7 stunning beaches that are perfect in winter

A girl approaches the rocky shore and basalt sea stacks at Reynisfjara beach.
Looking out towards the Reynisdrangar basalt sea stacks from Reynisfjara Beach © Sasha64f / Shutterstock

Though seemingly best packaged as sun, sea and sand, beaches can do just fine without the sun. Don’t let the chill force you to retreat indoors.

Throw caution to the wind – quite literally – by embracing the dramatic dunes, impressive surf and rugged shores of these spectacular stretches of coastline that shine especially when the clouds come out. Here are seven beaches from around the world that are perfect in winter.

Editor's note: during COVID-19 there are restrictions on travel. Always check before departure and be sure to follow local health guidance.

Reynisfjara Beach, Vik, Iceland

White sand beaches are old news. The black basalt landscape at Reynisfjara wins hands down for most dramatic coastline any day. The beach can be accessed by foot from Iceland’s southernmost town Vik, a short 2.5-hour drive from Reykjavík. Here you can wander among some of the world’s most majestic and astonishing natural rock formations set against jet-black sand. Adding to its already ghostly atmosphere, Reynisfjara Beach comes with its own folk tale. Legend has it that trolls pulled a ship to land, but with a turn of bad luck, daylight turned the trolls to stone in the form of imposing sea stacks.

On a happier note, the beach also happens to be home to a puffin community. There are puffin colony viewing platforms, but you’re equally as likely to spot the birds nesting, flying or bobbing on the waves.

An aerial view over Inchydoney beach
Inchydoney's charms aren't diminished in colder weather © TyronRoss / Shutterstock

Inchydoney Beach, West Cork, Ireland

Ireland’s coastline is all about its rugged rock formations – relentless waves crashing upon jagged boulders and rocky outcrops provide the dramatic setting for world-renowned wonders like Skellig Michael and the Giant's Causeway. But why not go against the grain, and discover the country's equally breathtaking, and arguably more scenic, sandy stretches?

Looking out bravely toward the Atlantic, Inchydoney is a beach that Cork is proud of. The smooth, vast curve of sand on Inchydoney Island is connected to the land by two grassy causeways. Come here in autumn or winter for an umbrella-in-hand day out to explore rock pools with the family or, if you’re feeling brave, to surf. And before you get completely soaked, you've a well-stocked selection of pubs to take shelter in over at neighboring Clonakilty, including famed De Barra's Folk Club (temporarily closed), with hearty pints and local Trad Sessions (traditional music sessions) to warm the cockles.

An aerial shot over the snowy mountains and bright-blue waters of Kvalvika Beach
At Kvalvika Beach, tropical-blue waters meet the stark beauty of the Arctic Circle © Feel good studio / Shutterstock

Kvalvika Beach, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Arrive at Kvalvika Beach in the Lofoten Islands and you’ll feel like you’ve reached the end of the earth. But you’ll certainly have to put the work in to relish the feeling – this remote spot is only accessible via a 2.5 mile (4km) hike over 543m-high Ryten Mountain. Most astounding is the contrast of the sheer domineering sea cliffs against the bright-turquoise waters. You’ve walked miles, whipped by the wind and coastal elements, but after that first glimpse of the ocean, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in the tropics.

Several hikes circle the mountain and its peak, and it’s worth climbing for the view alone. You’ll pass occasional sheep grazing against a panoramic backdrop of sheer cliffs that appear to slide into the icy Norwegian Sea. The trail can be wet and slippery, so make sure you’re kitted out correctly. Set up camp anywhere you fancy along the green grassy ridges, wait for the sun to go down and, if luck is on your side, catch a glimpse of the aurora borealis streaking across the night sky.

A woman sitting in a self-dug hot pool on Hot Water Beach, New Zealand
When it's cool out, warm up in your own personal hot pool on Hot Water Beach © Naruedom Yaempongsa / Shutterstock

Hot Water Beach, Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand

Okay, this one might be a sly addition. But Hot Water Beach, located on the far reaches of New Zealand’s laid-back paradise that is the Coromandel Peninsula, is one of the only places on the planet where you can sink into natural hot pools in the sand even when it's chilly. Thanks to geothermal activity beneath the sand, the water is still warm even when it’s below 59ºF (15ºC) outside. While a free, homemade hot tub on the beach isn’t likely to be your little secret, the best part about this spot for cold weather enthusiasts is that colder days usually means fewer crowds.

Don a swimsuit, bring a spade and dig yourself a personal hot pool in the sand. The water can reach around 140ºF (60ºC), so bear in mind that if you visit in winter your surrounding environs will seem much colder. Make sure you check the tide charts too – you won’t want the sea rushing in mid-spa, although it can be refreshing to feel the whip of cold air and ocean spray at a safe distance. Sink in to your steaming hot tub and watch the powerful surf from afar.

Horseback riding through the infamous mist of Cannon Beach, Oregon
Riding through the infamous mist of Cannon Beach, Oregon © Adam Hester / Shutterstock

Cannon Beach, Oregon, USA

If you want moody and atmospheric, this is it. For a beach that sits on America's Pacific Coast, it sure does buck all sun-kissed, palm-fringed expectations. The Beaver State’s Cannon Beach is home to Haystack Rock, a giant formation that sticks out like a sore thumb along a distinctly misty coastline. An optimal choice for dog walking and reflective strolls, it does get chilly here even in the summer so you’ll want to keep moving.

Want to add some Wild West to your waterfront wanderings? Throw in some adventure and saddle up. There’s no better way to experience the Oregon coastline than by horseback, and there are horse riding schools nearby that offer daytime and sunset rides. Cannon Town itself is as charming as a town can be; large chains have been prevented from opening here to preserve the quaint surrounds.

Cox Bay Beach, Tofino, Canada

It may look serene but a walk along wild and windy Cox Bay will leave you feeling reinvigorated – if not, at least in need of a warm drink (...or a hair brush)!
It may look serene but a walk along wild and windy Cox Bay will leave you feeling reinvigorated © Russ Heinl / Shutterstock

You won’t have to look far to find the ideal cold weather beach on Tofino, a small westerly district on Vancouver Island. The stormy weather here genuinely attracts visitors – a favorite pastime in Tofino is storm watching. So which beach is best for the thunder-hungry visitor? Chesterman might be Tofino’s most popular beach, but Cox Bay will cater to your windy and wild beach needs. With unobstructed panoramic views of the stormy Pacific Ocean and driftwood dotting the white sands, a stroll down Cox Bay takes you along a picturesque, forest-adjacent boardwalk. It’s also a great spot for fairly experienced surfers – when the waves surrounding Tofino are big, you’ll find them even bigger at Cox Bay.

During the "Storm Watch Period", hole up in one of the storm-proof hotels and restaurants, such as Long Beach Lodge and Cox Bay Beach Resort, that line the shore front. Keep warm and catch lightning shows from your window, or witness those surfing the huge swells from a hot tub overlooking the beach.

Haeundae Beach, Busan, South Korea

Busan’s Haeundae Beach is a local hotspot on humid summer days is still a huge draw in the cooler winter months. There's also plenty to see nearby. In winter there’s still a good selection of eateries and food markets open, serving up everything from sashimi to Korean fried chicken. Don’t forget to swing by the food markets, too – at Haeundae Market eat your fill of delicious mandu (Korean dumplings) and gimbap (nori-wrapped sushi), or a warming spicy red chilli soup.

Unusual beaches you have to see to believe

 

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Article first published in April 2019, and last updated in November 2020.

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