiling magma that emerges as lava during an eruption. Iron and magnesium-rich lava cools and contracts very quickly once it comes into contact with the surface air, hardening and solidifying.

Icelandic basalt columns are the result of this rapid process that alters the chemical composition and appearance of lava. Basalt volcanic rocks have a quite special geometric shape due to the change in their composition.

These hexagonal basalt pillars, also called columnar basalt, which you will see in many places in Iceland, have a special feature called columnar jointing. This is what gives each column its unmistakable hexagonal shape and makes them so attractive.

This same natural process formed the basalt organs of the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland and much of the geography of the Canary Islands in Spain. Basalt columns are also found in other parts of the world, such as Germany, France, and North America.

The geological wonders of basalt rocks have even inspired Icelandic architecture. You can see the influence of Mother Nature on the facades of buildings like the church Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik or Akureyrarkirkja in Akureyri. Some think they are designed to resemble an organ, but they are reminiscent of these rock formations. The architect wanted to recreate the appearance of basalt columns on the main facades of these impressive buildings.

Hexagonal Rock Formations and Basalt Pillars

You will see basalt rock formations throughout Iceland due to the country’s high volcanic activity. The country’s landscape has truly been shaped by the elements. Here are some of the best places to see unique geological formations and hexagonal rocks in Iceland.

Svartifoss: The Waterfall of Black Basalt Columns

The beauty of Icelandic waterfalls is one of the things that captivates tourists visiting us the most. The country has more than 10,000 waterfalls. One of the most spectacular is Svartifoss, located in Skaftafell, a part of Vatnajökull National Park. It’s known as the Icelandic black waterfall, not for the color of its water but for the dark basalt columns that compose the cliff it flows over, resembling a genuine cathedral of rocks.

It appears as if the columns are loosely held, like organ pipes, and could detach at any moment. You’ll notice that some of the basalt pillars have broken and fallen.

As you drive your rental car through southern Iceland, you can easily stop at Svartifoss without straying far from the Ring Road.


Basalt Columns on Reynisfjara Beach

Many countries are famous for their paradisiacal tropical beaches, but Iceland is not one of them. We are known for our black volcanic sand beaches. Reynisfjara is probably one of the most famous beaches in the country, and for good reason.

Iceland is not only famous for its black sand beaches. Basalt rocks are also a major draw, with spectacular formations creating beautiful landscapes. This place is one of the best sites for basalt columns in Iceland, so it’s no surprise they chose to film the famous series Game of Thrones here.

The rocks within the sea and the basalt columns of Reynisfjara are probably one of the most photographed rock formations in the world. They are beautiful, as well as a highly unusual geological phenomenon that you won’t find in many other places. The unique combination of hexagonal basalt columns on completely black and shiny volcanic sand makes this one of Iceland’s most beautiful landscapes.

There are two main points of interest on this coast. The first is the basalt cliffs alongside the water. The second is the group of high rocks called Reynisdrangar just in the water.

Icelandic Hexagonal Rocks at Gerðuberg Basalt Column Cliff

Along the Snaefellsvegur road on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, you will pass by the largest display of basalt columns in Iceland. You can see the cliff formed by the imposing basalt columns from the road as you drive towards Snaefellsjökull. The Gerðuberg cliff is formed by hundreds of basalt pillars.

Be careful not to get distracted by these fascinating views. Find a safe place where you can park your car and get out to take photos and enjoy these giant hexagons up close.

The Great Stuðlagil Canyon in Jökuldalur

This is one of the most picturesque places you’ll find in Iceland, so don’t forget your camera. The turquoise-blue river will mesmerize you surrounded by a fortress of basalt columns on both shores. This recently discovered treasure of Icelandic geology is a delight to spend hours observing; it will leave you speechless. Like with the Northern Lights, it’s incredible to think that all this beauty has been created entirely by Mother Nature.

The Trail between Arnarstapi and Hellnar

Another beautiful place to see this unusual rock formation is on the trail between Arnarstapi and Hellnar. These two beautiful fishing villages on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula are common stops for visitors to this area to spend the night. I recommend taking a walk along the trail while observing the column formations along the seashore. There are also many seabirds on the cliffs, making the hike very enjoyable.


Stuðlafoss: Another Waterfall with Basalt Columns

Stuðlafoss is another waterfall formed among basalt columns, similar to Svartifoss. This geographical feature is a recent discovery, so it’s still less visited. It is located near the hidden Stuðlagil Canyon in the Jökuldalur valley. The waterfall, canyon, and valley are close to the Ring Road, so it’s very easy to visit this beautiful place without straying far from your route. Be among the first to explore this geological gem in eastern Iceland.

More Impressive Basalt Waterfalls: Aldeyjarfoss

The powerful Aldeyjarfoss waterfall is another cascade with characteristic basalt stones. However, this waterfall is completely different from Svartifoss or Stuðlafoss. The older waterfalls are characterized by a cliff made of hexagonal columns. Aldeyjarfoss, however, has two types of Icelandic rocks in its rocky structure. This creates an interesting visual effect, which is very difficult to see elsewhere. In addition, the force of the effusive flow coming from the glacier rivers that feed the waterfall makes it powerful and majestic.


Hljóðaklettar, like Gerðuberg, is another Icelandic cliff formed of basalt rocks. This one in particular has the same features as Aldeyjarfoss since it has columns crowned with an uneven surface with more rocks. A distinctive feature of this rock attraction is all the basalt that has broken and detached. It gives the impression of being a kind of quarry, with rocks already waiting to be transported.

Kálfshamarsvík: A Small Cove with Columns Underfoot

While most hexagonal basalt columns in Iceland are vertical, there are some horizontal specimens. In Kálfshamarsvík Bay in Northern Iceland, you will find a cove with long hexagonal columns that you can even walk on. Like the path between Arnarstapi and Hellnar, these are horizontal rocks next to the water. It gives the impression of being a naturally beautiful and volcanic paved road.


Basalt Columns in Iceland

I hope you had time to enjoy some of the spectacular views offered by these volcanic basalt columns during your road trip. In Iceland, we have geological wonders and an abundance of natural beauty that will leave you speechless. Make sure to include some of these spectacular formations in your itinerary and take lots of photographs of the best of Icelandic geology.

Johanna, Iceland24
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