Iceland’s not your typical beach destination. While there’s a wealth of beaches encircling this island nation, the kind of weather you get in the middle of the North Atlantic ensures that this is never going to be your run of the mill fly and flop destination, unless of course, you style your flop dressed in a woolly hat and warm coat rather than a bikini or swimming trunks. No, going to the beach during your Iceland holiday is a whole different ball game, though it’s still likely to be one of the more rewarding parts of your trip, even if it rains. But the coastline delivers Iceland’s nature at its best and so, here are some suggestions for the best Iceland beaches you can find in the country and how to get there with your rental camper or car.
Iceland Beaches: The Best Ones
Black sand or golden, remote or heavily trafficked, there is no shortage of fabulous beaches in Iceland. Here are a few of the standouts.
All that glitters is not gold
Diamond Beach, Jökulsárlón
Driving directions: pick up the ring road east of Reykjavik and follow the south coast for about 400km (about 5 hours)
This black sand beach is possibly the most famous in the country, thanks to the icebergs that wash up on it. The sun catches the ice and the glittering sight that results gives the beach its nickname. The ice originates from the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, itself an offshoot of the enormous Vatnajökull. The tongue of ice travels downhill thanks to gravity where it calves into the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. From there, those icebergs slide silently into the ocean, but the powerful waves soon lob them back onto shore. Not surprisingly, this has become one of Iceland’s most crowded beaches as tourists flock to see this spectacular sight, by day or night. In winter, the chance to see this beautiful place under the Northern Lights is too tempting to resist, while in summer, the Midnight Sun gives you the perfect excuse to stay a little later.
Where is the best black sand beach in Iceland?
Reynisfjara Beach, near Vik
Driving directions: take the ring road from Reykjavik and travel east for about 200km (about 2.5 hours)
Coming a close second in the fame stakes is Reynisfjara Beach. It lies halfway between the Icelandic capital and Jökulsárlón, which makes the perfect pit stop for road trippers looking to take a break from the driving and stretch their legs. It’s another of the famous black sand beaches in Iceland and one of its most dangerous, thanks to the enormous waves that often batter this part of the south coast and a hidden rip. But it’s as stunning as it is potentially deadly: towering cliffs formed of columnar basalt with the spectacular vaulted cave of Halsanefshellir creating the ultimate lookout right on the beach. Don’t miss it, but take extreme care on windy days or in bad weather. No view, even one as incredible as this, is worth risking your life for.
Driving directions: follow the ring road north and turn off onto the 54 to drive west across the Snæfellsnes Peninsula (just under 3 hours)
Formed of black pebbles rather than black sand, this breathtaking beach at the tip of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula is a must if you’re visiting Iceland. From the car park, walk down the path that’s called Nautastígur, or the Path of the Bull. Surrounded by a lava field, you come to a rock with a hole in it. Take a peek through Gatklettur, as it’s called, to see Snaefellsjokull Glacier before continuing on to explore the beautiful beach itself. You’ll quickly notice that the beach is made up of smooth black pebbles, shiny when wet, leading locals to dub this Black Lava Pearl Beach. There’s one more sight to check out before you head back to your vehicle and that’s Söngklettur, the Singing Rock.
Iceland: geothermal beach with a difference
There’s not much you can do about the weather, but what about if you could turn up the heat and wallow in warm water? If you’re keen to check out a geothermal beach, try this one.
Nauthólsvík Beach, near Reykjavik
Driving directions: located about 4km south of Reykjavik city center, take route 49 and then Nauthólsvegur (about 10 minutes)
Opened almost 20 years ago, this artificial lagoon was created by engineers to allow the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean to cool a geothermal hot spring sufficiently to make it safe to bathe in. The result has been a roaring success: thanks to its convenient location close to the heart of Reykjavik, these warm waters receive on average 530,000 visitors each year. Those who come might have to share the space, but that gives them the opportunity to enjoy hot tubs where the temperature’s maintained at about 38°C year-round, as well as regular water temperatures of between 15 and 19°C at each summer low tide. Unlike the popular Blue Lagoon, it’s free but if you wish to rent a towel or a swimsuit it will cost you a few ISK. This is certainly a chance to visit the beach in a peculiarly Icelandic style.
White sand beaches in Iceland
Whether they’re a mass of black sand or covered with black pebble after black pebble, beautiful beaches of Iceland have one thing in common – since it’s a largely volcanic landscape, they’re rarely formed of white or golden sand. That makes those few beaches which are that color something rather special.
Driving directions: 415km north and then west of Reykjavik, via the ring road, the 60, and then the 62 in the Westfjords (about 5.5 hours)
All those tectonic processes shaping the landscape mean that a white sand beach is not something you see every day in Iceland. This beautiful beach boasts a red-roofed weatherboard church which creates a gorgeous contrast that’s irresistible to photographers. If you’re lucky enough to catch the sun, the water takes on a vivid turquoise color and if it wasn’t for the unmistakably Icelandic nature of that church you could be forgiven for forgetting you were there at all. Just under an hour away, slot in a visit to Rauðisandur, whose sand varies from pale yellow to red along a ten kilometer stretch of beach. Remote and unspoiled, it is for those few people who come this way, the highlight of their trip to Iceland.