Being near the water is such a happy place for me. The sounds, the smells. But, the sun is a challenge. See, I have an autoimmune disease called systemic lupus erythematosus, or just lupus for short. There are many signs and symptoms, such as these itchy and uncomfortable lesions on my cheeks closer to my hairline. One of the more challenging parts of living with lupus is my severe photosensitivity, which is an immune reaction triggered by exposure to UV radiation.
UV radiation can cause cell damage whether it’s coming from the big, beautiful sun at the beach or a lamp in your house. In my body, my cells are way more sensitive to the damage caused by UV radiation. Typically, the body’s immune system will clear damaged cells, but my body struggles to do this task and instead triggers an immune system attack, targeting healthy cells.
Being out in the sun, in a grocery store, even in my own house causes different levels of inflammation due to UV exposure. The more intense the exposure (especially combined with other factors, like heat or barometric pressure challenges), the more intense the side effects. For me, my lungs become inflamed and I struggle to breath.
All of this to say that Iceland offers me beaches that truly are a lupies dream. I get to enjoy the sounds and the smells without feeling as though I’m compromising my health in the process. I know you likely came here for a listicle with 5 pretty beaches and equally pretty photos. And that’s totally fine. I also feel it’s important to give more visibility to traveling with a disability. That being said, without further adieu:
5. Skarðsvík Beach
Most beaches in Iceland are the iconic black sand beaches. Iceland is covered in volcanoes and their volcanic ash leads to black sand. It’s all pretty amazing, honestly. So, why is this non-black beach on my top 5? Well, that’s honestly part of the reason. In an island full of stunning black beaches, this golden beach located on the northwestern tip of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in west Iceland is such a stark contrast. It is absolutely beautiful and also fairly off the traditional tourist beaten path.
Keep in mind, this is not your typically swimming beach, even if it reminds you of stunning Mediterranean beaches you’ve frequented. The currents are strong and extremely unpredictable. The last time we visited, a gentleman was using his GoPro to take sand-level video of the waves crashing into shore. Those waves were more intense than he realized and they scooped up his camera. He dove into the waves after them but instantly realized his mistake. My husband had to help rescue him from drowning. And just in case you wanted to know, yes, he was able to save his camera, too. Seriously, though, don’t play around with these beaches!
Next on my list is the Black Lava Pearl Beach known as Djúpalónssandur, a arch-shaped beach and bay located on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in Western Iceland. The beach is located right next to Snæfellsjökull, a glacier capped stratosphere that last erupted around 200 AD and is responsible for the gorgeous black pebbles that cover the beach. As a note, these pebbles (or stones) are protected, so you can’t take them from the beach.
Many years ago, Djúpalónssandur was a successful fishing village. As you walk to the beach from the parking area, you’ll notice a set-up with four lifting stones or “Aflraunasteinar”. These stones were once used by fishermen to see if they are strong enough to work on the fishing boats. Obviously, both my husband and I had to try them out. This is a popular attraction and definitely made me feel like I needed to never skip leg day again.
The smallest stone, Amlóði (or ‘useless’) weighs 23 kilos or 50.7 lbs. (We were both able to carry that stone.)
The next stone, Hálfdrættingur (or ‘weakling’) weighs 54 kilos or 119.05 lbs. This was the minimum weight a prospective fishermen needed to be able to carry to qualify for work. (My husband could pick this one up, but this is where I had to bow out.)
The third stone, Hálfsterkur (or ‘half strength’) weighs 100 kilos or 220.46 lbs. (My husband almost was able to lift this one, but it didn’t happen.)
The final stone, Fullsterkur (or ‘full strength’) weighs 154 kilos or 339.51 lbs. (I would’ve loved to see someone lift this guy!)
One of the most beautifully haunting parts of this beach is the remains of the Grimsby fishing trawler, Epine, that wrecked there in 1948 during a bad storm. The iron wreckage is strewn all over the beach. This should be obvious, but as a reminder, do not touch or take any of the wreckage.
You might not recognize its Icelandic name, but I’m sure it comes as no surprise to find Diamond Beach on this Top 5. Not that I’m inherently counter-culture, but I do tend to like to go off the beaten path. That being said, Breiðamerkursandur is really something special.
Diamond Beach is called that for the visually obvious reasons. Chunks of ice wash up on shore and look like stunning pieces of diamond atop the black sand beach. These chunks of ice are from icebergs that fill Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. Those icebergs are chunks of ice that have broken free from Breiðamerkurjökull which is a glacier of the infamous Vatnajökull.
No matter the when of it all, winter or summer, it is windy there. And that sand hurts. I’d definitely be prepared with a face covering and also recognize that the Diamond Beach sand, in particular, will likely follow you around for quite some time.
If you follow me on social media, you know I love animals. I especially love getting to safely experience animals in their natural habitats. Ytri Tunga is a beach on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and is part of a farm of the same name. Visually, Ytri-Tunga is a standout because it’s another golden sand beach instead of the more common black sand beach. But, really, it’s known among locals as a great spot to go seal watching.
This location is a great summer spot to see the seals. Between the months of May and July when the tide is low, you’ll be able to see so much more of the colony. Otherwise, you’ll likely still see the seals on rocks protruding from the water even during non-summer seasons. If you are lucky, you can see two different species of seal at Ytri-Tunga, the common seal and the grey seal.
Seals can be very skittish, as well as extremely protective of their adorable young (if you are lucky enough to see a cub in the wild). It’s so important that you give them their space and try to keep as quiet as possible.
I know, I know. This is definitely not a surprise. But, in my defense, Reynisfjara Beach, often called Black Sand Beach, is one of the most stunning beaches in all of the world. This volcanic black sand beach is found on the south coast of Iceland, about 2.5 hours away from Reykjavik. It is famous for its beauty as well as how dangerous it can be.
As you walk on to the beach, you are welcomed by the mesmerizing Reynisdrangar, which are the two iconic basalt sea stacks you’ve seen in so many photos, television shows, music videos. Also, there is a pretty cool legend that Reynisdrangar was created when two trolls tried to drag a large ship to shore but ultimately failed and when the sun came out, they were frozen and created the basalt stacks we see today.
I mentioned how dangerous this beach can be. There are signs and warnings all over the place warning you about getting too close to the water. The current is extraordinarily strong and also fairly unpredictable. While we were visiting with our young daughter, we kept a very close eye on her and never let her anywhere near the water. Even so, locals kept coming up to us to warn us about the water. And then we saw why. The current decided to take a dramatic turn and water went all the way into a cave that was fairly far from the shore. If you are wondering why these waves are so intense, there is an easy answer. The only land south of Reynisfjara is Antarctica.
If you can only go to one beach during your trip to Iceland, Reynisfjara would be hard to beat.
I couldn’t end this Top 5 without adding one last bonus location. Now, we can all debate “beach” vs “coast”, but instead we’ll chat Grímsey, a small Icelandic island off the north coast of the main island of Iceland. Grímsey is known for a few really good reasons. Arctic Puffins are a big one. Grímsey offers you an amazing opportunity to view a large puffin colony during the summer months and it’s so very impressive. Another good reason? The Arctic Circle cuts through the middle of Grímsey. They even have a landmark on the island that you can visit to make sure you know you’ve officially stepped foot in the Arctic Circle.
Ok, so what does this have to do with beaches? An island in the Arctic Circle is surrounded by the Arctic Ocean. And how often will you get to visit the Arctic Ocean in your lifetime? Definitely worth a visit, especially if you collect oceans!