Updated: Aug 29
Iceland’s beaches are many and varied. A wild coastline and some very striking stretches of sand ring this island nation in the North Atlantic. But these are not archetypal white sand beaches for paddling and sunbathing. Although there are a few where families can enjoy some summertime splashing.
On the whole Iceland’s beaches are vivid swathes of volcanic black sand battered by tempestuous ocean waves. These are places where you wrap up warm and come to marvel at the elements and the forces of nature. There are some golden-hued sands too as well as ice-flecked shores that glint in the sunlight. On some, you’ll find seals resting in the shallows, and on others, whales swimming just offshore. Read on for our guide to the very best of Iceland beaches.
The Best Beaches in Iceland
Reynisfjara Beach: The most famous black sand beach in Iceland
Reynisfjara Beach near the charming south coast town of Vik is probably the most famous black sand beach in Iceland. The drama of its natural setting has inspired many music videos and artistic photoshoots. Its stark beauty stems from a combination of its ample swathe of black sand and other geological features.
Out in the bay, there are huge craggy basalt rock stacks said to be trolls turned to stone. While onshore tall columns of dark volcanic rock rise up forming imposing vertical cliffs. This combined with the wild and temperamental ocean makes it a truly exhilarating place to visit in Iceland.
One word of warning if you do visit the beach is to always keep a watchful eye on the ocean. Even if it looks relatively calm you should stay well away from the shoreline. There is a phenomenon called a sneaker wave at play here. It is a sudden surging wave that can rise up several meters higher than the rest without warning. So make sure that you keep everyone well clear of the water at all times. You are best to avoid an impromptu dip in the icy North Atlantic.
If you are visiting Iceland for a road trip around the Ring Road then you should certainly visit Reynisfjara. In fact, if you are hiring a camper van or motorhome there is an excellent campsite just outside Vik. Many road trippers along the South Coast of Iceland make it their base and explore the region from there.
Solheimasandur glacial plain beach
Also on the south Iceland coast, you will find the vast glacial sand plains of Solheimasandur. The landscape here offers a fascinating insight into the impact of volcanic activity in Iceland. The dark volcanic plains were formed several centuries ago when the Katla Volcano erupted.
Back in the 1970s, a US Navy DC-3 aircraft crash-landed here. The shell of the plane can still be seen today and makes for a striking image against the sands, sea, and sky. There are no roads in the area so it was just too complicated to move it. However, it has turned into a popular spot for visitors to hike to. A parking lot has been built just off of the main road to accommodate these sightseers. The hike to the site of the plane wreck takes about one full hour each way.
Diamond Beach: Jokulsarlon, Iceland
Another of the black sand beaches in Iceland is Diamond Beach. This one lies further around to the southeast of Iceland just a stone’s throw from the Vatnajökull National Park. This is one of the most beautiful beaches in all of Iceland. The shoreline here is dotted with sculpted pieces of ice in all sizes and forms. From tiny glinting pebbles to huge icy rocks. When the sun catches the ice it glitters like diamonds on the pitch-black sands. Some have likened it to a swathe of black velvet studded with diamonds.
Diamond Beach is a romantic spot and the photo opportunities here are immense. This is one of the top places for photography in Iceland because of the endless variations of ice and water. When the Midnight Sun is low the ice pieces are lit up with the colors of the sunset. It really is a magical place. The ice washes up here from the nearby Jökulsárlón Lagoon. This glacier lagoon is on the edge of the national park and links the Jökulsárlón Glacier with the open ocean.
The beaches of the Snæfellsness Peninsular
The beaches of the Snæfellsness Peninsular in southwest Iceland offer a change from the usual black sands. Here you will find a variety of golden sand and pebble beaches. On Ytri-Tunga on the south coast of the peninsular, you can stroll across rolling sand dunes with swaying grasses. In season you can also spot seal colonies along the rocks at low tide.
Further along near the small town of Budir is another golden beach. The pale sands here contrast beautifully with the dark volcanic basalt lava rock. Further around you will find stretches of honey-colored sands interspersed with black pebble bands and backed by rugged cliffs. It is sometimes possible to see whales swimming offshore at some of the quieter beaches of the peninsular.
Nauthólsvík, Reykjavik: Iceland Geothermal Beach
Nauthólsvík is an anomaly in Iceland. A golden sandy stretch where bathers can soak and swim in warm waters. Located within the Reykjavik city limits this is, in fact, a man-made beach. Here sun-worshipping Icelanders can don their bikinis, pack their buckets and spades, and hit the beach. The water here is actually thermally heated so it can be quite balmy. The warm waters are contained within a shallow man-made sheltered bay making it lovely for children.
Aside from sunbathing, there are barbecue facilities and volleyball courts. It’s a veritable Sydney-style experience on the edge of the Arctic Circle! Even so, it is uniquely Icelandic with hot tubs to soak in and a laidback atmosphere.
These are just a few of the many wonderful beaches you can visit on your vacation. No trip to Iceland would be complete without experiencing the stark beauty of a black sand beach. Under the Midnight Sun or with the Northern Lights dancing overhead the beaches of Iceland are a joy to discover.