Nauthólsvík Beach

A Guide to Iceland's Beaches

In Iceland, every day is a beach day. Here’s a look at three very different beaches you can visit on your trip to Iceland: the famous black sand beach of Reynisfjara, Reykjavík’s small and peaceful coastline at Skerjafjörður, and the capital's local favourite geothermal Nauthólsvík.

Mae Kellert

24. September 2018

In an island nation, every day is a beach day.

It may be that I’m biased, but I’m constantly drawn to a seascape... to the wind and the sand and the rushing noisy peaceful chaos that standing on a coastline offers. In Iceland, that experience is only amplified – here, you can properly lean into the wind, feel the inevitable hints of rain patter against your cheeks, hear the chattering of seabirds as the frankly unbelievable variety of species soar around you.

Water on the black sand beach at ReynisfjaraPhoto: Mae Kellert.

Of all the beauty in Iceland, the shoreline is perhaps the most ruggedly poetic. Geometric basalt meets stunning black sand, dark cliffs are speckled with the flutter of seabirds, sea stacks strut defiantly through the rough, unforgiving waters. Let’s take a look at three very different beaches you can visit on your trip to Iceland: Reynisfjara, Skerjafjörður beach, and Nauthólsvík.

Basalt stacks and tourists at Reynisfjara beachPhoto: Mae Kellert. 

Reynisfjara: The Striking Black Beach in the South

Tourists flock to Vík’s renowned Reynisfjara beach – an absolutely otherworldly site that, of course, every traveler to Iceland should experience. Without a doubt, this trip is a priority. Though you can certainly drive yourself, taking a guided tour to the area is also a great option. Nothing’s better than hearing the tales of the land and sea, straight from a local. Of all the ways I’ve tried to sum up the feeling of the South Coast in words, all I can arrive at is pure earthly magic.

Skerjafjörður Beach in Reykjavík

But did you know that you can explore black sand beaches even here in Reykjavík? For instance, there is a lovely and well-kept path along the coastline from Ægisíða to Fossvogsdalur, popular with walkers, runners, and cyclists. Here I have managed to find this earthly magic, right in town, within walking or bus distance from downtown.

A traveler standing at Skerjafjörður beach and a view of the waterPhoto: Mae Kellert.

If you’re in the area and hoping for a peaceful place to get in a workout, it’s definitely a great option, free and convenient when the weather is fine. If you time it correctly, you can be awed by the absolutely sublime sunsets over the water. Even on cloudy days, the exhilarating rush of wind and the movements of the shore plants are enough of a treasure. On clear days, though, you can be treated to a gallery of volcanoes in the distance – of them all, the mountain Keilir shines the most, dominating the horizon as a magnificent, heavy pyramid.

Sunset at Skerjafjörður beach and a black cat among the beach plantsPhoto: Mae Kellert.

Plus, it’s frankly a great place to meet a cat or two...or twelve. On a walk the other day, I watched a small housecat attempt to hunt a seagull about five times its size. The bird, of course, flew cackling off safely into the sunset.

Strewn about this lovely little walk path are small beaches – unexpected areas of black sand beauty, where you can hop down and walk amongst the seashells and sea glass, rocks and delicate plants. Keep an eye out for a sculpture dedicated to the Great Auk – this giant rendition of the bird might fool your eyes at first, but it is dedicated to a tragically extinct species. The sculpture is quite a sight, whether it is perched very stoically in the desolate rocky shore or is surrounded by rough sea as the tides change.

Great Auk statue at SkerjafjörðurPhoto: Mae Kellert.

Nauthólsvík: A Geothermal Beach in the Arctic

Of course, as always in Iceland, it is essential to respect the water, and only to swim in designated areas. In fact, conveniently along this walkway is a popular beach at which you can take a dunk into the water. Nauthólsvík is a nice, toasty geothermal beach right in Reykjavík, free in the summertime and a popular spot with beautiful sand, rolling hills, and even a hot tub and sauna.

Even in the off-season, though, it’s worth a look – the area is breathtaking, and there are informational signs plotted around explaining its WWII history. Stop by year-round and take in the history and the sublime views at no cost. I particularly recommend stopping by at sunset, and keeping an eye on the water - you can always see a great variety of seabirds, and even the occasional seal.

Sunset at Nauthólsvík BeachPhoto: Mae Kellert.

Iceland’s magical landscape is poetic on scales from the grand Reynisfjara to the small city-side coastlines – and this magic, remember, can be experienced in all seasons, whether you’re taking a tour to the South Coast or you’re simply doing your morning jog. Happy beach days, everyone.

Other Noteworthy Beaches in Iceland

  • Rauðisandur Beach in the Westfjords Peninsula
  • Langisandur, near the town of Akranes
  • The black beaches near Akrar
  • Stokkseyri Beach, south Iceland