Iceland’s best beaches

Iceland’s unpredictable weather and cool summer temperatures mean it’s never going to be a contender for fly and flop holidays. But this doesn’t mean you should steer clear of its many fabulous beaches. To give yourself the best chance of heading off the beaten track and winding up on your own private beach, it’s best to hire a car. Here’s where we think you should go.

Best for warm water

Even if there’s a chill in the air, as the thousands of visitors to the Blue Lagoon will testify, if the water’s warm, then it’s perfect for a dip. But you don’t need to shell out for the entrance ticket to those popular baths when right in the heart of the capital you’ll find a warm water beach. Nauthólsvík opened in 2001, and now draws an estimated half a million visitors every year. Engineers created an artificial lagoon, allowing the cold Atlantic waters to moderate the high temperatures of the geothermally heated water that joined it. In summer, the water temperature averages between 15 and 19°C at low tide. If that’s not enough, hop into the hot tub instead where the water’s a toasty 38°C year-round. Admission’s free, but you can rent a towel or a swimsuit for a small fee.

Best for white sand

The vast majority of Iceland’s beaches consist of black sand, no surprise when you consider the important role that tectonic processes have had in shaping the landscape. But there are a few beaches that have the white sand of the holiday brochures. The easiest to reach from the capital is found in Álftanes. Conveniently situated just east of Reykjavik, it draws both locals and tourists alike. It’s worth driving the longer distance to the Westfjords to stroll along the magnificent Breiðavík beach. Its long stretch of white sand provides a photogenic setting for the red-roofed weatherboard church which sits right on the beach. Across the peninsula lies Rauðisandur, perhaps the pick of the bunch. Depending on the light, the colour varies from pale yellow to red along this ten kilometer stretch of beach. Despite its beauty, its scale and remote location ensures that it’s never going to draw the crowds.

Patreksfjordur beach

Best for dramatic scenery

There are two main contenders here, depending on whether you prefer rocks or ice. The ever-popular Jökulsárlón beach, a stone’s throw from the glacial lagoon, wows visitors with the many icebergs which wash up on the black sand beach with the tide.  As the sun catches on the ice, there are few spots in the country which can compete where pulchritude is concerned. The basalt columns of Reynisfjara beach near Vik come pretty close. Stepping down like nature’s inspiration for the great step pyramid of Egypt, the rocks frame the delightful black sand beach. Offshore, the sea stacks of Reynisdrangar, clearly visible from the eastern end of the beach, complete the geologists’ dream landscape. Watch out for the many seabirds that make these rocky outcrops their home; you should be able to spot guillemots, fulmars and puffins. But take care if the surf’s up; this windy location can be perilous.

Reynisfjara Beach in South Iceland.