When results are totted up regarding surveys conducted to find the world’s best beaches, it comes as something of a surprise to find that the top European stretch of sand is not golden or white as most would imagine, but it is in actual fact… black.
Reynisfjara Beach in southern Iceland, famed for its sheer basalt stacks and crashing Atlantic waves, has scooped the “Travellers’ Choice for Best of the Best Award, from extensive analysis taken by leading travel website Tripadvisor.com and was based on the quality and quantity of reviews and ratings from visitors, over the period from 1 January to 31 December 2022.
The surprise winner finished ahead of some popular, and far sunnier destinations in the likes of Spain and Portugal. In addition to securing top spot in Europe, they also managed a highly commendable fourth place in the list of best beaches anywhere on the planet, seeing off challenges from glorious locations in the Caribbean and Hawaii, amongst others.
For a very impressive sixth time, Baia do Sancho on the volcanic island of Fernando de Noronha, off the coast of Brazil, walked away with the accolade of “best beach in the world”.
Whilst these awards are decided annually by the reviews received and therefore should only be taken as a guide, there is certainly some surprise to find this “alternative” beach landscape topping the charts. From over 2,000 completed reviews, this Icelandic treasure had an overall score of 4.5 out of 5, which was always going to be hard to beat.
It could have a connection with the massive fanbase that the American fantasy drama Game of Thrones has developed, as the beach and its imposing rock formations, has been used as a filming location for the popular TV series.
Obviously, when people first think of a beach, black is not the colour that immediately springs to mind. However, there are observers who describe it as the perfect contrast against the white foam of the waves and the blue(ish) water. These sands are without doubt incredibly spectacular and stretch many kilometres from the Dyrhóleay stone arches, through Reynisfjara itself, and extending up to the small village of Vik and has the added attraction of some remarkable angular basalt columns, caves, and sea stacks.
It is around 180km (112 miles) from Iceland’s capital Reykjavik, and for those visitors who manage to time their trip around the appearance of the Northern Lights, then the shoreline takes on a completely different outlook and the whole experience jumps to an entirely new level.
Reviews highlight the beach’s stunning appeal
It does seem that the freezing cold waters lapping its shoreline and huge waves crashing into the rocks alongside, have actually enhanced people’s opinions.
Amongst the reviews there is something of a constant theme which suggests it is its artistic beauty that draws such favourable impressions. Just a small selection here are typical of the responses that Tripadvisor received:
“Stunning beach, with breathtaking views. If the weather is bad and cloudy, the beach is even more beautiful; do not miss this unique beach!”
“So ominous and foreboding, in such a strange landscape, yet so beautiful. If you are a photographer this will be especially delightful.”
“We felt like we were trapped inside a dream; this place makes you forget time.”
23 years and still going strong for Tripadvisor
Tripadvisor has become the go to place for travel advice so their lists are not to be scoffed at. The online giant operates across more than 40 countries with 20 separate languages and features in the region of one billion reviews and opinions regarding tens of millions of locations and establishments.
It was actually founded by a group of four individuals: Stephen Kaufer, Langley Steinert, Nick Shanny, and Thomas Palka back in February 2000, as a result of an idea dreamed up by Mr Kaufer, who had grown increasingly frustrated when planning a family vacation.
List has “something for everyone”
The Head of Editorial at the company, Sarah Firshein, commented that whilst she herself was a huge beach fan and preferred those that lay alongside glorious turquoise waters, there should not be too much of a surprise to see Reynisfjara claiming such a high position. She observed: “Our community are really looking to kick up their experiences, even exploring cooler destinations, so whether you are looking to pack a wind-breaker or a swimsuit, our list has something for a wide range of travellers.”
Turks and Caicos beach will be disappointed
That opinion will undoubtedly not be shared by residents and regular visitors to Grace Bay on Providenciales, in the Turks and Caicos Islands. This stunning beach actually came fifth on the list and has often been described as “postcard perfect”, with its fabulously appealing crystal clear blue waters, calm relaxing waves, and long stretches of beautiful soft white sand.
It has made the number one slot on competing websites, so position number five will be a disappointment, especially as they find themselves behind a cold and in some opinions, intimidating black sand location.
Six to Ten all stunning beaches
In sixth place on the world list and therefore second in Europe, came Praia da Falésia, with its stunning red sand cliffs which lead to the green-blue ocean and a seemingly never-ending stretch of white sandy beach, sitting on Portugal’s Algarve coast.
Number seven position is taken up by Radhanagar Beach, on Havelock Island, India. This is known as one of the most beautiful beaches in the whole of Asia. Tourism is very high with visitors attracted by its breathtaking beauty where many flock to experience amazing sunrises and sunsets from the perfect setting of a glorious beach.
In eighth spot and as a consequence third position in Europe, is Spiaggia dei Conigli on the island of Lampedusa, Sicily, just off mainland Italy. It has been described in the past as “one of the marvels of the world”.
The ninth best beach is in Cuba’s Matanzas province and is the island’s closest point to the United States, yet has a tropical climate. Varadero Beach, is referred to as Playa Azul locally, which translates to Blue Beach, although it is actually a jaw-dropping assemblage of pink and white sand, merging with crystal-clear water.
Completing the top ten and with nearly five kilometres (three miles) of powder-white sand and crystalline water, is Ka’anapali beach, the most popular beach in West Maui, Hawaii and regarded as one of the states most picturesque of beaches.
Top three all glorious in their own right
Once more rated as number one in the world was Brazil’s Baia do Sancho, which can only be reached by descending ladders and stone steps. This incredibly remote setting is stunning and deserving of its title for the sixth time.
Runner up was Eagle Beach on Aruba, famous for its soft and pristine white sands, it is the widest beach on the island. It offers magnificent Caribbean Sea views, and is also home to two of the most photographed and renowned features of Aruba. The iconic Fofoti trees have their silhouette constantly pointing towards the water, due to the way that the wind blows at that location and they, along with the backdrop of the wonderful beach, regularly feature in advertising campaigns promoting the island.
The honour of third place went to Cable Beach, in Broome, Western Australia. This 22km (nearly 14 miles) stretch of shore, lining the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean is famed for its iconic camel rides. The powdery white sand is bounded by striking red cliffs, and its huge tidal movements allow large expanses of wonderful beach to be enjoyed at low tide.
UK beaches not overlooked
The list found a place for four of the UK’s beaches with highest ranking possibly being the least well known. Gorleston-on-Sea Beach, near Great Yarmouth in Norfolk grabbed 12th place and was described as a hidden gem. Weymouth Beach in Dorset 14th; the surfers paradise of Fistral Beach in Newquay, Cornwall 22nd; and Bournemouth Beach in Dorset 24th, were the other British entrants on to the list.
Lists make impressive reading
The full list for Tripadvisor’s top 10 beaches in the world for 2023 are:
- Baía do Sancho, Fernando de Noronha, Brazil; 2. Eagle Beach, Aruba, the Caribbean; 3. Cable Beach, Broome, West Australia; 4. Reynisfjara Beach, Vik, Iceland; 5. Grace Bay Beach, Turks and Caicos, the Caribbean; 6. Praia da Falésia, Olhos de Agua, Portugal; 7. Radhanagar Beach, Havelock Island, India; 8. Spiaggia dei Conigli, Sicily, Italy; 9. Varadero Beach, Cuba, the Caribbean; 10. Ka’anapali Beach, Maui, Hawaii.
The full list for Tripadvisor’s top 5 beaches in Europe for 2023 are:
- Reynisfjara Beach, Vik, Iceland; 2. Praia da Falésia, Olhos de Agua, Portugal; 3. Spiaggia dei Conigli, Lampedusa, Sicily; 4. La Concha Beach, Donostia-San Sebastian, Spain; 5. Playa de Muro Beach, Mallorca, Spain.
Volcano and location responsible for the beach’s appearance
Iceland is home to well over a hundred volcanos, many of which are still active, even now, and it is from the lava which over time has been spewed out of these volatile natural creations, that black sandy beaches are formed. When the molten lava enters the water it cools down so rapidly that it breaks into debris and sand immediately, and when enough is produced at once, a new black sand beach is formed in a matter of hours.
Reynisfjara is located near Katla volcano that has erupted several times during the last thousand years and the award winning beach grew during one of these. It retains its striking black colour due to it sitting on the rainiest part of Iceland, and therefore is almost always wet, preventing it drying out and becoming more of a grey tone.
TV and movie star
As already mentioned, the beach has been used in Game of Thrones, but it has also starred in other movies and television shows such as: Star Trek: Into the Darkness; Star Wars: Rogue One; and the epic biblical drama, Noah.
There are some mightily impressive beaches on those lists and for Reynisfjara to grab fourth spot overall and top position in Europe, is a fantastic achievement. Granted it is not the stereotypical soft white or golden sand that would normally be associated with such a title, but its uniqueness is precisely the reason for it receiving such a high average in the reviews, and therefore is justifiably entitled to savour its moment of recognition.
Additionally, as it has lay dormant for almost a hundred years, but is actually thought to be ready to erupt again very soon; maybe they should make the most of it while they can.