Beaches in Iceland

Beaches in Iceland: Names, Facts, and Features

Iceland is an island, meaning that the exterior borders of the country are lined with beaches and cliffs. The beaches in Iceland are defined the same way that any other beach around the world is. It is a pebbly or sandy shore that the ocean partially flows over with both high and low watermarks.

There are hundreds of beach areas around the outskirts of iceland since the outer edge is practically one long beach interspersed with cliffs. In Iceland, there are sandy beaches made from broken-down rock and shells, typical of other areas of the world. However, Iceland also has less foot-friendly rocky beaches. 

Additionally, one of Iceland’s more unique beaches is volcanic beaches. These are black beaches made from the sand produced by volcanic rock since the island has been so volcanically active for so long.

This article digs deeper into the kinds of beaches and the most famous. We cover beaches that might not get as much attention as they should and others that see thousands of visitors each year. By the end, you will know exactly where you want to view the ocean and how to work it into your planned trip.

1. Black Sand Beach

The Black Sand Beach is called Reynisfjara in Iceland. It is located in the Southern region of Iceland, close to what used to be a volcanic hotspot. There are plenty of hot springs close to this beach because of the amount of volcanic activity still going on under the earth’s surface in this region.

The Black Sand Beach is at 63.4057 degrees North and 19.0716 degrees West. Since it is the most famous black sand beach in all of Iceland, plenty of tours will take you to the beach. Many of these will also take you to Vik, one of the closest settlements serving as a gateway to some hot springs.

2. Diamond Beach

Diamond Beach is another one of the more well-known beaches in Iceland. It is in the country’s Eastern region at the GPS coordinates 64.0443 degrees North and 16.1777 degrees West. It is another black sand beach featuring a long bridge to connect it to another small peninsula of Iceland.

What makes this beach so famous are the large, Arctic chunks of ice that wash up onto the shore and stay there as the tide recedes this beach so renowned. The cold makes it, so they melt slowly and stand out distinctly from the beach, looking like sparkling diamonds instead of ice.

The beach is found on both sides of the Jökulsá, a glacial river that flows into the ocean. On the western side, the beach is technically called Breiðamerkursandur in Icelandic. On the eastern side, it is called the Eystri-Fellsfjara. 

Even though it is pretty far away from Reykjavik and not close to any other highly notable geographic features, the beach is famous enough to have tours that go to it. Many times, the tours won’t only cover this beach but will incorporate it into a multi-day trip. 

The area is gorgeous because of the glacial lagoon that spans around the bottom of the Kvíárjökull Glacier. The icebergs break into the lagoon that ends up on Diamond Beach.

3. Nautholsvik Beach

Nautholsvik Beach looks much more stereotypical than the black, diamond-studded beaches we have previously covered. However, it stands out from the rest with its cultivated beach area for the public and a man-made resort to welcome tourists.

You might be thinking that heading to a beach for a vacation in Iceland sounds too cold to enjoy. However, the beach makes use of geothermal heating that is so popular in Iceland to warm the icy waters caught in the bay. This makes the beach popular both for tourists and native Icelanders as well.

The beach doesn’t have many tours that go to it because it is so close to Reykjavik and not one of the many naturally beautiful places you can get to in Iceland. It is, in fact, a mere minute’s walk from Reykjavik University. That being said, the best time to visit this beach is in the summer when you might get the chance to sunbathe.

4. Solheimasandur Beach

Solheimasandur is a black beach on the south coast of Iceland and is yet another visual display of the grandiose fallout volcanic activity can have on an island.

This beach was formed only a couple of centuries ago when the Katla Volcano had its infamous eruptions. It isn’t only natural displays you get to see, however. The beach also houses a US Navy DC-3 aircraft. It crashed in 1973. Although the crew members survived, they abandoned their plane, which the government decided to leave there due to the tourism the photogenic spot created.

Keep in mind that you have to work for it to get to this spot. The parking lot was made just off the main road because of the fragile sand and ecosystem it supports. Visitors are strictly forbidden from driving on the sand. Instead, you will have to make about an hour-long trek to reach the aircraft.

5. Stokksnes Beach

Stokksnes is on the East Fjords at the base of Mount Vestrahorn, giving it a unique aspect since the ground quickly rises from sea level to reach the spires of Mount Vestrahorn. This mountain is also eye-catching since it is a rare gabbro rock mountain.

Stokksnes beach is a long distance away from Reykjavik. That means no tours will take you directly to the beach. Instead, there are quite a few waterfall and black sand beach tours that will take you that last around five days.

This beach features all kinds of different geological and historical points of interest. You can find grass-covered lava dunes, black sands, and shipwrecks under the old lighthouse on the point. There are also the remains of an old N.A.T.O. radar station.

6. Dyrholaey Beach

Dyrholaey Beach beach is 120 meters of black sand beach that stretches along a beautiful part of Iceland’s coastline. It also features some geological features worth visiting, such as the Arch with the Hole. It is in the Southern region, another beach close to the village of Vik. It is on a small peninsula, formerly an island off the coast. 

Drholaey Beach is only 174 kilometers from Reykjavik, making it about a 2 1⁄2 hour drive from the capital city. It is better to go to the beach in the fall or winter because of the nesting season of some of Iceland’s precious bird species that occurs in the spring and summer. These periods mean limited access to the beach.

One of the primary draws to this beach is the Arch with the Hole. It is called Door Hill Island, forming a portion of a beautiful cape that sticks out from the beach. There is also a castle-esque lighthouse on the beach to warn passing ships of the floating ice chunks close to the beach.

7. Ytri-Tunga Beach

Ytri-Tunga is in the Western region of Iceland on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. It has gained fame for tourists in Iceland because it is one of the most reliable places in Iceland to see Harbour and Grey seals. There is a local colony that you can watch offshore almost any time of the year. The best time is in the summer, but you can spot them all year round.

Ytri-Tunga is one of the more accessible beaches from Reykjavik. By taking the Ring Road, you can easily reach the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. There is a parking lot that you can use and signage to take you down to a viewing area. Be careful and respectful around the seals, as they can be dangerous if you scare them.

Because of its proximity to Reykjavik, plenty of day tours will take you from the capital city to the golden sand beach on the peninsula for seal sightings. 

8. Djúpalónssandur Beach

Djúpalónssandur Beach is another one of the natural features you can visit on your trip around the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Instead of sand-like many others on our list, this is a black pebble beach. 

Historically, it was once the location of a bustling fishing village. Now the area is entirely uninhabited. However, the village left behind features of historical interest, such as four ancient lifting stones. These were used to test the strength of the fisherman since it is a dangerous industry that requires plenty of strength in volatile situations.

There are also rock formations associated with the mystical, such as elves and trolls. Even if you don’t get to see one of these famed Icelanders, you still get plenty out of the journey to the beach. Many tours that travel from Reykjavik to the peninsula will include this beach in them.

9. Rauðisandur Beach

Rauðisandur Beach is a stretch of 10 kilometers of beach in Iceland’s mostly uninhabited region of the Westfjords. One of the best-known features of this beach is the bird cliff called Látrabjarg. The spot is famous for hosting one of Iceland’s greatest concentrations of seabirds, including the elusive puffin.

This is not one of the many black sand beaches. However, it is still worth paying a visit for the color of the sand. The name ‘Rauðisandur’ translates to ‘red sands.’ Although the sand looks golden during the day, it has red hues that are caught in the sunrise and sunset.

Because of the allure of the bird-watching cliffs, this beach is quite popular with tourists, particularly between mid-May to the beginning of August when the birds are more relaxed and have gathered just after the breeding season. You can take plenty of tours to go to the Latrabjarg Cliffs, which will inevitably include Rauðisandur Beach.

10. Búðir Beach

Búðir Beach is another beach on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. It is only one of the peninsula’s most photographed sights, even with the bird cliffs and beauty of the other two beaches. The beach is charming partly because of the history that it holds. The beach itself is pretty rocky and grassy, better for a walk by the ocean with great views outward. 

The history here involves the fact that this beach was once a fishing village. For many years, it was a site of commerce and community. Even though the beach isn’t one of the best quality, it is one of the most photographed sites in Iceland. 

This is because of the black church called  Búðarkirkja, located in a very picturesque setting of windswept grass and black lava rocks. The most popular pictures feature the church and the northern lights swirling above it.

11. Alftanes

Alftanes is one of the smaller beaches in Iceland. It is more of a sand spit than a beach because of its size and shape. It is still recognizable as a beach, though, mainly because it has the stereotypical white sand associated with beaches worldwide.

This beach also has a lot of history associated with it. It is only a 20-minute drive from Reykjavik’s city center. If you are a history buff, it makes for an excellent day out. The warm water Alftanes swimming pool is just a stone’s throw away from the beach’s shore.

Alftanes beach is surrounded by lava rocks, one of which is named Gálgahraun. This translates to ‘Gallows’ Lava.’ It earned the name since it served as an execution spot for lawbreakers in Norse culture. There is also a fortress called Skansinn, a fortress built to fend off pirates and protect the  Bessastaðir, the home of a former king.

12. Seleyri

Seleyri is more of a waterfront than a true beach bordering the town of Borgarnes. The reason it earns a spot on our list is twofold. First, it is very scenic since it is nestled into the fjord Borgarfjörður. It is also a very popular fishing spot where it is possible to catch brown trout, migrating salmon, and arctic char.

The char populations have been declining, which has meant that you must immediately release any char caught in this area back to the water. Otherwise, you can get a fishing permit from landowners along the waterfront to catch these other sought-after fish.

The beach itself is relatively small but is the black sand that Iceland is so famous for having. It is also the home of the arctic tern. Watch out for these birds, as they can be highly territorial during nesting seasons.

13. Grotta

Grotta is a beach located just on the outskirts of Reykjavik in the Seltjarnarnes Peninsula. It is known to be a bird watcher’s dream and is very accessible from the city, making it a popular spot in Iceland.

Grotta had historically had inhabitants from as early as the 1500s. However, now there are only birds and ruins that occupy the sandspit. The birds are so important to the country that the beach is entirely off-limits during the nesting season from May to June.

During low tides, you can walk up to the lighthouse, which has been present on the beach for more than a century.

14. Sandvik

Sandvik is another black sand beach with plenty of volcanic rock that now sticks up through the black sands of the beach. The landscape is much rougher than many of the soft, sandy beaches in Iceland. It represents one of the more extreme landscapes in Iceland, making it beautiful in all of its natural ferocity.

The beach might be a little bit rough, but it also has one of the most diligent surfing communities that flock to its shores each year to surf the savage waves. It is essential that you are a good surfer for this beach since the tidal projections, ferocious weather patterns, and rocks close to the shore make it a dangerous location.

15. Breidamerkursandur

Breidamerkursandur is a beach on Iceland’s South Coast. This beach is a spot of sand that is quite long, broken up in sections until it eventually leads to the glacier lagoon of Jökulsárlón. All in all, it is about 18 kilometers at the foot of the Kvíárjökull Glacier.

The beach is littered with pieces of the icebergs that have broken off the glacier Vatnajökull. It is part of the outwash plain. However, it boasts more than the pieces of icebergs that glint across the beach. It also has a variety of rare bird species, like the Arctic tern and the Great Skua, and mammals like Arctic foxes and seals.

Diamond Beach is actually a fracture of the Breidamerkursandur, sitting right behind the famed lagoon.

16. Reynisfjara

Reynisfjara is another black pebble beach close to the coastal village of Vik. This beach affords you a view of large pillars known as sea stacks that are just offshore of Mount Reynisfjall. These sea stacks are called Reynisdrangar. Icelanders believe that they are trolls who got stuck in the water, touched by the sunlight as it rose in too early in the morning.

It is worth mentioning that this beach frequently makes headline news because of how dangerous it is. The tide comes in quickly and will trap you in perilous situations if you aren’t aware. The rule is never to turn your back to the sea while enjoying the views from this beach.

The beach is such an allure for travelers because the basalt columns line the rock cliffs that border the beach. 

17. Breidavik 

Breidavik is in the southern Westfjords that you can visit while en route to the Latrabjarg. This bay is filled with golden sand and is hugged by mountains on either side with an old farmhouse by the sea.

This area has long been regarded as one of the more remote areas in Iceland. Due to the light human touch in the area, it can feel like you are traveling back in time to a quaint part of the country. This area is also known for the breeding of the North Atlantic Puffin from April through September. 

What are the facts about Beaches in Iceland?

Since Iceland is an island, there are many beaches scattered around the outskirts of the country. These get frequent visitors, particularly if they are close to Reykjavik, such as those on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.

Most of the beaches in Iceland were formed due to ancient volcanic activities that occurred around the edges of the island. That is why many of these beaches are black. It is actually rarer to find a golden sand beach than a black sand beach formed by volcanic rock.

Many of the beaches in Iceland were first discovered quite naturally. Most of them were the first encounters Norsemen had with Iceland upon discovering and settling the island country.

How did Black Sand Beaches Form in Iceland?

The black sand beaches in Iceland formed because of ancient volcanic activities on the island. As many will know, Iceland is full of volcanic activity. The beaches became black beaches when boiling hot lava from an erupting volcano hit the ocean and solidified in contact with the freezing water. 

Then, the solid lava chunks slowly broke down due to the force of the waves and were deposited in the form of tiny particles of sediment settling in layers and layers across the beach.

What is the longest Beach in Iceland?

Although some of the beaches are secretive coves, most beaches are stretches of coastline. The longest of them is Rauðisandur Beach, a stretch of more than 10 kilometers of red sandy beach.

The best time to visit this beach and enjoy the rich colors is during a sunny summer day. It is best to visit during low tide to see as much of the beach as possible. If you visit on a cloudy day, it will still be beautiful but far less magical since the red hues will be greatly muted.

What is the shortest Beach in Iceland?

There are very small beaches hidden in small caves and beach caves, so it is almost impossible to tell exactly which is the smallest beach in Iceland. Another reason for this is because there are so many that are close in size that the changing sizes of beaches due to tidal erosion would mean the title for the smallest beach would constantly be in flux.

What are the Geographical Landforms Found in Beaches of Iceland?

The tidal erosion mentioned above and the volcanic activity are quite effective at creating beautiful geographical landforms around the beaches in Iceland. For example, there are quite a few Icelandic beaches bordered by sea cliffs because of the erosion that made the slopes collapse into the waves.

Basalt columns are another one of the common geographical landforms you might see on beaches. Basalt columns require lava flows to interact with cold water to form, making beaches the perfect place for them to develop.

Another of the more common geographical landforms near beaches are peninsulas and capes. Capes are strips of land too small to be called a peninsula. These often have arches that form in them when the softer rocks erode and fall into the ocean. 

What is the prominence of Beaches in Iceland’s Geography?

Beaches are a pinnacle part of Iceland as it is an island. They aren’t one of the most significant draws to Iceland but often have features such as basalt columns and species like puffins that draw tourists in.

What is the effect of Beaches on Iceland’s Economy?

The beaches of Iceland are one of the primary draws for things like beach-centric tours. However, the cruises around Iceland reap the most benefit from the beaches since they give the coastline a mystical look that brings tourists to them.

What are the Beach Tours in Iceland?

A tour to beaches in Iceland will depend greatly on which beach you visit. Many of the common tours you can get from Reykjavik will take you to the beaches on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. They can cost a couple of hundred dollars for a day tour. However, if you decide to go to a beach on the other side of the country, you will need to find a multi-day tour that includes it in one of their stops. These are often much more expensive. 

What are the Iceland Cruise Tours?

Cruise tours around Iceland are an excellent way to get a different Iceland’sview of the beaches. The most popular cruise tour is the South Coast Tour from Reykjavik. You will pass by many of the famed beaches covered above by the water. You can also get a much longer Golden Circle tour if you want to go all the way around Iceland.

What is the Best Time to Go to Icelandic Beaches?

The best time of the year to visit Iceland’s beaches is in the late summer to early fall. It is very cold during the winter, and being on a beach won’t be as much fun. 

The weather during the winter is also consistently worse and won’t afford you good views across a beach. In addition, many of Iceland’s beaches are home to migrating birds that breed in the spring and summer, which might limit access to the beach.

How is the Weather on Icelandic Beaches?

The weather in Iceland is almost always chilly or cold. Since the beaches are very close to the Arctic sea, you will also feel the chill more than when you spend time inland. Pay attention to the tides and changing weather patterns since a change can quickly become fatally dangerous.

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Staff Writer